Friday 29 November 2013

The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

Tonight is a special, terrible night.

A woman sits at her father’s bedside watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters – all traumatised in their own ways, their bonds fragile – have been there for the past week, but now she is alone.

And that’s always when it comes.

As the clock ticks in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her…

Quite simply, this is a beautiful novella, a deeply felt and very moving exploration of family bonds and the ways they can be twisted, strained and - maybe - broken by death (even if that event hasn’t happened yet).  On a personal level, I found some of it difficult to read and I’m not certain it’s something I could re-read, but that’s not to the detriment of the craft on display.  Indeed, Sarah’s writing is so assured, the flow of the language is so right, that you read on even when you desperately want to look away or wipe at your eyes.

The unnamed narrator is the middle of five children.  Paul is feckless, a man who goes with the flow and shuts down or runs away when life turns on him and Penny is glossy and keen on appearances, someone willing to suffer just so long as she doesn’t make a scene.  The younger siblings, Simon and Davey, are twins who have taken a different path to their brother and sisters, becoming addicted to various things.  The narrator weaves amongst them - she’s telling the story to their father, who is dying of cancer - as everyone gathers at the old family home for their Dad’s last days and old bitternesses and comradeships are rekindled.  The narrator feels kinship with her Dad, a man whose life never quite worked out how he wanted it to and even though we only get to see glimpses of him pre-cancer, he’s vividly portrayed.  In fact, the characterisation is the books key strength, with even minor players - the narrators ex-husband, the various nurses - so clearly defined that they remain vivid long after their part in the story is over.  Paul is a fleeting character, present more by name and memory than physical being (as is Simon), whilst Penny is sad and funny and scared and strong.  Davey, addicted and conflicted, really comes through as the story progresses, a kid who took a wrong path and the adult who’s still trying to make better.

But the story stands and falls by its narrator and she’s a wonderful creation.  Still tortured by the abandonment of her mother when she was ten (with a childs perception of the event - “we all know in our hearts that it’s our fault for not staying little for long enough.”) she patiently awaits the return of a wild unicorn she believes she saw on that night, whose pounding hooves and breathing she keeps listening out for.  She’s also very aware that everything is in flux and that once their father goes, things will change forever and not necessarily the better -“Buried in the scent of fresh sheets and the warmth of my sister, I store each second safely away so that I can savour this time in the years to come.”

With her own life - and innerself - in a state of turmoil (her failed, abusive marriage is painfully detailed and the image of her lying, bleeding, at the bottom of the stairs is one that’ll stay with me for a long, long time), the book ratchets up the tension as the siblings leave and their father grows ever weaker.  Trying to help him as he lies in bed, the narrator moves her fathers arms under the covers and worries she’s hurting him - “Sorry, Daddy,” I whisper, “I’m sorry, Daddy.” - and that did it for me, even though it’s not the end.

Not a novel for everyone, certainly, this is poignant and raw, loving and tender, brutal and beautiful and it will reward the reader who engages with it and, I think, it’ll stay with them for a long time after they’ve put it down and cleared their throat and wiped their eyes.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

More details here

This novella originally appeared in a  limited edition by PS Publishing in 2009 but is now being published by Jo Fletcher books (the edition I read) on 5th December, as a beautifully designed hardback.  Whilst it's presented as a horror novel (and there are elements of horror in it, but all of the real kind), this only has mild supernatural elements and is on a par with the fine work of Graham Joyce.  The only reason I mention this is that if you don't read a book because "well, it's horror", then you should really take a chance with this.

Monday 25 November 2013

In memory of Tracy, after ten years

Ten years, in terms of anything, is a long time.  People look back over decades and think ‘wow, is that when it happened?’ and then they wonder how that time could pass by so quickly.  I think that often.

It was ten years ago that I was sitting in the canteen at work with a colleague, when the telephone rang.  It was Mum.  She told me she had bad news and I paused, expecting to hear something about my Gran having fallen over or something.  But it was much worse than that.  Mum told me that she was at Leicester hospital, walking back to the car with my Dad and that my sister Tracy was dead. She was 32.

Tracy was two years younger than me and I think we spent most of our childhood (and a good chunk of our teens) fighting like cat and dog, though we were also fiercely protective of one another.  She developed MS late, a few months into 2003 and suffered upwards of six relapses as the year wore on.

An active person - she was a riding instructress - I can’t imagine how awful the lengthy hospital stays must have been for her, but I never really heard her complain about it.  At the time, Alison & I were trying for a child and Tracy kept track of our appointments at the hospital, asking how things were going and trying to gee us up as each month passed. Visiting her at Leicester Infirmary was often a difficult experience - I loved to make her laugh and would do pretty much anything in the pursuit of that - and it was painful to see her try and do things as her body rebelled against her.

But things seemed to be improving - we saw her on the Sunday and she was sitting up in bed, bright and lucid and Mum & Dad found the same thing on the Monday evening.  We had high hopes for these signs of recovery but on the morning of November 25th, 2003 (my Dad’s 60th birthday), she collapsed beside her bed.  The cause of death was later given as a pulmonary embolism.

I left work, got Alison and we went straight to Mum & Dad’s house that day.  Our younger sister Sarah was in Derby at Uni at the time so I drove us all up there to deliver the news. We arrived just before she got home and she got out of her car and seemed excited, as if we’d all gone up to see her for Dad’s birthday. Until Dad went across the road and told her the real reason.

Tracy’s funeral service was held in the Parish church in Rothwell - I’ve never seen so many people in there - and I read the eulogy. The burial was held at the little cemetery on the edge of town and it was a cold, dank day. Afterwards, we went back to the Trinity Centre for tea and some food. Nick was with us (he and Tracy got on really well), staying overnight at ours and supervising the taped music at the service. At the wake, he busied himself making sure that everyone had a drink and something to eat, whilst the rest of us just seemed to reel around and try to connect with people.

Since then, Dad hasn’t been keen to celebrate his birthday, which is understandable and instead we have a quiet gathering of the family, which has grown in ten years - Sarah married Chris and they had Lucy & Milly, we had Dude.  A lot has happened since then but it really does seem like only yesterday.

I miss Tracy a lot, as do Mum & Dad and Sarah and Alison.  Matthew never met her but he knows who she was and what she meant to me and he keeps an eye out for Snoopy stuff because he knows she loved it.

That’s all I can do, I think - talk about her and make sure that her memory continues to burn brightly and I will try and do that forever.

Ten years and gone too soon, I miss you Tracy.

Alison, Mum, Tracy and Dad, on the London Eye, March 2003

Friday 22 November 2013

More matte paintings

Following on from my other blogs about matte paintings (here, here (the Return of the Jedi one), here and here), I couldn't resist doing some more research and so here's another one, from the last great surge of glass and paint art, before everything went digital...

Escape From New York (1981)
artwork by James Cameron (before he became a film director).

His New York skyline was painted onto a glass panel which was set up in front of the camera so that the effect was captured live, rather than being put together (a much more costly process) in post production.

Poltergeist (1982)
artwork by Mike Pangrazio

Robocop (1987)
artwork by Rocco Gioffre
Finished plate, only the lift and surrounding concrete is real.

Predator 2 (1990)
artwork by Mark Whitlock (son of Albert)

Views of the city, all paint on glass

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)
artwork by Rocco Gioffre
 Rather than erect a billboard over Sunset Boulevard, the filmmakers combined an insert of two men shot against a fake sign in Arizona, actual footage of the road and this fantastic artwork.  The sun flare was created by shining a bright light directly at the camera through a small unpainted area.
Another one from the same film, this time painted by Jesse Silver, is a wonderful example of an invisible matte shot - if you didn't know it was there, you'd never notice it.

The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)
artwork by Paul Lasaine

thanks again to

Wednesday 20 November 2013

ill at ease 2 - available now!

Following on from the critical success of “ill at ease” comes volume 2, featuring seven original horror short stories, all of them guaranteed to give you the chills.

Joining the original trio of Stephen Bacon, Mark West and Neil Williams this time are Shaun Hamilton, Robert Mammone, Val Walmsley and Sheri White.

You will descend into an underground train station to uncover a dreadful secret and watch in horror as a paradise holiday turns sour.  You will see a bullied boy who’s helped by local history and share the anguish of a father, losing his child in a shopping centre.  You will take a trip with a cancer sufferer and share the pain of a couple, desperate for a child.  You will discover that history needs to be kept somewhere.

Seven stories, seven writers and you.

Prepare to feel “ill at ease” all over again.

Available from Amazon - UK

Available from Amazon - USA

cover designed and produced by Neil Williams
ebook built by Tim C. Taylor at Greyhart Press

for more information, contact the PenMan Press site

Monday 18 November 2013

Photo-stories (a little slice of history)

When I was a kid, it was a major ambition of mine to make a film.  I was an avid watcher of "Clapperboard", I bought books and magazines about behind the scenes stuff and I loved it when Mum & Dad let me stay up to watch Film (whatever year it was).

I grew up through the 70s and 80s, when video cameras were a pipe-dream and cine cameras were expensive (more so than my family could afford) so you can perhaps understand why this became a kind of Holy Grail for me. To try and create something visual, I ended up making various "photo-stories", which satisfied me for a while.
(for those who don't know, "photo-stories" were a staple of more modern boys and girls comics back in the day, replacing hand-drawn panels in a comic strip with posed stills.  Girls comics used them for problem pages, whilst I remember Eagle comic using them for a strip called Doomlord, amongst others.  There were also photo-novels - novelisations using film stills rather than prose - but the less said about them, probably the better).

What reminded me of all this was discovering some photographs over the weekend, of one such 'strip' I wrote.

The above picture was taken in 1981 and features my Dad, me and my school friend Geoff Burbidge. We were making a story about a bounty hunter (or in effect, a very close homage to a strip called "Man Tracker" from The Crunch comic).  I also used this image as the cover of a novel (or, as it'd be deemed now, a long-ish short story) I wrote in 1982 called Hadley Hall Comprehensive.

Left - my friend Nick walks away as Geoff (in my Dad's old trilby) threatens me.  Look at those clothes - Harrington jackets, jeans and trainers!  What a look!

Right - Nick's brother Chris (I recruited absolutely anyone who expressed an interest) takes aim at Geoff and Nick.  Not a bad shot as it goes but it's also one that inadvertently captured history.  That billboard (and the wasteground Chris and I were standing on) is long gone and standing in its stead is the new library.  Beyond the awning, there's a private house with a green lower part under the windows - that's now a Tesco Express store.

I never gained the means to make films of my own and so I never got the chance to enter the Clapperboard Young Filmmakers competition.  I did eventually make some films on VHS, with a school friend called Matt Ratcliff, but that was much later in the 80s and into the early 90s and all of them were zero-budget horror flicks.  I'll tell you about them one day.

Now I do have the means - a Sony Hi-8 video camera and an HD one on my Nikon - but I much prefer writing (though Dude & I have made several LEGO stop-motion epics).  I wonder how things would have turned out if I'd had the technology at my disposal then that I do now?

Friday 15 November 2013

Bite, by Gardner Goldsmith

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

What would you do if your career began with promise, if your plans for life seemed well on their way, but, due to your own mistakes, the bottom suddenly dropped out?

What if that clean, prosperous, happy family life was lost, and you were left to slide deeper and deeper into the “underground”, each strange job more obscure and bizarre than the next?

Where would you land? How long could you stomach that world?

Could you do the kind of job that others fear or don’t believe exists?

Sylvester Cole can. He has for too many years, and now he wants out. Long ago on track to become a literature professor, Sylv made one big mistake, and he’s paid for it since. Maybe he’s made himself pay. He’s not exactly sure.

But one thing is certain, now in his mid-fifties, he’s had enough. He’s saved up his cash and gold. He’s bought a plane ticket out of Vegas, and he’s ready to retire.

Silvester Cole wants one chance at life.

Because Sylvester Cole is sick of re-killing the dead.

But when Sylv wanders into his favorite watering hole to say goodbye to his friends of convenience, he’s confronted with an opportunity of a different sort: a girl, who just might give him that chance to snatch life and love out of the hands of fate – by re-killing one last time.

Sylvester Cole is a man with the kind of job that others fear or don’t believe exist.  After making a mistake that cut short his academic career, Cole became a gun for hire, terminating the undead and it’s a career he’s excelled at - but now he’s in his mid-fifties and wants a chance at life with the cash and gold he’s been saving over the years.  Going to say goodbye to old friends, he quickly becomes involved in a new job, where the girl he has to save might just be the girl who could turn his life around.

I love ‘noir’ thrillers (books and films) and I love vampire stories where the undead are nasty, venal creatures and so this book had double appeal to me.  Combine that with Goldsmith’s gutsy and assured writing style, a plethora of biting one liners and characters that leap off the page and it’s a winner.

Featuring a Las Vegas that hopefully none of us will ever see - where the dregs go to die - this is stark and dirty and unforgettable, with the desert haze and grit almost present on the page and a pace that never slackens.

Brutal, beautiful, elegant and kinetic (sometimes in the same sentence), with a real heart and soul, this is a refreshing take on a sub-genre that has been flooded with sparkly, friendly vampires of late.  But if you like your vampires and their hunters old school (as I do) I can’t recommend this highly enough - I loved it.

Thursday 14 November 2013

An Audience With Sir Roger Moore

Milton Keynes theatre, November 13th

Last night, at 7.30, Alison & I were at the Milton Keynes theatre for ‘An Audience With Sir Roger Moore’, an event that I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it.  In fact, it’s an event that I’ve been looking forward to for decades.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a massive fan of Sir Roger.  Starting with “The Persuaders” - that music! - and catching up with “The Saint” (Dad was a big fan, though Ian Ogilvy was my generation’s Simon Templar), he was my James Bond.  The first Bond films I saw at the cinema (as I blogged about here) were “Live & Let Die” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” on a double bill and I’ve been a massive fan of him (and the films) ever since.

Sir Roger came onstage, ramrod straight and steady and although he looks his age (and commented that his knees aren’t working so well any more) there was still a twinkle in his eye and a zest in his delivery that kept the audience rapt and respectfully quiet.

We were in the 2nd row from the stage and so had excellent seats, though there was a large video screen on hand too - I had to keep reminding myself to watch the man, rather than his image.  Hosted - and guided - by his biographer Gareth Owen, the show highlighted Moore’s natural raconteur abilities and his astonishing memory for names and places.  I read his wonderful autobiography a couple of years ago and there were even new bits for me, as he discussed his childhood, his early career and the moves to and from Hollywood.  After an interval, he discussed “The Persuaders” and Bond (and we were treated to "My name is Bond, James Bond" which got a round of applause), took some (pretty good) questions from the audience and ended the evening talking about his work for Unicef.

An evening with a genuine Hollywood legend, filled with wonderfully told anecdotes and a wicked sense of humour, this was a real treat.  If he tours again, we’re going!

Edited to add:
He did tour again, in 2014 and I got to meet my hero.  You can read about it here.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Is This Love? by Sue Moorcroft

In a new edition of the occasional series (but in a completely different genre this time), I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved.  Like I say, it's not horror but if you give it a chance, I think you'll enjoy it.

How many ways can one woman love?

When Tamara Rix's sister Lyddie is involved in a hit-and-run accident that leaves her in need of constant care, Tamara resolves to remain in the village she grew up in. Tamara would do anything for her sister, even sacrifice a long-term relationship.

But when Lyddie's teenage sweetheart Jed Cassius returns to Middledip, he brings news that shakes the Rix family to their core. Jed's life is shrouded in mystery, particularly his job, but despite his strange background, Tamara can't help being intrigued by him.

Can Tamara find a balance between her love for Lyddie and growing feelings for Jed, or will she discover that some kinds of love just don't mix?

Tamara Rix, a yoga instructor, has a disabled sister called Lyddie who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident when they were teens.  When Jed Cassius comes back into her life - Lyddie’s old boyfriend, from before her accident - and says that his father was the driver responsible, it throws everyone’s lives into chaos.  Then Tamara’s boyfriend Max leaves, just as she is approached to become a private yoga teacher for Emilia, the stay-at-home wife of a very rich businessman for whom Jed happens to be first lieutenant.

A welcome return to Middledip and Sue Moorcroft does it again, skilfully blending romance and passion (this is probably her raunchiest book yet), with a keen eye for family life and coping with disabilities and topping it all off with pacey thriller elements.

I liked Tamara a lot, she’s a strong character with real depth and her interplay with Jed is a real highlight, just as her relationship with Lyddie is moving and touching.  Great characterisation, a keen sense of location and time and a gripping pace all add up to another winner.  Highly recommended.

The book is available from Amazon here - in print - as an ebook

Sue's website can be found here

Friday 8 November 2013

Why having a home is handy (guest post), by Sue Moorcroft

When I began to write Is This Love? I had written a bio for my hero, Jed Cassius – because that’s where I generally start. Knowing the history of main characters provides not only character insight but gives me material to mine in terms of plot and the character’s likely emotional reaction to events.  I knew that Jed had left the village of Middledip as a teen, shortly after Lyddie, the girl he was seeing, received a head injury in a hit-and-run accident, and I knew his connection to the driver of the car that hit her. I also knew that he’d returned to live locally as part of the retinue of a millionaire who lived in a big house with big fences. In the early stages, I didn’t trouble myself too much with what had happened between those two events – it seemed to me that it would emerge as I wrote.

Soon enough, I began to see that something life changing had happened in that period. Jed’s a pretty no-nonsense guy, he can handle himself, he hasn’t had many long-term relationships, he’s got an odd but lucrative job, he consorts with some unusual people. But, behind the humour and the willingness to meet life head-on, there’s something defensive about him, as if he’s always wary of losing what he’s got.
Does it happen to other writers that a character presents himself or herself and the writer has to work out what made him/her that way? It happened to me in Love & Freedom, too, when I realised that a secondary character, Ru, acted as he did because he was being bullied. Maybe I subconsciously base my characters on real people I’ve met, and then have to deduce what makes them as they are. I can think of someone Ru may be based on but Jed … I would have remembered meeting him. Trust me! Jed’s a touch mysterious and it’s not easy to see if he’s one of the good guys – but Jed’s hot.
Hotness aside, the explanation that dawned on me for Jed’s character traits was that, at sixteen, he dropped out of society. His parents split up, he was angry, his older stepbrother Manny was living in a squat, so Jed went and joined him. I do remember it once being explained to me how incredibly difficult it can be to find a way back if a person drops out from society, stays off authority’s radar, works in the grey market or turns to crime to survive. In this age of literacy and data, most of us leave footprints in electronic records in our daily lives and when we let those trails disappear, doors close behind us.
An address provides an identity. You need one in order to claim benefits or apply for courses, so not to have one can prove isolating. If you try and leave the grey market and take a legitimate job, the taxman may want to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been living on. Fellow squatters do not appreciate the squat being brought to the notice of officialdom. Living in a squat can mean a lot more than not paying rent. Hot water, electricity and all kinds of basics can be pretty hard to come by.
But once I realised this about Jed, his personality, that balance between nature and nurture that offers writers an endless permutation of characters to work with, sprang into focus. Jed never takes a hot bath for granted, he loves his apartment to look and smell clean, he’s capable of kicking someone off a chair if he thinks it’s the fastest way to deal with a situation, he’s particular about his personal hygiene. He’s built up a stash of money to guard against unemployment. He loves women who look clean, fresh, healthy and glowing.
And, happily for him, I send him Tamara Rix. That she’s the sister of Lyddie, his teen girl, and views him with suspicion – well, he has to work his way through that for himself.
His time in the squat made him resourceful.

Is This Love? can be purchased from Amazon (ISBN 978-1781890554) and has already been nominated for the Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award at the Festival of Romance (Bedford 8th-10th November 2013).

Sue, who won the award in 2011 with Love & Freedom, writes contemporary romantic fiction of sizzling love affairs, vibrant heroines and hot heroes. Known for developing unusual and meaningful themes, in Is This Love? Sue’s chosen to study the different types and qualities of love and how it’s affected by the needs of pivotal character, Lyddie.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. As well as Love & Freedom winning the Best Romantic Read Award 2011, Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. She received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012, and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’s vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor.

Facebook sue.moorcroft.3

Twitter @suemoorcroft

Thursday 7 November 2013

Is This Love?, by Sue Moorcroft - published today!


Award-winning author’s latest novel hits the shelves – and has already been nominated for Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award

How many ways can one woman love?

When Tamara Rix's sister Lyddie is involved in a hit-and-run accident that leaves her in need of constant care, Tamara resolves to remain in the village she grew up in. Tamara would do anything for her sister, even sacrifice a long-term relationship.

But when Lyddie's teenage sweetheart Jed Cassius returns to Middledip, he brings news that shakes the Rix family to their core. Jed's life is shrouded in mystery, particularly his job, but despite his strange background, Tamara can't help being intrigued by him.

Can Tamara find a balance between her love for Lyddie and growing feelings for Jed, or will she discover that some kinds of love just don't mix?

Is This Love? returns to Sue's fictional village, Middledip, as featured in Starting Over, All That Mullarkey and Dream a Little Dream.

The ink’s hardly dry on Sue Moorcroft’s Is This Love? (ISBN 978-1781890554) and already it’s been nominated for the Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award at the Festival of Romance (Bedford 8th-10th November 2013).

Sue, who won the award in 2011 with Love & Freedom, writes contemporary romantic fiction of sizzling love affairs, vibrant heroines and hot heroes. Known for developing unusual and meaningful themes, in Is This Love? Sue’s chosen to study the different types and qualities of love and how it’s affected by the needs of pivotal character, Lyddie.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. As well as Love & Freedom winning the Best Romantic Read Award 2011, Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. She received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012, and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’s vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor.

Facebook sue.moorcroft.3

Twitter @suemoorcroft

Tuesday 5 November 2013

World Fantasy, Brighton, 31st October to 3rd November 2013

Thursday 31st October
My third convention in Brighton but my first World Fantasy event, I went along with my old friend and critiquing partner Sue Moorcroft (in case you don’t know her, I interviewed her here).  She writes romantic fiction but is also a writing tutor, so came along for the experience of a big world con in a different genre.

After stashing our bags at the Travelodge (which was less than 5 minutes walk away), we made our way to the Hilton Metropole which is - quite simply - an enormous venue.  Going through the revolving doors into the grand lobby was an experience in itself, then the double sweeping staircase to get up to the first floor was brilliant.  The first person I saw in the registration area was Pixie Puddin (and hey, if you could pick a first person to see, Pixie would be that lady) so I got a hug from her then booked in by Helen Hopley and Jenny Barber.  We had a pick of free books for our goody bags (one fabric which the huge, hardback souvenir programme book came in, the other canvas and empty) and then moved up to the dealer room.  Again (and this is a theme which will repeat), it was huge - far bigger than any dealer room I’ve ever experienced.  I saw people I knew - in person or from Facebook - and we didn’t make it far into the room before we decided to go back and stash the heavy book load.

When we got back, we got a drink from the very busy bar and stood out in the corridor where we saw Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner (and that’s always a treat) and John Travis, who we stood talking too.  Then - time whizzing by at this point - we went up to Lynda E. Rucker’s book launch, a collection through Karoshi Books (the imprint run by my friends Johnny Mains - absent from the con, sadly - and Peter Mark May), which was held in Signing Alley.  I’ve chatted with Lynda over Facebook and it was nice to finally meet her and she was standing beside two older people.  At one point, she went to say hello to someone else and, gesturing towards her guests, I expected her to say “These are my parents” or some such.  What she actually said was “This is Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem”.  I was so astounded, I didn’t know what to say.  I do remember shaking Steve’s hand and saying what an honour it was to meet him, then doing the same to Melanie, but I can only apologise to those fine folks for the rest of the gibberish I spouted.  It was the Rasnic Tems!  I was talking to them, just me and Sue.  Wow - fanboy moment number one.

Eventually, with Pete May in tow, we left them and got in the lift to head down to meet our dinner companions and then realised a truth that dawned on everyone else over the weekend - regardless of what they said, the lifts didn’t all go to the same place.  We got into one, joined by an American chap and pressed G to get to the lobby.  In fact, that let us off into a huge, deserted ballroom which had tables and chairs stacked at random places and strange noises tapping the walls.  After a brief investigation, we headed back for the lifts and saw that the second one was coming.  It opened and inside were the Rasnic Tems, so we told them to stay put, joined them in the lift and tried the LG button.  That worked, but brought us out into the registration area which was technically the first floor.  We assisted the Rasnic Tems up the stairs, then went down to the lobby to meet Jay Eales & Selina Lock, who we’d arranged to have dinner with.  Rather than wander aimlessly (as we did last year), Jay had booked us all into the Chilli Pickle - with three members of their writing group (Lucy, Phil and James), Richard Farren Barber and Steve Upham.  Nice walk, new people to meet, good conversation and a great meal.

We headed back to the hotel and set up in the bar, chatting with each other.  Looking around, it was surprising to see the sheer volume of people (Helen told us later that 1,500 people were expected for the weekend and I can well believe it).  I caught up with KT Davies, Lisa Jenkins and Neil Buchanan and then saw, standing across the bar, a tall broad man who was looking at me.  He nodded, I went over and James A. Moore, a man and writer I greatly admire, shook my proffered hand and then pulled me into a hug.  I told him how much of an honour it was to meet him and he waved it off, saying the same thing to me and we chatted for a while and said we would meet up again later, once the madness had calmed down (except it never did).

By then time was getting on and a walk in the high winds beckoned (I didn’t like not being in the Con hotel), so we called it a night and headed back to the Travelodge where my room overlooked the Revolution nightclub.  The double glazing helped.  A little.

Friday 1st November
Sue & I arranged to meet in the corridor at 8.30 (we were both on the 7th floor) and as we waited for the lift, the door next to Sue’s room opened and out stepped Ian Whates and his lovely partner Helen.  After introductions, we went down to the restaurant together and had breakfast, chatting and catching up - it turns out, Sue and Ian had a mutual friend.  Ian also graciously allowed us to store our coats behind the NewCon Press stand (it was a rainy day), which was very nice of him.  On the way to get our bags, as we stepped out of the lift we bumped into Jay & Selina - the 7th floor was clearly popular with writers!

We dodged the rain and got to the hotel and made our way to the Joanne Harris Guest Of Honour (GoH) interview in the Oxford Suite (it was a longer journey than I’d expected, since we kept stopping to say hello to people), which Sue had told me was huge - her son had his graduation ceremony in there.  And she wasn’t kidding - it was the size of a football field.  Muriel Gray was the interviewer and the two of them had a great rapport, resulting in an interesting, funny and enlightening fifty minutes.  Sue decided to stay on for the Neil Gaiman interview whilst I decided to hit the dealer room though, as it turned out, I didn’t get much browsing done.

I’d decided to take a copy of “Anatomy of Death” (it’s really very good, you should buy a copy) to get everyone to sign it (I managed it, over the weekend, with the exception of the absent Johnny) and bumped into Stephen Volk as we both headed into the dealer room.  After chatting for a while, we were joined by Charles Prepolec - another Facebook friend I was meeting for the first time - and then we were joined by Paul Finch, El G Grande himself (Gardner Goldsmith) and Phil Ambler.  Fanboy time again!  I didn’t want to leave but it was time for the Joe Hill GoH interview, so I made my apologies and headed back to the Oxford Suite (where Sue had thankfully saved me a seat and I was sitting next to James Bennett - another Facebook friend first meeting).  Sarah Pinborough, the intended interviewer, was indisposed but Gillian Redfearn stepped into the breach and it was another brilliant 50 minutes.  Having read Stephen King through the 80s and 90s - and been a big fan of his notes and afterwords - it was nice to hear the boy from them talking about his books and his thoughts on horror and it has to be said, Joe Hill is a terrific interviewee.  Brilliant fun.

l to r - Stephen Volk, El G Grande (Gard Goldsmith), Paul Finch, me

Sue & I ventured out for lunch and saw Dean M. Drinkel just outside the hotel, so we stopped to chat with him (which is always a pleasure).  As we were talking, a lady walked by, looked at us and then leaned in and introduced herself - Cat Hellisen.  She & I have been online friends for a long time, before Dude was born certainly, starting on Live Journal and then re-connecting on Facebook but it was the first time we’d met.  We shook hands and promised to catch up later, said goodbye to Dean and had lunch at Costa Coffee.  An hour or so later we were back to the Con.  We got waylaid several times on the way up to the dealer room (and I had a quick word with James Barclay too) and I saw Stuart Young and Gavin Willams in passing (there was a lot of ‘in passing’, but more on that later), had a quick look (but ended up chatting - Sue advised me that if we were going anywhere in a hurry in future, we’d go separately) and went into the Oxford Suite for the Sir Terry Pratchett GoH interview.  I’ve read him - mostly due to my friend Nick badgering me (and another friend, David, is a massive fan) - and wanted to see him but I don’t know that it was an altogether good thing as there was a slight tinge of the voyeuristic for me.

Having seen Danie Ware in the dealers room, I went to the launch of her new book “Ecko Burning” and after chatting with folk, went back to the Oxford Suite (and met up again with Sue) for the Tanith Lee Lifetime Achievement Award interview, with Ian Whates asking the questions.  That was great, she’s a very prolific and witty lady and Ian is always good fun, a widely read and knowledgeable man.

At Pizza 7 - me, Sue, Emily Hallewell, Steven Chapman, Phil Ambler

We’d arranged to go for dinner with Phil Ambler, so met him at the main bar and he’d met up with Steven Chapman (another Facebook friend first meeting) and his girlfriend Emily Hallewell, so they came along too.  We found a little pizzeria in the Lanes, with a wood burning oven and spent a lovely couple of hours there, catching up and talking about genre and listening to the rain pounding on the glass roof.  By the time we headed back for the hotel it was lashing down, so the girls shared a brolly whilst Steven & I braved the precipitation (though I think Steven’s jacket protects him from most things).

It was the mass signing that night and even though none of us had particularly bought much yet, we went up anyway, got ourselves a drink and stood chatting in the corner, soon joined by Stuart Young.  Simon Kurt Unsworth strolled by and came over and we caught up on family life and then I congratulated him on his recent, very good book deal.  It was good to talk to him and it’s nice to see things settling down and coming up nicely for him.

Neil Bond, a friend from the writing group, came over and said “Look at this!” and pulled his t-shirt up.  During Joe Hill’s interview, he’d mentioned writing the wrong name in a dedication (“to Christopher”) and the perils of late-night shopping for new parents (“lunchmeat…”) and when Neil saw him sitting on his own, he went up, explained he didn’t have a book but presented his belly.  So Joe wrote “To Christopher - lunchmeat!  Joe Hill” on Neil.  Brilliant.

l to r - Steven Chapman, Neil Bond and his graffiti autograph from Joe Hill, me and Ruth Booth

I went to the loo and met Martin Roberts in there and we had a chat - he’s stepping down from BFS duties with this Con but he’s going to be running the film show next year at York, which is guaranteed to be a good time (it was Martin who sourced the “Later” short film that I loved and wrote about).

Sue & I decided to have a wander and whilst she chatted with Joanne Harris (who she’d corresponded with before, through her Romantic Novel Association connections), I finally - after about thirteen years - plucked up the courage to speak to Michael Marshall Smith.  He was on his own, I was waiting for Sue, I took my chance.  I shook his hand and told him it was an honour to meet him and that my favourite short story of all time is his classic “Later”.  I then explained about the short film, which I blogged about (you can read my review here, if you're so inclined) and he'd retweeted and we talked easily - when I explained that I first saw him in 2000 and hadn’t dared speak to him before this, he said “you should have done!”  He was so easy to chat to and friendly, I really should have.  But at least I’ve done it now - another fanboy moment!

We lapped the signing room, chatted with Peter Coleborn and then headed back to the Travelodge, braving the elements (as did the loud ladies and gents in Revolution).

Saturday 2nd November
Over breakfast (Ian came down and said he couldn’t join us as he had an early start and Helen was indisposed…), we plotted out the day which promised to be packed.

We got to the hotel in plenty of time, so we could chat to people we met and went into the Oxford Suite for the Richard Matheson video.  Mr Matheson was originally going to be the grand GoH but unfortunately passed away about four months ago, whilst his son RC (Richard Christian) was also a GoH.  Before Richard’s death, he and RC had filmed interviews running to several hours in length and a half hour segment was being shown in his honour.  For some reason, Sue had decided to sit three rows back in the aisle but we ended up sitting right behind RC and his wife.  The interview ran and, I have to say, I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the house - it was moving, funny, astonishing, full of history and love and creativity and a perfectly fitting memorial for a great writer and, by all accounts, a great man.  I didn’t get a chance to compliment RC on it, but we did speak to his wife.

It was back in the dealers room then (and coats off - the rest of the hotel was warm, but the Oxford Suite and Hall 4 upstairs both seemed to have their air con blowing full) and by chance bumped into Stephen Bacon, who was chatting with Stuart Young and Dai Price.  Steve & I had arranged to meet anyway but I’d turned off my phone in the video and so missed his text.  We had a quick wander, then decided to head back to the Travelodge (where Steve was also staying, though he couldn’t yet book in) so that he could stash his goody bags in my room.  It was great to see him again (we’re in regular contact by Facebook and email and he’s my partner-in-crime on the Lost Film and “ill at ease” projects but this was only the third time we’d met face-to-face).  Thankfully he and Sue got on very well, so the three of us were quickly chatting and enjoying each others company.

We went back to the Con for the Brian Aldiss GoH interview, conducted by Stephen Baxter, which was great fun.  Sue’s brother is a big fan of the man, so took some satisfaction in texting him to say ‘guess who I’m in a room with…?’  I also saw Martyn Taylor in the hall and managed to grab a few minutes with him, which was nice.  The interview, as they all do, whisked by too fast and we went up to Signing Alley for the NewCon Press launch where Mihai Adascalitei came over to introduce himself.  Mihai is a reviewer and book blogger from Romania and he’s been very supportive of my work in the past - plus he’s a great laugh on Facebook - and it was good to finally meet him.  After that, I bumped into Ren Warom (who I shared space with in the “Urban Occult” anthology) and Anne-Mhairi Simpson, Facebook and Twitter friends I was meeting for the first time and it was great to talk to them.  The Rasnic Tems were also there and, since I was stupidly too shy to approach them again, Sue went and got me an autograph.  Lovely.  Even better, on the way out, Paul Meloy collared me and we had a lovely catch-up.

Then it was lunchtime and Steve wanted to see the Lanes so Sue led us through them and we walked into town and ended up at Costa Coffee on West Street.  As we ate and drank, the rain lashed down - it was so heavy, it looked like a film effect - so we hung around until it was done and then went into the shopping centre so I could buy a gift for Dude.

Back to the Con, we headed to the reading rooms - Sue knows Heather Graham as a romance author - and on the long corridor to registration (with the big mirror at the end that threw everyone the first time they encountered the “person who looked just like them coming towards them”), I saw Pete Atkins coming towards us.  I met Pete briefly in 2011 (at FantasyCon, as I did the book trailer for his “Rumours Of The Marvellous” collection from Alchemy Press - you can read my blog post on it here) but didn’t expect him to remember me and contented myself with a smile as I walked past.  Instead, he looked at me, then looked at my badge, then held his hand out and said “Mark!”  I was bowled over, I shook his hand and said how good it was to meet him again and he said we would chat later and then he was gone.  I was bowled over - yet another fanboy moment.

We carried on to the reading, which was entertaining though Steve & I left early so that we could bag seats at the RC Matheson GoH interview, being conducted by the brilliant Pete Atkins - Sue joined us later, after chatting with Heather.

Sitting along from us was Nicholas Burman-Vince, who was not only a Cenobite but a member of Clive Barker’s circle from the 80s and a friend of Pete Atkins - he was also in the Dean M. Drinkel edited anthology “The Demonologica Biblica” with me.  I introduced myself, thanked him for the demonology papers he sent me and we chatted about our writing, before the session started.

The interview was probably the one I enjoyed most of the Con.  RC is a witty raconteur, with a great voice and delivery and he was responsible for the terrific short story “Vampire” (in Dennis Etchison’s anthology “Cutting Edge” which, along with Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood”, changed the way I looked at horror).  Pete Atkins is a genial host and he and RC had great chemistry and it made for a fun 45 minutes or so.  When they opened the floor to questions, I raised my hand and - another fanboy moment - Pete pointed to me and said “Yes Mark”.  I asked how it felt to be part of the movement that had such an effect on horror in the late eighties, Pete thanked me for the question and I got to hear RC talk about splatterpunk and this whole period that means so much to me.  El G asked a question, which was another good one and then, with no more questions, I put my hand up again - earning an eyebrow raise from Pete - and I got to thank RC for the video interview.  He nodded to me, thanked me and I felt ten feet tall!

Sue went off to read in the bar (and ended up chatting with Brian Aldiss), Steve went to a kaffeeklatch with Ellen Datlow and I headed for the “Mainstream & Us” panel (my first of the con).  As I went up the stairs, Graham Joyce was coming down and he saw me, held out his hand and said “Hello mate!” and we had a chat about things - he looks good, all things considered - and I told him how much “The Year Of The Ladybird” meant to me.

The panel was…  Well, it happened.  Jay & Selina came in and sat with me, I lasted the 45 minutes and then I left.

I went back to registration, chatted with Richard Barber and David A. Riley and it occurred to me (helped by the previous 45 minutes of thinking time) that if there was a problem with the Con (and I think you’d be hard pushed to find another), it was that it was too big.  Sometimes you got caught in a stream of people, moving from one place to the next and there wasn’t really the room to stop if you saw someone going the other way.  I was okay, generally, since I was knocking about with Sue but I did see a lot of my friends on their own for a lot of time, looking for other folk but since it was so big and there were so many people, you’d see someone one day, say “I’ll catch you later” and then not see them again for 24 hours.

Sue, me and Steve Bacon at Steak On Sea

Steve came back, excited about his gathering and we went to find Sue and headed out for the Steak place along the front.  Another lovely meal, great conversation and 90 minutes slipped away like five.  All too soon, Sue shooed us away (though we did leave money) as the till was broken and they couldn’t print the bill.  Steve & I, walking tilted into the gale-force wind, headed back to the Con for the Peter Cushing panel, moderated by Stephen Volk.  Basically, the panel consisted of the speakers - Anne Billson, Nancy Kilpatrick, Uwe Sommerlad, John Llewellyn Probert and Kim Newman - discussing their favourite Cushing movies and TV shows, his impact on culture and the man himself.  It was wonderful.

me, Simon Marshall-Jones, Lizzie Marshall-Jones, Steve Bacon, after the Peter Cushing panel

Cat Hellisen and me

We headed back to the ‘secret bar’ then, where a party was in full swing and after chatting with Simon Clark, we found Sue sitting with Jay & Selina.  There were a lot of people in there and it was very noisy, but we stayed put and I’m so glad we did.  Dean came through and Lisa Jenkins called me over for a photo, then Lisa & I stood chatting with Dai Price and then Cat Hellisen came through to use the ladies loo (which I happened to be standing in front of).  As she came out, we had a chat and I went towards the back of the room to get a picture with her and I saw Joan De La Haye and Gavin Williams, so sat and chatted with them, Vinny Chong and Chris Roberts and by the time I got back to our table, Jay & Selina had called it a night!  I saw Jon Oliver, had a chat with him, then Sue decided to call it a night, so me, Steve, Chris Teague, Steve Upham and Dai Price were chatting when I saw James A. Moore across the room.  He was in a tux (his agent took his clients out for dinner) and looked really dapper and he nodded at me.  I got up, grabbed Steve to get a picture of us and got another hug from James.  I introduced Steve and we were talking about books and writing and James asked what I was working on, I explained about the never beginning novel pitch and he put his arm on my shoulder and looked at me and said “sometimes people need a kick up the ass”.  Yes, I said, we need someone to push us.  “Okay,” said my hero, “you’ve got a month.  If you haven’t written the pitch in one month, I’m coming for you.”  I smiled, he held his Tony Soprano expression.  He patted my back, winked at me and walked away, saying “one month!”  Brilliant.

Steve Bacon, James A. Moore, me

Neil was in there too with Donna, his wife (a fellow member of the writing group and a terrific comedian) and I asked if he still had his autograph.  It turns out that last night he got a Dalek from Neil Gaiman and a very low-slung message from Kim Lakin-Smith, the pictures of which he gleefully showed me (I suggested to Donna that the picture I was looking at - Neil, on the bed, his face covered by a pillow as he showed off most of his torso - resembled a ‘readers husband’ image…).

The secret bar closed at midnight so, in order to get space in the bigger bar, Steve & I headed out but didn’t get far.  “Is that Mark West?”  I heard and turned to see Michael Kelly, editor and writer extraordinaire, making his way over to us.  A brilliantly funny bloke and someone I respect a great deal, we had a great chat and he said he was learning some Brit-speak (he'd spotted a word on the sea wall), so he called Steve a ‘tosser’ and then asked what it meant.  When we told him (Steve said “it’s not really very nice”) I said that it was very often used as a term of endearment, though we suggested its use should be limited!

As we walked through the restaurant, Pete Atkins was sitting with friends and saw me walk by.  I went to thank him for the great interview, he thanked me for reminding him of the Splatterpunks tangent - yet another Pete Atkins based fanboy moment.

Steve Bacon, me, Stuart Young, Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner

The main bar was heaving so we stood just outside it and had a little Terror Scribes gathering - me, Steve, Stuart Young (I finally got to spend time with him), Dai Price, Ben Baldwin, Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner, John Travis, El G (briefly), Lisa Jenkins and Gavin Williams.  James A. Moore passed at one point, saw me and leaned in - “One month!” - and carried on his way.  I had a brilliant time, with some great conversations and Steve & I finally drifted away at 2.30 (we went through the main bar, which meant it took us longer than expected).  It wasn’t raining but as we walked back to the Travelodge, braving the gale force winds that froze us in our coats and trousers, we watched barefoot girls in small party dresses walk the other way.  Maybe it was the wind, maybe I was used to it, but Revolution was quieter tonight though I was buzzing from such a great day that it still took me ages to fall asleep.

Sunday 3rd November
We met in reception at 8.30 and went for breakfast, chatting with Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards and Ian Whates came over to assure us that Helen was “up and about”.  The three of us talked for ages, then Steve & I went to the Con to attend the “California Sorcery” panel, hosted by Pete Atkins, with RC Matheson, William F. Nolan (he wrote “Logan’s Run”! - another fanboy moment), Nancy Holder, Terence McVicker and Tad Williams (who was still on DST from the US and was very late and very apologetic).  It was great to hear the stories and astonishing that a group of friends could produce such fantastic quality work that would change the genre forever, creating the bedrock that horror and sci-fi stands on today.  A truly humbling panel, I’m so glad I got to it.
RC Matheson, William F Nolan, Pete Atkins, Nancy Holder, Terence McVicker
(photo by Steve Bacon)

Back to the dealer room (after a quick chat with Steve Jones in the corridor) and it was almost done - people were packing stock up, friends were saying goodbye.  I got Gardner’s book, said goodbye to Chris and Steve, chatted with Simon and Lizzie Marshall-Jones (and picked up the latest two Spectral editions), said goodbye to Helen (Ian was on a panel) and then headed out.  At the registration, I spoke with Paul and Marie, who had some sad news, said goodbye to Jenny Barber and Jan Edwards and then we were off.  Pete Atkins was at the bottom of the stairs so he said a rousing goodbye and gave me a hearty handshake, then I introduced him to Sue and Steve.  We left him and bumped into James A. Moore, who gave me a huge hug and said how pleased he was we’d met (“one month!”), then said goodbye to Steve and I introduced him to Sue (“good to meet you, ma’am”) and then we were out.  Well, we saw and said goodbye to Neil Buchanan, got back to the hotel and said goodbye to Graeme Reynolds and Stuart Young and then we went into the Lanes for lunch in ‘That Teashop in the Lanes’, which was very nice.  After another drink in the Costa in the centre, we said goodbye to Steve with hugs (it’d been great hanging around with him) and Sue & I headed for the train.

And talked, all the way home, about books and writing and our plans for the future.

Alison & Dude met me at the station - he came racing along and jumped into my arms - then Sue & I said goodbye and we went home, with me bursting with stories and Dude wanting to tell me everything that’d happened to him.  So I listened to his tales and loved the welcome home banner he & Alison had made and then I talked her ear off when he’d gone to bed.

World Fantasy Con 2013 - you were great.  Writing this blog has helped maintain the fun and beat away the post-con blues, though it's missing a lot of names, of people I saw and said a quick hello to but if I did name everyone, it'd be in about ten parts!  Trust me, the Con was full of great people.

Congratulations to all of the team who put it together, it was truly brilliant and now I’m going to convert this Con buzz into some writing, or James A. Moore will come looking for me...

FantasyCon 2014 tickets have already been purchased…