FantasyCon 2018. Friday. In the headlights.

I’d had a late night playing darts for the local team. We didn’t exactly cover ourselves in glory, so I was a little tired and a little blue come Friday morning. I ended up missing my train by a single minute – an inauspicious beginning perhaps, but one that didn’t worry me overmuch. Perhaps I hadn’t twigged that all the big stuff was happening today, in just a few short hours. Anyway, I used the time to start pulling together some preliminary notes for my panels later on, trying to develop my thoughts beyond simple examples. I’ve seen enough panels over the past 4 years to know how these things roll but this would be my first time as ‘expert’ instead of audience. Trepidatious times, but exciting too.

It’s been a struggle but I’ve started to get pretty good at battening down my anxieties in conventions. Enough to push myself forward as a panel guest at any rate. Still, it was wonderful to feel the rib-crushing bear hug of C.C. Adams just minutes after arriving in Chester. One hell of a welcome! He was leaving the con hotel with Benedict Jones in search of lunch. I meant to join them but sadly it wasn’t to be. I needed to ditch the luggage first and their hunger was beyond raging. Instead of fretting too much, I checked into my own hotel then made my way to the convention. The hotel was a vast Victorian hulk, slap-bang opposite the station. It was imposing but beautiful in its own way. The décor was…fulsome. There weren’t many people around but I did recognise the lovely Sue Bolton, who joined me for a spot of lunch and a gentle chat.

During the course of the early afternoon I had snippets of conversation and banter with Priya Sharma, Laura and Rob Mauro, Georgina Bruce, Jim McLeod, Charlotte Bond, Ross Warren, Lisa Childs, Eric Steele, Steven Toase, and Andrew Knighton – to name but a few. The place was crowded and the bubbling joy of tribal reconnection rendered it all a bit of a wild blur. For me it was all about the hugs— and I’ve got to tell you, each and every one was healing and heartening for a fella still haunted by childhood exclusion. There’s nothing quite so powerful as a hug to communicate that sense of belonging. Anyway, on with the show.

 

(Lovable fools, all)

I’d already worked out my ‘must-do’ schedule on the train, so I knew where I needed to be and when. First up was a panel on blogging. I figured this could be pretty useful considering – you know – the thing you’re reading. I got a little lost trying to find the room, which was tucked away down a long corridor, but I found the place in the end. The panel was ably moderated by Kit Power, who knocked it out of the park. His questions were incisive and inclusive and he was genuinely curious as to what each of them thought about the subject, so the rapport with his guests felt real. Kate Coe was bubbly and open about her experiences; Micah Yongo was wry and thoughtful; Alasdair Stuart was charming, funny, and wise. All in all it was a good, articulate panel.

Immediately afterwards I had to dash around the corner for my first panel as a guest. This was on the subject of The Elderly Guard – a look at how older and aged people are represented in fantasy. I confess it wasn’t a subject I was immediately drawn to, but I am kind of hitting middle age now, and I could see a number of angles from which I could approach the topic. The panel was moderated by the sharp-minded Charlotte Bond, and we were joined by authors Mark A. Latham and R.B. Watkinson, as well as David Stokes, publisher at Guardbridge Books. We weren’t massively well attended, but I still felt like a rabbit in the headlights at first. There were stacks of things I wanted to say but I never quite found a way to work them in. Over-preparation, perhaps. I felt as though it had gone pretty well though, by the time it ended. Nobody made any dreadful howlers, the audience didn’t fall asleep or throw rotten fruit, and I started to feel I was okay to be there. Permitted. It felt like an important step.

I’d managed pretty well up to now, but I was starting to feel the sweats. I was still in my travelling clothes and the next panel was The Big One for me – Shared Worlds in the main panel room. Time was short but I decided to shower and change quick. I needed to feel fresh and professional.

Don’t panic, Dion. Breathe. No time to fret. Get going.

I went.

(Shared Worlds Panel – photo by Annie Czajkowski)

I met up with the moderator, Cheryl Morgan, outside the main panel room, also known as ‘The Victoria Room.’ She was chatting amiably to Gavin Smith. We were soon joined by His Imperial Spider-Majesty, Adrian Tchaikovsky (and his lovely wife, Annie). The previous panel came to a close and the doors opened, revealing a massive room – three times the size of the one I’d been in for The Elderly Guard. Ulp. People left and we stepped inside. This was a huge deal for me because it afforded the opportunity to talk publicly and at some length about This Twisted Earth, my pet project. I wish there had been more of an audience come to see us – particularly as Adrian was one of the guests of honour – but it seems that many panels suffered in this way on Friday. Printer troubles left the convention with no brochures, so most people didn’t know what was on, or indeed where.

Still, it was an enjoyable panel. It was a particular treat for me to share the stage with Adrian, a writer whose work I hugely admire, and who’d provided me with a brilliant story for my first Twisted Earth anthology. Cheryl was friendly, professional, focused. Pauline Kirk had interesting experiences to relate in terms of sharing a gestalt authorial identity with her daughter. Gavin kept gently ribbing Adrian about broken promises of work in his Shadows of the Apt world. It was awkwardly hilarious because his delivery was so deadpan. I was deeply gratified to be supported in the audience by Philip Ambler, who encouraged me to get into editing in the first place. It was also rather lovely to be approached and congratulated by somebody I didn’t know – a lady called Alexandra Peel. As it turned out, she’d submitted a story for This Twisted Earth way back when, and she wanted to come and say hi.

I had a bit of a wobble after Shared Worlds – a mixture of adrenaline, relief, and the knowledge that I still had a public reading to get through – which left me twitchy and somewhat hangry. I all-but dragged Phil across the road to ‘The Town Crier’ for a nosh-up and a cheeky pint. Bless him, he was very patient with me. A true friend. After that we spent a little time catching up with Graeme and Charlotte Reynolds, Steve Shaw, James Everington, Maura McHugh, Duncan Bradshaw, Andrew Freudenberg and Justin Park. Tracy Fahey groped my moob from behind which made me squawk like a chicken. Hilarity ensued. Eventually I had to say my goodbyes and head off looking for the Reading Room, book in hand. My public awaited (ahem).

 

(Fun tale, outrageous Welsh accents – photo by David R Stokes)

 

The readings went okay. Low attendance, but I expected as much for 9pm. The bar called to everyone. Hell, it called to me. I was conscious of time throughout because the previous session had overrun a little. I met Andrew Hook there, who did a good smattering of readings from his slipstream historical stories, based on the lives of Hollywood legends. I’ve started learning a little about the people he mentioned via the excellent podcast ‘You Must Remember This,’ so I was enthralled. I’d like to read his stories in full. I was up next, with a spirited reading from ‘The Ghost in Michelle’ by Matt Lewis. (Hilarious story, great anthology. You might have heard of it – ‘This Twisted Earth.’ #BuyMyBooks) I ended up cutting myself short by a few pages, hoping that the saved time would allow us a decent Q&A session. Regretted it afterwards.

The rest of the night sort of blurs. I didn’t feel like joining The Crusty Exterior boys at the disco – too hot, too cramped, too loud – so I sought out the Sinister Horror Company and friends in the hotel bar instead. Freud and I hunkered down in the comfy leather seats and we were soon joined by Simon Clarke, John Travis, (the super-loved-up) Steve Harris and Linda Nagle, amongst others. I’ve been wanting to meet Lin for ages now as we both do the same job and we’re pals on FaceBook. I missed her at EdgeLit despite sitting right behind her in a panel, and its become a running joke now that I just can’t see her (despite the truly vivid red hair). Drink was drunk, banter and burping occurred. Oh, and I learned that Duncan! Duncan! Duncan…smells! (The old ones are the best). I ended up hitting the sack around 1.30am feeling pretty damned happy, pretty damned proud and pretty damned tired.

 

Dion Winton-polak sharing good times at Fantasy Con 2018
(Good times)
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