There was an air of relaxed conviviality about the Derby Quad last weekend, but drive and purpose hummed beneath the surface.
It seems there’s something about seeing people in the flesh, reconnecting with old acquaintances, and chewing the industry fat that inspires activity. I’d swear more ideas are pitched, bonds formed, and deals struck in the course of these events than at any other time during the year. It probably helps that Sledge-Lit all happens over the course of a single day; it’s intense but tremendously good fun.
There were a few faces missing this year, so I decided to take the opportunity to spend some quality time with people rather than flitting crazily around.
I started off in the Trader’s Hall nice and early, catching up with Steve Shaw of Black Shuck Books and Justin Park of the Sinister Horror Company. Two of the finest people out there. We had some good conversations, and wide-ranging too. They filled me up with enthusiasm. I’m immensely pleased with the individual successes they’re celebrating, and also the ways in which they see their businesses expanding.
Next up was a brief chat with Matty-Bob Cash of Burdizzo Books. My first story as a writer (Hell’s Teeth) is due to be published in one of their anthologies next year. The book has been on the cards for a while now, so it’s safe to say I’m pretty excited. I’ll tell you more about the project as it gets closer to completion. I wanted to talk for longer and get to know him better, but I had just spotted Angeline, who I needed to catch up with.
Angeline Trevena has been quietly turning out volumes of dystopian fiction (with a feminist slant) over the past few years. I haven’t run an editorial eye over them yet, but I hear only good things. We’ve been friends since working together on my first anthology and it’s always wonderful to spend a bit of time bantering with her. She’s insightful, witty, and is knowledgeable about a wide range of interesting things. You can find The Great Western Woods, her world-building podcast, right here.
We were joined for a short while by Jan Edwards of Alchemy Press, whom I’d first met in July. It’s wonderful how social media deepens connections. Despite only a couple of brief conversations at Edge-Lit and FantasyCon, it feels like the beginnings of a friendship. Her war-time detective book, Winter Downs, is set very near to where I grew up. I’ve snagged a signed copy for my mum’s Christmas present, but don’t tell her. It’s just between you and me.
I soon found myself back in the cafe, plonked down with the marvellous Mauros, Alison Littlewood, Fiona Ní Éalaighthe and- well, the mind blurs with all the faces. I still hadn’t had any alcohol, because I am a strong and confident man, perfectly able to be sociable without it. Then someone offered to buy me a pint. Natch. I was collared by CC Adams for one of his rib-cracking hugs, a home-baked white chocolate cookie, and a short but serious talk about editing. His latest novella is on my i-pad now, and I’ll be tackling it soon.
Priya Sharma asked me to join her and her friends for dinner, which just about made my day. I’ve been wanting to get to know her better for a while now, and it’s so much easier to converse over a meal than in amongst the hustle and bustle of a convention. Plans were swiftly made and then I was off again, heading to Tracy Fahey’s book launch.
Tracy is one of my favourite people but she has a completely split personality. Reading from her haunting collection, New Music for Old Rituals, she was serious, deep, almost mournful. She lectures for a living, so her manner of presentation is never less than immaculate. It belies the rest of her personality though. Get her out of the spotlight and she turns into a rambunctious puppy full of life, levity, and glorious laughter. I looked forward to spending some proper time with her at The Flowerpot, the post-con pub of choice.
After the launch I popped back to the hotel to check in, freshen up, and grab my coat. It was perishing now, and it’d only get colder as the afternoon turned to evening.
Plans changed as they so often do, and we lost some of our expected dinner companions including, I’m sad to say, Andrew David Barker. I’d spotted him twice in passing earlier, but I’d figured we’d have a better chance to chat about his new films over dinner. Next time, perhaps. That’s the great thing about being a regular attendant of these things. Relationships accrete and it often feels like no time at all has passed between meet-ups.
Anyway, the mission was on to find a curry house within walking distance. Priya’s partner, Mark, had tracked a couple down via Trip Advisor, so off we popped, joined by Georgina Bruce, Alison Littlewood, and her husband, Fergus. It seemed a shame to miss the big raffle but leaving early turned out to be a good call. We manage to stroll into O-kra without booking, and were seated straight away. It was plush and classy, with plenty of space, and it had very attentive staff. The food was amazing, the company delightful, and the conversation was bright and animated.
We decided to forego dessert at Kaspa’s, though Priya and I were very tempted. We stopped off instead at The Old Bell, a coaching inn which dates back to the 1600s. It was packed, so we all cwtched up in the courtyard round the back, sipping mulled cider, shivering, and having a good chinwag. If it wasn’t so cold, I think I could have stayed there all night. As it was, we finished up and then trekked off to The Flowerpot, winding up the evening in the crowded but companionable company of all our other friends.
It was a great end to a smashing event. Once again, I discovered that creativity kicks back against all restrictions; even in the depths of austerity, with small businesses crumbling up and down the country, art and literature find ways to thrive. I’ve come home with another editing gig to get on with, some confidential tid-bits which bode well for future work, and I’ve even got a job doing some voice-acting soon— yeah, that surprised me too, but I think it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun.
Right, I’ll shut up now. This has taken me way too long to write and I’ve got editing to get on with.