Monday, 26 October 2015

British Fantasy Society Convention 2015 - roundup/travelog.

Friday 23rd October

My first FCon. It's a big deal, I guess. Famous people, tons of panels, readings back-to-back, coffeeklatsch things (which I think is some sort of coffee morning where they raise money for the Pan Macmillan charity). I thought I wanted to go to one or two (maybe Brandon Sanderson's)...but turned out I didn't. I figured people would pretty much ask the same things. Much as I was interested in saying hi to the 'big' authors, I said hi to the two I wanted to (Tim Lebbon - generous, friendly, and my fanboy moment, and Adam Nevill - so calm he seemed like some kind of crazy-serene Buddha horror guru...very cool, both of them). After the first five minutes I felt like I was at an all-you-could meet buffet (chortle - more puns! Whoo). I didn't want to get full up on famous people. So I didn't. They'll still be famous enough, popular enough, whether they've met me or not. Alison Littlewood was there, who seems lovely online. She's about the only person I would've liked to speak to that I didn't. Out of two hundred attendees or so, I can live with that. The actor who played the guy who chopped off Jamie Lannister's hand was there. I didn't talk to him, either. I need my hands.

Joe Hill, John Connelly, Sarah Pinborough, Juliet E McKenna (who I know of largely through her column for Albedo One), those authors I've already mentioned. All cool, and by all accounts lovely and personable. But I did my thing. The panel I sat on was fine - Frances Hardinge won the best fantasy novel award on the Sunday - but I got the impression of a kind of two-tier heirarchy there. My friends and I talk bollocks. Others talk bollocks, too, but they're slightly posher about it and mostly do the same thing in wine bars rather than the Railway Tavern. And the two tier system often revolves around indies and small press thinking the traditional guys look down on them, the traditional guys assuming the indie don't make any money...or just their perception...I don't think anyone really knows what it's like for anyone else, and we're all in largely the same boat. To be honest, some people seem a little irritated by the whole thing. Personally, I really don't give a shit. We're all still people, whether we turn our noses up at someone else or not. Case in point, in the panel, one lady blanched at the mention of poo. I think the Railway Tavern's more me. I've no delusions of grandeur but if that's their thing, then that's fine, too, isn't it?

Best for me, though, wasn't the panel, or seeing those authors I've heard about over the years, but the ones I love - friends from FB I've known for years and never met, and friends I've known for years and have met. And twenty or more people stayed 'til midnight to come to my reading of 'Left to Darkness', which was a really nice surprise.

Having a quiet beer with Matt Shaw, who I've known for years now, was a highlight, too. Awesome, humble, and taller than he looks online.

Saturday 24th October

Friday, I did what I came to do. Saturday was always going to be about having a mooch and hanging out with friends. Pictured below, Paul Feeney, Andrew Freudenberg, Rich Hawkins (nominated in the best horror category - lost out to Adam Nevill, but Adam's a worthy winner so all good) and Adam Millard. Hung out with some new friends on the Sinister Horror Company table, too, a relatively new press run by Justin Park, Daniel Chant, and Duncan Bradshaw - passionate, professional, and I think well worth their salt. Nice fellas. All in all, Saturday turned out to be a win. A ton of people went out for a curry earlier in the evening, came back and had a disco. Yes...rather like a school reunion. I poked my head in at the disco once, for maybe ten seconds. Thirty-odd people doing the Macarena. Not my bag. Went back to the bar.

Much of the convention did feel like a school reunion, or a business meeting. It's a little more...salubrious...than I'm used to. Fine, nice, brilliantly organised and well worth the price of the ticket. Will I go every year? I don't think so, but I'd certainly do another. All told this weekend cost something more than £400 for three days. For a guy who lives in a shed, that's a big wad of money. For others, with money to burn, probably a drop in the ocean. Something smaller, more intimate next year, though. Probably go along to HorrorCon, rather than FCon, for preference. If you're a reader, fan, writer, in the bookish business at all - FCon's very worthwhile and there's something for everyone.

Met Kit Power, too, and Vix Kirkpatrick, and Jim Mcleod, and Graeme Reynolds and Chris Barnes and Emma Audsley, and...a lot of other people. Kit's reading, which a bunch of people stayed 'til midnight for, was a cracker.

But here, this, was what it was about for me - hanging out with old friends and some other old friends I met for the first time over the weekend:

Sunday 25th October

I was tired, I guess. The only thing I was particularly interested in was watching Rich Hawkins at the awards' ceremony. But I'd walked twenty miles (really) over the two days and my feet hurt and I missed my family. So, I left.

General thoughts on travel? I guess I didn't think it worth it, or enjoyable, or particularly pleasant. I'm only six feet two inches high...but the outside world must be designed for hobbits. The proportions of almost everything seem mean, calculated to save space, or money...which leads to the next point. I feel like a time traveller, in a way. I'm out of touch, yes, but after a trip to a city outside the county (I like Norwich just fine) I remembered why I don't much enjoy travelling. Mostly, because I feel it's a bit shit.

Cities are the same everywhere, and many English cities almost identical. On the train routes, or near the airport, everything is drab, dire, rundown. Broken windows, tiny homes, dirty and littered streets. Urban regeneration seems to mean turning waterfront warehouses into tiny apartments and expensive pubs. On the whole, just worn out. Maybe once these places felt vibrant and interesting. Not to me. They're choke points, designed to wring the sustenance from travellers, like a sphincter in a digestive system and one that survives on money and souls. Vampiric. I found Nottingham unrelentingly grey. Perhaps the locals do, too, because many seem to paint themselves orange, maybe so they see some colour when they look in the mirror at least, or perhaps just to plaster over the look of horror in their faces.

The cashpoints/ATMs charge you to withdraw your own money. A coffee costs three pounds. One pint of beer is four pounds. To take taxis to and from the venue would have added another forty or fifty pounds to the tally. You have to pay to get through a turnstile to take a piss. An awful lot like being cattle, herded to slaughter and you have to pay for it yourself.

Maybe overstating the case, but all told, £150 for two nights sleeping in a hotel (just a bed really - you wanted anything else you had to pay for that, too...even wi-fi, like it's not floating in the air anyway). £70 odd quid for a train with no seats that I couldn't stand up straight in. Uncomfortable. Three hour wait for a train (read Shaw's 'The Big Blue' while I waited, though, so not a complete bust). Cancelled train on the way back, so two hours on a bus. I got a seat...couldn't fit in it. Even the hotel bed, my feet hung over the edge. I'm not a giant, but I felt like one. I sit in my shed. The rare times I go out, I feel like everywhere else has shrunk.

I suppose some sort of conclusion's in order. The convention - a good event, yes. The outside world doesn't interest me much. Friends...always, always worth the price of admission.

Love you. x

The Shed :D

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