My latest convention, and it's off to the gaudy seaside resort of Brighton for a healthy dose of sea air. The location is The Albion Hotel, a place not without its shortcomings, but still a reasonable venue (its location, right next to Brighton Pier, being a big plus).
I booked in and was told that the convention fee was already covered (which was one less dent in my wallet), and then I was handed the biggest WHC goodie bag ever (and, for that matter, the biggest name-tag ever, meant to be worn around the neck in a blue wallet. A trifle ostentatious, to say the least!).
I dumped the bag in my room and then went for my first walk along the pier, a novel experience in itself, and quite an enjoyable one - wooden boards creaking underfoot, the sea crashing all around me, the many fresh-food places (hot dogs, fish and chips, fried rice), games arcades and fun rides (including a ghost train; more about that later).
The first evening passed in the usual way, meeting old and new faces before trooping off for a meal in a restaurant (where we pretty much had to guess the contents on the menu!). All very pleasant, but the most memorable night was yet to come.
The highlight of Friday night was a huge party in Horatio's Bar, a pub on Brighton Pier. A large sum had been left behind the bar, and all the convention-goers had exclusive access to this shindig. I knew nothing about it, I was just trailing after Charles Rudkin and John Travis in search of food. A booth cooked up a fried rice meal while we waited, and that was when John pointed out The Horror Hotel to me. This was a ghost train ride, and he suggested returning the next day to try it out. "Why not?" I said, little realizing that I'd be trying it out a lot sooner than that.
Then Charles headed into Horatio's Bar. We followed, and I was surprised when the doormen checked our badges. It soon became clear that this was a party for the convention, hosted by a lady called Heather Graham (no, not that Heather Graham!) and that live music was the order of the night (Heather, herself, doing a lot of the singing)
The Guinness flowed, the music worked its magic, several ladies and then men took to the dance floor. Two more pints and I was on that floor myself, jigging away to the music of The Ramones. (I don't know how I looked, but it was a long time before Chris Teague could stop laughing!)
Dancing is thirsty work, so I went for another pint. However, as I set it down on the table, Ally Bird took my arm and said, "Come on."
I was led outside with Ally, Chris Teague and Steve Upham, then across the pier to The Haunted Hotel.
"You're kidding, right?"
She wasn't; as yet another treat for the convention-goers, the ghost ride had been opened up; so I stepped into a car with Chris Teague, the bar was lowered, and then we were on our way, all manner of ghouls and goblins jumping out at us. It was great fun, and even sobered us up a little by the time we got back to Horatio's.
We left shortly after midnight, and the walk back along the pier was quite pleasant; Brighton lit up before us, the wonderful sight of a pitch-black sea crashing towards the beach (almost, I would say, giving the impression of being on a ship). It had been a wonderful, madcap night and I think we were all still on a high. If nothing else, that party had made it a really memorable convention.
There were many panels and events, quite a few of which I missed. I made Chris Teague's talk about getting awards, a reading by Brian Lumley of one of his stories, a discussion panel with Tanith Lee (the subject in question has slipped my mind) and one or two others. But it was the interview with horror writer James Herbert that I was keen to attend. It started at noon, and the conference room started to fill up. It was quite a moment for me, as I have been reading his books for more than 20 years. Then he entered the room, and in an hour-long talk he entertained the audience with anecdotes, tales, a teaser for his up and coming novel, the odd bit of banter with other writers like Ramsey Campbell; he was certainly the convention's most relaxed and humourous guest. A few hours later he was doing signings, so I grabbed my copy of the convention book (Brighton Shock) and made my way to the dealers room.
The queue was long, so it was an hour and a half before I got to see him. Still, he was at a table, and there was a chair for people to sit on and exchange a few words while he signed their books. In the minute I had, I sat down and said, "I've been reading your books for most of my life."
"And look at you now," he said. Then, as he was signing my book, "From Liverpool, are you?"
"Well, Cardiff." An easy mistake to make, I suppose!
Then we shook hands, I said, "It was a pleasure to meet you," and walked away happy.
Now to find Ingrid Pitt,
In truth, I wouldn't have recognised her; sadly, she was in poor health and rather frail. All the same, she smiled and signed my book, thanked me for dropping by. I'll always remember her as that sassy and sexy star of those 70's horror films; but sometimes you get a sharp reminder of human mortality. Get well soon, Ingrid; you were a real star.
And so there were plenty of memories. Meeting old friends and making new acquaintences - Paul Finch's wife, Cathy; Debbie Kuhn, making a trip from Canada; Simon Maginn, who lives in Brighton, and so hadn't travelled at all. And the return of a few people I hadn't seen in ages; Gail Nina Anderson, and the unforgettable 'Whispering' John Carter, who hasn't changed a bit in the ten years since I last saw him!
Then there was John Travis getting all excited about catching sight of a fox on a roundabout. This event was certainly eventful.
So to the final night, the time of the customary 'Dead Dog Party' . Before that, I went out with Chris Teague, John Travis, Martin Roberts and his Girlfriend, Helen Hopley, in search of food. We ended up in a quaint old pub called The Essex, which served a delicious steak and a beautiful pint of Guinness-extra-cold. Then it was back to the hotel, where the final night was falling as flat as a pancake! The one problem with the hotel was the way a number of bar's were spread out, and so the convention-goers were mooching about all over the place.
Step forward a forthright Scottish chap called Paul. "This isnae a dead dog party, this is just fookin' dead! Wait here." Then he thundered off to find the rest of the convention-goers. Into another bar - 'Move yerselves, the party is upstairs.', and then, to the bar staff, "Put these lights out, we're going tae a party.'
Next thing I knew, the staff were hauling chairs and tables into the conference room, and within an hour we had our party. And so, thanks to this indomitable Highlander, a very pleasant time was had by all on the last night of the convention.
And that was it, the end of another World Horror Con. Bags packed, time to say a few farewells, and then a walk to the train station for the journey back to Cardiff. Past the pier, where I'd had a meal of fish and chips just hours before that party, along the seafront (a walk I had taken every morning to wake myself up), then home. In the words of a song, I'd been to a marvellous party.