Sunday, September 30, 2007


FantasyCon 2007, and a second trip to Nottingham; a city that would probably like to forget that rather unfortunate nickname. Well, the men who put the 'Shot' into Nottingham are now behind bars, so maybe it's time to drag out that old chestnut, The Legend of Robin Hood. Not, of course, gory enough for the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror buffs descending on the Britannia hotel for a weekend's grue-fest.
Day one was also my birthday, so a good drink was in order. Acquaintances old and new turned up, and while it was a little quieter than the previous year, there was still much to enjoy.
First evening, and we went out looking for The Taj Mahal, an all-you-can-eat for a tenner joint we had found last year; but in the maze of streets we had no chance, and settled on a Turkish establishment, which generously handed out free fruit and Turkish Delight once we had paid for our meal. That night I was in the company of Ally Byrd, Stuart Young and John Travis. It had been a great way to spend the evening.
The next day I paid a visit to Nottingham Castle, where a Gala day was in full flow; men on stilts, an opera singer, various events to entertain the children. Best of all, the admission fee for the day had been waived, so I could enjoy a free visit.
In the film show room, they were screening a half-hour documentary about the cave systen under the castle (built on top of a hill). Another convention-goer, Bill Webb, had also drifted into that show and we decided to take the tour. Which we did, after a brief return to the hotel for some dinner.
The tour was an hour long, and as it entailed walking through about a mile of caves, it was not an adventure to be taken by the seriously underfit. Our tour guide was a young lady called Cath, who related the tales of torture, murder and execution with such relish, it was clear that she would have enjoyed a visit to the FantasyCon herself. We emerged at the bottom of the cliff, right next to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Tempting, but we returned to the hotel.
That night, it was once again 'off-for-a-curry', and Nottingham native Alison L.R. Davies had booked an Indian restaurant called Chutneys. She'd asked for 16 places; luckily, they were able to accommodate the 20-plus who eventually turned up.
That night came the obligatory raffle, and this year there was a little twist. I had donated several books and an old video. They made a note of my name, something they had never done before, and I soon found out why. As the tickets were drawn, there was not only a description of the prize, but a mention of the donor, and as the M.O.C Michael Marshall Smith name-checked me several times (This has been donated by David Price' ... David Price has generously donated this book after reading it' ... Still getting through prizes donated by David Price!' ...), I was glad that (with the exception of that video --- a 1980 horror film called Alligator) I hadn't handed over the kind of shite I'd dumped on them in the past. Well, they said they were looking for quality control, and they might well have ensured it for future raffles.
Next day was the annual FantasyCon awards, and this time I actually attended the whole thing. A big winner was Joe Hill, whose debut novel Heart-Shaped Box, I had recently enjoyed. Mind you, there had been rumours about him at previous conventions ... something about his father. I'd checked his website, but there'd been no mention of his father. Finally, we we were let in on Joe Hill's little secret. And you know ... I'd never have guessed.
Most of the guests drifted away after that, so after the usual round of handshakes and farewell's, I made my way to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. And a pleasant evening it was; swapping ghost stories with a writer called Marion Arnott, and then playing a bizarre game called 'Baiting the Bull'. Basically, there is a bull's horn on a plaque nailed to the wall; a brass ring on a length of string hanging from the roof; and you hurl that ring at the horn in a bizarre variation of the hoopla game. On the wall are past pictures of game champions (called 'The Lords of the Ring' ... I'm not kidding!) Three of us played, I was the only one who failed miserably to ring the horn. All the same, it had been fun.
The following morning I had a final slap-up breakfast before taking a walk to the railway station. It was all over for another year. I'll be back; but that trek through the caves of Nottingham Castle showed me that I really did need to get in shape. Salads from now on, I think.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

MY KIND OF TOWN (Memories of Chicago - 2002)

(In the past, I have written about my conventions. However, when I attended my first American one, Blogs did not exist. At the time, I was hanging out on a website called 'Terror Tales', and the writer Paul Kane asked me to supply an account. The site is long gone, but I made a record of that article. The flowing appeared in April of that year.)

I arrived in Chicago at around 18:00 hrs, US time, and when the free hotel shuttle failed to turn up, I took a white-knuckle taxi ride to the hotel (courtesy of a driver who spoke very little English, but certainly had endless colourful descriptives for the other road users!). Arriving at the reception, I booked in and then went to my room.
First thought; wow ... is this all mine?
With all due respect for British hotels, their rooms tend to be matchbox affairs in which the bed accounts for most of the floor space. This room had two double beds, a writing desk, a large television, and a comfortable armchair (with footrest) if you fancied settling down in front of it. Hey, welcome to America!

Thirsty after a nine hour flight, I made my way to the bar ... and promptly bumped into RazorBlade press editor, Darren Floyd. I ordered a can of Fosters (and got a can the size of a small bucket!) then ambled over to a group of familiar faces; Darren's wife June, Stuart Young, Mark Samuels, Chris Teague and Gary Greenwood. My convention had started in earnest. However, my first night didn't exactly go according to plan. A night in a Blues Club had been arranged, but no-one at reception seemed to know anything about it. So I registered at the convention desk, dumped the obligatory goody bag in my room, and returned to the foyer ... only to discover that the bus had turned up, and everyone had buggered off without me.
(Er, cheers lads ... thanks a bloody bunch!)

Anyway, I met up with Mick Sims, who introduced me to a writer called Paul Melniczek, and the three of us spent the evening chatting about the independent press in the hotel bar. It was here that Paul encouraged me to try a rather tasty American brew called Samuel Adams beer, which was the closest thing to British Ale there was, and became my favoured tipple for the rest of the convention. At eleven 0'clock I trotted off to my hotel room, thinking that a good night's sleep would get me over the jet-lag. However, I woke up at 04:30 in the morning, so that was something else that hadn't gone according to plan.

So, day 2, and yours tuly is up bright and early. Mark McLaughlin and an enthusiastic troupe were performing his story, 'When We Was Flab', and at this point, I met up with Matt Cardin for the first time. Later that day he joined me, Chris, Darren and June, Mark Samuels and Stuart Young on a trip into Downtown Chicago. With map in hand, June acted as our guide, and we went via the subway. In the big city Itself, I saw a difference. At the lights crossing the road, you stop when a palm-up hand is dispalyed, cross when it's a little white man. But ... the lights tend to change when you are halfway across and the drivers in Chicago take no prisoners. In an incident that can only happen in America, a driver became so incensed with the behaviour of a cyclist that he got out of his van, and the two of them had a stand-up argument in the middle of the road ... at a busy intersection with cars streaming past them on both sides, horns blaring. Still, pressing on, we let them get on with it. (The cyclist passed us a few minutes later, throwing a very rude gesture over his shoulder!)

First up, food. So we entered a pokey little basement bar, where a bartender refused to serve us without identification. Never mind, a deli served up some very filling club sandwiches (a tuna mix called a Sorry Charlie went down a treat) and a carton of Root Beer. Then it was on to The John Hancock Tower, where yet another plan was kicked into touch. We had planned to go to the top of the building for a spectacular view of Chicago, but, in spite of the fact that we had terrific weather for the rest of the convention, a low cloud enshrouded the top of the building, and they wouldn't allow us to go up. So we had coffee, bought souvinirs in a gift shop, and pressed on into The Windy City.
Inevitably, we ended up in a bookstore before the exotic clothes shops lured June and Dazza away, and we had to make our way back to the subway, sans our guide. By chance, we all met up again outside O'Hare airport, while we were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to The Radisson Hotel. That night, I attended my first party.
Now at British conventions, in the evening, we retire to the bar for a quiet chat. In America they take over hotel rooms, fill a bathtub up with ice, and drink until the early hours of the morning. They also like to dress up. One women walked around with a decaying corpse (plastic) strapped to her back, other's dressed in outrageous goth outfits. At some point, Mick Sims introduced me to Phil J. Locasio, a Chicago-based writer starting to make a name for himself in the independent press. He found my reference to 'the tube station' instead of 'the subway' hysterical. Maybe the term has a sexual connotation in America. Mind you, I think he had rather generously availed himself of the hotel's hospitality at that point.
Oh yes, there were shenanigans with blow-up dolls and the like, but enough said on that score.
I had quite an eventful time of it myself. First, I got talking to a goth woman who had really gone the whole hog; skimpy dress, fangs in her mouth, weird catlike contact lenses.
"Let's pose for a photograph," I suggested.
"Sure, down on your knees, big boy."
Then I was cornered by a Welsh woman who had lived in Canada most of her life. She, too, had availed herself of the hospitality, and bent my ear, big time, about 'the olde home town' (which she couldn't even remember!) for the next half hour. I also have vague mamories of Tim Lebbon waving a severed hand around (wax) but by that time, I was in a delightful alcoholic haze myself. At around two in the morning I retired to bed with a huge grin on my face. God Bless America:-)
In spite of the much-improved weather, we didn't venture back into the city the next day. There were books to be bought, prize-givings to attend, panels that you just had to go to.
In the morning, I went with Matt Cardin to a talk by an American actress called Patricia Tallman, who had starred in the series 'Babylon 5'. It took a while to find the room, and when we got there, the talk had already started. Still, just slip in quietly.
Of course, it was the one room with a step, I didn't see it, and I lumbered into the room like a baby elephant.
"Hey. fellah, mind the step back there. Come on in, there's a couple of seats right here in the front."
I really needed that!
Still, we made our way to the seats. It was easy to understand Matt's enthusiasm; for she was a very attractive lady, even if she did manage to talk at twice the speed of sound, and I enjoyed her anecdotes about the series, and the films she had worked on (like Jurassic Park). However, it was the afternoon lecture that I was keen to attend. John Wayne Gacy was Chicago's most notorious murderer, killing over 300 men and burying them under his house. The speaker was one of the prosecuting lawyers, and he gave a very detailed - and fascinating - account of Gacy's life, murder's, arrest and trial. Over a hundred people attended, and a Q & A session took the lecture almost an hour over schedule. It had still been well worth attending.
That night we wandered from party to party, bursting forth into song, drinking, posing for bizarre photographs, attending a way-out goth disco (which resembled a scene from The Vampire Chronicals) and generally having a good time. But the next morning was Sunday, and most of the guests - including Mark Samuels and Stuart Young - were leaving. It was all over bar the shouting, so I went with Chris Teague, Dazza and June to a Chicago diner (not one of us finished the titanic portion placed in front of us) then returned to the hotel bar for an hour before seeking out the last of the parties. The next day I went home on the same plane as Chris Teague. I'd had a great time, it had been agreed that WHC 2004 would be held in London, and I now have some very pleasant memories (not all of which have been included in this report!!!)
So yes, I definitely want to do it all again someday. Kansas City, Missouri, April 2003. Keep the beer on ice, guys, the Terror Scribes are oming back.