Tag Archives: conventions

Nightscape reviews & Fantasycon 2017!

Well, here is a nice surprise. A review of my horror short story collection NIGHTSCAPE, no less!

The reader calls several of the stories “gems” and “fabulously suspenseful”!

You can check out the reviews along with synopses of the stories here:

Or you can just go ahead and find the entire book here:

There will be more news coming soon. Not to mention a special post on Fantasycon 2017.

Fantasycon is the annual convention run by the British Fantasy Society. This year it’s in Peterborough, near Cambridge, England. It takes place from September 29th – 1st October. I’ll be speaking on panels and giving an author reading along with some uber-talented individuals, many of whom are very well known in the fields of horror and fantasy writing. Come along and join the fun!

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Eastercon 2017 Review!

For those who don’t know, Eastercon is the annual British National Science Fiction Convention. Now in it’s 68th year, it draws together an eclectic mix of sci-fi, fantasy, comic book and horror fans, creators, writers, illustrators, artists, cosplayers, and booksellers, as well as a whole host of other interesting people. This year it took place in Birmingham, England, under the moniker of Innominate. Its logo  was a ( presumably) green alien head. I went along and took part. He’s what happened…

 

 

I had two events planned for Innominate. The first was a panel on comic book legend Jack Kirby. Most people know Kirby from his days with Marvel  in the Sixties. In fact, Jack “King” Kirby, or Jolly Jack Kirby (whichever you prefer) was an influential comics creator who co-created Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman’s nemesis Darkseid and a whole host of other even wilder characters. This was a lot of fun, even though it took place less than an hour after I had arrived and before I’d even booked into my hotel.  But bringing my hastily-acquired knowledge of how Kirby actually invented modern superheroes was very enjoyable. My fellow panellists, Stephen Aryan, Ali Baker, Kin Ming-Looi and Adele Terrell all brought their considerable knowledge and talents to bear.

Panel over, it was time to get my bearings and have a breather from the 2 hour drive down a congested M6. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, with sci-fi legend Pat Cadigan, illustrator Judith Clute and art connoisseur Colin HArris all being the guests of honour.  I checked in with a few friends I hadn’t seen since… well, the last Eastercon, missed several interesting-looking panels. I then attended the “The Explosive Opening Ceremony”. Thanks to a scientists from the Royal Institute, it was indeed explosive, and I will never forget the impressive sight of a luminous courgette.

Missing panels is something of a hobby of mine at Eastercon. I missed a couple more that night, but managed to attend both the art show reception and a Gollancz launch party. Both were curiously low-key affairs, with guests simply milling about with little or no introduction. I got the impression these were for “people in the know” whoever they were, and felt a little excluded, but even so I managed to chat briefly to some intriguing folks.

I decided to skip the Regency ball (not being a fan of how people were actually treated in the Regency period) and the Blake’s 7 Wobblevision (which I’m sure was good fun) and tried to grab some actual sleep. Car parking was a bit steep in Birmingham. Fortunately, I left my car next to the A-Team’s van ( I never did find out who it belonged to) and saved some cash courtesy of a reduced parking ticket from the con hotel, which was great value for money!

 

Jack Kirby shows his trademark style!

 

Saturday was a busy day indeed. I lost some time trying to find my way around the NEC (not a good idea when there’s a 24-hour gaming convention on) and ended up driving to Coventry! Thankfully, and against all odds, I managed to arrive in time for my kaffeeklatsch. These were great ways to speak with several fascinating guests at the con, including author Adrian Tchaikovsky and lit agent John Jarrold. After that, I missed a few more panels chatting in the bar, before heading into the panel titled *punk. This was a very entertaining and informative talk on the various “punk” genres, including steampunk, cyberpunk, and even weirdpunk ( which I never knew was a thing) . The discussion was lively with issues of class inevitably being thrown up against steampunk. The panellists were all fantastic, and I left with the feeling that I knew more than when I entered. Which is always a good thing.

I am embarrassed to say that I attended very few other panels that day. Some of these were just fun (Towel-fu, Sofa Racing and Hungry Human Hippos) some were a bit too technical for me (Neurodiversity, 3D printing, and a workshop on a Dremel – something about which I am still unenlightened), and some of which conflicted with lunch. Although this last point sounds trite, when you’re on your feet for 18 hours a day, lunch becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, many of the panels conflicted with the street food that was on sale in the fan lounge, while the hotel food was exorbitantly priced. For someone with certain dietary needs, food became an increasing problem, resulting in nachos for breakfast. Suffice to say, I left the con never wanting to see another baked potato. May I suggest some salad, vegetables and pasta in the future?

But otherwise Saturday night was (as I remember) filled with good conversation around the bar, mainly involving 2000AD, and the world’s most insanely difficult sci-fi pub quiz. So afterwards I headed back to my hotel to get a well-earned 5 hours rest!

Sunday was another busy day. Beginning with a sci-fi criticism masterclass by Manchester University’s Geoff Ryman on Afrofuturism, it continued with a panel on writing scifi with and about disability. This was a terrific discussion which made me realise just how few positive portrayals of people with disability there are. Even heroic disabled characters have to either overcome their disability or are given some great super-power to compensate (I’m thinking of you, Georgie Laforge). A lively talk from Pat Cadigan topped the day off with a session entitled “Pat Cadigan Explains It All”. And she did, with a rather graphic demonstration that I feel I will never forget. The other panels were mostly sci-fi, and  I would have liked to see  a little more fantasy and horror in the programme. But I guess that’s why it’s called a Sci-Fi convention! Much of the rest of the evening was mainly preoccupied with dinner. Sadly, the Groan-Along showing of Ed Wood’s sci-fi fiasco”Plan 9 From Outer Space” was cancelled due to someone bringing the wrong DVD. The replacement, “Transformers” failed to find an audience. So instead I had a long and lively talk with many people who wandered in and out of the fan lounge until the wee hours, when I realised I still hadn’t decided (due to a variety of reasons) on what I was going to read for my author reading at 10am the following day!

Now, 2am is not a good time to decide what you are going to be reading in less than 8 hours. However, I think I pulled it off. Sadly, my reading conflicted with my friend Arthur Chapell’s fascinating talk on sci-fi pub signs, so I had to miss that, as I couldn’t very well be absent from my own reading! Myself and grimdark author Anna Smith-Spark expected a low-energy crowd, it being the fourth day of the convention at 10am! However, the opposite was true. Many faces that were far too fresh for my liking turned up (probably due to Ms Smith-Spark’s presence, I may add), and I realized I had better be on top of my game. Fortunately, my last-minute preparation prevailed, and the reading seemed to go very well, with a lively Q&A sessions afterwards that involved such diverse subjects such as Dungeons & Dragons and the poetry of William Blake.

The con ended on a high note with the closing ceremony, attended once against by the guests of honour, and the giving of the Doc Weir award. I spent the rest of the day catching up, saying goodbye and generally making a nuisance of myself before heading home up the M6 once more. Maybe it was just that the traffic was less congested, but I felt a new surge of energy and hopefulness. It seems to be a common thing at Eastercon. The experience of being around so many creative and passionate people renews you, and you go forth into the world once more, ready to apply pen to paper, confident that there are other people out there who feel just the same as you!

My thanks to the organisers for letting me participate, and my apologies to anyone I didn’t get to speak to. See you next year!

(P.S. Some of the above may be exaggerated… just a little).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastercon: Mancunicon convention report 2016!

This year’s science-fiction/fantasy convention EASTERCON took place in Manchester, England. Mancunicon, as it was called, occupied four floors of the iconic Hilton Hotel, a slender glass-and-steel building shaped like the number “1”. The convention gathered together sci-fi and fantasy authors, fans, publishers, gamers and cosplayers. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, and one of them was yours truly.

The Hilton Tower... in the sun.

The Hilton Tower… in the sun.

 

Now, I’ve been to FantasyCon before and the odd sci-fi movie fan convention. But I’ve never been to Eastercon, so I was unsure what to expect. Fortunately, some friends of mine from the Manchester Speculative Fiction Group were also there, so there was always someone to chat (or moan) to.

The first thing we did was gather at the bar. This was (unsurprisingly) the focal point for the Con. However, the Hilton is a very tall, narrow building so sometimes the bar became very crowded. This never became a real problem, but it did make queuing for the two lifts difficult. The small meeting rooms also meant that several panels were oversubscribed. I was sorry to have missed the panel on rare sci-fi and fantasy TV shows of the 1950s -1970s. But on the whole things ran pretty smoothly.

The atmosphere was, for the most part, very friendly, with everyone united by a love of sci-fi and fantasy. Although some were more hard-core than others – there was a cosplay competition on Saturday for those dedicated enough. I am not the most gregarious person in the world. But even I found myself chatting to a diverse array of people over the weekend.

My writing group has an anthology called “REVOLUTIONS” out at the moment, so this was an ideal place to plug the book. We sneaked up a few posters and shifted quite a few copies. My only regret was that I didn’t manage to prepare any advertising material for my own novel. But then Easter always sneaks up on me.

The events programme was varied and jam-packed. This year’s guests of honour were authors Sarah Pinborough, David L Clements, Aliette de Bodard, and Ian MacDonald. But many more took part, and topics ranged from hard sci-fi to sewing. So there was something for everyone… even a cookery class!

So after catching up with my fellow attendees, I made my way to the first panel…

Welcome to Eastercon – Saturday

This was highly informative and useful. It soon became apparent that Eastercon has a culture all of its own. Some people had been going literally all their lives, while the oldest member was a mere 90 years old.

Afterwards, I browsed the dealers’ rooms. Against my better judgment I gave into temptation and walked away with an armful of beautiful 1970s paperback editions. But some deals are just too good to pass up!

Diversity in SF

The first panel I attended was about diversity in SF/F. This was a very intelligent and nuanced discussion about how difficult it is for authors who are not white and middle class to get published. The speakers made their points with eloquence and precision. Afterwards, I found myself with a far greater appreciation of issues of race and gender.

MSF Group’s “Crit Sandwich” – Saturday and Sunday

Next day, Manchester’s SpecFic group held the first of two long feedback sessions for budding authors. My fellow group members and I reviewed 3 pieces each day of up to 10,000 words per author. The sessions were very enjoyable, with some interesting, varied and (intentionally) amusing samples of work. All those who took part said they found it very useful. I take my hat off to them, as I’m not sure if I’d have had the courage to submit my work to complete strangers at my first Eastercon!

Jo Fletcher Books Launch – Sebastian de Castell

There were several book launches over the weekend. We ascended the lift to the Presidential Suite on the 22nd floor for a reading by the author. The view and the plentiful red wine made this a memorable occasion, and the publishers were open to questions from anyone who attended. Indeed, the wine flowed a little too freely on occasion, with several people complaining of feeling “under the weather” as the Con wore on!

IMAG2824

..And the view from the 22nd storey in the rain.

 

The Fuzzy Set of Horror

That evening I attended a lively discussion on the boundaries of horror, given by three gothic/supernatural fantasy writers with helpful contributions from horror grandmaster Ramsey Campbell. There were some hotly debated questions about Waterstones’ policy of no longer segregating horror from fantasy and science-fiction as well as on the merits of zombie films.

Later, we sampled the gastronomic delights of Manchester (there are many) before returning to a packed bar and hobnobbing with anyone who would talk to us. But after over ten hours on my feet, I was exhausted. So I limped off to bed to grab four hours’ sleep before Day Three.

Trailblazing Comics of the 1980s – Sunday

Next morning – my head buzzing with a litre of coffee – I took part in my first ever panel. Thankfully, it was a subject I can ramble on about for hours – comic books. My fellow panellists Karen Brenchley and Tony Keen provided the focus of the debate. Together, we discussed which creators shaped the comics field in the 1980s and beyond.

Inevitably, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen” were mentioned. But we also managed to include such diverse matters as 2000AD, John Byrne, and “Cerebus the Aardvark”! The attendees called us on our knowledge, so we had to be on our toes. But we all brought something different to the table and managed to give the audience a broad overview of both mainstream and indie comics in the decade. Afterwards, we got chatting to several interesting people. I enjoyed this a heck of a lot and would thoroughly recommend the experience.

Kaffeeklatsch with Sarah Pinborough

Guest of honour at this year’s Eastercon was horror/crime/YA novelist Sarah Pinborough. Fresh from Hollywood, Sarah shared tales of writing and more in this cosy setting. This was a nice change of pace from the panels and a chance to ask more detailed questions of the author. As for the content, I’m afraid I can’t tell you more because, as Sarah says, “What happens in Kaffeeklatsch stays in Kaffeeklatsch!”

Author Reading – open mic

This two-hour session gave authors a chance to read their own work. My nerves were set on edge by the announcement that it was to be a competition. When the “judges” were given sticks with numbers on, the whole thing took on the aspect of a David Lynch film. Authors read their works until a gong signalled they had run over the time limit, whereupon the judges gave the scores. Fortunately, the whole thing was just a bit of fun. The readings were diverse and entertaining, and the host excellent. Although I really felt for one poor chap who had only written his piece that morning.

SF Pub Quiz

Late on Sunday, we took part in the hardest pub quiz I have ever seen in my life. Categories ranged from “Name the scientific instrument” to “Name the TV theme tune… and composer”. Needless to say, our score was abysmal!

By this stage everyone was relaxed and the party mood was in full swing. It was with a heavy heart that I retired to bed in the early hours, knowing that there was only half a day to go.

The Deeper the Grief, the Closer to Life – Monday

By Monday a few people were looking the worse for wear. But a crowded audience still packed out the main room to listen to a panel about grief and loss. Despite the heavy subject matter, the talk proved to be worth waiting for. Authors Sarah Pinborough and Neil Williamson discussed writing about grief, as well as recounting real-life tales, both sad and funny. This was definitely one of the better talks, although I can’t really remember why!

Criminality in SF/F

The final panel of the day got a little raucous at times, as several authors discussed the representation of crime in sci-fi and fantasy novels. By this stage we were all just relaxing. Some great debates arose, though. One of which may have just given me an idea for my next story…

In Conclusion

Eastercon was something of an unknown quantity for me. At first I found the fan-based culture a little intimidating. But having it in Manchester helped my travel plans and allowed me to stay much longer.

Given the unique challenges of the Hilton tower, the organisers did their best to keep things running smoothly. Volunteers were always present to help, and being on a panel was tremendous fun.

If I had any suggestions it would be to offer more author readings and to include more horror. At the moment, Eastercon is quite “sci-fi heavy”.

So will I be going to another Eastercon? Hell, yeah. I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone who likes genre fiction.

Will I be more prepared next time? Definitely!

 

Notes from FantasyCon2014

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

FantasyCon 2014, run by the British Fantasy Society, was held at the Royal York Hotel on Friday 5th – Sunday 7th September 2014.

This was my first time at Fantasycon, the annual gathering of the British Fantasy Society. So I didn’t know what to expect. I did know, however, that there were quite a few eminent guests, including Charlaine Harris, author of the phenomenally successful Sookie Stackhouse series, better known as TV vampire show “True Blood”. Other luminaries included horror author Ramsey Campbell and “Chocolat” writer Joanna Harris, as well as “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse to name but a few.

The convention was held at the Royal York Hotel, adjacent to the train station and therefore a very convenient location. The hotel itself was a grand old affair. Sadly, the cost of staying there was prohibitively expensive. In fact, as I had only decided to go at the last minute, getting a hotel in York proved a difficult task, so I had to commute from Manchester on the two days I attended. However, this wasn’t too bad, thanks to a convenient rail link.

Prior to booking, the lack of information on the website was perplexing and gave the convention the feel of a “members only” club. However, this wasn’t the reality when I got there. Although many people came in groups, overall I found people to be very friendly and accommodating. But a better website, and even a forum, would have helped a lot. As it was, I threw caution to the wind and bought my ticket. But I can’t help but think how many other people were put off by the impersonal nature of the web page.

The first day was an introduction to the convention. Once I had acquired a map of the rather confusing (and sprawling) hotel layout, I grabbed myself some great free books for attendees (always a bonus!). There were also some fantastic discounts available in the dealer room from some sellers, while others remained reassuringly expensive.

I was very grateful for the introductory session which got me talking to several other attendees. The rest of the day passed in a blur. The crowd was an eclectic one, with attendees from as far as the USA. It was great to see people who were as enthusiastic about sci-fi, fantasy and horror as myself, if not more so. The staff too were friendly, and the convention rather relaxed. A little too relaxed, unfortunately. I missed several author signings despite being in the same bar! A bit of an announcement would have been nice.

Throughout the Con, there were book launches, author readings, even short film showings. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to the bitter end to witness the delights of Karaoke on Friday, which apparently was a pity.

On Saturday, I got there early and bleary-eyed to attend a great panel discussion on whether there was a place for hope in horror. The panel consisted of Ramsey Campbell, Roz Kaveney, Guy Adams, Sara Jayne Townsend and Adam Neville. After a spirited debate, the panel ended with Roz Kaveney’s revelation that he once worked in the same restaurant as serial killer Dennis Nielsen! A very enlightening discussion that showed the versatility of the horror genre.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Later, Charlaine Harris gave us the lowdown on what it feel like to become an overnight sensation after thirty years of writing mystery novels, as well as the agony and ecstasy of selling your work to cable TV. Ms Harris was very entertaining, and was a regular fixture in the lobby, as were several other authors, giving the con an even more relaxed feel.

Later, I attended a panel on horror in TV. This featured “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse, screenwriter author and editor Paul Kane, and Stephen Volk, writer of notorious BBC 1992 fake documentary “Ghostwatch”. Bizarrely, everyone on the panel agreed that CGI was not a good alternative for strong stories. Maybe there is hope for TV.

There were many other panels to attend, including an enthusiastic demonstration in swordfighting. Inevitably, I found that a lot of the most interesting panels conflicted. Yet there did seem to be a lull between 2-5pm.  But perhaps someone else with different interests would have told you the opposite.

Saturday ended with a mass signing. However, I sacrificed this in favour of hanging out in the bar. This is because for me the most rewarding aspect of FantasyCon was meeting other fans. As a writer, you tend to spend too much time in isolation. This means you lose touch with the people who matter most – the readers. I was amazed at their passion, their interest and their knowledge.  It really made me want to up my game.

On Saturday night, I headed home, my hunger for the speculative satiated for the moment, clutching my bagfuls of cheap books and signed copies. One of my aims had been to find new authors to broaden my reading, and I had certainly been given enough food for thought. I came away with a much greater knowledge of the blossoming sc-fi, horror and fantasy market, and with several new authors to sink my teeth into (figuratively).

A little light reading.

A little light reading.

Sunday proved a bridge too far for me. As there were only panels in the morning, I decided not to attend and save myself a hefty train fare. The afternoon was taken up with the British Fantasy Awards. But again, there was a curious lack of publicity about these on the net. The FantasyCon Twitter feed was also strangely silent throughout the weekend. The BFS produce some great publications, so it is odd that it doesn’t toot its own horn more.  Maybe the BFS could even televise the event on a Youtube channel!

In summary, this was a very worthwhile Con. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to meet likeminded people and who enjoy lively debates about everything in the world of speculative fiction and movies. I hope to go again next year and have an even better experience. However, a little more information would have been nice from the organisers for those who have not boldly gone to the Convention before. More Twitter updates would be a definite plus as well. But if you are a fan or creator of sci-fi/fantasy and horror in the UK, this is one convention you cannot afford to miss.

My  advice  is to book early and stay late, something I hope to do next time around!

 

Next year’s FantasyCon 2015 is to be held in Nottingham, UK.