Monday 22 October 2018

FantasyCon, Chester, 19th to 21st October 2018

Parked outside the hotel, ready to check in and saw Tim Major, who'd just arrived by train.  Great to see him, we caught up and I got booked in then moved the car and luckily met Peter Coleborn who showed me the back entrance to the hotel.  Met Peter Mark May, got a quick hi and hug from Priya Sharma, who introduced me to Audrie from TTA Press and then I got signed in, saying hi to Chloe Yates in the process.  Once kitted out, Pete led me across the road to the Town Crier pub, which served as the cheaper overflow for the weekend.  Walking in was like coming home in writing terms - around the table were James Everington, Phil Sloman, Lisa Childs (who showed me Ross’ book, which is lovely and I gave her Sue’s signature plate), Chris Barnes, Stephen Bacon, Duncan Bradshaw and Jim Mcleod.  After the catching up, conversation quickly found its natural level with Phil, James, Chris & I discussing those adult superstores you see in Lincolnshire, who’d use them and why and somehow moved onto that counties colour TV signs having the letters in different colours to prove the point (and Phil reckoned this topic wouldn’t make the blog report!).  I saw Ian Whates, Donna & Neil Bond and Rob Malan and caught up with them then went back to the hotel with Steve where we bumped into Jason Whittle, Chris Teague, Ben Jones and CC Adams and it was good to see all of them.
In the Town Crier with, from left, me, Steve Bacon, Chris Barnes, Duncan Bradshaw, Lisa Childs, Peter Mark May, Jim Mcleod
After dumping my stuff in my room, I met Neil & Michelle Williams in reception and saw Francesca Tristan Barbini and we compared panel times and promised to attend each others.  Into the Sinister Horror launch for Black Room Manuscripts 4 in the Jubilee Room at 4pm and the team had really made an effort, the room looking superb with “Father” Justin Park presiding over the event.  Sadly the programmes weren’t available so not many people had turned up and in trying to help gather more audience, James & I got as far as the corridor where we met and chatted with Ren Warom and saw Steve Shaw.   Back in the Jubilee it was great to see Tracy Fahey and Penny Jones again and the launch itself went really well (including me sitting on Jim’s knee), with some spirited readings (especially Duncan’s) and a signing panel where I sat between Penny and Steve.  It deserved more of an audience though.
In the Jubilee Room with, from left, Tracy Fahey (who co-edited the anthology), Duncan, Peter, Steve, Penny Jones, me, Neil Williams, Michelle Williams, James Everington
Staying in the Jubilee, Danny Rhodes joined us and I chatted with Tim before the PS launch where I picked up the Dark Masters trilogy from Stephen Volk (such a lovely man, he said “all the better for seeing you” when I asked how his day had been while he signed my copy), The Smallest Of Things by Ian Whates and Tim’s monograph of Les Vampires.  Said hello to Helen (Ian’s other half),  chatted with Gavin Williams, waved to Kathy Boulton (that’s a good run of Cons where we’ve waved now), said hi to Fergus and got a lovely hug from Alison Littlewood.  Michael Kelly came over to shake my hand, reminding me we’d met in Brighton in 2013 (as if I’d forget!) and I said a quick hello to Mark Morris.  On our way out I saw Paul & Cath Finch (and got to congratulate him on his book news) as well as Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex.
Me & Jim Mcleod (I can't remember now why he suggested I sit on his knee) - pic by Lisa Childs
Went for an Indian with James, Neil, Michelle, Danny, Steve & Pete at the Gate of India which was lovely - huge portions, very tasty, we were all stuffed by the end of it.  Good conversation too.  Walked back, said hello to Graeme & Charlotte Reynolds, Tracy caught me, Maura McHugh directed us towards some seats (and I invited her to the next mixtape blog I’m planning) then I sat and chatted with James Bennett for a while.  After Neil & Michelle joined us, Maura talked about her work on 2000AD with the all-female issue and told us some excellent (and exciting) news, which I’m really looking forward to.

Then it was time for the disco.  Low attendance until about 10.30 (it was essentially me, Phil, Pete, Paul Woodward, Colleen Anderson, Donna and Kathy for most of it, with Michelle joining us for a few), then Ian brought in his contingent (including James Worrad & Phil Irving) and we suddenly had a decent number on the dance floor, which I didn’t leave until midnight.  Had a fantastic time though I’m sure Andy Marsden showed us the wrong dance moves to a Jacksons song because he wanted to see if we’d copy him!  Which we did.
At the disco with the Three Degrees behind me, from left, Michelle, Kathy Boulton & Donna Bond
Left - Pete May giving it some (pic by Ian Whates) and right, Phil Sloman's selfie

Woke up with that contented post-disco feeling - aching ankles - and headed for breakfast.  I sat with Trevor Denyer, saw Danny as I walked back with my food (full fry-up, lovely!) then James Barclay joined us and we had an excellent chat, the kind of wide-ranging talk about books and writing that Cons excel in.  Trevor left for a panel and Steve joined us for more of the same.  When Danny and James went off for their panels, Steve & I stayed put chatting.
Chris Teague, Richard Farren Barber, me, Steve, Jim (smooching) and Steve Harris
Nipped to my room to get my bag, bumped into Andrew David Barker on the way downstairs and we said hello, hoping to catch up later.  Walked along with Neil Snowdon and his charming daughter and it was nice to finally meet him.  Went into the Horrific Tales launch - my NSFWG chum Paul Melhuish was launching a book, along with Thana Niveau - and sat with Jim, Dion Winton-Polak, Steve Harris and CC while we listened to the readings.  Paul’s included him calling out “hello” and in a perfect bit of timing, someone passing in the corridor outside called “hello!” back.  Caught up with Steve H and talked writing with CC and Gareth Spark.  The Hersham Horror Books launch was next and I helped Pete set up with Richard Farren Barber and James and caught up with Steve Lockley.  Dave Jeffery was racing to get to the venue and we auditioned to take his place, using the Pipkins brummie accent for inspiration.  Unfortunately for our performance ambitions (but lucky for the audience), Dave turned up while Steve was reading and did a great reading himself.  Bought copies and chatted with Jim and Dion, Paul Melhuish, Donna & Neil, Laura and Mr Mauro, Chris Teague and more.
Ross Warren, more chuffed than he looks...
Phil Sloman then gave Ross his special 40th book, most of us who’d contributed were there but Ross doesn’t like a scene so it was with a muted (and bashful) “thanks very much” that he took the gorgeous book Simon Morden had constructed.  We stayed in the room for the Black Shuck Books launch which featured, as its centrepiece, the third instalment of John Llewellyn Probert’s “Dr Valentine” series.  The books are great but John is a marvel and his readings are genuinely something to be treasured and this time was no exception.  When I bought my copy I told him so.

People drifted off for lunch but my hearty breakfast did its job and, fuelled by a slice of Charlotte Bond’s lemon drizzle cake, Steve & I stayed for the Luna Press launch with an interesting array of books.  I wandered across the road then to the Town Crier for a drink with Ross and Lisa (later joined by Chris) and on my return, bumped into Simon Clark and it’s always a treat to see him.

It was soon time for my panel, “Writing Short Fiction”.  With no idea what it entailed, I was really quite nervous until I found the room and discovered a fellow panellist - Lesley Jones, an editor - was more nervous than me, so I felt slightly braver.  Our moderator, Juliet Kemp (who had the most fantastic shade of hair), then arrived and I discovered I’d missed an email and so she let me see her crib sheet of questions.  Our third panellist hadn’t turned up by then but I noticed Joanne Harris (of Chocolat - and much, much more - fame) was in the crowd waiting to go in (and made Lesley even more nervous by pointing this out to her).  We trooped into the room, took our seats, I got drinks for Lesley and Juliet and then Joanne sat next to me, as an unannounced last minute addition to our panel!  No pressure there then!  I said it was nice to see her again, that we’d met in Brighton at WFC in 2013 and she - lovely professional that she is - said “oh yes, nice to see you again” (at WFC, I weighed five stone more and met her for a few minutes via Sue, but it was still a great thing to say).
The "no pressure whatsover panel" featuring, from left, Juliet Kemp, Joanne Harris, me and Lesley Jones - some of these people are more nervous than others...
The panel started, Juliet kept it running well, we had a good sized (and attentive) audience, we held our own, had a laugh and we all made some good points (several people told me afterwards it was one of their favourite panels of the weekend).  I loved it, the time whizzed by and then we were done, with a flurry of thanks and some photographs and it was back to normality.  Superb.

After meeting Shaun & Steph Hamilton in the reception and chatting to them, Steve, Donna & I went to the NewCon Press launch, where I joined the end of the very long signing table.  Ian Whates is a truly lovely bloke and he launched into his spiel, Ian Watson (who didn’t recognise me at first, since I was - again - 5st heavier when I last saw him) did a speech and then we were off.  I sat with Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro and we had an excellent chat between books being placed in front of us (Best British Horror looks superb in paperback but the hardback is a work of great beauty) and signed lots.  I also had more of Charlotte’s lemon drizzle cake.  The rush over, we chatted and signed and chatted some more and then headed off.
Ian Whates works the crowd, Ian Watson applauds enthusiastically, me, Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro are chuffed to be there (pic by Donna Bond)
Me, Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro, between signings...
Steve & I spoke with Stewart Hotston and Iain Grant, met up with Richard and Danny and the four of us trooped into Chester town centre for a pizza and great conversation.  Danny had to leave early to meet a friend from the train station but Richard, Steve & I hung on, chatting about FCon and writing.  On the way back we decided to walk alongside the canal, which we quickly discovered has no railings or lights.  As Richard walked very close to the edge, we debated whether we’d actually jump in to help if he fell in and the overall consensus was no - we’d have to take our trainers off, put our watches and wallets to one side and who wanted to walk back to the hotel with wet underpants?  Not quite sure Richard understood our position entirely, but he seemed to go along with it.  Thankfully he didn’t fall in.
Out and about in Chester, Richard having managed to avoid falling into the canal... (Steve, me, Richard)
Justin Park's picture of me, Jim and Phil.  I couldn't
possibly comment on which legs were best but the one in the
middle with the well defined calf muscle, I mean...
Back in the hotel, we met Neil & Michelle and sat in the restaurant lounge (where the singer managed to make every song - from Oasis to Guns N Roses - sound the same) with Danny and his friend Emma.  We covered a lot of topics before moving into the snug where, along with Pete, we stayed for the remainder of the night, talking about loads of things and joined occasionally by others including Ben Jones and James Bennett.  Justin Park also collared me for a photo op with Phil and Jim, to try and finally decide who has the best legs in horror (it’s me, clearly, the definition on my calves is exceptional - as you can see!).  A terrific evening, filled with conversation and laughter, it represented FCon for me, a time for like-minded friends to get together, talk a lot and occasionally take the piss out of each other while we’re at it.  Around 1.30am, Richard caved, Pete followed soon after and, after arranging when to meet for breakfast, I called it a night.

A rule of Con life is that late nights don’t count, so I was up bright and early and, after a quick chat with Andy Marsden in reception, met Steve and Pete and we went into breakfast with Neil & Donna.  Danny & Emma joined us, I had another lovely fry-up and we indulged in long, wide-ranging conversations about writing and creativity which were hugely enjoyable.  Steve & I visited the dealers room where I got one of Francesca’s books and met a Japanese artist, recognising Pikachu amongst his work (thank Dude and his Pokemon Go obsession from last year).  Chatted with Terry Grimwood, spoke to Ian (and thanked him again for yesterday’s great launch) and said goodbye to him and Helen, then it was off to pack (after finally seeing Linda Nagle in the reception, having somehow managed to not see her all weekend).
Me & Steve in the dealer room (Mike Chinn on the right and Helen, Ian's partner, on the left with the bunny ears) - (pic by Ian Whates)
I went into the “Reprinting Short Fiction” panel to support Pete, not realising Ian was moderating and Tim was also a panelist along with Nina Allen.  I sat with KT Davies and Ewen (having briefly glimpsed and waved to her on Friday and seeing him earlier in reception) and caught up with them.  The panel itself was great fun, like listening to four mates chatting and I got referenced by both Pete and Ian, which was nice.

Then it was done and time to go - the worst part of FantasyCon - and after getting my bags there were hugs and hearty handshakes with Jim, Chris, Neil & Michelle, Simon’s Bestwick and Clark, Phil, Priya, Georgina Bruce (I hadn’t seen her all weekend so we hugged hello and goodbye at the same time), Danny, Emma, Pete, Rich, Alison & Fergus, Steve Shaw and Chloe the redcloak (and I saw Babs the redcloak on the way out to say goodbye too).
With Alison Littlewood (pic by Fergus)
As always, there are loads of people I didn’t manage to speak to, some fine chums I didn’t even see until it was time to leave (Helen Hopley & Martin Roberts) and some I saw as a passing “hello!” (John Travis, Steve McHugh (we should have talked that first time!), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Kit Power, Andy West, Adele Wearing & Tom, Cate Gardner, Andrew Freudenberg, Jess Jordan & Ray Cluley - though on the plus side, I spoke to Kathy Boulton a lot this time), but it can’t be helped, I don’t suppose and the salve is the wonderful phrase “there’s always the next one!”

I had a great time, the hotel was lovely (though pricey), the book launches were terrific, I only managed the one panel but, as ever, the real draw of the weekend was the company and I really had the best of it - we chatted almost constantly and laughed nearly as much, we ate and drank and made merry and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my writing family.

Roll on the next one!
Obligatory book haul photo...


  1. Great blog post as usual! I have yet to sort out my book haul, though we share quite a hefty intersection... gutted I didn't spot Tim's book, will have to grab that another time!

    1. Thank you - and lovely to spend so much time with you and Neil! :)

  2. Hi Mark,
    I really enjoy reading your column, and that was a great review of the BFS Convention. Do you know if anybody else has written a review of it? I am sure it won't be as good as yours!
    All the best,

    1. Thanks Sarah, hopefully we'll get to see you again at one soon?

      James Everington did one here -

      and Dion Winton Polak has one over three parts at his blog -