Monday, 12 June 2017

Sledge-Lit 2, Derby, 26th November 2016

This year saw the second Sledge-Lit event in Derby, held at the Quad and as I had such a good time at the first (which I wrote about here), I bought my ticket as soon as it was announced.  Organised and programmed by Alex Davis, also responsible for the on-going Edge-Lit’s (I wrote about this years here), it’s not only great fun but also helps bridge the gap between FantasyCon (which I wrote about here) and events in the new year.
In the bar with (from left) - Paul Melhuish, Peter Mark May, Ross Warren, Lisa Childs
This time, following a chance conversation at our writing group, Paul Melhuish & I travelled up together.  He picked me up, we talked books and writing all the way up the M1 and, thanks to a diversion at the normal junction, we came off one stop earlier and found the venue much quicker (with only one slight wrong turn!).  As we walked across the square from the Assembly Rooms car park, I spotted Ross Warren & Lisa Childs through the Quad window and waved.  Then Peter Mark May spotted me and began flicking his V’s, so I did the same to him.  After signing in, we went for our goody-bags and I got my wonderful hug from Pixie Peigh.  As I moved along the table to buy raffle tickets, I saw Gary McMahon and got my man-hug from him.  What a great start!

In the bar, we sat with Peter, Ross & Lisa and caught up with them, then James Everington arrived and it was good to see him (with Steve Harris and Phil Sloman not coming, we made up The Crusty contingent between us).  After checking the programme, Peter, Paul & I decided to go to the 11.30 panel - “Trapped!  Does Horror Need To Broaden Its Horizons?” - and as I queued at the bar to get us drinks, Stephen Volk strolled by.  We shook hands and had a quick chat then Mark Morris appeared, so we chatted with him before heading upstairs to the Digital Suite (the normal theatres Edge-Lit uses weren’t available), chatting with Jenny Barber as we waited to go in.  I also managed to say hello to Kathy Boulton, though we still never got that picture!  The panel, moderated by Niki Valentine (who I interviewed here), was interesting and entertaining, approaching “trapped” in terms of sub-genre (the panel agreed with me that horror is a broad church) rather than commerciality.  It was very well attended, with a good range of questions though Gary McMahon, who didn’t put his hand up, asked the question that I was going to (and I did have my hand up!).  Grrr, that man and his magnificent mane of hair!
Alison Littlewood & me being silly
Back in the bar, I saw Ewen Davis (who has shaved his extraordinary beard off) and said hello to him and K T Davis, who both looked really well - it feels like ages since I’ve seen them.  Alison Littlewood & Fergus had arrived and, as always, it was great to see them.  Before I left home, Alison had posted on Facebook that it was our 7-year Friendiversary, saying that “We need a daft friendiversary pic (I know I'm going to regret saying that)” to complement the wonderful one taken at the Hauntings launch (see here).  Fergus took the picture for us and then we chatted and caught up, before Priya Sharma and Gary Couzens came over, with more hellos and hugs and catching up (and it was nice to congratulate Priya on news of her collection in person too).
Niki Valentine & me
Stephen Volk and Mark Morris in conversation
Paul & I chatted with Niki Valentine about the panel and writing, which was interesting as always, said quick hellos to Penny Jones, Graeme Reynolds and Adam Millard, chatted with Terry Grimwood and said hello to Dion Winton-Polak.  Stephen Bacon arrived, as did John Travis and Sharon Ring and we sat with Ross, Peter & Lisa to have lunch before it was time for the Guest Of Honour Q&A in The Box - with Mark Morris interviewing Stephen Volk.  The event got an appreciative audience, both Stephen & Mark are really nice blokes and the style was good, with Mark asking questions based around the stories in Steve’s latest PS Publishing collection (and I particularly liked his comments about The Arse-Licker, which he wrote for Anatomy Of Death).
The Eagle Books party (from left) - Stephen Bacon, Ross Warren, Gary Couzens, John Travis, me, Priya Sharma, Paul Melhuish
I then led a contingent to the Eagle Books stall in the market, with Priya, Ross, Gary Couzens, Paul, Steve & John in the party.  We all picked up something (I got another 'format a' edition of The Mystery Of The Dead Man’s Riddle - because you can never have too many - and Hitchcock’s Sinister Spies anthology), had some good conversations (in ever-changing little chat groups) and it was all very enjoyable.
With Stephen Bacon and Peter Mark May
Back at The Quad, we hit the dealer room and chatted with Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex and bought some books too.  Steve, Peter, Paul & I then went up to the Digital Suite for Terry’s panel, “Size Matters?  Is Shorter Fiction Making A Comeback?”, which was entertaining.  I managed to ask two questions (the first of which I actually answered myself as I was asking it, ho hum) and then chatted with Terry and CC Adams outside for a while.  Back at the bar, there were plenty of conversations about writing, books and life in general with an evolving group of people and that, to me, is what these kind of things are all about - chatting with folk who get what you’re saying without you having to explain everything.  Steve & I chatted with Gary McMahon for a while - his son is in second year at senior school, Dude has just gone into the first and we were comparing how things were going (it seems that a few of my concerns were shared by Gary and we both groaned over the bloody ‘bottle flipping’ thing).  Peter & I went into the foyer to have a chat and were joined by Jay Eales, James Worrad and Phil Irving, who were making a fleeting pit stop (I’d seen Phil briefly on the stairs but it was the first I’d seen of the others).  After a quick chat with them and a hello with Steve Shaw, we trooped upstairs for the raffle, this time presided over by Santa (Stephen Volk) and Pixie (who should have won an award with her deadpan delivery and grumpy expressions).  Probably because they’d spent a small fortune on tickets, Ross & Lisa cleaned up, though I managed to snare a copy of Steve Shaw’s Great British Horror 1 anthology.  I also saw Hayley Orgill & Kevin Redfearn in there but, as always seems to happen, didn’t get enough time to chat.
With Gary McMahon and Stephen Bacon
The Con officially ended at 6pm (which took almost everyone by surprise when they read the programme) and it was time to say our goodbyes in the bar, with hugs and handshakes all round.  Our little group - Steve, John, Sharon, Paul, James and a Norwegian reviewer called Ole - went over to Ask Italian, later joined by Yvonne Davis and her daughter.  Once again, good company, great conversation and nice food - though it took a while - along with plenty of laughs (I promised John I wouldn’t say anything about toilet coincidences so I won’t).  Even better, Wayne Parkin joined us for the last half hour so we got a chance to catch up (I last saw him at Sue’s book launch).
At Ask Italian with (from left) - me, Paul Melhuish, James Everington, Ole Imsen, Sharon Ring, John Travis, Stephen Bacon
All too soon we’d chatted and eaten our fill and it was time to go.  We loitered outside, ignoring the cold as if we really didn’t want to say goodbye, but then it was hugs all round and we broke up and headed home.

Another excellent Convention spent in great company, I had a wonderful time.  Roll on the next!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

FantasyCon, Scarborough, 23rd September to 25th September 2016

Friday 23rd September
Letting the train take the strain again (through 3 changes) made for a pleasant journey that saw Sue Moorcroft & I chatting the whole way.  The Derby to York leg was the first clue that writers were massing - Mike Chinn was sitting a few seats behind us, Tim Lebbon a few in front.  We met up on the platform, had a chat and a cuppa then merged with more writer-filled groups on the York to Scarborough train (Helen Marshall and John Gilbert were sitting in front of us and Peter Mark May and Richard Farren Barber were further down the carriage).  By the time we got to Scarborough, there was a larger group and Richard led one of them (thanks Google maps) to the Grand Hotel.  I’d read it was apparently once the biggest hotel in Europe and from the bit we could see that certainly seemed to be true, it looked glorious.  I said hello to Andrew Coulthard as we crossed the road, then met Jay Eales & Selina Lock outside and had a chat.
from left - John Gilbert, Sue Moorcroft, Neil Williams, James Everington, Priya Sharma, Phil Sloman, me, Lisa Childs, Ross Warren, Wayne Parkin, Cate Gardner
We signed in for the Con itself (lanyard and a wristband - fancy!), saw Ian Whates, Helen and Pixie Peigh (which is always a pleasure) then joined the long queue to check in.  On the journey up, I’d been worrying (when Sue wasn’t talking about bed bugs) that I was going to get a basement room with no windows so when I finally got to the counter I asked the girl where it was.
     "Second floor," she said with a smile.
     “It’s inward facing though, so it hasn’t got a window”
With the lovely Carrie Buchanan
Thankfully she was able to swap my room with someone who hadn’t signed in yet (sorry about that but you snooze-you lose!) so I was happy and now on the fifth floor.  As Sue was on the sixth we headed across the main bar and bumped into Kit Power, Alex Davis, Phil Sloman, Charlotte Courtney-Bond, Steve Shaw, Paul Woodward, got big hugs from Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner, Ray Cluley & Jess Jordan, saw Steve Bacon and Wayne Parkin and found the lift (the one and only time I used it all weekend).  Jim Mcleod and Vix Kirkpatrick were also waiting and it was great to see them too (they were also on the sixth floor) and we chatted on the way up.  I had room 527A (A, I later found out, denoting a larger room that had been split into two - I got the smaller bit) from which you could see the sea-front, it had a shower, a bed and it was clean - what else could you want?  I unpacked and headed back to the bar, using the stairs this time and that was my first encounter with the grand staircase which was amazingly wide and very long, so you felt like a film star coming down it (I first used the comparison of a Disney princess, which wasn’t the coolest thing I could have said).  Saw Neil, Michelle & Tallis Williams, Victoria (V H) Leslie, Chris Barnes, Priya Sharma and Conrad Williams, then I convinced Conrad and Priya that we should make an entrance on the stairs, so we ran up them and came back down.  More people were coming in, saw Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex (who hadn’t had the best journey up), Steve McHugh introduced himself, Ross Warren and Lisa Childs came over, Steve Lockley walked by and gave me a book, then the lovely Carrie Buchanan appeared and I got a hug from her.  Cat Hellison said hello - we haven’t seen one another since WFC Brighton in 2013 but she’s now living in Scotland so hopefully will get to more events.  I saw Ren Warom and introduced her to Sue and we all had a chat - her new book is doing well and so is she, which was nice to see.  Steve Bacon, Wayne, Conrad and I found a little corner and had a long chat about writing, genre and life, which was thoroughly entertaining.
Chatting with Conrad Williams - me, Phil, Conrad, Steve Bacon
We decided to have pizza (due to timings, the upcoming disco and the fact that nobody had booked anything else) and our motley crew gathered outside - Richard, Sue, Peter, Phil, James, Ross, Lisa, Steve, Wayne, Laura Mauro, Gary Couzens, Priya, Cate, Simon, Neil, Michelle & Tallis - and set off into Scarborough town.  Pizza Hut were able to accommodate us, we took over three tables, enjoyed quick service and decent food and, as ever, great conversation.  Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane sat quietly near the drinks machine, which meant they didn’t get much peace for their meal but it was good to catch up with them again.
The Pizza posse (some of us doing jazz hands for some weird reason - photo by Sue)
Lisa, me, Laura Mauro (obscured), Ross, Phil, Gary Couzens, Peter Mark May, Wayne (obscured), James, Richard Farren Barber, Steve
When we got back we saw Steve Harris & Amanda Rutter - more hugs - had a quick chat with Ben Jones and went to the Royal Hotel (the sister-hotel for the Con) for the disco, Wayne and I walking the short distance with Donna Bond, so I introduced them.  The disco wasn’t what I’d been expecting, to be honest - the music was great but not really danceable though we didn’t let that stop us and Wayne, Phil & I were on the floor for most of it, with Steve, James and Peter dropping in (and Donna joining us every now and again - “a girl!  Quick!  Dance cooler!”).  I also saw Kathy Boulton (the first of many occasions), we said hello but I still didn't manage to get a picture with her - one day...  Carrie & Vix came by later so I got to dance with them again but, alas, there was to be no Hey Mickey this year.  After witnessing a contretemp with an over-officious hotel porter who didn’t like the noise level and wanted to shut the disco down, I headed back for the Grand and quickly got into a conversation with Paul Finch, Paul Lewis, Steve Lockley, Graeme Hurry and Neil that spanned a very wide range (and re-affirmed my idea of going to Harrogate next year for the Crimefest).  Chatted with Steve H, CC Adams, Ben and Jasper Bark, then Alison Littlewood & Fergus came through.  The main bar shut but Fergus said there was a back bar so we went to that (I hadn't even realised it was there) and found a table, complete with a bowl of chips.  For our photo opp, Alison said she wanted some and Steve ate one, saying it was very nice - we all declined the offer.  Our little group was soon joined by John Travis, Terry Grimwood and Amanda for more chat - surely, one of the purest delights of FCon is the great conversation.
"Don't eat that chip!  Oh, too late..."
Steve Harris, Alison Littlewood, me, Steve
I gave in at 1.40 and headed up the stairs (I ran all the way, the only time I managed it all weekend).  The room was hot and quite noisy (it sounded like air con blowers somewhere outside) but the shower was refreshing and the bed was comfy.

Saturday 24th September
Up bright and early (me, worried about the panel?  No, never…) to a clear sunny morning, I decided to go for a walk.  I went down the McBean steps (which everyone in our party quickly christened the ‘Exorcist’ steps), took some pictures of the front (only a few dog walkers on the beach and no traffic) then walked along in front of the hotel (it’s huge!) and up the switchbacks by the roundabout.  Lovely view (and walk) though it was a bit chilly.  I met Alex and Peter at the hotel then chatted with Tracy Fahey (who I met at Edge-Lit and who’s on the panel with me) about life and writing and what we were going to say before Steve McHugh joined us.  I went back to my room, bumping into John Llewellyn Probert & Thana Niveau on the way - it’s always a treat to chat with them.  I also saw Pixie again and finally got my hug from her.

I met Sue in the main bar and we went for breakfast - the cornflakes looked limp so I went for sausages, scrambled eggs and bacon (diet starts Monday…)  It was lovely.  Steve & Wayne joined us (he liked my A bout de soufflé t-shirt), we all had seconds, chatted and then it was time.  With Laura Mauro, we walked to the Royal and got set up - Paul Finch and Tracy were already at the table and I sat next to her.  Since we still had time, I decided to nip to the loo and when I got back, the room had filled up and all the panelists were all in place.  People looked at me as I rushed up the centre aisle and I debated saying “I’m not late” but decided against it.  The panel was great fun, the hour whisking by.  Paul ran it well, he had Helen Marshall and V H Leslie to his right, Tracy, me and Ramsey Campbell to his left and I was in great company.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and we got some nice feedback from the audience.
The "Is Reality The New Horror?" panel with, from left, Helen Marshall, V H Leslie, Paul Finch, Tracy Fahey, me, Ramsey Campbell - picture by Sue Moorcroft
I posted this on Facebook, writing “me trying to say something as smart as my colleagues...”  Paul replied with “It's true. He did try” - the cheeky bugger!
Back at the Grand, I went to the back bar where Ian and Helen had set up a table for us to sign the hardback edition of Ten Tall Tales that launches later today.  I was really chuffed when Ian asked me to be in it, moreso when I saw my fellow contributors.  Settled around the table were Maura McHugh, Paul Kane, Simon Clark (who I hadn’t seen for a while), Lynda E. Rucker and Andrew Hook (who also liked my t-shirt - Gary Couzens later told me Andrew’s a big Godard fan).  I said I’d been looking for a 400 Blows t-shirt, which didn’t go well on the Google search and that, to much laughter, led to what else we had found on the Internet accidentally.  We also talked length of names and how consistent signatures were - Maura was fantastic (and focussed), Simon Clark had his down to a couple of letters but Lynda Rucker had made her life harder by adding the E!  Great fun and company.  Job finished, people drifted away and I chatted with Maura about the Mixtape posts and the power of Daphne DuMaurier and Angela Carter.  On my way to Sue’s panel I bumped into Gary & Emily McMahon (who are only here for the day) and got a big hug from both of them.
Some of the Ten Tall Tales signees - from left, Andrew Hook, Lynda E. Rucker, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Ian Whates, me - picture by Maura McHugh
Wayne & I went into Sue’s panel in the Palm Court room, which commanded a wonderful view of the hills beyond the town and he & I debated the use of the netting over the windows.  The panel went well, Sue kept it nicely on track and one participant in particular, Rob Power, was especially interesting.  Had a chat with Jon Oliver then wandered down to the bar, met up with Steve, introduced myself to Rob and we went into town for a sandwich.  Leaving Sue to her phone and coffee on a bench, Wayne & Steve took me to Mrs Lofthouses Secondhand Book Emporium, which was excellent (and filled with handmade bookshelves).  Didn’t have enough time in there unfortunately, but I did pick up a book about the making of Close Encounters, which was a good result (and yes, I get the irony that I’m at a Convention filled with books and yet I still go to a 2nd hand bookshop…).
We love Bacon - from left, Steve Bacon, me Bacon, Peter Mark Bacon and Wayne Bacon...
The NewCon Press launch was in the Cabaret room (which was actually a small, gothic theatre) and well attended.  Ian did his stuff, I got to sit between Ramsey and Maura and we signed some paperbacks (including one for Cat, who Maura & I chatted with).  After the queue died down, I had a lovely long chat with Maura about the writing process and the power of the novella, which led to us talking about Richard Matheson, Stir Of Echoes and I Am Legend.  Wonderful.  We hung around in the same venue for Adam Nevill’s launch then I went up to Neil Buchanan’s dealer stall to sign copies of Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.  We also talked about the cover art for Polly as he’s not happy with it and I agree with him (the novella is about a confident, assured fortysomething woman, the cover features a scared looking girl in her early 20s) and we’ve decided to go in a slightly different direction.  I told him an idea I’d had and he’s going to get his artist to come up with some new concepts so it was a good and timely conversation.
The FantasyCon Boyband publicity shoot went well - Richard, Steve, me, Wayne.

On the harbour - Steve, Sue, Richard
As there was a gap in the programme, Sue, Steve, Wayne, Richard & I decided to head out and get some sea air, walking along the front to check out some restaurants for later.  We didn’t find much, except in The Works where there was a collection edited by Sue and books by Paul and Tim!  We went into the harbour, walked around the lighthouse (and engaged in a bit of Viz-related duelling) then headed into town.  I’d never been in that part before and the mix of shops and architecture was brilliant.

We were back at the Grand in time to help set up for the Hersham Horror Books launch.  I’d been looking forward to this for a long time and as we set out the chairs, books and signing stands, there was a real sense of excitement in the air.  We took some pictures and I was proud to stand alongside Phil, James and Steve (fellow Crusty Exterior folk), launching the HHB novella series - they’ve already picked up some good reviews and I’m chuffed to be part of it.  For the event, I stood between James and Marie (whose collection was also being launched), Peter did this thing and the floor was open.  There weren’t as many people as I’d hoped, though we signed some books and then about a third of the way through the Cocktail bar just seemed to fill up, with people, noise and laughter and suddenly we were signing lots of copies (and Peter kept coming over and giving me updates).  As things calmed down, I mingled and saw Sarah Ann Watts and caught up with her before Peter introduced me to Sharon Ring who I’ve known online for years though this was our first meeting face-to-face.  By the end of the session there was hardly any stock left, Peter waved his wad at me like loadsamoney and we tidied up.  It was a good turnout, it was great fun (which you can see in all our faces in the pictures) and I had a wonderful time.
The 4 Novella Writers - Phil, Steve, me, James
The Hersham Horror writers - Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve

Jay tries to get us to sign each others books - Jay Eales, Selina Lock, Paul Kane, Marie, me, James

Busy signing - Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve - picture by Wayne Parkin
Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve, Wayne, Richard and Peter's back
We four with Jim Mcleoad (centre), The Ginger Nuts Of Horror head honcho.  GNoH have been a great supporter of the novellas and the genre in general.  So good to have him there.
Ross stopped me outside, concerned about my t-shirt - since it wasn’t Star Wars, he was worried I’d been cloned.  With him and Lisa, I headed for dinner with Sue, Steve, Wayne, Peter, Chris Teague, Sharon and her partner Dave - we tried the Italian near the Royal but they couldn’t accommodate us.  On our earlier walk, we’d noticed fireworks being set up on the beach so Wayne suggested fish and chips while we watched them and we went for it - though the alley I led us down wasn’t the best choice I could have made.  We managed to pick the only chippy in the world that didn’t do pies (I had chicken nuggets and chips, I’m not a fan of fish) then stood on the path and watched the fireworks, chatted and laughed (and me and Wayne helped save Chris from choking to death).  As Wayne said, we’re at the seaside, it had to be fish and chips on the beach!
In the back bar (pic by Chris Teague) - from left (bottom) Wayne, Gavin Williams, Amanda Rutter, Steve H, Sharon Ring, me, Ross, John Travis, Peter, Lisa, Sue, Phil, Steve, James
Back at the Grand, we made a circle in the back bar which was already full with FConners and other hotel guests.  Our group was joined by Phil and James, then Neil and John Travis and it was fluid for the rest of the evening - Chris Barnes and Ben; Danny Rhodes and Thomas Emson came over, Jim and Vix joined us for a chat, Steve H & Amanda pulled up chairs (and he & I managed to have a bit of a chat too - he gave me a copy of his new book Craze which is leaping to the top of my TBR pile).  Saw Neil Snowdon briefly and managed to say a quick hello to Steve Savile - and then didn’t see him again for the promised chat (that happened a lot).  As I was heading for the loo, I saw Alison and Gary McMahon - she’s been trying to corner us three and Gary Fry to get a picture all weekend (we four have a message thread on Facebook Gary F labelled the Secret Horror Society which is great fun) - we grabbed him at the bar and got Gavin Williams to take a picture for us.
Me, Alison Littlewood, Gary Fry and Gary McMahon - sarcasm not pictured
When I got back to our corner, Adam Nevill had joined us and we chatted for a while - he’s a lovely bloke, always interesting (and interested) and I enjoy his company.  Jasper Bark dropped by, James Bennett came over for a hug and I decided to call it quits at about 2.30.  What an absolutely brilliant day - a great panel, two book launches, lots of laughter and chat, who could ask for more?

Sunday 25th September
Light rain this morning so I didn’t go for my walk.  I met Stephen Volk on the stairwell and we walked down to the main bar together.  He apologised for missing the Hersham launch (he popped his head around the door and the room was full) and I thanked him for the mention in his new PS collection (it includes The Arse-Licker, his story from my Anatomy Of Death anthology) and, as ever, it was a real treat to talk to him.  At the bottom of the Disney Princess staircase we met Marie & Paul, then the Williams, before Sue joined us (and we had pictures taken with Tallis’ Zombie bear).  Sue & I went for breakfast and saw and chatted with Ian and Simon Morden on the stairs.  In the restaurant, I finally saw Graeme Reynolds & Charlotte McDonald to say hello to.
Tallis Williams, me and the Zombie Bear
We dropped our cases off and checked out, then I chatted with Peter, Phil and James, all of us still really chuffed about the launch.  Jay & Selina joined us and then Phil had to leave, so it was hugs all round, the first goodbye of the day.  That’s the bummer about the last day of a Con, saying goodbye as people head off, knowing you might not see them again for a year - thank goodness for Facebook!  Richard, Peter, Steve, Sue and I went into the back bar and chatted as we drank tea.  Wayne joined us, then Simon Morden, then the Williams.  It was Michelle’s first Con and she'd enjoyed it and it was nice to see Tallis getting more confident as the weekend went by.  Had a long chat with Simon about writing and plans, perhaps the longest natter we’ve had since we first met up at the Masters Of Terror day in London back in 2000.  After Jim and Chris came to say their goodbyes (more big hugs), I went onto the terrace to take pictures of the view and found Sharon Ring out there taking pictures of the boats.
Sunday in the back bar - me, Peter, Richard
Went into the Joe Hill panel, where he was interviewed by Peter Crowther - Sue & I saw him at WFC in Brighton (at the time she didn’t know his parentage) and this time was even better.  He’s a great speaker, engaging, witty and funny and his stories ranged from hilarious to powerful and raw.  One of my favourite events of the Con.

For lunch, Peter suggested we try the café at the top of the funicular and it was a good choice.  We sat upstairs, all had paninis and a good chat - Wayne liked my Live & Let Die t-shirt, which led to us discussing Robert McGinnis and poster art in general (he & I share a dislike of modern ‘here’s a picture’ posters - step forward the Daniel Craig Bond’s).  All too soon it was time for Steve & Wayne to go and, as ever, their goodbye hugs were just a little bit tighter than normal.  It’s been great to see and spend so much time with them this weekend that it’s genuinely a wrench to say goodbye.  Peter went back to the Con but Sue & I decided to go for a walk instead (she wanted an ice cream too).  We walked along the front, got to the harbour and decided to keep going - the sky was clear, conversation was good and we were almost at the North Bay before turning back.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Back at the Grand, Mark Morris came over to say hello - we caught up and finally, after years of trying, had a little bit of a chat about the Three Investigators.  It was really good to see him.

Me and Adam Millard in the mirror, in the queue
Leaving Sue with her Kindle and a cup of tea, I went to the Royal for the Awards ceremony and stood chatting with Adam Millard in the queue.  He & I secured a sofa and were joined by Peter, David Price, Martin Roberts and Helen Hopley (she & I knelt on the floor).  Neil Bond came over to wish me luck and I stood with Graeme Hurry and Steve Volk for the ceremony itself.  King For A Year didn’t win, which was a disappointment, but there were some nice surprises and it was a genuinely lovely moment when the Karl Edward Wagner Award was given to the redcoats past and present.  Seeing Pixie on stage, emotional and lost for words for all the right reasons, was wonderful.  It was also a treat to see Priya Sharma win too - wonderful person, great writer!

Then it was time to go.  I shook hands, said goodbyes, congratulated Alex on the award and Con and headed back to the Grand.  I had a chat with John Travis and Terry in the main bar, got Sue, said goodbye to Ian then went to get our cases, which was more complicated than it should have been.  We found them and were joined by Laurel Sills (the mysterious girl in one of my photo’s from Brighton) who came back to the station with us.

We made our connection with minutes to spare at York, talked all the way to Kettering and got in for 8.15.  Alison & Dude met me at the station - he came running over and jumped into my arms, which was a great way for the weekend to end - then I hugged Sue and said goodbye.
Sue on the staircase
FantasyCon by the sea was another great Con, full of fantastic people, company and conversations.  Although I wasn’t keen on the two-venue approach (I’d have preferred everything to be in one), Scarborough was a great location, the faded glamour of The Grand Hotel was perfect and it was so good to see old friends and make new ones.
Glorious Scarborough
I know I say it a lot but I really do find FCon a life affirming experience, it reminds me of the good people I have in my life, it reminds me why I love the horror genre and its writers and readers and it makes me wish it happened more than once a year.

Here's to 2017!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Edge-Lit 5, Derby, 16th July 2016

I’m a big fan of Alex Davis’ Edge-Lit conventions (you can read previous reports here for 2014, 2015 and Sledge-Lit) and was very much looking forward to 5, especially since an anthology of novellas I was in - Darker Battlefields from The Exaggerated Press - was being launched.  I was up early, put in my 2m power-walk, had breakfast and left in plenty of time, only to hit traffic on the M1.  Thankfully, the AA routeplanner did me proud and I got to The Quad with ten minutes to spare.
Lisa Childs, Ross Warren, Steve Harris, Phil Sloman, me, in The Box
The first person I met (I hadn’t even got through the door) was Emma Robson, from the Northampton writers group I’ve been to a couple of times.  We said hello and got signed in, grabbed our goody bags and I went into the bar and met up with Adrian Chamberlin (who edited the anthology) and Greg James, then headed upstairs to The Box for the launch.  I met my fellow Crusty Exteriors Phil Sloman and James Everington on the way and it was great to see them both - James got his new novel reviewed in the Guardian yesterday and we decided it was right to spend the day mercilessly teasing him about it (“don’t you know who this is?  He was reviewed in The Guardian!”).  I said hello to Ian Whates, saw Steve Harris and he introduced me to Amanda Rutter, which was a real pleasure and then met up with Richard Farren Barber, who’s also in the anthology with me.  We went in and got settled, Terry Grimwood (our publisher) sitting behind me, happy now the books had finally been delivered.  As we waited for the event to start I had a quick chat with Amanda - I’ve known Steve for years and he joined in a conversation I was having on Facebook with Amanda about the TV show First Dates, which led to them not only going on a date but becoming partners!  Which is great!
Phil, Priya Sharma, me
Terry goes his publisher bit (pic by me), I do my writer bit (pic by
Richard Farren Barber)
Alex Davis led the Boo Books launch and James read first from his novella Trying To Be So Quiet (which I am very much looking forward to), followed by Tracy Fahey reading from her short story collection.  Terry then stepped up and talked about Darker Battlefields - he was followed by Ade and Richard, then me.  As I stood at the podium, looking out at the crowd, I wished I’d written something down but instead I talked about where my novella The Exercise came from and it seemed to go down well.  Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner had turned up, so I said hello to them and then got a big hug from Priya Sharma and we had a lovely chat.  Ross Warren and Lisa Childs came over to get their book signed, as did Theresa Derwin and then Kit Power came over to say hello, so that was all great.
Peter Mark May and me - the slimline versions...
We finally got shooed out (as we’d gone over time) and went into the dealer room as Gary McMahon was signing copies of his excellent novella The Grieving Stones (which I reviewed here).  After a brief chat, I headed downstairs, saw Anthony Cowin in the foyer, got a big hug from Adele Wearing then met Peter Mark May in the bar.  He’s also been losing weight and looked really well.  We chatted with Richard then I spotted Johnny Mains so handed him a book I’d got for him - Peter Haining’s The Freak Show anthology.  He was sitting with Mark Morris and Sarah Pinborough, so I had a chat with them before heading back into the bar.  We were joined by Steve & Amanda, Phil, Ross & Lisa and James, had a laugh and tried to figure out where to have lunch.  Since nobody could decide, I said we’d head to the deli we discovered last year and set off (joined by Greg and Dion Winton-Polak), filling Amanda in on the Acropolis café story (from 2014) on the way.  Great fun.  Steve & I got served first, so we sat on our bench to eat and catch up, then Greg and Amanda came out before Dion joined us.  Again, great conversation, which is what these events are mostly all about.  When the others joined us, I collared a passerby to take some pics and then led our merry band to the Eagle Books stall in the Eagle market, where we all bought something, with Steve especially thrilled to get a hardback he’d been after.  Everyone else rushed back to make a launch but Steve, Amanda, Pete & I took our time, calling into the retro shop in the smaller market on the way, where I picked up a copy of Live And Let Die.
The glamour of having lunch
(on the bench, Phil, Ross, Lisa - behind them, Pete, me, Greg James, Steve, Amanda, Dion Winton-Polak)
At Eagle Books - Lisa and Amanda have a look whilst Steve guards his treasure (look how chuffed he is)!
Back at The Quad, it appeared the carnival was in town, their sound system so loud you could feel the bass in your chest.  It made for interesting conversation.  Said all too brief hello’s to Penny Jones (“You’re so tall,” I said, without thinking and she countered with “I look smaller on Twitter”), Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan, Jay Eales & Selina Lock, Adam Millard, Kevin Redfern, Ray Cluley and Jan Edwards, but finally got my picture taken by Peter Coleborn.
picture by Peter Coleborn
I had a chat with Lynda E. Rucker and congratulated her on the Shirley Jackson Award win before catching up with Pixie Puddin, who gave me a lovely hug and sold me lots of raffle tickets.  I was chatting with James and said hello to Victoria (V H) Leslie, which reminded me I needed to pick up her book - I got it and 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, got Sarah to sign hers but didn’t see Victoria again to ask her.
Pixie and me - raffle tickets pictured...
James & I went up to Johnny’s panel - “What Is The Continuing Draw of the Supernatural in Fiction?” - and had to wait outside Cinema 2 for the other session to finish.  I found myself standing beside Kathy Boulton (she of the brief “hello!” last week at the NewCon bash) and so we finally got to have a chat (at this rate, the next Con report will have a picture of us both!) and she introduced me to her mum Susan, who is also a writer.  When we got in, we saw Pete and Steve Lockley sitting near the back so joined them and the session went well, with Victoria in particular holding her own with some very smart answers - and anyone who recommends The Silent Land is always going to be a favourite of mine.  After it was over, James & I chatted with Johnny for a while, met Holly Ice and Angelina Trevena and then headed for the bar, where we were joined by Tony and Phil.  Saw Ian Whates again and went to get a copy of his collection from Adele, which he duly signed and I chatted with Tracy Fahey for a while.  I saw Conrad Williams, said hello and shook his hands, didn’t see him again.  Back in the bar I chatted with John Travis and Terry Grimwood, talked Star Wars with Ross (mainly about the fantastic Rogue One behind the scenes video) and we all agreed we’d nip across the square to have pizza for our early dinner, since Phil and Pete were heading off on the 7pm train.
me, James Everington (he's been reviewed in The Guardian, don't you know...), Pete, Steve Lockley
Gathering everyone up - Ade Chamberlin came along too, as well as Holly - we headed across the square (the music throbbing in our bones) and went into Ask Italian who, despite having empty tables, decided they couldn’t cater for 12 people.  Oh well, their loss.  Amanda searched for curry houses on her phone and we found one a seven-minute walk away that was more than willing to accommodate us (it looked posh from the outside, we were worried) and they had a fixed price “theatre menu” which suited us down to the ground - starter, main, rice or naan and a drink for £14.95!  I sat next to James, he ordered the naan, I ordered the rice, we had half each and it was more than enough.  Although it didn’t feel like it, time whisked by in there, so much so that Peter and Phil had to leave early to catch a train and we ended up missing the raffle, even though we’d all bought tickets (and Ross and Lisa had bought a LOT of tickets).  Very enjoyable meal though, great food and even better company.
Having a curry (from left - Phil, James, me, Amanda, Steve, John Travis, Ade, Terry, Pete, Lisa, Ross, Tony, Holly Ice)
Back at the Quad, we got drinks (thanks Tony!) and sat outside chatting, enjoying the warmth of the evening and talking about lots of different things (including the etiquette of how to get away without making it seem like you're trying to get away).  Edward Cox was sitting at the next table, so I finally got to meet him in person (it seems we’ve been at loads of the same events but never seen one another to say hello).  I had a chat with Gary McMahon, said my goodbyes to everyone (“Man hug,” said Steve, grabbing me and James jumped into my arms) and headed back to the car park with Ross & Lisa (who chased up the roadway after me to give me a copy of Gary Fry’s Dark Minds Press novella).
My book haul
I drove home in a happy, positive mood, bubbling with creative energy.  Edge-Lit 5 was another cracking event, well organised (thanks Alex, Pixie and team) and great fun, with some wonderful company and excellent conversations.  Roll on Sledge-Lit!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sledge-Lit, Derby, 21st November 2015

This year saw the first Sledge-Lit event in Derby, which was billed as the “Edge-Lit Christmas vacation!” and held in the same venue.  Since I had such a great time at Edge-Lit 4 (see my report here) and like the Derby Quad, I thought it’d made a nice bridge between the brilliance of FantasyCon (which I reported about here) and next years Crusty Exterior meet-up.
In the Quad bar - Sue Moorcroft, me, James Everington, Steve Harris, Simon Bestwick, Peter Mark May, Dean M. Drinkel
Saturday morning was bright, clear and cold.  I picked Sue up from her house and, as she got in, she took one look at my fleece, smiled and said, “Haven’t you got a coat?”  “No, I’ll be fine with this,” I assured her, “we’ll be indoors.”  “Okay,” she said, “but I don’t want you moaning about being cold!”  I feigned moral outrage - I mean, as if I would ever moan about anything?  We set off and made good time up the M1, chatted all the way and found the Assembly Rooms car park with only the slightest detour required - we were deep in conversation and I missed the turn…  ahem.
Pete, me, Steve, in the bar
As we signed in, Steve Harris appeared, followed closely by James Everington, so we moved into the bar and sat with Peter Mark May and Dean M. Drinkel, who’d arrived on the same train.  There was a lot of chat - it’s less than a month since FCon but it always feels too long ago - and we decided to have lunch in the bar, since Sue recommended it and none of us fancied wandering out into the cold (the place we found at Edge-Lit was lovely but we had to eat outside).  Over the morning, the group around our table ebbed and flowed and we were joined by Simon Bestwick (full of his new-agent-news), Theresa Derwin, Steven Chapman, Simon Marshall-Jones and Tony Cowin.  I later spotted Pixie Puddin in the foyer and went to give her a hug (and bought her a cup of tea too, it was cold out there) then chatted with Cate Gardner, Priya Sharma and Gary Couzens as I made my way back to our table - good to see them all.  Our lunch turned up just before the crowd appeared from the last panel and I was glad we’d pre-ordered, as the bar quickly filled up.  I had a chicken & bacon ciabatta sandwich and it was bloody lovely.

As there was a gap in the programme, I led a small deputation to the Eagle Books stall, in the Eagle market, that Johnny Mains introduced me to in 2014.  As we went through the foyer I bumped into John Llewellyn Probert, Thana Niveau and Cate.  Had a chat with John - we worked out that we hadn’t seen one another since WFC in Brighton in 2013 so it was good to catch up and we talked about how staring mortality in the face (John had a major health scare a few years back) makes you re-assess things.  It was nice to say hello to Thana too.  I met Sue & Pete outside, saw Fiona Ní Éalaighthe and got a hug from her, waited for Steven and Steve, then we set off through the Market Hall and out to the Eagle market.  As it turned out, it was indeed bloody cold outside, though I was determined not to say anything in front of Sue (I think I might have mentioned it several times to Steve and Pete though).  Eagle Books was still there and still fantastic, everyone got something and we kept calling each over to share finds.  There was a tray of Richard Laymon books which prompted a discussion of his work - all of us, it seemed, were fans at various points but, as we explained to Sue, our attention wandered as the books got thicker and more misogynistic.  On the way through, I’d spotted a sign in the Market Hall for a retro-toyshop and we stood outside for a while, gazing into the windows (there was a ‘back in 30 minutes’ sign on the door), before giving up and heading back to the Quad.  I spotted Charlotte Bond in the foyer, had a quick hug and she showed me a copy of “Drive” that Chris Teague had given her for making the muffins at “The Lost Film” book launch.

"Rising From The Dead" panel selfie - me, Sue, Steve, Pete
Upstairs, Pete & I went into the small dealers room and I picked up a Black Static from Roy Gray and the last copy of “Fur Lined Ghetto #6” from Sophie Essex - always a pleasure to see her and Andrew Hook.  With Sue, we went into Cinema 2 for the “Rising From The Dead - Is Horror Ready for a New Golden Age?” panel, which I thought sounded very interesting.  Unfortunately, it left the path less than five minutes in and never found its way back (though Thana made some great comments) - a missed opportunity.  However, as we left, I saw Kevin Redfern & Hayley Orgill further up the auditorium and had a chat with them - we disagreed with the panel and talked about how we got introduced to horror (the outcome was that if kids want to find it, they will - twas ever thus).  Good to see them.

On the way to the market selfie
By the time I got out to the open area, Pete & Sue were fiddling with his glasses, which were pretty much falling apart.  I suggested we go into the market to find a jewellers stall and, as we set off, I decided to tell him the staircase was further away than it actually was.  He gave me a look and said, “I can bloody see them.”  Mischief averted.  The stall I’d spotted in the market was actually a watch-maker but the kindly lady fixed Pete’s glasses quickly and efficiently and since we were in there, we checked out the retro toyshop again but this time it was closed.  On our way back to the Quad (with me still not complaining about the cold, even though I couldn’t feel my fingertips) we had a quick look in Ask Italian, across the Market Square, as Sue and curries don’t mix particularly well.  The menu looked good so we decided we’d eat there later.

We went into the bar for a while before heading back upstairs were we met Cate and Priya on the stairs and Graeme Reynolds in the open area, chatting with them all.  James joined us and he, Pete and Graeme went into the “A Ghost Story Is Not Just For Christmas” panel, whilst Sue & I went to the Boo Books launch.  I had a chat with Andrew David Barker, whose excellent novella “Dead Leaves” (which I reviewed here) was being launched and it was good to see him - after first meeting at FCon - and his reading went well.  Carl Robinson also read from his “A Dip In The Jazz Age”, which was being launched as well and it was a good event, though sadly poorly attended.  Sue & I stayed behind to chat with Andrew and Alex (who, in addition to organising Sledge-Lit is also the publisher of Boo Books) and the conversation turned to FCon 2016, which promises to be great.
Graeme Reynolds, me, (a very distinguised looking - and with fixed glasses) Pete and Sue
Back in the bar, I got a round of drinks, chatting with Steven as we waited, before chatting with Dean and Pete.  They were both leaving at 6pm to catch the same train home and our conversation covered everything from writing to body parts to the awful news about Paris (Dean was there the week before the attacks).  At 5.30, we headed up for the raffle - hosted by Rob Shearman - joined by Jay Eales (unfortunately Selina had stayed at home) and Phil Irving.  Steve arrived late, sat on the row behind us and won the first two prizes!  We thought it was going to be another Andromeda-style whitewash but it wasn’t to be - I didn’t win anything, nor did Pete but Sue & James cleaned up on the PS Publishing prizes, with “A Cold Season” (hardback) and “Ellison Wonderland” (boxed hardback) respectively.  Gits.

And that was Sledge-Lit officially over.  I said goodbye to Pete, Steven and Graeme and we gathered up our dining party - Sue, Tony, James, Steve, Chris Teague and me - and went over to Ask Italian, who managed to seat us all.  The food was great, the conversation and company even more so and I don’t think there was a moment of silence for the entire meal.  We covered a lot of subjects too, including how to write erotica (Sue didn’t believe us about Dino-porn but did introduce us to the phrase ‘Antigua Kiss’, which we’re all going to include in our latest story), what we're currently working on and what we get out of Cons (James put his finger on it, saying how great it was to hang out with talented friends).  A great group of friends, it was the perfect end to the Sledge-Lit experience.  Afterwards, James was heading for the train station whilst Chris and Tony were going back to the Quad so we all hugged and said goodbye, then Sue, Steve & I went back to the Assembly Rooms car park and hugged goodbye in the stairwall.  After finding an ‘interesting’ route to get us back to the M1, Sue & I talked all the way back to Kettering.
At Ask Italian - James, Steve, Chris Teague, Sue, me, Tony Cowin
Great fun, great venue, well organised and full of friends, I’d say Sledge-Lit was a success.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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