Brighton: There and Back Again.

So, we went to the World Fantasy Convention 2013 at the Brighton Metropole hotel last weekend. The train trip down went smoothly, although I always feel a little sad on the bit from London Bridge to East Croydon. I did that commute for about six years and so much of it has changed – all the new (and mostly ugly) buildings in London and all the extra housing crammed into every tiny space. The tower block at Guy’s Hospital where I used to work is looking rather shabby now, and is overshadowed by the sinister bulk of the Shard. Nothing stays the same, I suppose, in the name of progress.

The Hilton Metropole is a better hotel than the Royal Albion, but everywhere seemed a bit dark and gloomy, as if there weren’t enough light fittings or they were using low wattage bulbs. The bed in our room looked great, but was very hard, and the pillows were old and lumpy, which combined with the wind that howled round the building for most of the nights we stayed meant that I never got enough sleep and that all my joints ached. Breakfast was good though.

I have to say I had a few problems with the convention space. The fact that some of it wasn’t accessible by lift and that it was peppered with random flights of stairs made everything hard to get to, particularly the reading rooms, which were so distant they might have been in a different time zone. There wasn’t enough seating – none in the room used for various launches and parties. I’m not disabled, but my knees are over half a century old, my back is dodgy and I was more or less sawn in half in an op last year – I did find it hard to cope with the layout of the con. The bar was too small, and got very crowded and noisy. I didn’t bother with the convention bar, as it was awkward going through the restaurant to reach it – if I’d been eating there, I’d have been annoyed at people traipsing through – and its range of drinks was poor. What I really missed was a quiet lounge area for rest and conversation – the Royal Albion was better in that respect.

The convention programming was okay, but I did miss a lot of things I wanted to see because they ran at the same time. High points – I did get to meet Elizabeth Bear, saw some good panels and had a great time meeting up with my friend, Phillip Spencer. I went to a few readings and was disappointed that the audiences were so small – unless it was a mega-popular author, most attracted under ten people. Sadly, I didn’t get to see Charles Stross, as I missed his panel and his reading was cancelled.

I did a reading with William F Nolan and Jason V Brock (my name didn’t appear on the programme), and the audience didn’t reach double figures, which was a shame, as it was the weirdest reading I’ve ever been to. Bill read his Sam Space story, ‘The Maltese Pig’, while being heckled and prodded into telling various anecdotes by Jason, who had to suffer the same banter from Bill while he read two pieces of his own work – I think one was from the anthology Black Wings II. Jason was then nagged into singing verses from ‘My Way’ and ‘New York, New York’ as a finale. Then it was my turn – how the hell do you follow that? I read an excerpt of my story, Mountains of Ice, from the charity anthology in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Blood Type, which Bill and Jason are also in. When I finished, Bill asked me if I was going to sing too. As the title of my story comes from a folksong, Lady Franklin’s Lament, I gave them the relevant verse. Very strange reading!

As for the weather – I had no idea it was going to be so windy in Brighton that weekend. After the storm a few days before the con, the forecast had been for calmer, more settled weather. It limited how far we could go to find somewhere to eat, and on the Sunday night, we were nearly blown off our feet and sandblasted by rain and hail coming back from a nearby Chinese restaurant.

Our trip home went well, in spite of having our train cancelled due to a breakdown on the line, and Dave just about managed to carry the hundredweight of books we gained at the con!

All in all, a good convention. It would have been brilliant at a more accessible venue, with a bigger bar and a pleasant sitting area. It didn’t seem as much fun as the two Fantasycons I’ve attended – maybe worldcons are meant to be more serious? – and I did miss the quiz. Would I do a reading again? Probably not – it was fun, but the audience was too small to be worth the effort.

I did forget to mention the carpets in the Dealer’s room and some of the other halls – the design consisted of random patches of pale blue and grey-black check, topped with abstract white lines. I couldn’t make any sense of it, but I did hear it described as chalk lines drawn by a forensic team after a major massacre of Elder Gods.

World Fantasy Con 2013

I’ll be in Brighton this weekend, pretending to be a writer. I’m doing my first public reading on Saturday and I’m getting really twitchy about it. Still, it can’t be as scary as having a major op and not expecting to survive the anaesthetic, right? I got through that, so I expect I’ll manage a reading, even if I’m not very good. I’ll be reading a short extract from my story from the SF vampire anthology, Blood Type, along with two other contributors, William F Nolan and Jason V Brock.

Bit concerned about this convention. The progress reports have been somewhat unfriendly and high-handed, so I’m not expecting the event to be as much fun as the last two Fantasycons. And as for the all-woman fantasy panel, Broads with Swords – seriously? I really thought they’d re-name that one. They say that to test if something is insulting, substitute different words, so let’s try that. Pricks with Sticks? Berks with Dirks? Huns with Guns? Yep, I think we have a result, and it ain’t polite. I won’t be going to that one, not because I don’t approve of or want to support having more women on panels, but because the title is so insulting.

So, have a happy Hallowe’en, and enjoy the various firework events that will probably happen over this weekend. Catch you later.

Edited to add that Blood Type is now available as a Kindle edition from Amazon US and UK.