My very first F-Con (or Fantasy Convention for the uninitiated...). Where do you start with a report which encompasses all the emotion, all the events, and all the awesome? I suppose, like I did, you start at the beginning. For those that genuinely don't know, F-Con is a yearly event which takes place at various locations through the UK. It is an event which encompasses science fiction, fantasy and horror, and all the myriad and varied sub-genres and mash-ups that come under the speculative umbrella. Attracting some well-known names in writing and publishing, it is the event to attend for writers, publishers, editors and, of course, readers. There are panels, readings, launches, signings, impromptu classes taking place in the corridors, interviews and chances to meet and talk to your favourite authors. And here's the thing - even if you're socially awkward and self-conscious, it's not a problem; most creative people are. In fact, it's the place to be if you're like that, because everyone is open, engaging and inviting. This year, the event was held in Nottingham, so off I toddled for a relatively long drive...
Caveat: if I miss your name off this, I truly apologise. I have a terrible memory and was a wee bit overwhelmed by the whole experience. You can call me out in any comments.
After about five hours on the road - with the occasional break - I made it to The Hylands hotel in Nottingham. I wasn't staying at the main convention hotel because...well, I'm a cheapskate. I don't drink anyway, so I could drive between the two locations easily. Anyway, it was not long after one o'clock and as I was booking in - and as these things seem to happen - I bumped into Ross Warren and his sister, Lisa Childs. This was quickly followed by the arrival of fellow Ginger Nut-ter, Charlotte Courtenay-Bond (who I was meeting for the first time), her husband Nathan, and their friend (sorry, don't remember his name). Then Andrew Coulthard came up to me and introduced himself and after I'd set my baggage in my room, I met him for a natter in the hotel lobby, where we were joined by Steven Savile (who looks nothing like his clown profile pic on FB, or what I'd expected, and for whom I had remembered to bring down the Paul Tremblay A Head Full Of Ghosts book I'd offered to secure for him), and Stuart Young (who's been a great support to me recently on FB). After a bit of an interesting conversation, we decided to walk down to the conference building where the event was being held, reckoning it was no more than a fifteen minute walk. By this point, it was just after two and I'd already missed the launch for Dean M. Drinkel's Masks anthology (this was to be the theme for the weekend - getting involved in great chats with old friends and new, and completely missing stuff I'd intended to attend).
We got down to the place eventually - on a walk that seemed to go on for longer than fifteen minutes, the fabled conference centre always just out of reach - and booked in, where we were confronted with tables and tables of free books. An absolute paradise for me, but I managed to restrain myself somewhat, only picking books I genuinely thought I'd get to. While here, milling about the foyer and bar area, I bumped into Mark West, Sue Moorcroft, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris (Byrne), Kit Power, Jim McLeod, Fiona Ní Éalaighthe, Dion Winton-Polak, Mike Chinn, Adam Millard, Andrew Freudenberg, Steve Shaw, Theresa Derwin, Ben Jones (who bears an uncanny resemblance to The League Of Gentlemen's Edward Tubbs...), Adam Nevill and his dad, Clive, and various others I'm no doubt forgetting (forgive me!). It was great to catch up with folk, or meet them properly for the first time, and get one or two photo opportunities which will no doubt be plastered in various places on Facebook by now. It was great, if not a little overwhelming for me; that sense of so much going on, and seeing so many people, even in passing, that there's almost a sensory overload. I didn't have much I'd planned to get to, other than my friend Rich Hawkins' panel (one which author Joe Hill was also on!), so most of the first couple of hours were just spent milling around, bumping into folk and catching up/chatting. Mind you, the opening ceremony was something that we all seemed to gravitate into, and it was great to be formally welcomed to F-Con 2015 by organiser Lee Harris and Guests Of Honour, Juliet E. McKenna (who was also the M.C.), Jo Fletcher, Brandon Sanderson and John Connolly (one of my favourite writers, dontcha know...?).
More milling about and bumping into Graeme Reynolds and his partner (whose name I missed - sorry!), Chris Barnes (fellow Scot and meeting for the first time), Stephen Chapman (bonkers online, quiet-ish in real life), Emma Audsley, and others (pesky memory). After a quick chat, I headed into the dealer's room where I had a good old natter with the three-headed publishing beast that is The Sinister Horror Company - Justin Park, Duncan Bradshaw and Daniel Mark Chant (who had introduced himself to me at some point in the bar). Then there was a bit of quick wandering in the room - loads and loads of tempting books - and I spoke to Terry Grimwood, Alex Davis, Chris Teague, and - again - others I cannot recall. I think, then, I went briefly into the launch for Mark West and Stephen Bacon's double novella release with Pendragon Press and Chris Teague (mainly to see if was able to pick up my pre-order). I had to cut this short as I was heading into the panel that my friend Rich Hawkins was on; except he hadn't turned up yet, and it was due to start soon. I headed through the building with Adam Millard and Andrew Freudenberg, on a mission to find him, and that's when we bumped into a nervous and harassed looking Rich, standing with his wife Sara. Turns out they'd only just made it due to traffic and such. As they went off to prepare, I was approached by a young American lady, who looked like she was going to ask me something. We got chatting and turned out she's also a new-ish horror writer (with possible leanings towards science fiction/fantasy) by the name of Robin Lupton, who already has a story in anthology called Creeping Crawlies, alongside Terry Grimwood and Andrew Hook. She'd travelled to the event knowing pretty much no-one there, but I'm sure by the next one, she'll be firmly 'one of us'. This, to me, is what these event are all about. Anyway, Rich went into his panel - which was about post-apocalypse stuff - and did a sterling job with a line-up that included the aforementioned Joe Hill and Peter Crowther, author and head honcho at PS Publishing. Don't worry if you missed it, I recorded almost the whole thing...
Afterwards, more chatting, more meeting folk - bumped into Simon Bestwick and Cate Gardner, Ray Cluley and his partner Jess, Joe D'Lacey (whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years and was great to see at the event - Joe eschews most forms of online social media), Neil Williams (we'll get more of a chat next time), Craig Saunders, Lynda E. Rucker, Stephen Bacon and his mate Wayne (who's now my mate on FB...wait, that sounds like I've stolen him...) and...yep, you guessed it, more people I'm probably forgetting.
However, it was just about time to take part in something I'd never done before, and for which I'd been badgering Kit Power about for a while. You see, in his youth (a long time ago...), Kit had been an ardent fan of Dungeons & Dragons and Fighting Fantasy role-play games, taking on the mantle of Dungeon Master (is that the correct term, Kit?) many a time. He had offered to run a game for me and a few others, who turned out to be; Adam Millard, Andrew Freudenberg, Justin Park, Duncan Bradshaw and Daniel Marc Chant (and our gaming names shall remain forever unspoken - especially Adam's). As soon as we had gathered, the quest began... I must admit, considering most of us were complete gaming novices at this (I didn't even know what a D1 was...or something), it was probably the most disorganised, shambolic and crude game of FF ever played. We were like a stag party gone wild. There were people shitting in buckets, getting covered in that shit, wearing sections of another person's skin as clothes and masks, killing folk without waiting to discover if they were friendly or not, using companions as battering rams, electing to go back to the tavern to continue drinking, sending Justin through first into every potentially perilous room, and, in what I think earned the eternal approval of Kit, my split-second cry of "I take all the books!" as a bookshelf began to materialise. There were other, less savoury events, but they shall be consigned to obscurity. All in all, though, I had an absolute blast despite not having one fucking clue as to what was going on, and in the face of Kit's growing exasperation. I think we all did, and this is what these events are all about for me; a chance to kick back with like-minded people, have a good laugh and just connect. We did get a few odd looks from folk passing by our tables, but I don't think we really cared. It was a blast.
Then it was more chatting, more laughs, more passing time - avoiding the karaoke as much as possible because I value what hearing remains to me - going to the PS Publishing launch and picking up a copy of their anniversary edition of 20th Century Ghosts and getting it signed by the man himself (whilst politely refusing Ross Warren's attempts to buy me a £20 book - I think he might have been a bit tipsy, lovely fellow that he is) until I went to Craig Saunders' reading at the ungodly hour of 23.45. Despite the lateness, quite a few people turned up to hear Craig read from his new DarkFuse novel Left To Darkness (and a bloody great sounding opening it was too - must get this one soon). It seemed to go down pretty well and even though Duncan Bradshaw and Justin Park got stuck asking the same question each, over and over, we all filed out in good spirits and I headed back to The Hylands with Rich and Sara, in a great, if exhausted mood. Although the day was pretty hectic, what with seeming to meet someone every few seconds and feeling like I was rushing about like mad - and not getting to speak to some people at length; my buddy Jim McLeod of course, Mark West (who made my first proper convention at Edge-Lit 2014 such a stress free and welcoming experience, and who has been someone who has looked out for me online since), a few others - it was an excellent start to my first F-Con.
Part 2 Coming Soon...