Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Edge-Lit 7, Derby, 14th July 2018

After the Sat-Nav seemed to find me yet another route into Derby (I swear, every time I go to Edge-Lit, the journey is subtly different each time), I pulled into the Assembly Rooms car park and thought it was shut.  Turns out they have a new entrance system that looks, at first glance, like the place has been boarded up - I was happy to discover as the day went on I wasn't the only one who'd been confused.
At the Crusty table - from left, Ross Warren, Steve Harris, John Travis, me, Blaize Harris (seated), Peter Mark May, Lisa Childs, Terry Grimwood, Dale Winton-Polak
Into the Quad, I joined the queue to sign in and immediately saw Phil Sloman and Ben Jones, caught up with them, got my goodie bag and lanyard, then bumped into John Travis.  Phil and Ben went to a panel, John & I got a drink then headed outside where The Crusty Exterior had secured a table overlooking the square.  Tony Cowin was sitting at the next table by himself, worrying about the launch of In Dog We Trust so we did what all true friends would do and just wound him up further, saying he’d have to do a speech and we couldn’t be guaranteed not to heckle - I’m not sure we helped.  On our table, I worked my way around saying hello to Ross Warren, Steve & Blaize Harris, Peter Mark May, Lisa Childs (with extra congratulations on her becoming a (very young, we thought) grandmother), Terry Grimwood and Dion Winton-Polak - we caught up, chatted and checked the programme, planning our day.
With Andrew David Barker (centre) and Kevin Redfern
People came and went, Andrew Freudenberg and Duncan Bradshaw joined the table, different conversations struck up.  Pixie joined the smokers section of Ben and Lisa and I finally got my Pixie hug, a mainstay of Edge-Lit.  As we'd decided to eat at the Quad rather than go out I went through to the bar and discovered they didn’t have their wonderful club sandwich on the menu, so opted for the Cob Burger option instead.  I met Paul Kane in the queue and James Everington came through, having just finished on his panel and introduced me to Dan Howarth.  CC Adams was at a table so I said hello to him and caught up with Kevin White, a redshirt on the front desk who I’d struck up an email conversation with after Sledge-Lit, Tracy Fahey breezed by with a quick hello and a nice hug and I didn’t see her again for the rest of day, Georgina Bruce and I got to catch up quickly and I complimented her on her fantastic hair, Andrew Hook walked by for a quick handshake - lots of great people all over the place.  As I headed back to our table, I saw Kevin Redfern and since we never seem to get to chat, I stopped for just that.  Within moments, Andrew David Barker turned up and we fell into a conversation about writing, films and filming that was hugely enjoyable.  My lunch turned up so I followed the waitress back to our table to claim it - the bucket of fries was lovely, the burger was very bland.

Phil Sloman (left) and me, some of the sexiest legs in horror whatever
Jim Mcleod might have to say...
As we ate and chatted, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Rosie Seymour wandered by in search of food and it was nice to see them again.  All too soon it was time for a still-worried-looking Tony to head up to the Black Shuck Books launch and I followed him.  Steve J. Shaw was launching four titles - More Monsters by Paul Kane, The Martledge Variations by Simon, Madame Morte edited by the wonderful Pixie and In Dog We Trust (which features my story Chihuahua, as I wrote about here) from Tony.  I sat on the front row - as that was the writers line - next to Phil and we compared our ‘best legs in horror fiction’, said hello to Ray Cluley & Jess Jordan before a late-coming Kit Power arrived and sat next to me (he’s not in any of the titles, but didn’t realise so we adopted him).  Tony had to do a speech and talked about fearsome dogs in fiction - for some reason, he name-checked Scrappy Doo so Phil & I got to heckle, which was good fun.  The launch over, I signed some books (Ray was doing a dog doodle as part of his signature, I doodled in one book Snoopy lying on top of his kennel) and then, with Ross, had a chat with Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner that covered a whole range of subjects.  Priya Sharma appeared for hugs and promises to catch up later and I compared agency submission notes with Penny Jones (and her newly blue-tinged hair).  Ross went back to the bar and I called into the dealer’s room, bumped into Danie Ware on the way, had a quick chat and she gave me a sticker for her new book, which was being launched later.  Said hello to Adele Wearing who was manning the Fox Spirit stall and finally bought Tracy’s The Girl In The Fort, then found the Black Shuck stall which Yvonne Davies and her daughter Megan were looking after.  Chatted with them, bought Phil’s collection Broken On The Inside then Charlotte Bond came over for a chat and gave me a gingerbread mouse, which was lovely.  I ate it while I was in James’ 2pm panel, 'Creating Suspense and fear in your fiction', which included Paul Tremblay among its great line-up.  Also in the audience were my fine friends from Writers, Neil & Donna Bond and Kathy Boulton was sitting with them, so I got to say hello to her too (still didn't get a picture though).
At the Black Shuck launch with Phil Sloman, Jess Jordan and James Everington.  Jess had just recruited us willingly into the Stephen Bacon fan club...
Back to the bar and the Crusty table.  I chatted plays and acting with Terry, Andrew came over with Dan, Jay arrived - Selina had unfortunately already left, so I didn’t get to see her - as did Donna.  Hayley Orgill and Kevin joined us then Simon Clark, always good company, did and we chatted with Peter, talking as the sun warmed up our area of the patio until the 5pm Guest Of Honour interview, which Marie O’Regan conducted with Paul Tremblay.  I went with Andrew, Peter, Jay and Donna and there weren’t anywhere near as many people as I’d expected which was a shame because Paul is a great speaker and the hour whizzed by.  It whizzed by quicker for Peter, Jay and Donna, who all seemed to nod off at different times (to be fair, it was warm and they were very comfortable seats).
With Peter and Simon Clark
Joined by Ross and Lisa, we stayed on for the raffle, which is often enjoyable but the presenting duo tried to emulate Sarah Pinborough’s irreverence and fell somewhat short - and I didn't win anything (though, in a shocking turn-up for the books, neither did Ross).  As that finished, it marked the end of the Con for us and Andrew said goodbye and headed off.  Peter, Ross, Lisa & I made our way downstairs to find Tim Major already there waiting for us.  I shook his hand and caught up, Priya came over for a chat, we said goodbye to Pixie, grabbed John and Simon and made our way over to Ask Italian (James was with some people from Titan so came over later).  At the restaurant, the lady took in our “table for 8” request without blinking and put us downstairs where there was space for twice as many.  James turned up just after we’d ordered, with Ray & Jess in tow and we had a fine old time, chatting, eating and laughing, the perfect end to the day.  Peter left first, to catch his train, then Simon took off so we chatted for a while longer, got the bill then said our goodbyes outside, as Jess, Ray and John went back to the Quad, the rest of us to the car park.
In Ask Italian - from left, me, Ross, Jess, Ray Cluley, James, Tim Major, John, Simon, Peter (Lisa was out on a smoke break)
Another great Con (superb work by Alex Davis, Pixie and the whole redshirt team), another great day spent in the company of fine friends and writers and another burst of wonderful creative energy, soaking up the buzz.  Roll on FCon!

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Crusty Exterior Ride Again!

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.

On Saturday, the Crusty Exterior rode again with a few new members as we met up in Leicester.  As well as the original four, this time the ranks included Stephen Bacon and John Travis (who made the mini gathering for Steve H’s birthday last year), Jay Eales, Tim Jarvis and Linda Nagle.
In The Ale Wagon, from left - me, Tim Jarvis, James Everington, Phil Sloman, Jay Eales, Steve Bacon, John Travis
I parked at Highcross and met a completely lost Steve B at the clock tower near Haymarket.  After hugs and a quick catch-up, we wandered along to meet the rest of the party and picked up John on the way, then Jay directed us to The Ale Wagon pub, where Phil, James and Tim were waiting.  As we waited for Steve H and Linda, we caught up, talked writing and books, drank, laughed and effectively set the template for the day.  Jay went off to find the stragglers, the rest of us went outside to wait for them and there were more hugs when we finally saw them.  Plus Linda had made us cupcakes, which went down well with everyone.

Phil points out some titles as Steve checks for them on his database.
John doesn't look at all convinced...
We walked through the centre and had lunch at Holly’s Coffee Shop on St. Martin’s Square and decided to walk as we ate, though as each of us got served we went outside and starting eating waiting for the others.  My club sandwich was fantastic but, of us all, Phil clearly showed his cosmopolitan roots by having crayfish!  Our hardy band went up New Walk and, at the museum, stopped to enjoy Linda’s cakes, which were delicious.  We also got to tell the Andromeda stories - that we couldn't find a curry house in the middle of Brum (and so had an Italian) as well as the excellent "yeah, Steve broke a seat": "I really didn't..." tale which, I swear, gets funnier every time I hear it.  

After a short break - and zigzagging between rugby fans heading to the Tigers ground - we kept moving up the hill.  Steve B & I walked at closer to my normal pace and soon found ourselves ahead of the group and we chatted about my thriller novel, which he recently read to critique.  Once we’d reformed, we cut across Victoria Park and the group broke off into various changeable iterations, as we found ourselves chatting with just about everyone.  Tim told James & I about his teaching Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to his students - all three of us loved the story and that led us onto Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, where James & I had each first discovered mention of it.
Outside the Help The Aged bookshop with the Steve's and Linda

Phil with one of his purchases, the cover of which
I suggested looked like Mr Benn on drugs...
By now, we’d reached Queens Road and the two great secondhand bookshops there - Help The Aged and Loros.  We hit the former first and all of us picked something up, suggesting titles to one another and chatting about our finds.  Steve H, who collects hardback first editions, found a couple of likely candidates but decided not to buy them after checking his database on his phone.  Yes, Steve has a book database and you know what, it sounds like a terrific idea to me.

We then trooped across the road to the Loros, where there was plenty more chat (and James found the Futura edition of Danse Macabre I have, though it was in much better shape than mine, which has been read and re-read almost to the point of being killed).  More purchases, more suggestions, more laughter and then we left, heading back across Victoria Park towards town.  As is my wont, I’d been taking photos all day but then asked a young woman walking her dog if she’d take a group one.  On Facebook a while back, James pointed out that none of my blog reports include comments about the poor unwitting passersby I co-opt into taking pictures, so that’s why I’m mentioning her (wish I’d asked her name now).  It’s also because, as we stood there posing, John offered to hold her dog for her.

Jay led us to the Marquis Of Wellington pub on London Road where, because it was a lovely afternoon and we were seating nine, we sat out in the beer garden.  We took the end booth, pulled over a couple of chairs and that was us for two hours, enjoying the weather and company as we drank and talked.  Conversation ranged across the board, there was a lot of laughter and plans were hatched for future meet-ups.
In Victoria Park, with Steve B, Phil, Jay, John, me, Linda, Steve H, Tim and James (with thanks to the nice lady walking her dog)
Since we wanted to eat in plenty of time for Phil to catch his train, Jay took us up to the Rise Of The Raj restaurant on Evington Road and as we’d managed to beat most of the rugby crowd (who’d gridlocked the London Road junction) we got a table upstairs without any trouble.  As we settled down, the laughter picked up straight from the pub, conversation was breezy and the food was excellent.  Steve B and I had the same starter, which had more of a kick than I’d been expecting, the main courses were quick and tasty and the time flew.  We covered a lot of topics, as ever and it was nice to discuss The House Next Door (which I wrote about here) with horror fans (only James & I had read it), as we talked about books that weren’t necessarily explicity supernatural but which contained a sense of mounting dread.  Some intriguing titles came up that it'll be fun to explore.

All too soon, it was time for Phil to catch his train - everyone exchanged hugs and handshakes, then he was gone.  The rest of us left not long after, Tim taking off quicker as his train was due first and the rest of us gathering at the station as we said goodbye to James and John.  Jay headed off to get his car and I led Steve B, Steve H (still carrying the few remaining cakes from earlier in the day) and Linda back to the Highcross car park.  More hugs, then Steve B & I went up to floor 6 (we’d parked across an aisle from each other without realising it) and said our goodbyes. 
In the Rise of The Raj, with Phil, James, Linda, Steve H, Tim, John, Steve B, me & Jay
The day went really well, everyone got on brilliantly and the conversation and laughter flowed easily, plus all of us picked up some decent books.  As gatherings go, you can’t ask for much more than that.  Roll on the next one!

p.s. Just in case you were wondering (as Tim, John and Linda all were - we told them in the Raj), the name of the group was explained in the previous Crusty post here.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Sledge-Lit 3, Derby, 25th November 2017

This year saw the third Sledge-Lit event in Derby, held at the Quad (organised as ever by Alex Davies) and as I had such a good time at the previous two (I wrote about 2015 here and 2016 here), I bought my ticket as soon as it was announced.  Then, to add the icing on the cake, my friend Alison Littlewood (who's one of the Guests Of Honour, along with Sarah Pinborough) asked if I'd interview her onstage and, of course, I quickly agreed!
me, Becky Moore & Paul Melhuish
Paul Melhuish drove us up, like he did last year and we made good time to Derby, chatting writing and books on the way.  After seeming to find yet another route to the Assembly Rooms car park (neither of us recognised the road at all), we were quickly and, by coincidence, parking up at the same time as our Northampton Speculative Fiction Writers Group colleague Becky Moore.  She’d never been to a writing con before but, after speaking to us at the last NSFWG meeting, decided to come along on the condition she catch latch onto us and we agreed.  We said our hellos and crossed the square to the Quad where the first person we saw was Pixie Puddin, who's under the weather at the moment but was still her chirpy-self and it was good to see her so.  I introduced Becky, we got signed in and then Gary McMahon arrived, so I got my hug from him too.  After getting my free bar tickets (the event has me listed as a speaker) I bought Paul and Becky drinks and we found a table to run through the programme, which this time around was packed full of stuff I wanted to do.  
James Everington, me, Alison Littlewood - Fergus remarked that we were standing under the specials...
I spotted Alison Littlewood across the bar and went to see her and Fergus and, as ever, it was great to catch up with them both.  She was really nervous about her GoH interview so I told her my plan about asking a really awkward question in the middle of our interview but, oddly, it didn't seem to make her feel any better.  She was sitting with James Everington (my fellow Crusty), so I caught up with him and then suddenly we were in a big fluid group of people who were arriving and congregating at the bar.  Adele Wearing was there, quickly followed by John Travis and Simon Clark and Tracy Fahey and the big group of us chatted for a while, with Paul and Becky coming to join us all as well.  Eventually, we headed back to our table with Tracy, Lisa Childs arrived along with Stephen Bacon and there was a wonderful feeling of the gang being back together as everyone caught up.
The gang gathers - from left, Becky, me, Tracy Fahey, Stephen Bacon, Lisa Childs, John Travis and James
At 11.25, I headed up to The Box and met Dion Winton-Polak and Steve Shaw on the landing, said hi to them and Steve introduced me to Kitty Kane, with whom I’d tangled online with an irate Dr Who fan who, apparently, hated all women (including Kitty).  I went into the auditorium and Alison & I got ourselves sorted, both of us feeling nervous as we settled down in our chairs, made sure the microphones worked and waited for people to file in.  We’d already compiled a list of questions, loose enough to go off at tangents if we wanted and, with a bit of trepidation, I set off but I needn’t have worried - the audience was engaged and interested, Alison is a great speaker and very interesting and the time rocketed by.  When I threw it open for questions, we got several good ones and I bartered good-naturedly with Jo (the red-shirt in the room) for a bit more time and overall I think it went really well.  Time up, both relieved, we hugged and posed for some photos then headed back down to the bar for lunch.
Alison & me, mid-interview - pic by James Everington
Alison & I - relieved...
The bar had filled up but we quickly ended up linking three tables there were so many of us - with John, Simon, Steve, Fergus, Alison, me and James on one, Paul, Dion, CC Adams and Angeline Trevena on the next two, plus we then found room for Becky to join us.  Wonderfully, Fergus insisted on buying me lunch for the interview, I suggested it was worth a drink at most but he’s a persuasive chap (thanks Fergus!).  Everyone, even though in the middle of eating, joined in the conversation, chatting writing and stories and life and the time sped past, helped by the great company and tasty food.
(clockwise) - me, [Steve Bacon & John's heads], Simon Clark, Fergus, Alison and James, at our table for lunch
We broke up around 1.20 as people went off to their various things and, on my way out of the bar, I finally got to meet Linda Nagle, which was nice.  Steve Harris was in reception so I said hello and hugged him, spotted Fiona Ní Éalaighthe (more hugs), introduced them to Becky then Steve Bacon, Paul & I headed up to the Thrills & Chills panel.  As we waited for go in, Andrew Barker (who wrote the excellent Dead Leavesappeared with his young daughter and we got to say hello.  The panel itself, moderated by Alex Davies, was interesting and I enjoyed it a lot then afterwards, Phil Sloman & I chatted with Mark Morris, a conversation that naturally ended up involving The Three Investigators.  Leaving everyone behind for the second GoH interview (Sarah Pinborough talking to Gary McMahon), which I’d really wanted to see, I made my way down to my panel on the first floor where I met up with Penny Jones (who was moderating) and introduced myself to my fellow panellists, Stephen Aryan and Claire North (I felt a bit out of my depth).  Life Online: Social Media and The Writer was an interesting topic and we all made good points and the tone was nicely downbeat, which seemed to go down well.  I enjoyed it and Stephen & Claire were good company.
The panel - Claire North, Penny Jones, Stephen Aryun, me
With the panel over, I headed back up to The Box for the Dark Minds Press/Fox Spirit launch and sat with Steve Harris, finally getting a chance to have a chat with him.  The launches went well (they adopted the same process Laura & I did for our Dark Minds Press launch, where people read work by other writers) and as the readings finished, I got up meaning to go and buy the books - Imposter Syndrome and Tracy’s novel.  As it was, Gary McMahon and Sarah Pinborough were standing off to one side so I stood chatting with them for a while instead.  Gary went to get his books, leaving Paul & I with Sarah and since I’d missed her interview, it was nice to catch up with her, especially talking about the wonderful Behind Her Eyes and her new deals.  By the time I got to the book table, Tracy’s book had already sold out though she signed me a bookplate and I picked up a copy of Imposter Syndrome.  After chatting for a while longer with Sarah - and seeing Jay Eales - Steve Bacon, Phil and I headed down to the A Home For Horror panel, which Sarah was moderating.  It had an interesting mix of panellists and was entertaining - even better, I got to say hello to Kathy Boulton, who was sitting behind me.

When the panel was over, Steve & I went to the bar then headed back up to The Box, walking up the stairs and chatting with Simon Clark, who's a genuinely lovely bloke.  As we sat down, I finally got to meet Andy Walker who I think I’ve seen at every Con for the last few years and raffle king Ross Warren was ably represented by Lisa (his wife is on the verge of giving birth so he stayed at home).  Sarah and Gary co-hosted and, as ever, it made for a very funny and entertaining raffle (and deadpan Pixie, dressed as a Christmas tree, was as priceless as ever), keeping alive the traditionally disrespectful Edge-Lit raffle vibe.  Even better, I won this year, a boxed version from PS Publishing of Joe Hill’s The Fireman.  Steve also won a set of Midnight Movie Monographs and since he already had the Death Line edition (the one I was after), he gave it to me.  Double result!
As Ask Italian - from left, Phil Sloman, me, Paul, Steve, Gary Dalkin, James, Alison & Fergus
With the end of the raffle signalling the end of Sledge-Lit, we congregated on the landing and I got to say hello to Kevin Redfern briefly before we made our way downstairs, saying our goodbyes as we went which, for me, is always the sad part of any event.  There were two dining options, curry or Italian and I headed up the latter, with Alison & Fergus, Steve B, James, Paul, Phil and Gary Dalkin.  We were easily seated ("a table for eight?" usually brings on furrowed brows), the drinks came quickly and so did the food and we ate and talked and laughed and had a fine old time.  Putting together a group of writers, at the end of a day filled with creative energy, is always great and we had a lot of fun putting the world to rights.  As it was, Ask Italian did good business from Sledge-Lit and we saw tables full of fellow con-goers there so we got to say even more goodbyes when we finally made a move to leave.

I’ve always had fun at Sledge-Lit but, as Paul & I discussed on the way home, this year seemed to have a little bit extra with very few of us spending much time in the bar since the quality of the programming and panels was high.  I had a great time, it’s always lovely to spend quality time with old friends in such a creative atmosphere and my only regret is missing Sarah’s interview.

Already looking forward to the next one!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

FantasyCon, Peterborough, 29th September to 1st October 2017

Friday 29th September
Rather than the usual long journey, FantasyCon this year meant a 30 or so mile drive to Peterborough for me and Sue Moorcroft.  The Bull hotel was lovely, an old coach house with lots of dark wood, various nooks and crannies and several creaky floorboards, though the view from the car park had a real 1970s Crossroads Motel feel to it.

We were booked in for 2.30.  Steve Harris wandered by, the first time I’d had a chance to properly speak to him since his 50th birthday party at the book barn (we didn’t get to chat at Edge-Lit 6), Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner turned up, along with Terry Grimwood and his partner and it was good to see them all, especially so quickly.  Ian Whates came by to say a quick hello before moving on to the dealer room.  We dumped our bags (where I discovered my room was so big it had a three-piece suite in it) and then to the bar, the focal point for any Con I’ve ever been to.
In the bar - me, Lisa Childs, Sue Moorcroft, Peter Mark May
We quickly found friends Phil Sloman, Kit Power, Peter Mark May, Ross Warren, Lisa Childs, James Everington and Stephen Bacon and the ribbing of Phil began immediately - he’s up for Best Newcomer and we told him he’s technically not, since he shared in last years BFS nomination for the King For A Year project.  While running through the programme for the panels, Kit admitted he’d never met Ian Whates, who was moderating his so I took him over to the dealer room (in the next but one building along the street) to introduce them.  Ian, one of the friendleist blokes I know, was pleased to meet Kit but had already stepped down as moderator, which didn’t help Kit.  On the plus side, Maura McHugh was at the NewCon Press table and it was good to see her again and say hello.

After a quick chat with Neil & Donna Bond, it was back to the bar and see even more old friends who’d turned up including Georgina Bruce and Tracy Fahey, who intended to hit the dance floor with us later on, Priya Sharma & Mark and Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex.  Alison Littlewood & Fergus were also there and we had a chance for a little catch-up - she’s calling me “Swotty McSwotface” because I got my weekend wordcount done before I headed out this morning.

with CC Adams
Sue & I went to the other building for the SF Readings, led by Ian.  He was on top form as ever, a great story well told, but a fellow panellist introduced himself as an unpublished writer which didn’t exactly put me on his side.  Andrew Hook finished the session off with an assured performance.

We went along to the Black Shuck Books launch, for Great British Horror 2 and Made For The Dark, John Llewellyn Probert’s new collection.  His reading was as wonderful and theatrical as ever and got a terrific response, including plenty of laughs - I loved it.  Gareth Spark, my fellow BFS juror, introduced himself and as we headed back to the bar I saw Laura & Mr Mauro (her hubby) for a brief chat.  Tim Lebbon came by, we shook and said hello and I saw Tim Love again (the first time since WFC in 2013) - after saying hello, we met up again by chance in the toilet and carried on chatting.

In the bar, Sue & I, along with Peter, Kit and Dion Winton-Polak, found a quiet corner and, joined by CC Adams, had a great and constructive chat about writing that was thoroughly enjoyable (and I think we all learned a thing or two as well!).  Rio Youers and John Worley passed by - two more I haven't seen since WFC - and it was nice to chat with them (plus John bought a copy of Strange Tales to be signed).

By then it was dinnertime.  In the past, we’ve started with a party of four or five but as I’ve left the venue, the act of saying to friends “have you arranged for dinner yet?” often resulted in us turning up unannounced at a local restaurant hoping to seat 20.  This time, cautioned by Peter and Sue, I didn’t ask too many times and so it was us three, Danny Rhodes, Steve and Ross who set out.  We went to the Pizza Parlour just off the square, the food was lovely, conversation flowed and we got enough pizza and calzone into Steve to sober him up a bit.
With Jay Eales and John Llewellyn Probert (and his fabulous monocle!) (pic by Selina Lock)
The disco was underway when we got back but nobody was dancing and we set up camp on a table outside the room.  Jay Eales & Selina Lock, James Worrad and Phil Irving joined us as did John Llewellyn Probert & Thana Niveau so I got to tell him how brilliant his reading was.  He seemed genuinely surprised and it was nice to chat and get to see his monocle in person (not a euphemism).  James Worrad started the dancing and I joined him, along with Lisa and we had a cracking time, with Sue and Peter joining in as well as Georgina and Tracy (as promised).  John & Thana were throwing some serious shapes and after a pep talk from Gary (well, he said “Great Dad dancing…”), he & I took on Footloose (and Emily McMahon joined in too, as did Priya), while Coleen Anderson and Tom Johnstone drifted over as well.  As Tracy & I danced, in between moves we discovered we were both writing domestic noir thrillers and resolved to find five minutes later to chat about it (we found more than five minutes as it turned out but the chat went off in all directions other than writing!).  James and Phil Sloman joined in as the evening wore on and it was great fun.
Disco Dancers - me, Peter, Lisa, Tracy Fahey, Colleen Anderson, Tom Johnstone

left - James, Phil & I on the floor / right - taking a breather with Ross Warren, Tracy and Lisa
 After, James & I went into the smaller bar (which I hadn’t noticed until that point) where Ian and his group had taken over a couple of tables.  We chatted with them, Helen (Ian’s wonderful partner) gave me a lovely hug and he introduced me to Storm Constantine.  When Kit wandered in, he, James & I sat in the corner and talked, for ages, about Stephen King, the power of IT, childhood and what we loved to write.  It was the absolute perfect way to end the first night of the Con and I went to bed happy.
me, James and Kit Power, talking about King
Saturday 30th September
I met Sue for breakfast (and was two minutes late, which she tweeted about) and had the cooked option, which was lovely (in deference to my diet, I said no to the hash brown…).  We sat with James and Steve H, had a nice chat with them and also saw Steve Bacon (who looked a bit grey) and John Travis (who looked very chipper on very little sleep).  Sue went to watch the F1 qualifying in her room, I went to the other building for my 10am panel and met up with Helen Armfield, my moderator and introduced myself to Nina Allan.  “Horror: Mastery And Apprenticeship” comprised Ramsey Campbell, Nina, Phil, James and me and played to a packed room with people loitering in the doorway too.  The audience was responsive, I think I acquitted myself well (I know my fellow panellists did) and it’s always a pleasure being on a panel with Ramsey.  The 50 minutes sped by and, all too soon, it was over but I had a great time doing it.
The panel - Ramsey Campbell, Phil, me, Helen Armfield, Nina Allan and James (pic by Peter Mark May)
My fellow NSFWG’ers Tim C. Taylor and Paul Melhuish had arrived for the day, met me in the foyer and together we headed back for the NewCon Press launch, which went well.  We sat with Cardinal Cox and his friends from the Peterborough SF Group, I bought the novella series and got them signed, Sue arrived and chatted with Tim and Paul and then James Barclay came over to say hello.
Dave Jeffery, Sue, Phil (his left arm isn't really that long!), Peter, me, Richard Farren Barber
I went to get a drink in the bar and the man I stood next to, Glynn, complimented me on the panel.  I discovered it was his first ever FCon, we had a chat then Dave Jeffery (who I haven’t seen in ages) turned up with Peter so I introduced them to Glynn.  Had a chat with Steve (who couldn’t remember a thing from last night) before we headed out for lunch, picking up Phil and Richard Farren Barber on the way.  Phil suggested we try a place called Bill’s and on the way we saw Gary & Emily McMahon in a little pub whilst Lynda Rucker (it was good to see her again) and Sean Hogan were sitting outside the pub next door to that.  Bill’s was a decent enough place, the food was nice but the conversation around the table topped it.

Back to the Con, we’d unfortunately missed Donna Bond’s panel so chatted in the bar until it was time for Steve’s, “Short Fiction: Markets, Outlets & Awards”  Moderated by Allen Ashley, it also featured Tim Major, Pat Cadigan, Adam Millard, and Lynda and was great fun.  To the hotel for Hersham Horror Books launch, I blundered into an audio interview with Peter and then the interviewer turned to me so I’ll soon feature in my very first podcast!  Well, I was chuffed to be involved.
Flicking the V's at Peter during the HHB launch as Penny regales us
(from left) - 2 unknown ladies, Lisa, Sue (obscured), Ross, James, Paul Melhuish, Mr Jones (with his back to camera and obscuring) Penny Jones, Stephen Bacon
After Peter got down to the business of selling books, Penny Jones regaled our little group - me, Sue, Tim, Paul, Ross, James, Lisa, Mr Jones and Steve - with her tales of being hassled by a small Irishman at FCon last year, who kept telling her FCon was rubbish.  In the telling, the short fellow became a leprechaun and once I pointed out that any man standing next to Penny would look small, things became very funny indeed (at one point, Steve Shaw came over to say hello (he must be six-foot-six if he’s an inch) and I asked Penny if this was her leprechaun - her look told me he wasn’t.).

Sue & Paul went to a panel, I dropped my purchases in my room and then, with Ross, went to the “Book to Screen to Audio” panel.  Mark Morris moderated it and he came over to shake my hand and say hello beforehand, which was nice.  The panel consisted of Tim Lebbon, Stephen Gallagher, Dave Jeffery and Natasha Bardon and it was fascinating, Stephen Gallagher’s adventures in radio and TV especially (I could have listened to him talk for hours).
At Carluccio's with James, Tim Major, Dave, Dean Drinkel, Sue and Paul 
Ross & I headed for the bar, met up with the gang and it was soon time to head off for dinner.  We decided to miss out on the launches and so James, Tim Major, Dave, Dean Drinkel, Sue, Paul and myself went to Carluccio's, which was very nice - more great food and conversation.
In the bar with Fergus, Peter, Richard and Alison Littlewood 
In the hotel, none of us fancied the karaoke so our group - James, Richard, Peter, Dave, Lisa and Sue - found a table in the main bar and settled down for the evening.  We were quickly joined by Alison & Fergus and it was lovely to spend so long chatting with her.  Simon Bestwick turned up, followed by Priya & Mark and Steve Harris, Charlotte Bond popped by and it was fantastic, the conversations covering everything from our plans and our writing to what makes the perfect Con.  Priya asked if we told people we were attending FantasyCon and most of us said no (Steve once told someone who, it turned out, assumed he was “going to a sex show”).  We then moved on to the idea that if FCon involved dressing up, who would we go as?  Priya plumped for Batman, I said I reckoned I could go as Catwoman.  Except I said it as “I think I could pull off Michelle Pfeiffer (the ‘as Catwoman' bit remained unspoken)” which made Priya laugh and she told me she’d be annoyed if I didn’t include that in the blog.  Never let it be said I don’t listen to Priya…
Priya Sharma, Steve H, me, Simon Bestwick (front) and Peter
After chatting with Lisa about Rowan Coleman's The Summer Of Impossible Things (which we both loved), I called it a night.  Another great day.

Sunday 1st October
Met Sue and Ross in the foyer for breakfast and we joined Dion at his table.  In between getting another cooked breakfast, we had a wide-ranging chat (focused a lot on Laurel & Hardy and Morecombe & Wise) that I thoroughly enjoyed.  We were later joined by Phil who, on the day of the awards, graced us with his good fortune. I said a pre-emptive goodbye to Dion in case we didn’t see each other again today (one of my least favourite bits of the Sunday, the saying cheerio), then Sue went to read while Ross & I went to Donna’s panel, called “Small Press Publishing”.  We sat with Steve and the panel was great fun, Donna ran it well and Ian, Peter and Francesca Barbini were excellent, I’d have listened to those three talk for an hour or more.  Even better, Peter said about people pitching stuff that just didn’t work and pointed to me saying “like Scooby Doo anthologies.”  I gave him the thumbs up, it got a laugh and Ian said “speak to me at the next Writers!”  John Travis will be pleased.
Phil holds court at breakfast, bestowing his wonder on Sue & I (pic by Dion Winton-Polak)
Ross, Peter & I went back to the hotel, met up with Sue and then Steve H and Lisa regaled us with tales of their exciting adventures in the middle of Peterborough at 4am (Sue reckoned she could get a plot point out of some of it!).  The New Fears launch began and as I queued to get my copy, I finally got to catch up with Paul Feeney.  Then it was back to the room to get packed, down to reception to check out and into the bar for a quick drink and a round of goodbyes before we went to lunch.  Didn’t quite work like that, I bumped into Neil & Donna and had a long lovely chat with them, while Sue caught up with the Steve’s.  Finally it was time to go, I said as many goodbyes as I could, wished Phil all the best on his nomination and ended the day with a bacon butty at Costa - my healthy eating regime definitely starts again tomorrow!

All in all, FantasyCon was a great time spent with fantastic company in brilliant surroundings and, as ever, I left with a renewed surge of creative energy, which is always good.

Friends, fellow writers and FCon, you really can’t top that in a weekend!  Roll on next year!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Edge-Lit 6, Derby, 15th July 2017

I was really looking forward to Edge-Lit 6 (organised as ever by Alex Davis) for several reasons - it’s always good to meet up with old friends, I like the event a lot (you can read about Edge-Lit 4 here and 5 here), I like the venue and, this year, my new collection Things We Leave Behind was being launched by Dark Minds Press.
from left - Peter Mark May, Richard Farren Barber, me, James Everington
I picked Sue Moorcroft up and we set off, busy catching up since she’s been away in Italy for a fortnight at Atre Umbria, teaching (for the first week) and writing (23k words!) her new novel (for the second week).  In fact, we were talking so much (and trusting the Sat Nav system, which I hadn’t set up for myself in my new car) that by the time both of us were saying “I don’t remember this bit of road” we were some miles away from our target and heading for Uttoxeter.  Turning around and paying slightly more attention, we got to the Assembly Rooms car park at 11.15 and were crossing the square to the Quad soon after.  Lisa Childs was the first friendly face I saw, looking out of the window and giving us a big wave and then Peter Mark May joined in, so all was well.
me, our publisher Ross Warren and Laura Mauro
Pixie Puddin was on the reception desk and looked fantastic, healthy and happy.  We hugged (both commenting there was so much less of each other), caught up, I bought (lots of) raffle tickets and then got signed in.  In the bar, our gang had taken over the far corner and we quickly joined them.  It was good to see Steve Harris, John Travis, James Everington and Lisa again (we’d last seen them a couple of months back, at Steve’s 50th which we spent in Wolverhampton), along with Ross Warren (publisher of Dark Minds Press), Pete and Richard Farren Barber.  Steve Bacon came along a little while later, as did Dion Winton-Polak and Angeline Trevina who also looked happy and healthy.  Laura Mauro and her husband Rob (from then on called Mr Mauro by just about everyone, including himself) came over to join us and it was good to see her again.  As well as my collection, Dark Minds Press were launching her novella Naming The Bones (which is excellent, I reviewed it here) and Ross got us to sign pre-orders, handed over our advances and also gave us both a gift - Laura got a signed photo of Krycek from The X-Files, I got a carded Stormtrooper in a presentation pack.  Equally thrilled, we decided that a similar deal would now be part of any future publishing agreements - she gets an autograph of her favourite actor, I get a carded Stormtrooper.  We discussed plans for our section of the launch then Sue & I ordered lunch and ate it chatting and catching up with people (and I managed to off-load most of my chips to Steve H and John).
Me, Ross and Steve Bacon
At 12.45 we trooped upstairs to the Box.  The small press launch was split between Dark Minds, Quantum Corsets and The Sinister Horror Company, with Laura & I leading the charge.  I suggested we swap books to read from and, as she’d already told me she loved my story What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking, she agreed.  As we sat down I suddenly realised the Box, usually half full at best for a launch, was packed, with people standing at the sides too.  No pressure then!  I spotted Jay Eales & Selina Lock and had a quick chat with them, saw they were sitting one seat on from Susan Sinclair from my writing group so I introduced them all, said hello to Penny Jones and then saw Kevin Redfearn & Hayley Orgill, always a treat.  Also saw Gary McMahon and Mark Morris, but didn’t get to say too much to them, more’s the pity.

Mr Mauro is in the bottom picture, leaning forward with glasses
At 1pm, we went to the podium and with Ross deciding to stay behind the book table, I introduced the session and then us two.  Laura read first, the car park sequence from my story (it was an interesting experience listening to someone else read it) then I read the opening few pages of her novella, before we got a good round of applause and went to sit down for the others to take their turn.  When they had, we authors and editors sat behind the table and a nice long queue formed - we signed and chatted with buyers until all the copies Ross had brought along were sold!  Laura & I were both well chuffed, taking great delight in calling each other “sellouts!”
The queue for buyers and signings
Back at the bar (I didn’t manage to get to any of the panels at all!), we took over a table and saw and spoke to a whole range of people - Steven Chapman (finally, after a couple of years of not seeing him at all), Daniel Hooley, Martin Roberts & Helen Hopley, Graeme Reynolds, Ben Jones, Ole Andreas Imsen, CC Adams (who flicked his pecs to get me and Steven to his table), Fiona Ní Éalaighthe (and her fabulous ear), Theresa Derwin, Andrew Hook (thanks for the Bond book!) & Sophie Essex, Adele Wearing (got several hugs!), Charlotte Courtney-Bond, Georgina Bruce, Gary Couzens, Steve Shaw and Terry Grimwood.  Conversation was wide, varied and always thoroughly entertaining and I even managed to (kind of) hold my own (very briefly) in a comics chat with Jay & Selina.
Steve, Pixie Puddin and me (and even more raffle tickets)
Having bought even more raffle tickets from Pixie (she’s so hard to resist!), we went up for the raffle where I finally saw and said hello to Kathy Boulton (though in long-standing Con tradition, we didn't get to say much else)!  Ross (who never knowingly under wins) & I sat together on a bench seat, which was fun and while he won (typical), I didn’t get anything.  At all.  Ho hum.
Losing at the raffle but still smiling...
Back to the bar (when it suddenly dawned on me, with horror, that I hadn’t led a delegation to the 2nd hand book stall in Eagle Market and by then it was too late), we got everyone together and trooped over to Ask Italian for dinner.  As always, we picked up extra people on the way and the restaurant couldn’t accommodate all twelve of us on one table so we were spread out, which was a shame but were still fairly close together.  Dinner was fun, the food wasn’t bad but the conversation was excellent and the bill was relatively reasonable too (though, of course, hardly any of us had the correct change).
Look at those lovely books!
All too soon it was time to leave and we hugged and shook hands and chatted, then hugged and shook hands again.  Plans were made to meet up before FCon (there really is something special about spending time with friends who love reading and writing as much as you do) before we headed off our respective ways.  Sue & I walked back to the Assembly Rooms car park with Ross & Lisa and Steve H & John so we all paid, hugged once more and then went to get our cars (whereupon I realised I’d left my Stormtrooper in the bar, so had to drive round to get it).

The journey home (we didn’t trust it to the Sat Nav) was quick (and scary at one point, when an idiot drove onto a roundabout at full speed just in front of us) and filled with conversation, a lovely end to a cracking day.

Edge-Lit 6 was, for me, another resounding success - old friends, talking about books and the pleasure of sharing launch space with Laura.  What more could you ask for?

Roll on FantasyCon!
You write this, you get this...



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!