Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nottingham Nights and a Piddle in the Hole

The annual FantasyCon, and the tenth anniversary of my own first attendance during that most paranoid of years, 1999. 'The Millennium Bug' never came, so I already knew quite a few of the convention-goers through Facebook ('friends' I was going to meet for the first time).
Into the bar, where I found Gary Greenwood partaking of a bottled beer with the somewhat unappetizing name of Piddle in the Hole . His wife, Ly, took a sip and pronounced it 'disgusting', but I tried a bottle anyway. Not the worst I've ever tasted, but at £3.30 a throw it wasn't likely to become my favoured tipple (not with Guinness at £2.00 a pint, and lager at £1.75).
As ever, the convention was well attended and the usual suspects started to arrive; but things were pretty hectic this year. Some of the people I shook hands with, and then only managed to catch the odd glimpse of. Other's, of course, were mixing business with pleasure. Terry Grimwood is trying to get his publishing interest, The Exaggerated Press, off the ground and was launching a collection of short stories by a writer called John Travis, who I have known for years. As a magazine editor back in the late '90's, I published one of his earlier tales, and so was keen to get hold of a copy of his collection, Mostly Monochrome Stories. I must say, the production looks good, but Terry really needs to construct a website and get himself on Facebook; it's just a matter of getting the publicity machine rolling. Still, I'm pleased to say that I became the first punter to buy a copy of John's book.
And on the whole it was a great convention, the highlight for many being the awards when a relative newcomer, Allyson Bird, took the prize for 'best collection'.
But there have been a few gripes about the hotel, and talk of a change of venue. True, there have been shortcomings in the past, especially with the staffing of the bar; but it was run efficiently enough this year, and the discount on the beer was a nice touch. As ever, we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast, but there were misgivings about the buffet and one of the organizers was heard complaining about a lunch he had been served. These complaints were no doubt valid, but I am still in favour of keeping The Britannia as a venue; it might not be five-star, but it's well-located and fit for purpose. When we need to escape the confines of the hotel, Nottingham Castle is just around the corner , and if the hotel beer is nothing to write home about, you can be sure of a good pint of real cask ale in a wonderful old pub called Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (which also served me an excellent ploughmans lunch).
In short, the convention benefits from a familiar setting, and I'm sure that any problems can be ironed out. I obviously don't have a say in the matter, but I think that if it was put to the vote, most people would be in favour of retaining The Britannia as a FantasyCon venue.
However, there was a sense, this time around, of the event being a prelude the much anticipted 'World Horror Convention', held in Britain for the first time next year in the seaside resort of Brighton. Most attendees seemed to be going, or at least planning to, and with James Herbert and Ingrid Pitt as special guests, the success of the event is already assured. I've never been to Brighton, and while it doesn't have the appeal of the last three places I went to (Chicago, New York and Toronto), it should still make for a good, never-a-dull moment weekend; and as they've snagged one of the top hotels as a venue, I don't anticipate any complaints in that department. Brighton, here we come!