strange tales

World Fantasy Con, Brighton, 31st October to 3rd November 2013

Thursday 31st October

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.

l to r - Stephen Volk, El G Grande (Gard Goldsmith), Paul Finch, me

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.

At Pizza 7 - me, Sue, Ellen Hellewell, Steven Chapman, Phil Ambler

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.

l to r - Steven Chapman, Neil Bond and his graffiti autograph from Joe Hill, me and Ruth Booth

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.

Sue, me and Steve Bacon at Steak On Sea

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.

me, Simon Marshall-Jones, Lizzie Marshall-Jones, Steve Bacon, after the Peter Cushing panel

Cat Hellisen and me

We headed back to the ‘secret bar’ then, where a party was in full swing and after chatting with Simon Clark, we found Sue sitting with Jay & Selina.  There were a lot of people in there and it was very noisy, but we stayed put and I’m so glad we did.  Dean came through and Lisa Jenkins called me over for a photo, then Lisa & I stood chatting with Dai Price and then Cat Hellisen came through to use the ladies loo (which I happened to be standing in front of).  As she came out, we had a chat and I went towards the back of the room to get a picture with her and I saw Joan De La Haye and Gavin Williams, so sat and chatted with them, Vinny Chong and Chris Roberts and by the time I got back to our table, Jay & Selina had called it a night!  I saw Jon Oliver, had a chat with him, then Sue decided to call it a night, so me, Steve, Chris Teague, Steve Upham and Dai Price were chatting when I saw James A. Moore across the room.  He was in a tux (his agent took his clients out for dinner) and looked really dapper and he nodded at me.  I got up, grabbed Steve to get a picture of us and got another hug from James.  I introduced Steve and we were talking about books and writing and James asked what I was working on, I explained about the never beginning novel pitch and he put his arm on my shoulder and looked at me and said “sometimes people need a kick up the ass”.  Yes, I said, we need someone to push us.  “Okay,” said my hero, “you’ve got a month.  If you haven’t written the pitch in one month, I’m coming for you.”  I smiled, he held his Tony Soprano expression.  He patted my back, winked at me and walked away, saying “one month!”  Brilliant.

Steve Bacon, James A. Moore, me

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.

Steve Bacon, me, Stuart Young, Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner

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.

RC Matheson, William F Nolan, Pete Atkins, Nancy Holder, Terence McVicker
(photo by Steve Bacon)

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.

World Fantasy Con 2013 - you were great.  Writing this blog has helped maintain the fun and beat away the post-con blues, though it's missing a lot of names, of people I saw and said a quick hello to but if I did name everyone, it'd be in about ten parts!  Trust me, the Con was full of great people.

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…
strange tales

INXS to stop touring

I'm an INXS subscriber and received an email today, a press release that's also posted on their site (which you can read here in full).  Basically, they're not going to tour any more, which I suppose means - taking into account the word retirement - that they're splitting up.

“We understand that this must come as a blow to everybody, but all things must eventually come to
an end. We have been performing as a band for 35 years, it’s time to step away from the touring

“Our music will of course live on and we will always be a part of that.”

“We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the friends and family that have supported us

throughout our extensive career. Our lives have been enriched by having you all as a part of the


As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a massive INXS fan and have been since accompanying an ex-girlfriend to their 'Summer XS' gig at Wembley stadium, in 1991.  I saw them again, with Alison, at DeMontfort Hall in Leicester as part of the 'Get Of Out The House' tour (this blog post is kind-of about that), then at the NEC in 1997, as they supported 'Elegantly Wasted'.  After Hutchence's death, we saw them again - at the NEC - with Jon Stevens on vocals and whilst it wasn't a bad concert, it didn't really work for me.  I avoided the whole Rockstar thing and the album 'Switch' (though Alison likes it a lot) and we saw them last year, at the Clapham Common gig (see here).

There was also a link on their Twitter feed to a Rolling Stone article from 1988, when they were in the prime as the mighty KICK album was just starting to take over the world and it makes great reading (here's the link).  Reading that brought home the fact that, for me, the true INXS sound ends with the suicide of Michael Hutchence and it's been 15 years since he departed.  Having said that, they're a great live act and their gigs were always worth going to, so it's a real shame.

“It’s been 35 years for INXS as a live touring band and unbelievably it’s been 15 years ago since we
lost Michael” said Jon Farriss.

“We lived for each other in the trenches and we loved each other. It was the six of us against the
world and then suddenly and inexplicably we were but five. We were lost right at the moment we
were on top.”

As Jon Farriss says, “INXS’ touring days could never last forever. We wanted it to end on a high. And it has.”

Thanks for everything, boys, for the pleasure you've given me and millions of others over the years and rest assured that I'll be listening to your music for a long time to come.

Long live INXS.

strange tales

In Portugal - A Real Life Ghost Story

In 1989, my friend Craig Tankard & I went on holiday to Portugal. Whilst there, we experienced something that, to this day, neither of can properly explain.

Mark Deniz’s Beyond Fiction website is having a Ghost Awareness Month and he invited me to write a blog entry for him, so I thought I’d publicly tell mine and Craig’s story.

All of this is true (I even got Craig to read through the piece, to make sure our memory of the events meshed) and I’ll leave it up to you to decide what we saw.

Beyond Fiction website

Sweet dreams!
strange tales

NewCon 5 (9/10th October 2010)

You know how sometimes you read a report and it appears as if the person wasn't at the event at all? This is one of those, I'm afraid - I had a great time, I met a lot of good people, I went to a reading but I didn't do any of the main panels. So other people might have far more accurate reports of the con than I do. Oh well, I had a good time. I’d never been in the Fishmarket art centre in Northampton before, but it’s a good space - open and airy, with plenty of natural light. There’s a little café at the top, small special-interest shops down the sides and plenty of room to move about. Paul from the NSFWG was manning the door when I arrived, so I had a chat with him and Susan (another NSFWG member). Russell Morgan, an artist from Kettering that I knew from Facebook but only met for the first time at FantasyCon, came over - he had some (very good) pictures in the art show and we had a drink and a chat, about writing and drawing, influences and horror and a project that we might work on together. There were panels and readings through the day - the panels were in the main area (which carried quite a bit of echo), the readings at the back, in a little room that was rather exotically called a studio. I unfortunately only managed one reading - though I did get to meet Sam Stone, which was a bonus - held by Jaine Fenn, Ian Whates and Stephen Palmer, who let Ian read his piece too. Very good, with some great excerpts read, but the room got a little stuffy after a while.
After chatting with Sam about writing, later joined by David Howe, I then checked out the stalls, met Ian Whates’ lovely partner and finally got to see “Shoes, Ships & Cadavers” (the anthology of new writing from the Northampton SF Writers Group, edited by Ian Whates and Ian Watson, with a terrific introduction by Alan Moore). Neil Bond & I oohed-and-aahed over it and it’s lovely looking tome. He & I sat and chatted for a while, joined by Donna Scott (both members of the writing group). After lunch (where I managed to pick up a long sought 70s sleaze novel from the market in town), I took to door duty with Tim Taylor (also from the NSFWG), where we were entertained by the Jester and his magic show and chatted about writing, our plans and our processes. All good fun.

Then there was a real buzz in the air, as Alan Moore arrived. Now I’ve never met Alan Moore before (he’s a Northampton resident) and the only real contact I’ve had with him has been interviews regarding films of his work, where he comes across as quite crotchety (though it has to be said, having seen the films, I can see his viewpoint). His very lovely words about my story “What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking” made me think differently, but I was still a bit trepidatious when I went to introduce myself. How much of an idiot am I? “Hello,” I said, “my name’s Mark West and I just wanted to thank you for your kind words about my story.” “Which one’s yours?” he asked. I told him it was the train one and he remembered it, complimented me on it again and was full of praise for the book and what we were doing and then he said “keep it local” What a truly lovely man, all beard and great jacket and rings, but exuding this wonderfully genial air. I didn’t get to sit next to him on the signing panel (damn you, Tim!), instead I was sat between Neil and Dr Steve and had a great time. The book seemed to do well, people were very interested and hey, if you’re a writer, being on a signing panel is terrific fun. Three months ago, I wasn’t even in the NSFWG. Now I was, I’d written a story in a week and met Alan Moore through it. Sometimes, you know, this writing lark is bloody brilliant! I had to head off a little after this and didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone, but the rest of NewCon partied into the night (and then met up again the next day). It was a cracking con, I really enjoyed myself and can’t wait for the next one.

Donna Scott, Neil Bond and me, on the signing panel

strange tales

FantasyCon report (17-19th September 2010), in Nottingham

After attending many Con’s in the past, only for the Saturday, I decided to push the boat out a bit and stay for the weekend. And I’m really glad I did. I caught the train up and found my hotel, the Plaza, immediately (and thank you so much to Mick Curtis & Gary Cole-Wilkin for suggesting it - lovely room, plenty of space, very close to the Con itself). So much happened, it’s going to be impossible to try and create a decent blog post so I’ll go with the bullet point method:

* Got signed in, chatted with Martin Roberts (cool haircut) and Helen Hopley. Bumped into Stu Young and Peter Mark May (the first of many new friends, who I’d already conversed with through Facebook). Had my afternoon planned out, which readings I was going to go to, which panels, all sorted.
* Convened in the bar, met Mick & Debbie Curtis and Gary Cole-Wilkin & Soozy Marjoram (all good people) from the RCMB. Also met Simon Marshall-Jones (SMJ from hereon) - we’d been saying it felt like ages since we last met up, but it was Terror Scribes in July. How times flies. Also met the lovely Raven Dane and Pixie Pants - wonderful ladies.
* Went out for dinner - Zizzi’s, very nice, very expensive - with Stu Young, Pam Creais and Lilly (don’t know her surname, unfortunately). Due to the extraordinary length of time they took to serve us, managed to miss Simon Bestwick and Peter Mark May’s readings. Whoops! On the plus side, Stu gave me two books he’d picked up in local charity shops, a Jesse Stone hardcover (Stu & I love Robert B Parker and often end up talking about him, when we meet and on email too) and a Robert Crais.
* Back to the hotel, met more people, went to the Quiz (our team was bolstered by the wonderful Jay Eales - recovering from graphic dental work that he kept trying to tell me about - and Selina Lock) and two chaps I never really caught the name of. The quiz was tough (seriously, who knows that much about the bloody Transformers) and we came last, though there were only about 6 points between us and the winners.
* “Get Real” panel, which I attended with Stu.
* Back at the bar, meeting and chatting. Called it a night at just after midnight, then was kept up until 3am by the shrieking of Nottingham night-life-folk on the main road outside my hotel.

* Up good and early, checked out the hotel breakfast. Decided £16 was too steep, walked around to Greggs and got a croissant. On the way, I bumped in Gary Greenwood, we had a chat and agreed to meet up later. Determined to have a more pro-active approach to the readings and, for the most part, managed it. In fact, the lift (or ready lack thereof) scuppered me more than anything else. So what did I do today?
* Met Gary and Emily McMahon on the way into the hotel. Had a nice chat, talking about awards and work and families. Stu Young came by, gave Gary a copy of “The Godwulf Manuscript”, which he & I have been raving over and which Gary wanted to read.
* Andrew Hook’s reading was great fun, included the penguin head and I got to ask him some questions at the end.
* Gary McMahon’s reading was equally good. I’m very lucky, I’ve pre-read “Pretty Little Dead Things” (an ARC of which appeared over the weekend) but it was great to hear it in Gary’s own voice.
* To the bar, where I met up with Paul and Cath Finch, David Price, Simon Unsworth, the McMahon’s and Shaun Hamilton, who I originally met in Fiction Factory. We took some photo’s. I also finally got to meet, face-to-face, Stephen Bacon. Steve & I have been corresponding for a while now and we’re working on a collaborative project together, but it was great to shake his hand. His wife, the lovely Andrea, had come along for the day with him and it was great to meet her too. I only hope she didn’t get too bored!
* Caught Paul Meloy’s reading and I’m glad I did. The story was incredibly moving, written (and read) with power and very affecting. I’ve never been disappointed by Meloy and this was no exception.
* Went to lunch at the Java café with Dave Price and SMJ. By the counter, at a small table, were Stephen Volk, Tim Lebbon and Mark Morris, who all said hi. Stood behind Jonathan Oliver in the queue and the lady behind the counter asked what we were all doing. We explained about the Con and that we were writers. She asked if any of us were famous. As one, we all turned and pointed at Steve Volk.
* Steve & Andrea Bacon joined us for lunch and he & I talked over our collaboration project. I’ve got a good feeling about it.
* “End Of The Line” launch - picked up my copy, got a signature from everyone who was there. When I got to Conrad, shook his hand and thanked him for the confidence burst that FicFac had given me. He’s a gracious man, that Williams.
* Paul Finch’s reading was good, though I only caught the tail end because of the launch and the bloody lifts.
* “The Grass Is Greener” panel. I went in on my own, interested to hear about moving genres (I’m not leaving horror, but my Lost Film novella is functionally a crime story, told in that voice and I’ve been reading a lot of crime lately to absorb it). Paul Meloy came in and joined me. Good panel, very interesting.
* Paul & I have a chat in the reception area, about brands. Decide that it’s all about the writing. He goes to the dealers room, I head up to Ian Whates’ reading. Once again, foiled by the lift but I catch at least 20 minutes. Ian runs the Writers Group I’ve recently joined and it was great to hear him read aloud, even better that he finished early and so I got to ask some questions.
* Back to the bar, where I meet up with John B Ford, who has dropped in for a while and Alison Davies. I haven’t seen either of them for years but, quite literally, it’s as if no time had gone by. John looked good and, despite his dreadful last few years, was upbeat. Let’s hope this isn’t the last Con we see him at.
* “How Not To Get Published” panel, which I’d been really looking forward to but, to my mind, didn’t work at all - it got quite snide, I thought, so I left. Managed to meet up with Jonathan Oliver for a chat a little later, as I wanted to ask him how he liked his novel pitches.
* Back to the bar, for more chat, then SMJ collared me and we sat down with Adrian Chamberlin. The three of us - and Mark Deniz - are working on a 4-writer-collection and we batted some ideas back and forth. One of them, in two parts, was really quite exciting!
* The RCMB Curry trip, wonderfully organised - as ever - by Gary Cole-Wilkin and Soozy Marjoram (and a terrific job they do, I organised a “thank you” round of applause when we finished). We were rounded up, led down, seated and eating really quickly - conversation was loud and passionate and funny and the meal was terrific. Attending were: Paul & Cath Finch, John Travis, Charles Rudkin, Ally Bird, Simon Unsworth, Terry Grimwood, Daniele Sierra, SMJ, Joel Lane, Simon Bestwick, GCW, Soozy, Shaun Hamilton, Mick & Deb Curtis, me, Gary & Emily McMahon, Chris Teague and Gary Fry. Great fun.
* Back to the Brittania and into the awards. Neil Bond and Donna Scott, from my Writers Group, had saved me a place at their table for the event and I didn’t realise, until too late, that I was sharing it with David Riley and Sharon Ring. Wish I’d known at the time, I’d have introduced myself! The awards were good (I wish Selina Lock had won for ‘Girly comic’ but Neil Gaiman - who he? - is, I suppose, a big draw) and Conrad William’s acceptance speech for “One” was about the most moving I’d heard since Tim Lebbon’s last year. Fantastic stuff and I made a point to go and congratulate him and Sarah Pinborough before the evening dispersed everyone.
* Back to the bar. More chat.
* Into the small bar, for the Pan book launch. It was held back by another event running late, so Peter Mark May & I stood chatting with John Forth and his partner Esther Sherman. We chatted about many things, but “Piranha 3D” got a good airing - it’s important, I think, to find folk who share your belief that a 3D film full of boobs can only be a good thing! Great fun, great couple and I really hope that Esther’s promise of a horror-Burlesque performance comes off.
* The Pan Launch was fabulous, helped in no small part by Johnny Mains’ enthusiasm and John L Probert’s incredible oratory skills.
* Back to the bar, more catching up with people (including Matthew F Riley), then back to the Plaza to listen to the Nottingham harpies.

I admit, I chickened out. I got a text from Mick Curtis, wishing me a safe journey and decided to head straight for the train station and my pre-bought ticket and reserved seat. If I’d stepped back into the hotel, I’d still be there, I think.

This was a fabulous con, brilliantly organised and run and I had a whale of time! Roll on the next one!

In the bar 4
The Seven Dwarves of the Apocalypse (or, variants on a theme)
(Gary McMahon, Shaun Hamilton, Steve Bacon, SMJ, me, David Price, Simon Unsworth)
In the Brittania bar, Saturday morning - picture by Emily McMahon

In Chutney's 5
Me & Gary McMahon at the Curry evening, Chutney's. Very nice it was too.
strange tales

My blog round-up

Here's a round-up of recent entries at my blog, which resides at

"Come See My House In The Pretty Town" (come on, you knew the working title of 'david & the clowns' wasn't going to stick, didn't you?) has just winged its way over to the editors in-box and I await her decision with what approximates patience from me.

I like the story a lot - it's a very different beast to "Mr Huxton Goes Camping" but I think that's a good thing and, as Sarah (my kid sister and stalwart pre-reader) says, at least this ending explains itself!

I'll let you know how it goes...
- - -

I got a copy of “Generations” in the post today, a new marketing booklet from FordDirect that collects together car-related memories and is illustrated throughout with old photographs. The reminisces make for a nice read – my favourite is the lady who fondly remembers “doing all the things I no longer approve of in my Escort XR3i” – and the pictures are, on the whole, wonderful reminders of family life that’s often decades old.

My interest – and the reason the copy arrived – is that there’s one image on the back cover and it’s of me, standing in front of my Dad’s (borrowed) Ford Anglia, on a family holiday to Chapel St Leonards in June 1972. The agency found the image on my Flickr account and I was more than happy for them to use it.

I’m really quite pleased to be associated with it.

There are more details on the campaign here.

- - -

- edited by Gary Fry

Take an alternative tour of Great Britain…

Writers are often told to write about what they know best . . . and what do they know better than their own homes? In this anthology, 19 fine authors of dark fiction reveal some of the less palatable elements of their native environments.

There’s blood where the heart is.

Much blood.

Superb new stories by:
Stephen Volk, Rhys Hughes, Gary McMahon, Paul Finch, Joel Lane, Simon Bestwick, Gary Fry, D F Lewis, Andrew Hook, Allen Ashley, Stuart Young, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Carole Johnstone, Michelle James, Stephen Bacon, John Travis, Mark Patrick Lynch, Mark West and Mike O'Driscoll

Paperback: £8.99 / $16 (+p&p)


(features my story "The City In The Rain", revamped especially for this anthology)

- - -

On Saturday, Matthew & I went along to Waterstones in Kettering to see my old critiquing partner Sue Moorcroft, who was having a signing there. Her latest book - “All That Mullarkey” - has just been published by ChocLit and it’s wonderful - I’d go so far as to say it’s my favourite book of hers to date (I read it in draft, some time ago) and I’m really looking forward to getting into it again.

Sue writes romance/chick-lit, which isn’t a genre I tend to read particularly widely in, but her books always work for me (in fact, her “Starting Over” is currently no.1 in my books-read-this-year list) and “Mullarkey” does more than most. The lead character reminded me of a very dear, close friend, it’s funny, touching and clever and there’s a character in it who writes horror for the small press. I enjoyed the version I read so much, in fact, that it’s the book Beth Hammond takes to Heyton with her in “Conjure”.

Sue’s book is available in all good bookshops or can be ordered
from Amazon here.

- - -
I have two new reviews in the May edition of VideoVista.

Both are French, part of the new-wave horror that seems to be coming out of there right now and both of them, for the most part, are very good.

High Lane features some hair-raising climbing footage that had my afraid-of-heights wife almost swooning at times

Mutants is a kind of zombie film, but not.

- - -
All entries originally posted at
strange tales

Books up on eBay

After some quite considerable time away, I've decided to dabble once more in the eBay waters and have put 10 books up for sale (my shelves were getting seriously overloaded and these were the first cull casualties).

Apart from "The Birthing House" by Christopher Ransom, which is absolutely awful, the rest are decent enough books and all are in immaculate condition.

Interested? The link to my eBay page is:

Happy browsing!
strange tales

"Huxton" 2nd draft now completed

The second draft of “Huxton” is now done and off to a handful of pre-readers and so I await their feedback. I’ll read the draft to Alison over the weekend, so I can get a feel for the story-told, as opposed to the story-written and I’ll combine my thoughts, with those of the pre-readers, to come up with the third draft.

It’s weird - after years of not writing a short, to have now created one to 2nd draft in less than a week is quite astounding!

I still don’t know about the ending though and that’s one of the strange things about writing, especially if you work in a genre that requires reaction - shock, for horror; surprise, for a mystery; a good laugh for a comedy. As the writer, you get the initial idea, then you write the first draft, which you read, then you write the 2nd draft, which you read, then you write the 3rd draft. By that time, the story has gone through the mill six times and you don’t really see the words any more, you certainly don’t get a lot of sense from them. So what was shocking as an idea, by the 3rd draft is “ho hum, now we’ll kill them with the steak knife and a warmed spoon”. That’s why the first-readers are essential.
3d dude!

Sometimes, I do complete stuff

I’ve just completed the first draft of a short story that has the filename of “Huxton1” (I did think of a working title - “Mr Huxton Goes Camping” - but that seems counter-productive now) and I’m really chuffed. Why? Well, this is my first short story since “Risen Wife”, back in 2004 and came about because I realised that as a horror writer, I had to write something. Since “The Day It Rained” fell over last year (30+k words in) and because I can’t quite get into “Project Gash”, I needed to do something. So on Sunday night, I was on the Net and saw some reviews for The Black Book Of Horror and it got me thinking - why not try getting back into shorts? Not as a full-time thing, but it’ll keep my hand in and I can submit them and it’d be nice to have something else accepted.

I wracked my brains but had no ideas (for short stuff, anyway) and, as ever, I worried that my short story engine was conked out. On Monday, we went to Northampton on the back-road and as we re-joined the A43, I saw the field across the way. It had been ploughed and bird-scarers put up - old white feed-bags on broomsticks. For some reason, this struck me as a creepy image and by the time I got to the Moulton Park roundabout, I had about 25% of the story in my head. By the time we’d finished in Northampton and arrived at Irchester, I had another 25%. I started writing that night, terrified but excited.

Progress was better than expected and, on occasion, I employed a technique I’d used with “The Mill”, of writing out of sequence. I don’t like to do it often, but it does sometimes make sense. I had a rough concept of the ending from the start and it evolved as the story did, but it’s not too far away now (though I’ve made it more oblique than my original idea would have had it), yet I’m not sure it works. So I’ll let this rest for a little, work on the second draft and then get some ‘first-readers’. I’ll take my kid sister and my friend David, as they pre-read virtually everything, but I might also target some fellow writers because I’m so unsure about that ending - it’s either bloody brilliant or bloody rubbish and I’m too close to tell which.