Wednesday 28 October 2015

FantasyCon, Nottingham, 23rd October to 25th October 2015

Friday 23rd October
After a brisk journey up the M1 (my good friend Sue Moorcroft drove us) and despite her Sat-Nav trying its hardest to confuse us, we found the hotel and conference centre quite easily (it was, literally, right on the University Of Nottingham campus).  My first impression of it was good - the hotel looked smart and modern and the conference centre looked big enough to house the shenanigans that would be going on over the weekend.

We hadn’t even got to reception before Simon & Liz Marshall-Jones spotted us (I carried Liz’s bag up the steps) and we got booked in.  Neil Williams and Peter Mark May were there, friends of long-standing it was good to see again and Dean M Drinkel was holding an unofficial launch for his “Masks” anthology, featuring James Everington and Phil Sloman (my Crusty colleagues) who were also there.  Ross Warren and his sister Lisa Childs were sitting behind them, along with Theresa Derwin and it was great to see them all again, the quiet corner suddenly becoming quite loud.  Steve Shaw arrived and gave me the “Lost Film” t-shirts he’d printed up for the launch, which looked very impressive.  Sue & I dumped our bags and headed to the conference centre where, after picking up our badges and lanyards, we bumped into Jim Mcleod (Mr Ginger Nuts Of Horror) and his con-bestie Fiona Ní Éalaighthe.  Jim has been a great supporter of my work and I often tell him how much I appreciate it, but it’s always nice to do it in person, to shake his hand and give him a hug and catch up with things.  Neil and Carrie Buchanen came through, with Paul M. Feeney and it was good to see them again so I got a Redcloak volunteer to take a picture for me (people began to realise, as the weekend wore on, that if they stood with me long enough they’d end up in a picture) which perfectly encapsulates for me what FCon is all about - meeting people you haven’t seen for ages (or never, in the case of Carrie, an FB friend I was meeting for the first time) and clicking straight back into your friendship.  Marvellous.
left to right - Neil, Carrie, Jim, Fiona, Sue, me, Paul
Stephen Bacon texted that he’d arrived so we met him at the hotel, saw Steve Harris (another of my wonderful Crusty colleagues) and chatted with Mathew F. Riley (it's been years since we last saw one another), Jason Whittle and Paul Meloy.  Steve Bacon & I went to the dealers room to meet Chris Teague and I presented him with the various posters and flyers I’d put together, handed out the t-shirts and got some White-tack (I know, who knew it existed?) from reception.  When Wayne Parkin (Steve’s friend who I met at Edge-Lit 4 and spent a great day with in Leicester last week) arrived, he & Sue helped us set up the launch room (we were the first to use it over the weekend) and all too soon, it was 5pm.  Launch time for “The Lost Film Novellas”.

* short interlude - “the lost film” book launch
I’ve never done a book launch before that wasn’t for an anthology and I was very nervous about this, even though I would be standing alongside my good friend & collaborator Steve.  He & I came up with a plan we were both comfortable with via email during the week, where we’d do the signing, talk about the books origins (which I also wrote about for the afterword) and do a reading each.  Chris agreed and I thought we might get a handful of friends turn up (we were scheduled against a panel with Ramsey Campbell on it) but that would be cool, it would be fun.
The turn-out was much bigger and I was genuinely surprised and genuinely touched that all those people had come to support us.  Charlotte Bond baked us some muffins, Chris laid on the booze (I had to ask him for orange juice) and we drafted Sue in as event photographer.  We signed for about 15 minutes and quickly set up a conveyor system that ran fine until I realised I was writing more and more in the inscription and thus giving Steve less and less room - it wasn’t deliberate Steve, honest!  For the background talk, I began at the very beginning (it got a laugh when I casually mentioned research and sleazy paperbacks, almost as if people expected it of me…) and we alternated telling the story until we got to publication day.  Steve then read a section from “Lantern Rock” and I read most of the first chapter of “The Lost Film”.
Looking at all the pictures, I've realised I perhaps talk a bit too much 'with my hands'...
It was all done by 5.50, people chatting amiably with one another and I wanted to go and shake each of them by the hand to say thanks for turning up.  I didn’t, of course, though I did say thanks to as many as I could over the course of the weekend.  What a cracking launch - and the sales were apparently very good as well!
* end of short interlude - “the lost film” book is now launched

After a quick toilet break - along the way I met Shaun Hamilton and had a chat - we convened at the main concourse bar, met Victoria Leslie and had a chat, then Ben Jones arrived, a real force of nature whose novella I’d just read.  As we spent so long nattering, we missed the start of the 6pm panel and decided, instead, to head for dinner.  Due to the hotel’s inexplicable decision to abandon their normal menu in favour of a Junior school one - and since Sue & I spotted a Toby Carvery on the way in - we decided to eat there and quickly gathered our dining chums - me, Sue, Steve H, Steve B, Wayne, Lisa (Ross was off snaffling autographs), Peter, Phil, James, Richard Farren Barber, Neil and Chris.  It was a good decision as the food was lovely (and very reasonable) and the chef was agreeable to giving out more meat - Steve H went for the King Sized plate option, Sue asked for a Princess sized one and we suggested she might like a saucer.  Great company, lots of laughs (Peter was sitting across from me and we re-told the tale of the Burlesque at FCon 2011 which went down very well) and got back to the Con suitably refreshed, in time for my first panel.
left to right - Lisa, me, Sue, Steve H, Peter, Steve B, Wayne at the Toby
l to r - Emma, Gareth, Donna, Del and me
I’ve known Donna Bond for a good few years now (she’s in the NSFWG and I’ve been involved with some of her comedy evenings) and when she asked me to appear in “The Atrocity Exhibition” I agreed, though she didn’t explain what would be required.  In fact, right up until I took my seat in the Conference Theatre alongside Gareth L. Powell, Emma Newman and Del Lakin-Smith (with whom I shared a table and quick drink before we came in, since he was replacing his wife Kim and knew as much as I did), none of us knew.  But Donna had set up a Victorian-era panel quiz that was charming and quirky and about as off-beat as you could hope and I tried my best to think of funny things (as did Del) though we were roundly beaten by not only Emma and Gareth but the audience as well.  I nipped in to Carrie’s reading, which went very well, then after more drinks in the bar, Steve and Wayne headed home whilst Sue went back to her room and Steve H, Peter, Paul Melhuish (also from the NSFWG), me and Neil hung around in the hotel bar, drinking and chatting and putting the word to rights.  I also came up with an idea for a Scooby-Doo style anthology that I was sure would be a winner for Hersham Horror Books (Peter’s imprint) but he didn’t seem so sure.
late night chatters - me, Steve, Paul, Pete, Neil
After a while, I noticed two women sitting a couple of tables away and one of them nodded at me and waved.  I waved back (I’m friendly) and realised it was Carole Johnstone, who I’ve known online for ages (her novella “Cold Turkey” is up against “Drive” in the Awards on Sunday) but we’d never met.  We said hello, had a hug and a chat, then we were joined by her friend Priya Sharma, who was equally lovely.  We chatted - I told Priya that I didn’t have the nerve to do a reading so, of course, she said she was scheduled for one - and then Stephen Volk came in and we clamoured around him to say hello, a great moment.  The ladies went to their rooms, so I re-joined the boys and then there was an odd occurrence.  During the evening, I went to the loo twice and on the first occasion, John Travis and Adam Nevill came in.  On the second, I went then Adam came in and as we stood talking, John Travis arrived.  We all assured one another we weren’t stalkers, then Adam & I chatted in the corridor for a while.  I finally called it a night sometime after 2am but Steve H apparently kept going for a while.

Great first day, especially when I checked my email and found one from Steve Volk, apologising for missing “The Lost Film” launch.

Saturday 24th October
Every year I have to re-learn how to set the alarm on my phone and every year I somehow manage to cock it up.  Consequently, I arrived at breakfast 10 minutes late and sat with Sue, Steve H and his friends Stephen and Katina King.  Everyone else had a full English, I had a bowl of Cornflakes then succumbed to an egg sarnie, which was bloody lovely.  Great breakfast companions though.
Cate Gardner, Simon Bestwick and me - Gary McMahon commented this looked like a thorn between two roses...
We met Peter and Neil in the foyer and went to the dealers room, where we met Steve and Wayne (who were now back for the remainder of the weekend), as well as Ray Cluley and his lovely partner Jess.  Chris got Steve & I to sign more “Lost Film” copies and then Cate Gardner and Simon Bestwick came over for a chat.  I went to the Monster Mash panel at 11 with Neil, which was interesting - Jon Oliver ran a tight ship and the speakers included the lovely Adele Wearing, Carrie and Tim Lebbon, so there were some good insights.

From there, along with Sue, Peter, Steve and Wayne, we went to Adam Nevill’s “Lost Girl” launch.  I like him, he’s a genuinely nice bloke and wrote one of the scariest novels I’ve read in years with “Last Days" (yes, that’s the one with the book cover that got me and him reported to the Facebook police), so I’m looking forward to reading his latest.  As he mentioned last night, he organised the launch himself and had Mathew F. Riley on the cashtin with Paul Meloy on the drinks (I donated my bottle to him).  I bought my copy, got it signed and had a chat, then went into the crowd and chatted with Jim Mcleod, Steve and Peter.  At about half-twelve, Phil worked his way over and we had the ‘second launch’ (which Adam graciously allowed us) of the session, for the one-off hardback edition of “Jim Mcleod Must Die!”.

To make sense of this - and what it means - I should point out that Jim does all of his work for The Ginger Nuts Of Horror site free alongside his day-job and he gets a lot a stick from writers who should know better, chasing him up relentlessly and/or complaining if they get less than stellar reviews.  As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s a lot of us who really appreciate the amount of effort he puts in and when Phil suggested we do a book (Jim once said he’d love to be killed in a lot of novels), I readily agreed to get involved.  The idea was that a group of writers would contribute a story with the only key component being that the lead character had to be Jim and he had to die.  I helped Phil with the cover, Graeme Reynolds got it printed up as a beautiful hardback and we all signed it.  As Phil began the presentation, Jim was clearly taken off-guard and as the list of writers was read out, he broke down a little.  It was a lovely moment, there was a lot of applause and love for Jim there and I was proud to be part of it.
Steve and Wayne hung on for the Spectral Press launch and, as it was raining, Sue, Peter, Neil & I headed to the hotel to sample the wonders of the Junior school menu.  There weren’t many people in the restaurant and, once again, I couldn’t understand the business decision to effectively turn away a couple of hundred people (and their money) a day.  Ah well, at least we got a table easily.  I had a burger and a cup of tea (which cost me £8 and I didn’t even get chips!) and whilst the bun was a good size (but toasted almost to coal), the burger was a regular supermarket one and half the size of the bun.  After Steve and Wayne re-joined us, we pestered Peter about the Scooby-Doo anthology, going so far as deciding what tropes we’d like to use (I went for the scarecrow in a field at midnight).

After lunch, we went to the British Horror Present & Future panel in the Conference theatre, moderated by James and featuring Simon Kurt Unsworth, Stephen Jones, Cate, Alison Littlewood and Adam.  As we waited to go in, I saw Laura Mauro standing on her own, so I introduced myself - then the group - and she came in and sat with us.  The panel went well and was very interesting and Adam once again proved himself to be a shrewd observer of the business side of genre writing.

Following on from last nights chat - and her conversation with Steve - we went to hear Priya Sharma’s reading and she got a very good attendance, she read well and the story was excellent.  Afterwards, I saw Steven Saville in the main concourse/bar area with Steve Lockley and we had a chat, then I talked extreme cinema with Alex Davis and a few others.  The rest of the gang went to the GoH interview with John Connolly but I headed for the dealers room.  On the way, I said hello to Rich Hawkins and his wife, then saw Ren Warom and had a little chat with her, before we were joined by K T Davis and her partner Ewan (who was sporting the most impressive of beards) - it was lovely to see them all again and catch up.  Kit Power’s book launch for “Godbomb!” went well and I hung around for a while (and signed Paul Feeney’s copy of “The lost Film”) before making my way back to the main corridor, where I bumped into Charlotte Bond.  We chatted for a while (and I thanked her for the “Lost Film” muffins), then Jim, Paul Melhuish and Richard Farren Barber joined us, as did Neil, who wandered straight across our path as we were having a photo taken by (the same poor Redcloak).  James came by and when Charlotte went, we were joined by Andrew David Barker and chatted horror in general and his excellent novella “Dead Leaves” in particular and the use of local language in a book.  It was great to finally catch up with him, though he got embarrassed as we all heaped praise on the story.
Jim, me, Charlotte, Paul and Richard
As 6pm drew nearer, I chatted with Lynda E. Rucker, Del & Kim Lakin-Smith and Terry Grimwood, before my panel “Weirdness, Darkness, Madness: the Pyschology of Dark Fantasy” began.  It was my first panel (that wasn’t a gameshow) ever - thankfully Terry had given us a copy of his questions, so I’d made some notes - and rounded out by Helen Marshall (who I’d met at WFC in Brighton), Deborah Walker and Timothy J. Jarvis (both of whom I was meeting for the first time).  We got on well, I think we came across well, Terry moderated in fine fashion and the audience seemed to enjoy it (there were a lot of people in there), culminating in some good questions.  As we broke up, I noticed Sue was standing with Nicola Valentine (I recently read her novel “Starfishing”, written as Nicola Monaghan), who I met briefly at Graham Joyce’s memorial, so it was nice to catch up with her (and grab yet another photograph with the same poor Redcloak taking it for me).
Sue, Nicola, me, Steve and Richard
Phil rounded us all up for the curry run and, even though it’d stopped raining, it was getting cold and due to my weight-loss/daily aspirin situation and the fact I’m now never warm, I went back to get my coat.  The rest of the (big) party carried on, Steve waited for me and we walked up to Beeston together, a nice chance to have a chat in peace and quiet.  We talked about life, about writing and how pleased we were with the “Lost Film” launch.  We ate at Nimboo (table booked for 7.30, we arrived at 7.30) which had been pre-warned we were turning up (thanks again for organising it Phil!), had a lot of our food orders already in and still we seemed to overwhelm them.  Our table - Jay Eales & Selina Lock, Sue, Neil, me, Peter, Wayne, Steve, Steven Chapman and Paul Melhuish - had our starters dished up first (at 8.30) and then waited another hour for our mains (by which time, the table John Travis had been at were just leaving) - thankfully the conversation was good fun (the food was okay too) and we were joined by Pixie Puddin and it’s always nice to get one of her hugs.
Me and Pete May (Neil in the background) at Nimboo - perhaps it's best not to ask what we were doing...
On the way back, we broke into smaller groups and I walked into the convention centre with Steven Chapman, the first time we’d been able to have a chat just the two of us, which I really enjoyed.  By then it was disco time, which was already in full swing in the Conference theatre.  I put my drink on the Buchanan-party table (which included Graeme and his lovely partner Charlotte, Vix Kirkpatrick and Chris Barnes), had a chat with Simon Kurt Unsworth (we compared dates for when we’re booked to see “The Force Awakens”, since we - and our boys - are the same age) and his wife Rosie and then it was time to dance.
A misted up camera lens gave me this - Pete, me, Phil and Steven, boogie-ing the night away...
I had the best time ever.  Although our little dancing group was fluid, it mainly consisted of me, Steven and Phil with Peter and Stuart Young joining us every now and again as everyone else disappeared to readings.  I decided to sit out the Macarena and stood with Donna Bond, who knew the moves so she & I did our own little thing off-dancefloor, which was bloody good fun!  Back on the floor, around midnight, we were joined by Carrie and Vix and things just got better, with me and Vix doing some kind of formation dancing with “Hey Mickey”, the boys out-singing the girls with “Dancing Queen”, jumping around for the duration of “Jump Around!” and rocking out to everything else.  It was hot, sweaty, loud, funny and absolutely bloody brilliant (though I did get a couple of amused looks when people realised I don’t drink and was dancing like that completely sober!).  The disco closed at 1am (even though the clocks went back) and we headed back to the hotel and took over one of the tables, with Graeme, the Neils, Steven, Stuart, Peter, me, Carrie and Vix.  Donna came past and the girls told her how much they’d loved the panel and I ran my short story pitch (which is for Neil Buchanans company - it’ll be a print book and Carrie will narrate the audio) by Carrie and Vix and they really liked it.  We chatted about a whole load of stuff - we even got to Herpes at one point, with me, Peter and Carrie mentioning how the AIDS iceberg advert in the mid-80s had seriously curtailed our carnal activities - finally breaking up at about 3.20am.  Fantastic evening, fantastic company, I didn’t want it to end.

Sunday 25th October
Even though it was a very late night I woke up at a decent hour and was down in the foyer well before 9am.  Walking was a bit difficult though - I think I was dancing a bit too recklessly last night and my feet and ankles ached badly.

Donna Bond and the bum stool...
Neil had already eaten and Peter was heading off, so we said our goodbyes then went into the restaurant where I opted for cereal again, but Sue cheerfully tucked into a very-nice-looking cooked breakfast.  She went to the panel on Audio Fiction and I went to pack, encountering Donna on the mezzanine where we both realised the stools there were shaped like bums.  So, of course, I took a photo of her on one!  She went to rouse (her) Neil, I packed, grabbed my Neil and we joined the panel.

By the time we got out, Steve & Wayne had surfaced and we congregated in the lower corridor which quickly developed into a bit of a gathering.  James and Phil arrived, as did Gavin Williams and Paul Woodward, Kit Power was about, Steven Chapman was trying to read quietly and then Neil and Carrie Buchanan came to say goodbye.  Carrie remembered my pitch but not enough to relay it so I ran it past Neil and he really liked it, so that’s a go.  They headed off - hand-shakes and hugging - and I went back to the crowd, when Alison & Fergus turned up.  I like them both a lot and Alison always makes me giggle (she kept calling me Westy today, which I haven’t heard for a while) and this was no exception - we chatted about everything and it was lovely.  They were heading off, so I gave her a hug, shook Fergus’ hand then hugged him, said goodbye (with hugs) to Jim (who was still clearly touched by the book), Phil and James, then Steve and Wayne, before Sue & I decided to head for lunch.  Within three paces, we’d bumped into John Travis who said he, Terry and Stuart were going as well so we arranged to go together.  John went to find them, I saw Adam Nevill standing alone and took the opportunity to have a quick word and introduce him to Sue (glad we did as he suggested the café Rye in Beeston).  I saw Tim Lebbon and introduced him to Sue - they now share publishers and, as it turns out, editors - and it was nice to chat to him.
l to r - Paul Woodward, Phil, Steve, me, Alison, Jim and James with Gavin Williams in front.  I am NOT fiddling with his ear...
Steve, me, Sue and Wayne
We got our coats, met the boys - along with Steve H - in the foyer and took a pleasant wander up into Beeston (Sue and Terry hadn’t met before, so they chatted as John regaled us with amusing tales of his stay in the Hylands).  The Rye was a lovely place - the Brummie waitress took an instant like to John and when he asked for cake in his quite distinctive Northern accent - not “cay-ke” but “kay-cuh” - we all ended up saying it the same way.  The food was lovely - I had a light bite chicken & chorizo pasta but got a large one - and the conversation was loud, fun and varied, from James Bond paperbacks to absent friends and what we’re working on now.  We got back just as the Awards ceremony started - we had to sit on the floor - and Juliet McKenna was a brisk MC.  Jim unfortunately didn’t win for Best Non-fiction (I was to accept on his behalf) and when Juliet announced the novella, I did have a touch of butterflies.  But it wasn’t to be my year and, instead, she read out Stephen Volk’s name, for “Newspaper Heart” - all four of us nominees had said to each other that it was such a strong line-up, it didn’t matter who won and I still think that.  It was a blow to not win, obviously, but losing out to the great Mr Volk (who made a point of shaking my hand earlier in the day and wishing me good luck) did sand the edges off somewhat.

Then it was all over.  We said goodbye to John and Steve and made our way out, saying goodbye to the lovely Carole and Priya on the way.  Adele Wearing, a worthy winner of Best Independent Press, was having a photo-call for The Skulk (the group of writers involved with Fox Spirit Press) and dragged me in, so I did my last shot facing five cameras and standing next to fellow Award nominee K T Davis.  It was a lovely way to end the Con.
The Fox Spirit Skulk - Adele Wearing is in the centre with her trophy, me and KT Davis on the right
With some final goodbyes, Sue & I headed home under a darkening early evening sky, chatting about writing and writers and our experience of the weekend, both of us having had a great time.

I saw and spoke to more people than I’ve listed here of course and as soon as I post this I’ll remember them but in my defence, the weekend was such a high-spirited blur this report just grew and grew - I thought I’d covered a day in detail and would then see a picture or hear mention of something on FB and it’d remind me of something else.  So if I have missed you off, either remind me and I’ll edit you back in or accept my apologies for the oversight.

photo by Carrie Buchanan
It was an excellent weekend.  I really loved York last year but this, I believe, exceeded it, not least because horror was more firmly on the agenda.  As ever, though, as nice as the hotel was and as convenient as the convention centre was, it was the people who made it.  FantasyCon is a genre event, with lots of folk attending for lots of reasons, but mostly it’s a chance to meet up with old friends, make new ones, discover new writers and artists to read and follow and to spend time with like-minded fans, enjoying the genres we all love.

Well done, FantasyCon, you outdid yourself and I had a wonderful time.  Next years event has been announced, to take place in Scarborough and I’ve already bought my ticket - I hope to see you there.  But for now, I’m off to mine some of that creative buzz and get cracking with my story!


  1. Wonderful write up Mark, which encapsulates the weekend into a fabulous time capsule that I can return to.

    1. Thank you - and thanks for being part of it!

  2. fabulous weekend - got out of it so much more than i ever dreamed, including some amazing new authors, books to read and firm friends..... thanks for the memories and recalling all the brilliant names.

    1. Thanks Vix - for your comment, "Hey Mickey" and everything else :)

  3. :-) Great blog, Mark. And a truly great weekend!

    1. Thanks Sue, so pleased you enjoyed it - and thanks for being such a great Con-buddy too!

  4. Nobody does this kinda thing better.
    Glad you liked Rye - had no idea my desperate dash into Beeston for something to eat Saturday lunchtime would turn out to be so popular with the F'con lot! The waiter who served me my burger at one didn't half give me a funny look when I returned there six hours later with six others in tow!!

    1. Cheers mate and it was really good to see you over the weekend! And yes, thanks for Rye!