Be warned: this will be a huge blog post. Once I started, I honestly didn't know where to stop... So ensure you have a stiff one to hand (or even a drink.)
I’ll be totally honest here; when I first heard the 2011 Fantasycon was happening in Brighton, I was not a happy bunny. It was fun for World Horror, but that was a big international event. Say what you like about the Britannia Hotel in Nottingham (and many have), at least it was central. Brighton is a looooooooooong way to go if you’re a Manc. Even when Sarah Pinborough pointed out that publishers and agents wouldn’t make the trek to Nottingham, but would to Brighton, I wasn’t convinced.
So, was my mind changed?
It went something like this:
Thursday 29th September. The Con doesn’t start till tomorrow, but see that thing above about it being a looooooooooong way to go. So- the epic journey commences- Swinton to Manchester by bus, Manchester to London Euston by train, Euston to Victoria by Tube and finally a train to Victoria to Brighton. After a brief spell of giddiness at the sheer frenetic vastness that is the capitol, it was pretty plain sailing. Arrive at Brighton, decide to walk from the train station to the hotel. A cab would be a silly extravagance, after all.
Did I mention that the Con managed to coincide with a fairly sizzling mini-heatwave? Well, I have now. Am also humping a well-stuffed backpack and a shoulderbag. And am wearing dark clothes. Feel free to quote the words ‘Serious Tactical Error’ at any time, people…
Arrive (approximately one stone lighter and quite possibly in the early stages of dehydration) at the Strawberry Fields guesthouse, a nice and highly-recommended little place if you’re ever visiting Brighton. Not only do they do breakfast in your room, but they have these seriously cute pillows:
Yes, I was tempted to nick one. No, I didn’t. Yes, Evil Me wishes I had.
Anyway! On to the Royal Albion Hotel, home of the Con. Boozing follows with the likes of Gary McMahon, Rio Youers, Mark Morris, Steve Jones, Mandy Slater and Sarah Pinborough. (Bit dizzying to find myself in such exalted company. :D ) Everyone else goes to freshen up. Potter round and end up helping the host of organisers fill up the last few goody bags. A drink or two with TTA Press’s Roy Gray, plus Paul and Audrey Campbell. Then further boozing- alcohol blurs the recollection here, but I get to meet Sandra Norval, who’s on her first Con. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s lucky- this will be one to remember.
Anyway, a good time is had by all. And so to bed.
Five hours’ sleep.
Friday 30th September
Up bright and early. Breakfast in bed arrives at 8.00 am. Virtuously decide on a brisk hour-long walk- sweat those toxins out! Better still- a walk on the beach! Why not?
Well, as I discover the beach a) appears to have been built on a 45 degree slope and b) is made entirely of loose pebbles which swallow the unwary walker’s feet up to the ankles. Bollocks to that. Scramble back to terra firma. It ends up being a half-hour walk, but ah well. At least some exercise was taken.
Head to the Albion feeling virtuous. Nose around the dealer’s room in the basement although it’s not officially open yet. Am lassooed by Pete Crowther, proprietor of PS Publishing, and given a stack of cover-sheets to sign for the limited edition of Gutshot. Scribble industriously. Escape to the ground floor and find my way to the first panel on ‘Small Press Publishing’. Had planned to stay for the next two- ‘Maintaining Your Web Presence’, chaired by the lovely Adele Wearing, and one on ‘Making A Living As A Writer’- but have almost been boiled to death by the end of the first panel. Apologise to Adele with much batting of eyelashes and seek out something cold and wet. Catch up, among others, with the equally lovely Anna Taborska, writer and film-maker (and maker of the forthcoming book-trailer for The Faceless.)
Later: attend Rio Youers’ reading and finally get to hear some of the boy’s prose. Oh, he’s good, folks; he’s very very good. Read him! Then on to the PS launch, which includes Gutshot. Sit between Pete Atkins and Conrad Williams sweating like Gary Glitter on a schoolbus and quenching a burning thirst with glasses of white wine. Am vaguely aware this may not be a good idea. Am pathetically grateful when a carafe of water appears. Find myself giving Graham Joyce an autograph. Dazedly think that this should be the other way round. Join Mark West, post-signing, in singing the praises of Graham’s novel The Silent Land. (Which is, like pretty much everything Graham Joyce writes, exceptionally good.) Graham takes the praise with his customary grace and good humour.
Curry with Sandra Norval, Jonathan Green and another chap whose name I shamefully can’t remember.
Back upstairs to the reading room for a succession of readings: Simon Kurt Unsworth, Gary McMahon, Joel Lane and (Lord) John Llewellyn Probert. In temperatures approaching that of the sunward side of Mercury. Morituri te salutant.
Somehow survive. To the bar. Further debauchery, the memory of which is mercifully blurred.
Four hours’ sleep.
Saturday 1st October
No walk today. My morning exercise consists of intensive groaning and high-speed coffee consumption. Totter to hotel later than intended but sadly miss Reggie Oliver’s reading. Potter round the dealer’s room and am surprised to find I seem to own some new books by the end of it. However did that happen?
Solaris are giving away free books! But before I can join the queue, I bump into the ebullient (and insanely tall) Gardner Goldsmith, singing the praises of ‘Dermot’ in Black Static 24. By the time I remember the Solaris book giveaway, there’s almost nothing left. An object lesson on the price of vanity…
Shortly thereafter sleep deprivation starts to take its toll. Veg out on the sofa, much to the amusement of Gary Cole-Wilkin, John Travis and Soozy Marjoram, who swiftly immortalises the event on camera and posts it on Facebook.
Back to the hotel for a couple of hours’ unconsciousness. Rise and walk, feeling hungry. However, back at the Albion, nearly everyone I know has already decamped in search of an eatery.
Wander the streets of Brighton in search of a Chinese restaurant, or maybe that nice Indonesian restaurant we went to at World Horror last year… after half an hour, on the brink of giving up and heading or Harry Ramsden’s I find myself outside the Indonesian place. (It’s called Warung Tujuh, if you’re ever in Brighton.) Which goes to show something or other, I’m not sure what…
Back to the hotel to read from The Faceless and Angels of the Silences. Pretty good turnout considering it’s 9.30 pm. on a Saturday.
Then on to the Regency Lounge to witness Lord and Lady Probert’s ‘Teatro Proberto’ presenting Blood On Satan’s Claw- The Panto, followed by a reprise of their 20-minute version of the Peter Cushing classic(?!) Corruption.
Then follows the burlesque. Attractive young lady with not much on alternately conceals and reveals her curves with a big black pair of feathery things (my descriptive powers are getting taxed here.) Not sure how well it fits in with the Con as a whole, but hey. Then a fairly terrifying male performer appears in an act that culminates in him disembowelling and eating a (toy) rabbit (with very realistic internal organs) onstage. And garlanding himself with rabbit innards. Before collapsing, apparently dead, and being dragged off to the strains of Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel. (Another childhood memory desecrated.) The crazy train leaves from ‘O….K,’ passes through ‘What the…’ and ends its journey at ‘Sod this for a game of conkers, I’ll be in the bar.’
It takes a couple of stiff drinks and a pint or two of Diet Coke with Sandra N. to get over that one. As a result I miss the panel on 'How To Scare Your Readers' (a description of that bloody burlesque would’ve done it.) Get up to go to Ramsey Campbell’s midnight reading, then discover the chap I’m squeezing past is Stephen Gallagher. Who’s actually heard of me. Chit-chat follows. Midnight reading also missed. Bugger.
Ah well- on to the disco!
This is a new development, but one of the highlights of the convention. FCon’s excellent Mistress of Ceremonies, Sarah ‘Potty Mouth’ Pinborough, intros our DJs, Rio Youers and Guy Adams, and the games begin. It’s actually enormous fun; only sorry not to have caught Year’s Best Horror editor Steve Jones getting down on the dancefloor, or Gary McMahon’s rendition of the funky chicken, on camera, but here’s Joel Lane boogying away with Lord and Lady Probert. This may be the first time I’ve seen Lord P with his tie loosened…
The disco ends amid much cheering and rejoicing. Sarah reminds the congregation that ‘What happens at the Fantasycon disco… stays on the Fantasycon disco.’ Surely she means ‘…ends up all over Facebook come Sunday afternoon’?
Three and a half hours sleep.
Sunday 2nd October
Awake, pack, head back to the Albion for the last time, this time early enough to catch the day’s first reading, from the lovely Ali Littlewood. Interviewed by Gardner Goldsmith for his podcast- Lord alone knows what they’ll make of that across the Pond. A last raid on the dealer’s room. The rest is hugs and goodbyes.
The odyssey back to the rainy North begins. A cab to the station this time; not making the same mistake twice. Sit next to a pleasant Norwegian student on the train home and the weekend gets rounded off with a chat about the brilliant Norwegian horror film Cold Prey.
All in all, it is, truly, the best Fantasycon I’ve been to, ever. Full stop. However…
I left before the British Fantasy Awards were presented. There’s already been a lot said about it and I wasn’t there, so I’ll direct interested parties to Steve Jones’ comment on the whole business here. There are questions to answer and be addressed.
I’ll put my hands in the air and freely admit I was utterly, utterly wrong about the location for this year’s Con. It played a big part in its record turnout of over five hundred people, plus representation from the big publishers, which I haven’t seen at FCon in a while. We need more conventions like this year’s.
I’ve heard that some have said the Awards debacle soured the whole Con for them. I really hope that’s not true. It was a truly brilliant weekend on so many levels.
I’d love to list all the ace and funky people I met for the first time or got to catch up with, but I’d end up missing someone out. You all know who you are.
Finally, a big shout-out to those brave, busy, red-shirted folks who helped organise everything and ran about making everything else happen on the ground: Marie O’Regan, Paul Kane, Martin Roberts, Helen Hopley, Jenny Barber, Pixie Pants and anyone else I’ve left out.