Tuesday 9 September 2014

FantasyCon, York, 5th September to 7th September, 2014

Friday 5th September
Having decided to ‘let the train take the strain’ again, Sue Moorcroft & I arrived in York at 12.30 but couldn’t work out where the hotel was.  The picture on the website showed Downton Abbey standing in acres of land but we discovered it was a clever camera angle (it was Downton Abbey but the photographer crouched low, cut out some cars and road and so the lawns looked like acres of land - cunning!).  Deciding we’d head straight to get something for lunch, I was drawing out money from the cash machine and Bryn Fortey spotted me.  It was lovely to finally meet him and we had a chat, before James Everington briefly joined us, then Bryn took us to the hotel to get checked in.  Informed our rooms wouldn’t be ready until 3pm, Sue & I walked into the city and had lunch at a café near the Minster, sitting out on the square (where Sue managed to smash the lid of the teapot she had…).
Chris Teague with copies of "Drive" on prominent display...
Back to the hotel and we began to see old friends - James, Phil Sloman, Ross Warren and Steven Chapman, Steve Harris, John Travis, Terry Grimwood and Peter Mark May, Lynda E. Rucker and Jay Eales & Selina Lock.  Paul & Cath Finch were registering and during our chat and Paul asked when Dude is going to start coming to Cons (next year, as it happens, he’s remembered my promise to let him come when he’s ten)!  Plus there was Ian Whates and the lovely Helen, Simon Bestwick, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Alison Littlewood and Fergus, Mick & Debbie Curtis, Gary Cole-Wilkin & Soozy Marjoram (who gave me a massive hug and then made sure I was looking after myself now!).  Plus Mark Morris arranging for our Three Investigator conversation, Dean M. Drinkel, Paul Meloy and Sarah Pinborough.  Adele Wearing, Vincent Holland-Keen, Karen Davis and Ewan, Ruth Booth (who zipped around with redcloak efficiency), Gavin Williams and Pixie Pudding and Joan De La Haye, Anna Taborska and Reggie Oliver.  I love FantasyCon because it’s about horror and writing but it’s also about our genre community and I love getting to see old friends again and catching up with them in person.
Friends meet up - from left, Steven Chapman, Phil Sloman, Jim Mcleod, me, Sue Moorcroft, Neil Williams, Chris Teague
With Steven, Sue & I went to the Opening Ceremony (I’d never been to one before, I don’t think I’ll bother again) but heard the bad news that Graham Joyce wouldn’t be attending (he should have been the MC), which was a great shame.

Back upstairs, we found Neil Williams - it was his first con and although he & I have been communicating regularly for years (he is one of the original ‘ill at ease’ gang), it was our first time of meeting - and then, on a trip to the dealer room (where Chris Teague had copies of “Drive” on prominent display), we bumped into Jim Mcleod, Mr Ginger Nuts Of Horror himself.  It was brilliant to meet him finally, as he’s been hugely supportive of me and my work, so I got to shake his hand heartily and tell him what I thought of him.
Adam Nevill indulges in his "smell my finger" game - l to r - Phil Sloman, Adam, me, Steven Chapman
We went to the Tor launch and got Adam Nevill to sign our books as we chatted about how grim his latest novel was and then met up with Gary McMahon, who tossed his mane of richly thick hair a little too often for my liking (I do so envy it, but I can’t ever tell him…).  We then went out onto the terrace to enjoy some of the late afternoon sun and glorious, tangent-filled con-speak followed.  Steve Bacon finally joined us and we headed for the Joel Lane tribute (held in Joel Lane Bar, next to the main events room).  It was a lovely and really quite touching hour or more, as his old friends chatted about him and read selections of his work, though there were some noisy folk just behind us who Ramsey Campbell shouted at to “have some respect”.  Everyone went silent, it reminded me of headmasters bellowing in corridors but did the trick!

Ackbars Indian Restaurant - me, Paul Edwards and  the
biggest naan breads ever.  A bemused Sue Moorcroft looks on
Back up to the lobby, where we found Sue waiting with Jay & Selina and also Paul & Mandy Edwards, who I haven’t seen for a couple of years so it was lovely to catch up with them.  We headed off to the Ackbars Indian with Lucy Wade and some members of Jay & Selina’s writing group (and yes, most of the conversation revolved around how they could fit “It’s a trap” into the menu and how much of a shame it would be if they didn’t - turns out, they didn’t…), catching up on lives and family news on the way.  Ackbars was crowded and noisy but the food was good and I sat next to Neil - a curry virgin.  Selina & I steered him towards a chicken korma, then half of us ordered naan breads without noticing from other tables that they were huge, far bigger than I’ve ever seen (Steve said they acted as curtains for across the table).  Neil, Mandy, Paul and Sue all attacked mine and we still didn’t finish it.

Since the hotel bar prices were so high (ridiculously so - a glass of diet coke that, if you took the ice out of, wouldn’t have held half a can of drink, cost £3.50), we alighted to the York Tap next door and took over a big corner table.  Jasper Bark, Jim Mcleod, Lisa Jenkins and a couple I didn’t catch the name of (the acoustics were terrible) joined us and we talked and laughed and talked some more.  Then Johnny Mains turned up and came over to say hello and that’s always a treat.  By the end of the evening, I had a really bad case of heartburn (from my spicy Tikka Massala I assumed), which worried me slightly and I sat up for a while and it put me off the idea of going for another curry run tomorrow.

Saturday 6th September
Saturday was supposed to start bright and early but following my late night, sitting up wondering if it was heartburn and a travel alarm that was reluctant to do its job, I was re-woken by Sue ringing me to make sure everything was okay.  It was, of course, so I got sorted and met her in the lobby and we went in for the (very nice) buffet breakfast.  We then met Neil and Steve in the lobby and planned out our day.  Sue went off for a panel, as did Neil and Steve & I, along with Paul & Mandy Edwards, went to the Film Show (run, as ever, by Martin Roberts and Helen Hopley) and saw a reading of an M R James story (everyone else liked it, I thought it was too stagey) and a short from Spain called “Home Sweet Home” which I loved, with its apparent echoes of “Repulsion” and “The Tenant”.  Into the next room for the Spectral Press launch of Mark Morris’ “The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories”, which had a tremendous turn-out - we queued for ages, chatting with Lynda, Simon, Ross, Simon & Lizzie Marshall-Jones and plenty of others.  The signing panel was great too, with Alison Littlewood mentioning the naughty corner in her inscription.  Sue went to her room to watch the F1 qualifying, so Steve & I went back into the Film Show as they were presenting “The Jacket” (adapted from a Johnny Mains short story - his introduction was amusing and very much on point to what we saw - I want to see it again though with his commentary) and “Ascension” (which I’ve seen before and written about here) with Dave Jeffery (writer) and James Underhill Hart (director) in attendance.  I’ve known Dave for a few years and really like him, James I met briefly at a Comic Con at the NEC a year or so ago and it was great to watch the film with them.  It stands up very well on a bigger screen too and Dave gave me a DVD copy for my support, which I really appreciated.  After a chat with Martin and another with James Barclay in the corridor, we met Neil and Sue in the lobby (fifteen minutes late but it's such a regular occurrence by now that Sue doesn’t mention it) and wandered out into the York rain for lunch at Bailey’s Café and Tea Room, which was nice.  Over our sandwiches we talked about how we all met, what we were working on and plans for the future.
Friends in an expensive bar - Fiona Ni Ealaighthe, Jim Mcleod, me, John Travis
Back to the hotel, we visited the bar and had some chats, then went to the NewCon Press launch, for Gary McMahon’s “The End” (which I critiqued several years ago and contend is still one of his best novels) and it seemed to go well (though Jay Eales convinced him to mention his hair so my inscription reads ‘Behold my mane!” - grrrr.  I do get a nice mention in the acknowledgements though).  Steve & I then went into the “Horror on the small screen” panel, chaired by the brilliant Maura McHugh and featuring Stephen Volk, Paul Kane, Toby Whithouse and Laura Cotton (? I might have got that wrong) which was very entertaining.  Since it was still chucking it down, we repaired to the bar and stood chatting with Jim, Fiona Ní Éalaighthe and John, Paul & Mandy were around - his brother was visiting - and I had a brief word with Maura and Steve V, telling them how much I enjoyed the panel.  Paul Finch came through like a whirlwind (Steve is in “Terror Tales Of Yorkshire” and Paul Edwards has been asked to contribute to “TT of Cornwall” and I’m desperate for Paul Finch to get to the Midlands and I keep reminding him of where I live!).  None of us wanted to go to the mass signing so we headed out into the now thankfully rain-free evening to try and find a restaurant.  A quick word about York - lovely city, great architecture and people, but incredible rowdy in the early evening, as it appears that every local stag and hen do hits the streets!

We ended up at Silvano’s Pizzeria & Ristorante and had a great meal and chat.  We’d intended to get back for the Boo Books launch but missed it and, as I’d been convincing everyone all afternoon how great the FCon disco was two years ago, we headed for that.  Paul & Mandy joined us there and I think I danced pretty much solidly (both in terms of time and dancing style) from 9pm through until 1am (by which time Sue had given up and gone to bed and Steve Bacon had unfortunately had to go home.  Neil & I walked him to the door and said our goodbyes and I gave him a big hug).  Paul & Mandy also went - my dancing partners in crime - so there was a lot of hugging there too.  Back on the dance-floor, I was (I was going to say co-erced but that definitely isn’t true) convinced to twerk, along with Steven Chapman, Donna Bond and Peter Mark May and - unfortunately - that’s the only part of the evening that Jim Mcleod filmed.  The twerking I was doing in my head didn’t match what Jim captured on his phone, I can tell you…
With the Edwards at the disco - a quieter moment with Mandy and letting rip with Paul
We were all buzzed and none of us wanted to call it a night so we took over a set of sofas in the corner of the lobby - me, James, Steven, Chris Teague, Jim, Peter, Neil, Graeme Reynolds and Lisa Jenkins - and talked for a couple of hours and it was a lovely, pleasant way to round off the evening (plus it was very close to a set of toilets which looked very grandiose and had people nipping off to take pictures of it).  At 3am I decided it was time to head off so I got up and then everyone else did - just waiting for me to be the old fart, I suppose.  Another cracking day, another cracking evening.

Sunday 7th September
Neil, Sue & I on the wall, outside of the hotel enjoying the glorious sunshine
I met Sue on time and we went in for breakfast, where I noticed Simon Clark sitting on his own so I got him to join us.  Sue went to the Toby Whithouse interview and I fully intended to go as well but as I was checking out, I saw Gary in the bar and went in and never came out, joining in conversations with James, Ross, Steve H, Victoria Leslie, Neil Snowden, Jim, Pablo Cheesecake, Mhairi Simpson and more, so many more.  Paul Finch came over to say his goodbyes, shook my hand and wished me well and told me to be ready for the call to the “TT of the Midlands” book - yes!  Sue came back, she was absorbed into the conversation and we finally got up to leave at lunchtime.  We said our goodbyes, just in case we missed everyone later and it was as sad as it always is, knowing it’ll be a while before we all get together again.  Sue, Neil & I embarked on a walking tour of the city, taking in the glorious afternoon sunshine and the sights York had to offer.  I led us out towards Micklegate and we discovered a little café called “Your Bike Shed” and had lunch in there - it was great.  We then walked along the wall until the got to the river, cut through the city centre, joined the tourists at the Minster and the Shambles, then went back on the wall.  Sue stayed there and Neil & I headed to the hotel for the awards ceremony.

As always, the banquet was running late so we stood in the bar with Neil & Donna Bond and Lucy and had a laugh before they let us into the events hall.  There wasn’t enough seating so Neil & I, like a pair of the most unstealthy ninja’s ever, went on a chair raid so we could sit down.  The ceremony went well, the results were well received and it’s great to see such a strong genre represented.

By then it was 4pm and time to go.  We said goodbye to Neil, bumped into Chris Teague and Lisa Jenkins just outside the hotel and said goodbye to them, then caught our train and talked all the way back to Kettering until, at 7.05pm, Sue & I said goodbye to each other.
In the Tap on Friday night - from left, Stephen Bacon, Sue Moorcroft, me, Mandy Edwards, Paul Edwards, Neil Williams, Chris Teague, Jasper Bark
All in all, it was a cracking con.  There have been comments made about the lack of horror on the programme and I suppose that’s true, but I don’t really go for the panels - I go for the people, the chatter and the laughs.  The one panel I did catch was interesting and good fun, the signings were great, as was the film show and I missed all the readings (sorry people) but the company I kept was outstanding.  If I did have gripes, they’d be the lack of a raffle, no midnight ghost stories but worst of all, the bar prices which helped to fragment the crowd - as people found other watering holes to drink it, it meant there wasn’t ever one central point where you knew people would be.  That aside, it was well organised and everything ran on time and what more could you ask?

The other nice thing, for me, came from seeing old friends and their genuine concern and love following my mini-heart attack a month or so ago.  To have my friends come over and ask how I was, tell me how much I scared them and make sure I was okay before hugging me (or, in Gary McMahon’s case, flicking his mane of luxurious locks and then patting me on the chest), was wonderful.  Thank you, thank you all.
On the terrace.  I am centre bottom, then clockwise left - Steven Chapman, Neil Williams, Sue Moorcroft, Stephen Bacon, John Travis, Terry Grimwood, James Everington, Steve Harris
As ever, I’ve tried to mention everyone I saw and chatted with, even if only briefly (sorry Charlotte Bond!) and if I’ve missed you out, I’m sorry - in fact, let me know and I’ll edit you in!
The "ill at ease" boys - Stephen Bacon, me, Neil Williams - finally we all meet up
Apparently the Con is going to be at Nottingham next year and I’m already looking forward to it!

edit - I posted this on Tuesday morning and we found out that Graham Joyce passed away on Tuesday afternoon.  He was a genuinely wonderful bloke, who loved life and genre and hated inequality and he always made time to stop and chat whenever we ran into each other at Con's (except for the burlesque incident!).  He will be sadly missed.


  1. Great post Mark, meeting you was a personal highlight for me. Here's to next year

  2. Really enjoyed both the Con and the post. :-)

  3. Great post! It was such a lovely, relaxed con for me. Great for meeting people, old friends and new.

    1. Cheers Donna, it was good to see you looking so relaxed - thanks for the dancing the "arse-tags" business! :)

  4. Lovely to hear of your weekend Mark. Sounds like you had the greatest time. And a TT call up to boot! Well done. :)