Just returned in more or less one piece from an exceptionally good FantasyCon in Nottingham. And – with the exception of the tense, slow, torrential drive down – it was a spankingly good weekend. Mr Duncan, Mr Cobley and myself motored south during an increasingly wild Friday, the end result of which, when we finally arrived at the hotel, was the rather undignified sight of us running from the elevator to the bar for the first beer of an evening of chatting with acquaintances both old and new that would eventually see us toddle off some time after 3am, somewhat surprised that the bar was actually closed.
Saturday began with some work on the novel, followed by a wee donner round the centre of Nottingham to clear the last of the hangover. Spent some time in the dealers’ room admiring the strong representation by the UK small presses. The quality of the independent books seems to increase every year now, and I find that incredibly exciting. They’re learning about print and design all the time, and are attracting fabulous artwork for the covers. Look at Vincent Chong’s work for Gary McMahon’s Rough Cut from Pendragon Press. Or Mike Bohatch’s creepy, creepy imagery for Mike O’Driscoll’s new collection from Elastic, Unbecoming.
[An aside: O’Driscoll’s collection is the book I have been waiting for since I started reading small press magazines more than ten years ago. Back then the indepent press scene was still largely home produced black and white A5-sized stapled-together magazines. The artwork was seldom great and the fiction was variable, but if the contents list had Mike O’Driscoll in it, you knew that the mag contain at least one sure-fire gem. The independent press has matured since then, and in one sense I’m glad that it’s taken so long to see this collection come about, because the books are now capable of doing the stories justice. And Elastic have done exactly that.]
A highlight of conventions for me has always been a really good meal out, so Saturday evening we nipped out to follow a lead to a good Indian restaurant close to the hotel. It was full. So was the one round the corner that they recommended. The people there directed us to an area a few streets away, but that seemed to be mainly gastro-pubs and take-aways. We pressed grimly on. Then we spotted a lady at the corner of an alley and, perhaps naively, asked her for directions.
Contrary to expectations, her name was Serendipity, and she’s quite partial to a bit of Thai. And her recommendation was spot on. Their soups were especially good, but everything was top quality, and very affordable. Sorry, no idea what it was called. It was up an alley not far from the big theatre on top of the hill. That’s all I know.
Back to the bar, and a series of bottles of wine. Somewhere else, the convention proper was rolling along with the excellent selection of guests entertaining the crowds, but I was happy with the wine and the company for the most part. I did however take half an hour out to attend the informal memorial for David Gemmell which was held by his friends and was neither maudlin nor grim, but exceptionally life-affirming, and made me want to seek out more than the one of his novels that I have so far managed to read.
Bar. Wine. Four thirty – must be time for bed.
Sunday morning – tired but astonishingly not hungover. A bite of breakfast was followed by a bright and sunny episode of one of my convention…er, conventions. By Sunday morning, cabin fever is a real possibility, so Miss Auden and I have an standing arrangement to get out of the hotel for a walk and a chat. This time round saw us take in the slightly unexpected delights of Nottingham Castle [Where are the crenellated battlements, huh? Where are the arrow slits?], and it was a charming way to spend an hour.
Skipped the afternoon’s banquet (actually couldn’t remember if I’d signed up for it) in favour of getting a couple hours more in on the nov and keeping up to date with the Ryder Cup singles matches. Then I trotted off to watch the awards ceremony.
The results were a mixture of predictable and surprising. Good cheer to all the winners, but bad luck to Al, although his comic rendition of “embittered loser” was heartwarming. Bad luck to Elastic who must have run PS close again for best Small Press [competition is healthy!] Bad luck too to Paul Meloy, whose work I thought was very strong, and to Sean Wright who was contending in a whole bunch of categories.
But a resounding slap on the back to Allen Ashley, whose Elastic Book of Numbers I was delighted to have a story included in. Well, done boy. And great celebration – you couldn’t have improved on that if you’d just scored a last minute winner at Wembley. And well done to Elastic Press too, for publishing it.
Home James, and don’t spare the horses… We managed to declutch Al from his embittered bottle of wine, said our farewells and got a start on the journey home. The first hour or so was regularly punctuated by contemplative musings on how much we’d all enjoyed our weekends. For me, it was light years ahead of my previous Fcon experiences [the one day events held in the medieval cells that were Champagne Charlie’s], and Al and I agreed that it very much had the atmosphere of World Fantasy. If the organisers can keep that up it’ll become a must-attend event.
Let’s hope so.