Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Edge-Lit 8, Derby, 13th July 2019

Arriving a bit later than originally planned (entirely my fault), Sue Moorcroft & I made our way across the square and bumped into Pixie Puddin, getting our Pixie-hug’s in much earlier than usual.  After speaking to her, we bumped into Laura & Mr Mauro, who were heading off to sign into their hotel so we hugged and caught up before going into the Quad to sign in.  Alison Littlewood & Fergus came over to say hello, then went up to the midday panel that - had we arrived earlier - I’d intended to go to.  Instead, we got drinks and headed out to the terrace to find our gang.
from left - me, Sue Moorcroft, Ross Warren, Peter Mark May, James Everington
I dumped my bag in the chair next to Ross Warren and worked my way around the table, hugging and saying hello to Lisa Childs, Tracy Fahey, Andrew Freudenberg, Steve Shaw, Charlotte Bond, Peter Mark May and James Everington.  Plenty of catching up and chatting, then we ordered lunch and I nipped off for a toilet break.  I’d barely made it into the bar when I bumped into Angeline Trevina and her friend Holly (who was enjoying her first Edge-Lit, even though I kept calling her Molly), Dion Winton-Polak came by, said a fleeting hello to Selina Lock (who wasn’t really there) and Adele Wearing then CC Adams came in for a hug and a quick catch-up.  I didn’t get much further before I spotted Steve Harris, Linda Nagle, John Travis and Simon Clark at a table so I dropped by to say hello, went to the loo and returned to them, for a natter and a catch-up.  It was good to see my Crusty mates and I’m glad I went back - I didn’t see John & Simon for the remainder of the day.
from left - Simon Clark, John Travis, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle and me
Back to the table and lunch.  Andrew David Barker joined us and told me about his new book project, with Unbound and we discussed agenting adventures.  After Lisa finished my chips for me, I spoke to Simon Bestwick, caught up with Georgina Bruce and her brother and Ray Cluley joined us (we managed a wave).  Richard Farren Barber arrived so I chatted to him with Pete and said hello to Duncan Bradshaw, Dan Howarth and Paul Feeney then Richard & I talked with Tim Lebbon for a while.  Spotted David Watkins and had a chat, then CC joined us.  After a quick hello to Stephen Volk, we were off to the Black Shuck launch.
Me, Lisa Childs and Tracy Fahey
As we waited in the foyer to go into Cinema Two, Sophie Essex came across from The Box (where the dealers room had been set up) to say hello, so I went over to their stall, picked up her chapbook and chatted with her and Andrew Hook.  As Sophie said, you have to say hello when you see someone or you don’t see them again and - true to form - I’m glad we did because I didn’t.
Me, Richard Farren Barber, Peter
picture courtesy of Richard
Late into the launch, I sat in a row on my own (very warm in there and without anyone to nudge me, was a bit worried I’d nod off).  James and Dan launched their antho Pareidolia then Kit Power launched The Finite and did a reading.  Said hello to Jay Eales then Simon B came by and I realised Cate Gardner was in the row behind so I went back to chat with her and we talked nerves (our book launch next), writing and keeping fit.

Into Cinema One (the bigger theatre) for the Multi Publisher launch - Ross and Simon B with the latter’s novella A Love Like Blood, Justin Park and the Sinister Horror Company with Duncan’s Cannibal Nuns From Outer Space and Pete’s HHB with The Woods, featuring Cate, James, Penny Jones and me (Phil missed the event as it’s his wedding anniversary).  I convinced Cate to do a little reading and I hope she enjoyed it, we all read the first page of our stories and I had a great time (hope the audience did), though it was weird hearing your voice then an amplified version of it through the speakers a half-second later.
Following Cate's reading, as Simon looks on and Duncan finds something more interesting to do.
from left - James, Penny Jones, me, Cate Gardner, Simon B and Duncan Bradshaw

pic courtesy of Laura Mauro
Reading from "Compass Wood"
Bought Simon and Duncan’s book, chatted with Justin Park (who was still flying high over a glowing review by Chris Hall of The Black Room Manuscripts 4, launched at FCon last year (see here) - I got a very nice write-up too for Brooks Pond which pleased me no end) then signed a lot of copies of The Woods.  Hayley Orgill stopped for a chat after I signed her book, then Kevin Redfern came by and it was good to see them and I got to speak with Sue Sinclair, from my writing group - at Cons, we're usually ships that pass in the night!  I finally got to speak with Penny Jones (I’d spoken with Simon, her hubby, earlier) and all too soon, we were being asked to leave for the next event.
Signing a copy as Jay Eales waits - pic courtesy of Sue
Peter went to drop his books at his hotel, so I waited outside and enjoyed some of the dancing in the carnival with Sue, Ross, Lisa and Richard with Pixie joining us for a while too.  Once we’d got everyone together, we adjourned to the Cosy Club located in a glorious old building with very high ceilings, a little balcony (inside) and all manner of great features.  After we’d ordered, conversation ranged all over the place and we covered a lot of ground, including Pete’s admiration (yes, I’ll use that word) for F. Paul Wilson – or fuporl, as we started to call him.

We talked, the food arrived, we ate (it was very nice) and we talked a lot more.  All too soon, it was after seven so we headed back to the Quad and into Cinema One, where our group took up most of a row.  Dion sat with me and we compared our days.  Sarah Pinborough and Tim did the raffle which was as chaotic as ever, though good fun and once again I didn’t win anything - Steve later suggested we call it the ‘curse of the Andromeda’ and I wouldn’t disagree with that.  The raffle - and day - ended with Alex Davis doing a little speech.  “I’ve got some bad news and some good news” he said before announcing there would be no Sledge-Lit (boo!), though he was running a Ghost event (didn’t quite catch all the details) in its place.  However, he finished with the news that Edge-Lit next year would be over two days, which could be very interesting indeed.
Before the food, with Sue, Peter, Lisa, Richard, Ross and me
After that, we made our way out, saying goodbyes as we passed people, then had a long time hugging and saying cheerio in the foyer to the gang before heading across to the car park (where, naturally, we found ourselves standing with the people we’d just said goodbye to).

Another excellent Edge-Lit and I thoroughly enjoyed myself - there were a lot of people I only managed to say hello to, who I wish I could have chatted with and there were more I saw briefly across the room and never got to speak to at all.  But such is the way with Cons, it all balances out in the end.

A great Con is made up of different things and this one had it all, from the superb organisation by Alex, Pixie and the entire redshirt team to the wonderful company of fine friends and writers, not to mention the incredible burst of creative energy as you soak up the buzz.

Edge-Lit, you and your participants were excellent.  Roll on the next one!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

FantasyCon, Chester, 19th to 21st October 2018

Friday
Parked outside the hotel, ready to check in and saw Tim Major, who'd just arrived by train.  Great to see him, we caught up and I got booked in then moved the car and luckily met Peter Coleborn who showed me the back entrance to the hotel.  Met Peter Mark May, got a quick hi and hug from Priya Sharma, who introduced me to Audrie from TTA Press and then I got signed in, saying hi to Chloe Yates in the process.  Once kitted out, Pete led me across the road to the Town Crier pub, which served as the cheaper overflow for the weekend.  Walking in was like coming home in writing terms - around the table were James Everington, Phil Sloman, Lisa Childs (who showed me Ross’ book, which is lovely and I gave her Sue’s signature plate), Chris Barnes, Stephen Bacon, Duncan Bradshaw and Jim Mcleod.  After the catching up, conversation quickly found its natural level with Phil, James, Chris & I discussing those adult superstores you see in Lincolnshire, who’d use them and why and somehow moved onto that counties colour TV signs having the letters in different colours to prove the point (and Phil reckoned this topic wouldn’t make the blog report!).  I saw Ian Whates, Donna & Neil Bond and Rob Malan and caught up with them then went back to the hotel with Steve where we bumped into Jason Whittle, Chris Teague, Ben Jones and CC Adams and it was good to see all of them.
In the Town Crier with, from left, me, Steve Bacon, Chris Barnes, Duncan Bradshaw, Lisa Childs, Peter Mark May, Jim Mcleod
After dumping my stuff in my room, I met Neil & Michelle Williams in reception and saw Francesca Tristan Barbini and we compared panel times and promised to attend each others.  Into the Sinister Horror launch for Black Room Manuscripts 4 in the Jubilee Room at 4pm and the team had really made an effort, the room looking superb with “Father” Justin Park presiding over the event.  Sadly the programmes weren’t available so not many people had turned up and in trying to help gather more audience, James & I got as far as the corridor where we met and chatted with Ren Warom and saw Steve Shaw.   Back in the Jubilee it was great to see Tracy Fahey and Penny Jones again and the launch itself went really well (including me sitting on Jim’s knee), with some spirited readings (especially Duncan’s) and a signing panel where I sat between Penny and Steve.  It deserved more of an audience though.
In the Jubilee Room with, from left, Tracy Fahey (who co-edited the anthology), Duncan, Peter, Steve, Penny Jones, me, Neil Williams, Michelle Williams, James Everington
Staying in the Jubilee, Danny Rhodes joined us and I chatted with Tim before the PS launch where I picked up the Dark Masters trilogy from Stephen Volk (such a lovely man, he said “all the better for seeing you” when I asked how his day had been while he signed my copy), The Smallest Of Things by Ian Whates and Tim’s monograph of Les Vampires.  Said hello to Helen (Ian’s other half),  chatted with Gavin Williams, waved to Kathy Boulton (that’s a good run of Cons where we’ve waved now), said hi to Fergus and got a lovely hug from Alison Littlewood.  Michael Kelly came over to shake my hand, reminding me we’d met in Brighton in 2013 (as if I’d forget!) and I said a quick hello to Mark Morris.  On our way out I saw Paul & Cath Finch (and got to congratulate him on his book news) as well as Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex.
Me & Jim Mcleod (I can't remember now why he suggested I sit on his knee) - pic by Lisa Childs
Went for an Indian with James, Neil, Michelle, Danny, Steve & Pete at the Gate of India which was lovely - huge portions, very tasty, we were all stuffed by the end of it.  Good conversation too.  Walked back, said hello to Graeme & Charlotte Reynolds, Tracy caught me, Maura McHugh directed us towards some seats (and I invited her to the next mixtape blog I’m planning) then I sat and chatted with James Bennett for a while.  After Neil & Michelle joined us, Maura talked about her work on 2000AD with the all-female issue and told us some excellent (and exciting) news, which I’m really looking forward to.

Then it was time for the disco.  Low attendance until about 10.30 (it was essentially me, Phil, Pete, Paul Woodward, Colleen Anderson, Donna and Kathy for most of it, with Michelle joining us for a few), then Ian brought in his contingent (including James Worrad & Phil Irving) and we suddenly had a decent number on the dance floor, which I didn’t leave until midnight.  Had a fantastic time though I’m sure Andy Marsden showed us the wrong dance moves to a Jacksons song because he wanted to see if we’d copy him!  Which we did.
At the disco with the Three Degrees behind me, from left, Michelle, Kathy Boulton & Donna Bond
Left - Pete May giving it some (pic by Ian Whates) and right, Phil Sloman's selfie

Saturday
Woke up with that contented post-disco feeling - aching ankles - and headed for breakfast.  I sat with Trevor Denyer, saw Danny as I walked back with my food (full fry-up, lovely!) then James Barclay joined us and we had an excellent chat, the kind of wide-ranging talk about books and writing that Cons excel in.  Trevor left for a panel and Steve joined us for more of the same.  When Danny and James went off for their panels, Steve & I stayed put chatting.
Chris Teague, Richard Farren Barber, me, Steve, Jim (smooching) and Steve Harris
Nipped to my room to get my bag, bumped into Andrew David Barker on the way downstairs and we said hello, hoping to catch up later.  Walked along with Neil Snowdon and his charming daughter and it was nice to finally meet him.  Went into the Horrific Tales launch - my NSFWG chum Paul Melhuish was launching a book, along with Thana Niveau - and sat with Jim, Dion Winton-Polak, Steve Harris and CC while we listened to the readings.  Paul’s included him calling out “hello” and in a perfect bit of timing, someone passing in the corridor outside called “hello!” back.  Caught up with Steve H and talked writing with CC and Gareth Spark.  The Hersham Horror Books launch was next and I helped Pete set up with Richard Farren Barber and James and caught up with Steve Lockley.  Dave Jeffery was racing to get to the venue and we auditioned to take his place, using the Pipkins brummie accent for inspiration.  Unfortunately for our performance ambitions (but lucky for the audience), Dave turned up while Steve was reading and did a great reading himself.  Bought copies and chatted with Jim and Dion, Paul Melhuish, Donna & Neil, Laura and Mr Mauro, Chris Teague and more.
Ross Warren, more chuffed than he looks...
Phil Sloman then gave Ross his special 40th book, most of us who’d contributed were there but Ross doesn’t like a scene so it was with a muted (and bashful) “thanks very much” that he took the gorgeous book Simon Morden had constructed.  We stayed in the room for the Black Shuck Books launch which featured, as its centrepiece, the third instalment of John Llewellyn Probert’s “Dr Valentine” series.  The books are great but John is a marvel and his readings are genuinely something to be treasured and this time was no exception.  When I bought my copy I told him so.

People drifted off for lunch but my hearty breakfast did its job and, fuelled by a slice of Charlotte Bond’s lemon drizzle cake, Steve & I stayed for the Luna Press launch with an interesting array of books.  I wandered across the road then to the Town Crier for a drink with Ross and Lisa (later joined by Chris) and on my return, bumped into Simon Clark and it’s always a treat to see him.

It was soon time for my panel, “Writing Short Fiction”.  With no idea what it entailed, I was really quite nervous until I found the room and discovered a fellow panellist - Lesley Jones, an editor - was more nervous than me, so I felt slightly braver.  Our moderator, Juliet Kemp (who had the most fantastic shade of hair), then arrived and I discovered I’d missed an email and so she let me see her crib sheet of questions.  Our third panellist hadn’t turned up by then but I noticed Joanne Harris (of Chocolat - and much, much more - fame) was in the crowd waiting to go in (and made Lesley even more nervous by pointing this out to her).  We trooped into the room, took our seats, I got drinks for Lesley and Juliet and then Joanne sat next to me, as an unannounced last minute addition to our panel!  No pressure there then!  I said it was nice to see her again, that we’d met in Brighton at WFC in 2013 and she - lovely professional that she is - said “oh yes, nice to see you again” (at WFC, I weighed five stone more and met her for a few minutes via Sue, but it was still a great thing to say).
The "no pressure whatsover panel" featuring, from left, Juliet Kemp, Joanne Harris, me and Lesley Jones - some of these people are more nervous than others...
The panel started, Juliet kept it running well, we had a good sized (and attentive) audience, we held our own, had a laugh and we all made some good points (several people told me afterwards it was one of their favourite panels of the weekend).  I loved it, the time whizzed by and then we were done, with a flurry of thanks and some photographs and it was back to normality.  Superb.

After meeting Shaun & Steph Hamilton in the reception and chatting to them, Steve, Donna & I went to the NewCon Press launch, where I joined the end of the very long signing table.  Ian Whates is a truly lovely bloke and he launched into his spiel, Ian Watson (who didn’t recognise me at first, since I was - again - 5st heavier when I last saw him) did a speech and then we were off.  I sat with Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro and we had an excellent chat between books being placed in front of us (Best British Horror looks superb in paperback but the hardback is a work of great beauty) and signed lots.  I also had more of Charlotte’s lemon drizzle cake.  The rush over, we chatted and signed and chatted some more and then headed off.
Ian Whates works the crowd, Ian Watson applauds enthusiastically, me, Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro are chuffed to be there (pic by Donna Bond)
Me, Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro, between signings...
Steve & I spoke with Stewart Hotston and Iain Grant, met up with Richard and Danny and the four of us trooped into Chester town centre for a pizza and great conversation.  Danny had to leave early to meet a friend from the train station but Richard, Steve & I hung on, chatting about FCon and writing.  On the way back we decided to walk alongside the canal, which we quickly discovered has no railings or lights.  As Richard walked very close to the edge, we debated whether we’d actually jump in to help if he fell in and the overall consensus was no - we’d have to take our trainers off, put our watches and wallets to one side and who wanted to walk back to the hotel with wet underpants?  Not quite sure Richard understood our position entirely, but he seemed to go along with it.  Thankfully he didn’t fall in.
Out and about in Chester, Richard having managed to avoid falling into the canal... (Steve, me, Richard)
Justin Park's picture of me, Jim and Phil.  I couldn't
possibly comment on which legs were best but the one in the
middle with the well defined calf muscle, I mean...
Back in the hotel, we met Neil & Michelle and sat in the restaurant lounge (where the singer managed to make every song - from Oasis to Guns N Roses - sound the same) with Danny and his friend Emma.  We covered a lot of topics before moving into the snug where, along with Pete, we stayed for the remainder of the night, talking about loads of things and joined occasionally by others including Ben Jones and James Bennett.  Justin Park also collared me for a photo op with Phil and Jim, to try and finally decide who has the best legs in horror (it’s me, clearly, the definition on my calves is exceptional - as you can see!).  A terrific evening, filled with conversation and laughter, it represented FCon for me, a time for like-minded friends to get together, talk a lot and occasionally take the piss out of each other while we’re at it.  Around 1.30am, Richard caved, Pete followed soon after and, after arranging when to meet for breakfast, I called it a night.

Sunday
A rule of Con life is that late nights don’t count, so I was up bright and early and, after a quick chat with Andy Marsden in reception, met Steve and Pete and we went into breakfast with Neil & Donna.  Danny & Emma joined us, I had another lovely fry-up and we indulged in long, wide-ranging conversations about writing and creativity which were hugely enjoyable.  Steve & I visited the dealers room where I got one of Francesca’s books and met a Japanese artist, recognising Pikachu amongst his work (thank Dude and his Pokemon Go obsession from last year).  Chatted with Terry Grimwood, spoke to Ian (and thanked him again for yesterday’s great launch) and said goodbye to him and Helen, then it was off to pack (after finally seeing Linda Nagle in the reception, having somehow managed to not see her all weekend).
Me & Steve in the dealer room (Mike Chinn on the right and Helen, Ian's partner, on the left with the bunny ears) - (pic by Ian Whates)
I went into the “Reprinting Short Fiction” panel to support Pete, not realising Ian was moderating and Tim was also a panelist along with Nina Allen.  I sat with KT Davies and Ewen (having briefly glimpsed and waved to her on Friday and seeing him earlier in reception) and caught up with them.  The panel itself was great fun, like listening to four mates chatting and I got referenced by both Pete and Ian, which was nice.

Then it was done and time to go - the worst part of FantasyCon - and after getting my bags there were hugs and hearty handshakes with Jim, Chris, Neil & Michelle, Simon’s Bestwick and Clark, Phil, Priya, Georgina Bruce (I hadn’t seen her all weekend so we hugged hello and goodbye at the same time), Danny, Emma, Pete, Rich, Alison & Fergus, Steve Shaw and Chloe the redcloak (and I saw Babs the redcloak on the way out to say goodbye too).
With Alison Littlewood (pic by Fergus)
As always, there are loads of people I didn’t manage to speak to, some fine chums I didn’t even see until it was time to leave (Helen Hopley & Martin Roberts) and some I saw as a passing “hello!” (John Travis, Steve McHugh (we should have talked that first time!), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Kit Power, Andy West, Adele Wearing & Tom, Cate Gardner, Andrew Freudenberg, Jess Jordan & Ray Cluley - though on the plus side, I spoke to Kathy Boulton a lot this time), but it can’t be helped, I don’t suppose and the salve is the wonderful phrase “there’s always the next one!”

I had a great time, the hotel was lovely (though pricey), the book launches were terrific, I only managed the one panel but, as ever, the real draw of the weekend was the company and I really had the best of it - we chatted almost constantly and laughed nearly as much, we ate and drank and made merry and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my writing family.

Roll on the next one!
Obligatory book haul photo...

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Sledge-Lit 4, Derby, 24th November 2018

This year saw the fourth Sledge-Lit event in Derby, held at the Quad and as I had such a good time at the previous events (I wrote about 2015 here2016 here and 2017 here), I bought my ticket as soon as it was announced.  Intrigued by the event - and my enthusiasm for it - my old friend David Roberts (who I've been co-plotting my thriller novels with) decided to come along too.  Organised and programmed (as ever) by Alex Davis, Sledge is not only great fun, it helps bridge the gap between FantasyCon (my report on this years is here) and events in the new year.
from left - David Roberts, me, Dion Winton-Polak, Tracy Fahey, Yvonne Davies
We made such good time to Derby, chatting about plots and our plans for the day, that for the first time ever I was at the Quad early.  Alex opened the doors at 10am and Pixie came out to check our names on the list which was great because it meant I got my Pixie-hug early.  Once signed in, we put our names down for the workshops we wanted to attend then headed into the bar, bumping into Dion Winton-Polak on the way.  James Everington came over to say hello (I’d told David that James was reviewed in the Guardian and liked to be reminded of the fact) and we went to sit with him, Dion, Tracy Fahey (who wore the most fantastic leggings), Yvonne Davies and her daughter Megan.  All too soon, it was 10.25 so we headed up for Cinema 2 and the first Guest Of Honour interview with Gary McMahon posing the questions to Mark Morris.  We saw them as we were leaving the bar so got to say hello and I introduced them to David.

I saw Sarah Pinborough in Cinema 2 and we said hello, she introduced me to her new partner, I introduced her to David and they talked dogs for a while as we waited for the event to start.  When it did, the 50 minutes whizzed by - Gary asked some good questions and Mark was an ideal subject, making for a terrific interview.
from left - me, Andrew David Barker, Ren Warom, James Everington, David, Neil Bond
Back at the bar, I chatted with Yvonne and Megan, then James & I spotted Ren Warom sitting on her own and went to say hello.  David and Neil Bond joined us and we chatted, Andrew David Barker arrived and sat with us, then Peter Mark May joined us.  Everyone got involved in some wide-ranging conversations, we had lunch then Sue Moorcroft turned up (fresh from a literary event in London) and it was great to see her.
David, Neil & me in the bar
Our first workshop was “Worldbuilding Through Language”, which wasn’t exactly what I’d expected it to be but ended up good fun all the same.  I nipped out to use the loo, saw Mr Mauro on the way back and shook his hand (without properly thinking it through - my hands were still wet from washing them) and then found myself locked out of the room (how on earth did I manage to do that?).

David stayed for the “Worldbuilding: A Team Sport” workshop while I went to the panel Sarah was moderating, on how to plan and develop intrigue in a plot.  The turnout was so high we ended up in Cinema 2 again and, having met Angeline Trevena in the corridor, we sat together.  The panel went really well, I picked up a couple of ideas for things to do in the thriller I’m currently writing and, again, the time flew.
from left - me, Donna Bond, Peter Mark May, Sue Moorcroft
Since David stayed for another workshop, I went to the bar where Sue, Selina and Pete were chatting, got them and headed up for the Black Shuck Launch.  On the way, I said hello to Kevin Redfearn, hugged Simon Bestwick, saw Fergus & Alison Littlewood and CC Adams - handshakes and hugs all round - then we found our seats.  After a couple of readings, I spoke to Hayley Orgill, Priya Sharma and Georgina Bruce, while getting my copy of Tracy’s new collection signed.  I also picked up the 2019 Annual from Sinister Horror and it was good to say hello to Justin Park again, who reckons a sliver of the inspiration for the annual might have come from my last Christmas post.  I’ll take that.

Back in the bar, we commandeered two tables in the corner where Sue, Pete & I were joined by John Travis, Lisa Childs, Andrew and CC.  David returned and chatted with CC while the rest of us ended up discussing pornography in the 80s, parents discovering stashes of magazines in your bedroom and how easy (or, more often, not) it was to buy them from newsagents.  Andrew also brought up the peculiar phenomenon of finding Razzle magazines in bushes - I suggested there might have been a Razzle Tree back then.
from left - me, Peter, CC Adams, Lisa Childs, John Travis and Sue.  James and Georgina Bruce are deep in conversation behind us
Pete had to leave for his train so we started the process of saying goodbye (the worst thing about Cons) then trooped back to Cinema 2 for the raffle, compered by the mighty combo of Gary and Sarah, with the wonderful Pixie (this year dressed as the worlds most pissed off looking Christmas tree fairy, complete with tree top under her skirt) on hand to give out the books (though Alex seemed to be doing more of the running about).  I also took the opportunity for a chat with Penny Jones, comparing war stories about agency submissions for novels.  Once the raffle was underway, Ross (not there in person) won nothing (the same as me, Sue, Lisa and Andrew), Pete (in his absence) won a book, James won a huge Harry Potter behind-the-scenes book (which he donated to Megan) and David managed to pick up the Patron prize from Sarah, a Kindle paperwhite.  First con and he scoops the top prize in the raffle - I mean, where’s the justice…?
In Ask Italian, from left - me, David, John, Lisa, Andrew, Sue and James
Our little band said our goodbyes and headed over to Ask Italian for dinner which, after we’d fixed a flickering light by taping a napkin and menu over it, we spent a long time chatting, eating and laughing.  It was a wonderful way to cap off a superb day.  Outside, as I was driving David and Sue home and Andrew was dropping Lisa and John at the train station, we walked back to the car park, still chatting and laughing.  We paid for the tickets, said our goodbyes and did all the hugging, then realised we were all going upstairs together.  If that wasn’t bad enough, it soon transpired we were parked on the same floor.

Another great Con, with a great programme of events and some wonderful people in attendance, I loved it and it was terrific to see David, at his very first Con, enjoy himself so much as my writing family quickly embraced him.  Roll on Edge-Lit!

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 N√≠ √Čalaighthe (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!