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 friend 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…