Tuesday, 27 September 2016

FantasyCon, Scarborough, 23rd September to 25th September 2016

Friday 23rd September
Letting the train take the strain again (through 3 changes) made for a pleasant journey that saw Sue Moorcroft & I chatting the whole way.  The Derby to York leg was the first clue that writers were massing - Mike Chinn was sitting a few seats behind us, Tim Lebbon a few in front.  We met up on the platform, had a chat and a cuppa then merged with more writer-filled groups on the York to Scarborough train (Helen Marshall and John Gilbert were sitting in front of us and Peter Mark May and Richard Farren Barber were further down the carriage).  By the time we got to Scarborough, there was a larger group and Richard led one of them (thanks Google maps) to the Grand Hotel.  I’d read it was apparently once the biggest hotel in Europe and from the bit we could see that certainly seemed to be true, it looked glorious.  I said hello to Andrew Coulthard as we crossed the road, then met Jay Eales & Selina Lock outside and had a chat.
from left - John Gilbert, Sue Moorcroft, Neil Williams, James Everington, Priya Sharma, Phil Sloman, me, Lisa Childs, Ross Warren, Wayne Parkin, Cate Gardner
We signed in for the Con itself (lanyard and a wristband - fancy!), saw Ian Whates, Helen and Pixie Peigh (which is always a pleasure) then joined the long queue to check in.  On the journey up, I’d been worrying (when Sue wasn’t talking about bed bugs) that I was going to get a basement room with no windows so when I finally got to the counter I asked the girl where it was.
     "Second floor," she said with a smile.
     "Phew.”
     “It’s inward facing though, so it hasn’t got a window”
With the lovely Carrie Buchanan
Thankfully she was able to swap my room with someone who hadn’t signed in yet (sorry about that but you snooze-you lose!) so I was happy and now on the fifth floor.  As Sue was on the sixth we headed across the main bar and bumped into Kit Power, Alex Davis, Phil Sloman, Charlotte Courtney-Bond, Steve Shaw, Paul Woodward, got big hugs from Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner, Ray Cluley & Jess Jordan, saw Steve Bacon and Wayne Parkin and found the lift (the one and only time I used it all weekend).  Jim Mcleod and Vix Kirkpatrick were also waiting and it was great to see them too (they were also on the sixth floor) and we chatted on the way up.  I had room 527A (A, I later found out, denoting a larger room that had been split into two - I got the smaller bit) from which you could see the sea-front, it had a shower, a bed and it was clean - what else could you want?  I unpacked and headed back to the bar, using the stairs this time and that was my first encounter with the grand staircase which was amazingly wide and very long, so you felt like a film star coming down it (I first used the comparison of a Disney princess, which wasn’t the coolest thing I could have said).  Saw Neil, Michelle & Tallis Williams, Victoria (V H) Leslie, Chris Barnes, Priya Sharma and Conrad Williams, then I convinced Conrad and Priya that we should make an entrance on the stairs, so we ran up them and came back down.  More people were coming in, saw Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex (who hadn’t had the best journey up), Steve McHugh introduced himself, Ross Warren and Lisa Childs came over, Steve Lockley walked by and gave me a book, then the lovely Carrie Buchanan appeared and I got a hug from her.  Cat Hellison said hello - we haven’t seen one another since WFC Brighton in 2013 but she’s now living in Scotland so hopefully will get to more events.  I saw Ren Warom and introduced her to Sue and we all had a chat - her new book is doing well and so is she, which was nice to see.  Steve Bacon, Wayne, Conrad and I found a little corner and had a long chat about writing, genre and life, which was thoroughly entertaining.
Chatting with Conrad Williams - me, Phil, Conrad, Steve Bacon
We decided to have pizza (due to timings, the upcoming disco and the fact that nobody had booked anything else) and our motley crew gathered outside - Richard, Sue, Peter, Phil, James, Ross, Lisa, Steve, Wayne, Laura Mauro, Gary Couzens, Priya, Cate, Simon, Neil, Michelle & Tallis - and set off into Scarborough town.  Pizza Hut were able to accommodate us, we took over three tables, enjoyed quick service and decent food and, as ever, great conversation.  Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane sat quietly near the drinks machine, which meant they didn’t get much peace for their meal but it was good to catch up with them again.
The Pizza posse (some of us doing jazz hands for some weird reason - photo by Sue)
Lisa, me, Laura Mauro (obscured), Ross, Phil, Gary Couzens, Peter Mark May, Wayne (obscured), James, Richard Farren Barber, Steve
When we got back we saw Steve Harris & Amanda Rutter - more hugs - had a quick chat with Ben Jones and went to the Royal Hotel (the sister-hotel for the Con) for the disco, Wayne and I walking the short distance with Donna Bond, so I introduced them.  The disco wasn’t what I’d been expecting, to be honest - the music was great but not really danceable though we didn’t let that stop us and Wayne, Phil & I were on the floor for most of it, with Steve, James and Peter dropping in (and Donna joining us every now and again - “a girl!  Quick!  Dance cooler!”).  I also saw Kathy Boulton (the first of many occasions), we said hello but I still didn't manage to get a picture with her - one day...  Carrie & Vix came by later so I got to dance with them again but, alas, there was to be no Hey Mickey this year.  After witnessing a contretemp with an over-officious hotel porter who didn’t like the noise level and wanted to shut the disco down, I headed back for the Grand and quickly got into a conversation with Paul Finch, Paul Lewis, Steve Lockley, Graeme Hurry and Neil that spanned a very wide range (and re-affirmed my idea of going to Harrogate next year for the Crimefest).  Chatted with Steve H, CC Adams, Ben and Jasper Bark, then Alison Littlewood & Fergus came through.  The main bar shut but Fergus said there was a back bar so we went to that (I hadn't even realised it was there) and found a table, complete with a bowl of chips.  For our photo opp, Alison said she wanted some and Steve ate one, saying it was very nice - we all declined the offer.  Our little group was soon joined by John Travis, Terry Grimwood and Amanda for more chat - surely, one of the purest delights of FCon is the great conversation.
"Don't eat that chip!  Oh, too late..."
Steve Harris, Alison Littlewood, me, Steve
I gave in at 1.40 and headed up the stairs (I ran all the way, the only time I managed it all weekend).  The room was hot and quite noisy (it sounded like air con blowers somewhere outside) but the shower was refreshing and the bed was comfy.


Saturday 24th September
Up bright and early (me, worried about the panel?  No, never…) to a clear sunny morning, I decided to go for a walk.  I went down the McBean steps (which everyone in our party quickly christened the ‘Exorcist’ steps), took some pictures of the front (only a few dog walkers on the beach and no traffic) then walked along in front of the hotel (it’s huge!) and up the switchbacks by the roundabout.  Lovely view (and walk) though it was a bit chilly.  I met Alex and Peter at the hotel then chatted with Tracy Fahey (who I met at Edge-Lit and who’s on the panel with me) about life and writing and what we were going to say before Steve McHugh joined us.  I went back to my room, bumping into John Llewellyn Probert & Thana Niveau on the way - it’s always a treat to chat with them.  I also saw Pixie again and finally got my hug from her.

I met Sue in the main bar and we went for breakfast - the cornflakes looked limp so I went for sausages, scrambled eggs and bacon (diet starts Monday…)  It was lovely.  Steve & Wayne joined us (he liked my A bout de soufflé t-shirt), we all had seconds, chatted and then it was time.  With Laura Mauro, we walked to the Royal and got set up - Paul Finch and Tracy were already at the table and I sat next to her.  Since we still had time, I decided to nip to the loo and when I got back, the room had filled up and all the panelists were all in place.  People looked at me as I rushed up the centre aisle and I debated saying “I’m not late” but decided against it.  The panel was great fun, the hour whisking by.  Paul ran it well, he had Helen Marshall and V H Leslie to his right, Tracy, me and Ramsey Campbell to his left and I was in great company.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and we got some nice feedback from the audience.
The "Is Reality The New Horror?" panel with, from left, Helen Marshall, V H Leslie, Paul Finch, Tracy Fahey, me, Ramsey Campbell - picture by Sue Moorcroft
I posted this on Facebook, writing “me trying to say something as smart as my colleagues...”  Paul replied with “It's true. He did try” - the cheeky bugger!
Back at the Grand, I went to the back bar where Ian and Helen had set up a table for us to sign the hardback edition of Ten Tall Tales that launches later today.  I was really chuffed when Ian asked me to be in it, moreso when I saw my fellow contributors.  Settled around the table were Maura McHugh, Paul Kane, Simon Clark (who I hadn’t seen for a while), Lynda E. Rucker and Andrew Hook (who also liked my t-shirt - Gary Couzens later told me Andrew’s a big Godard fan).  I said I’d been looking for a 400 Blows t-shirt, which didn’t go well on the Google search and that, to much laughter, led to what else we had found on the Internet accidentally.  We also talked length of names and how consistent signatures were - Maura was fantastic (and focussed), Simon Clark had his down to a couple of letters but Lynda Rucker had made her life harder by adding the E!  Great fun and company.  Job finished, people drifted away and I chatted with Maura about the Mixtape posts and the power of Daphne DuMaurier and Angela Carter.  On my way to Sue’s panel I bumped into Gary & Emily McMahon (who are only here for the day) and got a big hug from both of them.
Some of the Ten Tall Tales signees - from left, Andrew Hook, Lynda E. Rucker, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Ian Whates, me - picture by Maura McHugh
Wayne & I went into Sue’s panel in the Palm Court room, which commanded a wonderful view of the hills beyond the town and he & I debated the use of the netting over the windows.  The panel went well, Sue kept it nicely on track and one participant in particular, Rob Power, was especially interesting.  Had a chat with Jon Oliver then wandered down to the bar, met up with Steve, introduced myself to Rob and we went into town for a sandwich.  Leaving Sue to her phone and coffee on a bench, Wayne & Steve took me to Mrs Lofthouses Secondhand Book Emporium, which was excellent (and filled with handmade bookshelves).  Didn’t have enough time in there unfortunately, but I did pick up a book about the making of Close Encounters, which was a good result (and yes, I get the irony that I’m at a Convention filled with books and yet I still go to a 2nd hand bookshop…).
We love Bacon - from left, Steve Bacon, me Bacon, Peter Mark Bacon and Wayne Bacon...
The NewCon Press launch was in the Cabaret room (which was actually a small, gothic theatre) and well attended.  Ian did his stuff, I got to sit between Ramsey and Maura and we signed some paperbacks (including one for Cat, who Maura & I chatted with).  After the queue died down, I had a lovely long chat with Maura about the writing process and the power of the novella, which led to us talking about Richard Matheson, Stir Of Echoes and I Am Legend.  Wonderful.  We hung around in the same venue for Adam Nevill’s launch then I went up to Neil Buchanan’s dealer stall to sign copies of Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.  We also talked about the cover art for Polly as he’s not happy with it and I agree with him (the novella is about a confident, assured fortysomething woman, the cover features a scared looking girl in her early 20s) and we’ve decided to go in a slightly different direction.  I told him an idea I’d had and he’s going to get his artist to come up with some new concepts so it was a good and timely conversation.
The FantasyCon Boyband publicity shoot went well - Richard, Steve, me, Wayne.











On the harbour - Steve, Sue, Richard
As there was a gap in the programme, Sue, Steve, Wayne, Richard & I decided to head out and get some sea air, walking along the front to check out some restaurants for later.  We didn’t find much, except in The Works where there was a collection edited by Sue and books by Paul and Tim!  We went into the harbour, walked around the lighthouse (and engaged in a bit of Viz-related duelling) then headed into town.  I’d never been in that part before and the mix of shops and architecture was brilliant.

We were back at the Grand in time to help set up for the Hersham Horror Books launch.  I’d been looking forward to this for a long time and as we set out the chairs, books and signing stands, there was a real sense of excitement in the air.  We took some pictures and I was proud to stand alongside Phil, James and Steve (fellow Crusty Exterior folk), launching the HHB novella series - they’ve already picked up some good reviews and I’m chuffed to be part of it.  For the event, I stood between James and Marie (whose collection was also being launched), Peter did this thing and the floor was open.  There weren’t as many people as I’d hoped, though we signed some books and then about a third of the way through the Cocktail bar just seemed to fill up, with people, noise and laughter and suddenly we were signing lots of copies (and Peter kept coming over and giving me updates).  As things calmed down, I mingled and saw Sarah Ann Watts and caught up with her before Peter introduced me to Sharon Ring who I’ve known online for years though this was our first meeting face-to-face.  By the end of the session there was hardly any stock left, Peter waved his wad at me like loadsamoney and we tidied up.  It was a good turnout, it was great fun (which you can see in all our faces in the pictures) and I had a wonderful time.
The 4 Novella Writers - Phil, Steve, me, James
The Hersham Horror writers - Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve
Jay tries to get us to sign each others books - Jay Eales, Selina Lock, Paul Kane, Marie, me, James
Busy signing - Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve - picture by Wayne Parkin
Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve, Wayne, Richard and Peter's back
We four with Jim Mcleoad (centre), The Ginger Nuts Of Horror head honcho.  GNoH have been a great supporter of the novellas and the genre in general.  So good to have him there.
Ross stopped me outside, concerned about my t-shirt - since it wasn’t Star Wars, he was worried I’d been cloned.  With him and Lisa, I headed for dinner with Sue, Steve, Wayne, Peter, Chris Teague, Sharon and her partner Dave - we tried the Italian near the Royal but they couldn’t accommodate us.  On our earlier walk, we’d noticed fireworks being set up on the beach so Wayne suggested fish and chips while we watched them and we went for it - though the alley I led us down wasn’t the best choice I could have made.  We managed to pick the only chippy in the world that didn’t do pies (I had chicken nuggets and chips, I’m not a fan of fish) then stood on the path and watched the fireworks, chatted and laughed (and me and Wayne helped save Chris from choking to death).  As Wayne said, we’re at the seaside, it had to be fish and chips on the beach!
In the back bar (pic by Chris Teague) - from left (bottom) Wayne, Gavin Williams, Amanda Rutter, Steve H, Sharon Ring, me, Ross, John Travis, Peter, Lisa, Sue, Phil, Steve, James
Back at the Grand, we made a circle in the back bar which was already full with FConners and other hotel guests.  Our group was joined by Phil and James, then Neil and John Travis and it was fluid for the rest of the evening - Chris Barnes and Ben; Danny Rhodes and Thomas Emson came over, Jim and Vix joined us for a chat, Steve H & Amanda pulled up chairs (and he & I managed to have a bit of a chat too - he gave me a copy of his new book Craze which is leaping to the top of my TBR pile).  Saw Neil Snowdon briefly and managed to say a quick hello to Steve Savile - and then didn’t see him again for the promised chat (that happened a lot).  As I was heading for the loo, I saw Alison and Gary McMahon - she’s been trying to corner us three and Gary Fry to get a picture all weekend (we four have a message thread on Facebook Gary F labelled the Secret Horror Society which is great fun) - we grabbed him at the bar and got Gavin Williams to take a picture for us.
Me, Alison Littlewood, Gary Fry and Gary McMahon - sarcasm not pictured
When I got back to our corner, Adam Nevill had joined us and we chatted for a while - he’s a lovely bloke, always interesting (and interested) and I enjoy his company.  Jasper Bark dropped by, James Bennett came over for a hug and I decided to call it quits at about 2.30.  What an absolutely brilliant day - a great panel, two book launches, lots of laughter and chat, who could ask for more?


Sunday 25th September
Light rain this morning so I didn’t go for my walk.  I met Stephen Volk on the stairwell and we walked down to the main bar together.  He apologised for missing the Hersham launch (he popped his head around the door and the room was full) and I thanked him for the mention in his new PS collection (it includes The Arse-Licker, his story from my Anatomy Of Death anthology) and, as ever, it was a real treat to talk to him.  At the bottom of the Disney Princess staircase we met Marie & Paul, then the Williams, before Sue joined us (and we had pictures taken with Tallis’ Zombie bear).  Sue & I went for breakfast and saw and chatted with Ian and Simon Morden on the stairs.  In the restaurant, I finally saw Graeme Reynolds & Charlotte McDonald to say hello to.
Tallis Williams, me and the Zombie Bear
We dropped our cases off and checked out, then I chatted with Peter, Phil and James, all of us still really chuffed about the launch.  Jay & Selina joined us and then Phil had to leave, so it was hugs all round, the first goodbye of the day.  That’s the bummer about the last day of a Con, saying goodbye as people head off, knowing you might not see them again for a year - thank goodness for Facebook!  Richard, Peter, Steve, Sue and I went into the back bar and chatted as we drank tea.  Wayne joined us, then Simon Morden, then the Williams.  It was Michelle’s first Con and she'd enjoyed it and it was nice to see Tallis getting more confident as the weekend went by.  Had a long chat with Simon about writing and plans, perhaps the longest natter we’ve had since we first met up at the Masters Of Terror day in London back in 2000.  After Jim and Chris came to say their goodbyes (more big hugs), I went onto the terrace to take pictures of the view and found Sharon Ring out there taking pictures of the boats.
Sunday in the back bar - me, Peter, Richard
Went into the Joe Hill panel, where he was interviewed by Peter Crowther - Sue & I saw him at WFC in Brighton (at the time she didn’t know his parentage) and this time was even better.  He’s a great speaker, engaging, witty and funny and his stories ranged from hilarious to powerful and raw.  One of my favourite events of the Con.

For lunch, Peter suggested we try the café at the top of the funicular and it was a good choice.  We sat upstairs, all had paninis and a good chat - Wayne liked my Live & Let Die t-shirt, which led to us discussing Robert McGinnis and poster art in general (he & I share a dislike of modern ‘here’s a picture’ posters - step forward the Daniel Craig Bond’s).  All too soon it was time for Steve & Wayne to go and, as ever, their goodbye hugs were just a little bit tighter than normal.  It’s been great to see and spend so much time with them this weekend that it’s genuinely a wrench to say goodbye.  Peter went back to the Con but Sue & I decided to go for a walk instead (she wanted an ice cream too).  We walked along the front, got to the harbour and decided to keep going - the sky was clear, conversation was good and we were almost at the North Bay before turning back.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Back at the Grand, Mark Morris came over to say hello - we caught up and finally, after years of trying, had a little bit of a chat about the Three Investigators.  It was really good to see him.

Me and Adam Millard in the mirror, in the queue
Leaving Sue with her Kindle and a cup of tea, I went to the Royal for the Awards ceremony and stood chatting with Adam Millard in the queue.  He & I secured a sofa and were joined by Peter, David Price, Martin Roberts and Helen Hopley (she & I knelt on the floor).  Neil Bond came over to wish me luck and I stood with Graeme Hurry and Steve Volk for the ceremony itself.  King For A Year didn’t win, which was a disappointment, but there were some nice surprises and it was a genuinely lovely moment when the Karl Edward Wagner Award was given to the redcoats past and present.  Seeing Pixie on stage, emotional and lost for words for all the right reasons, was wonderful.  It was also a treat to see Priya Sharma win too - wonderful person, great writer!

Then it was time to go.  I shook hands, said goodbyes, congratulated Alex on the award and Con and headed back to the Grand.  I had a chat with John Travis and Terry in the main bar, got Sue, said goodbye to Ian then went to get our cases, which was more complicated than it should have been.  We found them and were joined by Laurel Sills (the mysterious girl in one of my photo’s from Brighton) who came back to the station with us.

We made our connection with minutes to spare at York, talked all the way to Kettering and got in for 8.15.  Alison & Dude met me at the station - he came running over and jumped into my arms, which was a great way for the weekend to end - then I hugged Sue and said goodbye.
Sue on the staircase
FantasyCon by the sea was another great Con, full of fantastic people, company and conversations.  Although I wasn’t keen on the two-venue approach (I’d have preferred everything to be in one), Scarborough was a great location, the faded glamour of The Grand Hotel was perfect and it was so good to see old friends and make new ones.
Glorious Scarborough
I know I say it a lot but I really do find FCon a life affirming experience, it reminds me of the good people I have in my life, it reminds me why I love the horror genre and its writers and readers and it makes me wish it happened more than once a year.

Here's to 2017!

10 comments:

  1. fabulous narrative of the weekend, I'm just sorry I never got to spend more time with you! clearly you are a man in demand. Not sure how you remember EVERYones names..... well done at the stair running xx

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    1. Thank you - it was good to see you and I wish we'd had a bit more time. Maybe next year, eh? :)

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  2. fabulous write up and great hugs :)

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    1. Thank you - and the same to you, having our chats and hugs was a highlight of the weekend for me!

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  3. Great write-up Mark. Sounds like a blast!

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    1. Cheers Adrian - and yes, it was great fun!

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  4. This made me cry all over again, for the very best reasons :) I love your post con. blogs - it's like I was actually there xx

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    1. Thank you - I was happier because you were there! :)

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  5. Always a pleasure to spend time with you, Mark. Amazing that we reached our home station still talking! (Or maybe not ... 😄)

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    1. And you - it should surprise me that we can talk exhaustively all weekend but it never does :)

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