Monday 15 April 2019

The Crusty Exterior Strikes Back (In Nottingham)

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.  Last year, we had a Leicester meet (see my report here) and there was a smaller gathering, also in Leicester, for my birthday (see my report here) this year.
In Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem (from left: Wayne Parkin, Penny Jones, Simon Jones, me, Ross Warren, Phil Sloman and James Everington)
On Saturday, almost four years to the day since that first London gathering (see here), the Crusty Exterior rode again with a few new members as we met up in Nottingham (ably organised by James).  As well as the original contingent (minus Steve), the ranks included Wayne Parkin, Richard Farren Barber, Ross Warren, Penny & Simon Jones and Jay Eales & Selina Lock.  I decided to travel up by train and, by chance, found it was 40p cheaper to pick specific time trains and go First Class than it was to have an open return in Second Class.  So I got to share a whole carriage with two other people, enjoyed the peace and quiet and the free tea and biscuits as well as getting plenty of reading done.

In Nottingham, Penny & Simon Jones (on the same train) waited on the platform for me and I spotted the very tall Penny - and her striking blue hair - immediately.  After catching up, we went through the barriers and met James in the concourse, hugs and hellos all round, before wandering up to a coffee shop to talk writing and conventions and our plans for the day.  We headed back to the station to get Phil, more hugs and hellos, then walked across town toYe Olde Trip To Jerusalem pub.  Wayne Parkin was already at the bar waiting for us and it was good to see him, it’s been far too long.  As we caught up with him, Ross Warren appeared - he hadn’t told anyone he was coming, so that was a great surprise.  We got drinks, headed upstairs to the cursed galleon (it’s very dusty), commandeered a corner and talked books, horror, Facebook, Top Trumps, a bit of politics and all manner of things.  Richard Farren Barber arrived, fresh from a holiday in New York and sat next to me and we discussed commercial decisions and writing crime/thriller novels while sticking with horror shorts and novellas (and he gave me a couple of books too, which is always nice).  Once Jay Eales and Selina Lock joined us, we headed into town for lunch.
James had a sandwich bar in mind and we trooped off to it (having observed, from a distance, a stand-up argument between two drunks carried out over the 100 yards separating them as he walked much faster than her) and Wayne & I discovered a Tintin shop but didn’t go in.  James’ shop was unfortunately shut, which became a bit of a pattern for the day, so we ended up sampling the delights of Greggs. 
Hunger sated, James led us up to the narrow, slightly ratty looking West End Arcade to a wonderful bookshop that was, quite literally, overflowing everywhere you looked.  Every shelf in Books And Pieces was groaning under the weight of them, free-standing bookshelves made the walkways claustrophobic but it was chock-a-block with treasures.  I picked up three novelisations - “Vega$”, “The Six Million Dollar Man vs Bigfoot” and “The Aphrodite Inheritance” - and we found plenty of other treasures for each other.  We spent a lot.  Back outside on the pavement, Wayne had to leave so we said our goodbyes and then the group split into two, with Jay, Selina & Ross heading into town and the rest of us heading off to the Paupers Graves.

Phil, taking great delight...
James wrote a novella using the area as a key location (it was part of the quartet of HHB books launched at FCon Scarborough, which I wrote about here) and, it turns out, Richard wanted to use the location for a novel too.  It was a decent walk away, which we covered chatting - Phil took great delight in pointing out signs for the Castle Rock brewery to James, who sees the signs every day - and the cemetery was sprawling, slightly overgrown and in mild disarray.  The paupers area, by contrast, looked well tended and was locked away.  Disappointed, we headed back into town, called into another few bookshops and took up residence in The Salutation Inn, a fantastic old pub (it dates back to 1240) that was very much heavy rock orientated - Iron Maiden beer on tap, Goths and rockers behind the bar, it had a great atmosphere.  Jay, Selina & Ross joined us there, we played Top Trumps (the horror pack) and quickly realised, as adults, that it might be good fun to play but it’s mighty boring as a spectator sport. 
In the Salutation Inn
Since Phil had an early train booked, we headed off for something to eat, the criteria being that it had to be an Indian and open at 5pm.  Memsaab fitted the bill, we were quickly seated and served equally quickly – James, Phil & Simon all had the Ostrich curry starter while the rest of us made do with popadoms.  The mains were lovely (I always forget that curries in Nottingham are much stronger than in Rothwell and Kettering), there was a lot more chat and plenty of laughter.
 All too soon, it was time for Phil to head off and the rest of us followed soon after, James peeling off to catch a bus, Jay & Selina and Ross heading for the car park.  Richard, Penny, Simon & I traipsed through town, said our goodbyes in the station, Richard went to his platform, we three went to ours and I went back into First Class.  Incredibly, there were two and a half First Class carriages and I was the only person using them.  When I went to get my free drink, they gave me two cups of tea and two biscuits – I gave one pack of biscuits to the woman queuing behind me and the spare tea to a woman sitting in the access area.  Both gave me big smiles and it felt in-keeping with the spirit of the day.
As always, I had a cracking time.  It was great to discover parts of Nottingham I’d never have known if a local hadn’t shown me, I now know some terrific bookshops to check out next time I'm there, saw the paupers graves (well worth a trip if you're around) and enjoyed a lovely curry.  Even better, I got to spend the day with fellow writers, sharing war stories and support and, most of all, having a great laugh.

Roll on the next one.

p.s. In case you were wondering, the name of the group was explained in the original Crusty post here.


  1. Great post. Thought I was the only person in the country that remembered Vegas! Got the region one DVDs and the 1980 annual. Didn't know there was a tie in novel too. Will have to track that down. Regards. Colin

    1. Thanks - I haven't seen the show in years. The tie-in's not too bad, reading it now, will be blogging about it later in the year!