(Warning: I got a little carried away writing this. It’s long. It’s too long. But you don’t have to read it – I’ll never know.)
This was only my second FantasyCon and I had a great time, the best time. Absolutely brilliant. Last year I kinda hung back and read people’s name badges and was awed, but this year I got stuck right in and said “Hi” to a few folk. I’m so glad that I did.
It was great to see Roy Gray again, as well as Alison Littlewood and her partner Fergus. This year also had the added bonus of finally meeting Cate Gardner (woot!) and Simon Bestwick who were kind enough to invite Victoria and me to dinner. The Indonesian place was all very nice (I recommend the squid), and it was a dear diary moment of my year to talk to such great people, but the highlight for me had to be the waiter’s timing in arriving when he did during a story from Simon. Let’s just say Simon was accompanying his story with some impressive and very unambiguous miming…
Another highlight was meeting Nina Allan, who I greatly admire. I’ve loved her stories in each of the TTA Press publications, and I frequently visit her blog where I know I’ll find more than just ‘here’s what I’ve had published recently’(you know, like what I write here). Nina was one of the first people I met at the convention and she was so friendly that it made approaching everybody else much much easier. I was able to actually chat a bit with Simon Kurt Unsworth, for example, instead of simply telling him I loved his stories and scuttling off (which is what I did last year). It was also great to finally meet Gary McMahon, albeit briefly, and to shake hands with Stephen Volk whose Ghostwatch is rightfully legendary (as I’m sure he’s told all the time). I gushed a little bit, though I regret not telling him how much I love his story ‘After the Ape’.
I was also finally able to put a face to the name with Ross Warren, though I still owe him a drink, and Jason Whittle, both of whom I have exchanged a word or two with via the magic of internet. It was also great to say hi face to face to Simon Marshall-Jones, who made the experience all the better by handing me my copies of Mark West’s chapbook and John Llewellyn Probert’s novella. I also spoke again with Ben Baldwin, who is responsible for some incredible art work. Unfortunately for him, we talked most during the Dead Dog party and I wasn’t at my most, er, comprehensible by then.
I spoke to others during the Dead Dog party too, but by then I was more than a little tipsy thanks to all the wine going around, so names and conversations are hazy. I do know that I probably rambled on, and slurred my words, so perhaps it’s best I don’t remember…
In short, everybody was awesome and I don’t know why I was so shy about it all last year. Already I can’t wait for the World Fantasy Con next year, just to meet these people again.
The panels were interesting and entertaining, which is the combo you want. The first I attended was about blogs and proved quite motivational (hence this first post in a while that isn’t simply ‘look what I did’) and that panel was followed by one about genre boundaries. These panels were where I got to talking with Nina Allan, so it was a great start to the convention.
‘What makes a good short story’ came the following day and it was interesting to hear the differing opinions of the panellists, though all agreed on the importance of the form. ‘The End is Nigh’ was an entertaining (?!) talk about the apocalypse (though I learnt to stay away from Gary McMahon and Adam Nevill, should the time come) with some good points made about zombies and a lot of love for McCarthy’s The Road, but it was the ‘Dangerous Fairy Folk’ panel that proved my favourite. Fascinating stuff, it could have gone on twice as long and I’d have still wanted more, even in the stifling heat. It was particularly pleasing to see the subject taken so seriously. Graham Joyce taught me to say ‘the F-word’. (He also taught me to be careful of the C-word at signings…)
Ah, the readings. One of the best bits of the entire convention. I love to hear a story aloud, and this year I heard some great ones. Conrad Williams read an excellent story called ‘The Jungle’ which I liked so much that I bought his collection later that day. Graham Joyce read a section from his latest novel, which was beautifully evocative and a joy to listen to. So far, so brilliant. And then…
Robert Shearman’s reading was astounding. Really, if you haven’t read any of his stuff yet, do it now (stop reading this twaddle and do it now) and if you haven’t heard him read, then be sure to do so if you ever get the chance. I mean ever, even if it clashes with a wedding, birth of a child, or funeral (unless any of those are your own, and even then I’d recommend at least trying to make it). He barely needed the pages in his hand and was so passionate in his delivery that I was moved to laughter one moment and solemn reflection the next (“The daffodils are out. They look beautiful”). This was a real treat and I look forward to reading Remember Why You Fear Me.
Gary McMahon had to follow but needn’t have worried, delivering a dark piece that had me wishing I was back in the stifling room we were actually sitting in instead of the one he took us to in the darkest house on the darkest part of the street. Simon Bestwick wrapped up the night (an apt metaphor considering how his pages are full of darkness) with a story about grief and guilt and blame and something you’d rather not meet anywhere, let alone in the hills, in the mist, in the fading light…
The next day brought several more readings. Alison Littlewood took us a little way up the Path of Needles, giving us a story that was already tense, thanks to the attentions of a somewhat dubious teacher, long before that package turned up in the post. They say to write what you know but I hope Alison made this bit up, though that bottle stopper was a little too detailed for me to be sure she did.
Stephen Volk treated us to an extract from a forthcoming work too, with a delightful encounter between Peter Cushing and a young boy. I can’t wait to read the whole thing, due soon from Spectral Press. I’m kind of a fan. He was followed by the joyfully dramatic John Llewellyn Probert who also has work with Spectral Press – The Nine Deaths of Dr Valentine is a gorgeous-looking book, and now that I’ve heard some I’m even more eager to find out whodunnit.
The comedy continued with Joe R. Lansdale whose detailed encounter with a rabid squirrel was fucking hilarious (I feel the swearing is important when it comes to discussing Lansdale’s work). There was no need to feel embarrassed by my high-pitched laughter and hysterical crying because everyone else was doing it too. Brilliant.
Victoria and I took a break after that for the disco (some people can really move!) before returning for another reading, this time by Simon Kurt Unsworth. His ‘Pyramid Spider’ used of a series of voicemail messages complete with a great use of audio props to create a very convincing story. A fantastic way to end the night.
For the banquet I was sitting next to Reggie Oliver, so that was pretty cool. We had a good chat about stories (of course) and discussed various humane ways for catching a mouse (they ain’t stupid). The awards went well, with Black Static winning Best Magazine again (hooray!), and people cheering with gusto for Rob Shearman’s win. I may have preferred different results in some of the other categories, but at least there didn’t seem to be much ill feeling this year. The awards themselves were stylish, and would make fine murder weapons, and were awesome. I even held one. Roy took it away again eventually, though, unmoved by tears or bribery. I think he broke a couple of my fingers.
V. H. Leslie, Conrad Williams, Roy Gray (and a BFS award!), Ben Baldwin, Ray Cluley, and Alison Littlewood. (Thanks to Ali for the picture.)