What was it like at FantasyCon?
If Friday was my busy day, Saturday was all about the mooching. I woke around 6.30. Not my plan, but the body gets used to certain routines; as far as it was concerned, this was just another day at the office. Had I been more organised and less ragged, I might have taken a stroll around town before breakfast – I hear Chester’s Roman walls are a real sight to behold – but I ditched that idea pretty quickly. Instead, I had a good hot shower, scratched out the beginnings of my Friday blog, and indulged in an extended breakfast downstairs. I’d neglected to add this latter treat to my booking, figuring I should probably find something cheaper locally, but the receptionist smoothly offered to add it to my bill rather than send me off to a competitor. I succumbed to convenience and greed. Hotel food is never exactly what you might call good but the phrase ‘all you can eat buffet’ provides such a sweet, sweet challenge.
FantasyCon and other such conventions can be a bit of a mish-mash, socially speaking. Groups form, split apart, then reform in different configurations though the days as individuals veer off to fulfil panel obligations, support their friends, or follow their own whims. This is probably why I can’t quite remember who I had breakfast with on Saturday but it might be just a rambling excuse to avoid embarrassment. What can I say? There was food to focus on. Anyway, breakfast banter caught us all up and then discussion turned to what Saturday might bring. I had planned to see ‘When Magic Goes Wrong,’ on the basis that panellist R.J. Barker always brings comedy gold to the game…but time was ticking by and I didn’t feel like rushing myself. Many of my convention friends come from a horror background and it turned out there was a run of launches from their various presses starting at 11 o’clock and carrying on until 2. I was always going to the first of these sessions because I’d edited both of the books being released but, now I considered it, the idea of just settling in for a few hours seemed very appealing. The others headed off for the dealer room, determined to grab some bargains first. I went back to my hotel room to fetch my wallet.
I’d fully intended rejoining my breakfast buddies because there was a book I needed to buy, but on the way there I caught sight of Leila Abu El Hawa in the courtyard. I’d spotted her in passing on Friday; the slash of pink hair makes her instantly recognisable, even from a distance. Leila has always been warm, welcoming and chatty. She’s one of my favourite people, though we rarely get a chance to talk properly. It looked peaceful out there. Sunny. Pleasant. Rather than risk bankruptcy in the dealer’s room, I pushed through the glass doors and stepped out into the Gorgon’s realm. A profusion of bronze statues cluttered the courtyard. Hounds and lions prowled, insects froze, cocking an eye at the stranger. A giant Galapagos tortoise ignored us all, browsing casually at the shrubbery instead. Roman soldiers peered suspiciously. Nymphs showered. I must be getting jaded because I took all of this in my stride, flumped down in a garden chair and said wotcha. Leila introduced me to a fella called Kevin McVeigh (a tiny-beard aficionado like me) and the three of us whiled away the time in chilled conversation. It was just what I needed.
On my way to the launches I made a quick raid into the dealer’s room (because of course I did), snagging a copy of Stephen Volk’s ‘Dark Master’s Trilogy.’ It was one of only three books I’d given myself permission to buy— and yes, before you say it, I know. Now listen, if a trilogy is presented in a single volume then it only counts as one book. I checked. I accidentally bought the Alchemy Press Book of Horrors as well because I’d got chatting to Mike Chinn, and Pete Coleborn and Jan Edwards happened to be right there, you know, selling books, and they were nice enough to spend time talking to me so now I’m broke and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
(This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house unsupervised. Or have a bank card. Or talk to people.)
I grabbed my purchases and fled in entirely the wrong direction, strolling casually back within the space of a minute as though I’d known all along which way to go. (Classic Dion. Suave.) The launches took place in The Jubilee Room, which was pretty damned massive. I’d guess it’s where the hotel holds banquets or ballroom dances, if such things still occur. Maybe it’s just bingo and orgies these day, who knows? I quickly found a seat at a table with Jim McLeod of Ginger Nuts of Horror fame, Mark West, Kit Power, sinister misters Bradshaw and Park, moob-crusher Fahey and— oh God, I don’t even know anymore. I was so tired. The room started filling up, despite the size. I guess the brochures had become available by now, or else word had simply gotten around. There was coffee, I do remember that. I’d just been stung £1.50 for a tepid cup just outside the dealers room but it was free here at the launches. I needed some. I needed more. I wanted to drown in the stuff.
Graeme Reynolds of Horrific Tales kicked off proceedings, introducing Thana Niveau and Paul Melhuish to their quite-sizeable audience. I was excited to see this, as I’d had a hand in both of their books. Thana’s reading from ‘The House of Frozen Screams’ was succinct but chilling. It raised hairs. Paul chose a longer passage from ‘High Cross’ and it too seemed to have the desired effect. Both books sold well on the day. Next up was Peter Mark May of Hersham Horror. He’s a publisher I’m not overly familiar with, though I had snagged Phil Sloman’s corking novella ‘Becoming David’ from him last year. Money’s too tight to mention so I held off getting any more here, but I liked what I heard about the books. I was particularly taken by Steve Lockley’s reading from ‘Winterlong’, which he co-wrote with Steven Savile. It seemed to have as its protagonist an old man with an apparently violent and shady past, rotting away in a nursing home. Something about the style and the setting just grabbed me. One to snag in the future, methinks. It was around this time Andrew David Barker joined us at the table. He’s one hell of a writer and a short-film director too. I may have fan-boyed just a smidge.
Next up was Steve Shaw with his Black Shuck Books. For the past couple of years he’s been building a strong reputation, collecting together some of the best new writers in a series of stylish, hardback anthologies called Great British Horror. Authors have started approaching him to be in them, so he must be doing something right. This year saw the release of Vol 3: For Those In Peril. The damned things sold themselves. One leapt into my hands; I swear I didn’t mean to buy it. Honest, guv… Colleen Anderson was on hand next, with her ‘Body of Work’ – a Frankenstinian ‘stitchery of tales’ encompassing the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. It sounded pretty cool. Finally we came to the pièce de résistance: John Llewelyn Probert performing an extract from ‘The Last Temptation of Dr Valentine.’ John is an exceptional teller of tales and a magnificent showman. His readings are a joy to behold. I dare say some of you were there, but for the rest of you – well, let me try to embed the video footage…
In addition to this single volume release, Steve also unveiled a beautiful limited-edition hardcover of the trilogy. I managed to snag the very last copy. Joy!
That took us up to 2pm so I’d started to get a little hangry again. Not as bad as on Friday, but I needed food and I needed it now. My friend, the right honourable C.C. Adams (AC, EMT, DFOH*) was right with me on that score. That boy needs meat like a beaver needs wood— Wait, that came out wrong. Never mind. Anyway, I left the poor devil in the lurch for a few minutes while I dropped off my purchases in my hotel room. I bumped into Stewart Hotston in the corridor on the way back. We have mutual friends in common but we’ve never quite managed to have a proper conversation. He’s a smashing fella though. Kindly eyes, a lunatic smile, and devastating with a sword. We had a brief but enthusiastic chat which I hope to resume in the not-too-distant future. My belly was starting to rattle at the old rib-cage by this time, so I said my goodbyes and shot off. I met C.C. and Colleen back in the Jubilee and we headed off into town, grabbing Terry Grimwood, Lin, and Steve Harris on the way. We ended up at The Old Harkers Arms, a gorgeous old pub located by the canal.
We ate, we laughed, and as I looked around me, I started to realise that I’d found my groove. I knew none of these folks particularly well as individuals, but I felt completely at ease in their company. Little collisions of life over time, stray comments on social media, a shared experience or two at conventions, and suddenly these had become my people, just as I had become theirs. It felt good. Really good. I ambled back to my hotel room afterwards because I was absolutely hanging. I figured if I didn’t catch up on my sleep now, I’d never be able to face a full evening of socialising. The old Dion might have been relieved at the thought and probably hid in his room with a book, but what did he know? He wouldn’t have had the guts to go to these events in the first place, let alone get up on stage and act like he belonged there. Funny how we grow and change. Pretty bloody awesome really. So I snatched an hour, maybe an hour and a half of sleep, and then I woke up buzzing. I was in the zone and ready for a damned good night out with my friends. I grabbed another shower and headed out into the world.