Ginger Nuts of Horror
And so the British summer comes around again and leaves just as quickly, and that means it's time for the fastest growing speculative fiction convention, Edge-Lit. Masterminded by author, publisher and regular Ginger Nuts enfant terrible Alex Davis, Edge-Lit takes place in Derby and is fast becoming the event to attend, both for its relaxed informal atmosphere and the array of diverse and interesting panels, workshops and dealer tables. 2015 saw such giants of the genre as John Connolly, Sarah Pinborough, Mike Carey and Joanne Harris amongst others attend and, at this rate, we may well see someone like Stephen King pop along one year. Hey, who knows...? Anyhoo, Ginger Nuts sent two of its most intrepid and eager - and, in one case, not the most social - of its contributors to see what this year was offering...
Trying not to panic, that’s the thing. Here’s the deal: I can communicate using written words with a certain degree of confidence. And with a mic in my hand and a band behind me, I can handle a room full of people just fine. But meeting people face-to-face? In a highly social setting? Engaging relative strangers in conversation? I know there are people for whom that sounds like a good time.
I am not one of those people.
So I arrived in Derby train station around 9:30am. Having gotten no takers for my last minute Facebook offer of breakfast (just as well, as I’d said I’d be there at 9 and then wasn’t), I walked over to The Quad. Finding the building was relatively easy, and a quick text exchange informed me Paul was on his way. Okay, no problem. I sat down at one of the tables outside and got out my Kindle. Play it cool, Kit. But of course I couldn’t concentrate. There were people gathering all about, faces I half-recognised from Facebook. But of course I didn’t actually know anyone to approach or talk to. What was I doing here? Why had I thought this was a good idea? At least Paul will be there soon…
“Excuse me, are you Kit?”
Paul M. Feeney
My second time attending Edge-Lit (I went last year and loved it), I had a better idea of what to expect - or so I thought. My decision, yet again, to drive down on the morning of the event is one I think I'll be reassessing next time. Getting up at five in the morning for a four hour journey isn't the best way to start what turned out to be a fantastic but slightly exhausting day...
But I made it down a half hour before doors opened. Hefting a big sports bag of books I'd brought to try and get signed (yep, I'm that sad), who should I bump into just outside my hotel, but Terry Grimwood,
author of the Spectral Press chapbook Soul Masque amongst other works (and very good it is too). We introduced ourselves - or in his case, confirmed I was indeed, who he thought - and we made our way down to the Quad, having a pleasant chat on the walk. In retrospect, this was to set the tone for the rest of the day - random encounters with people I'd either met before or knew only from Facebook, yet were immediately recognisable (well, almost all encounters were like that, but I'll get there). Once at the doors to the event, I met up with my Ginger Nut compatriot, Kit Power (author of Lifeline and the forthcoming novel GodBomb!). If you don't know Kit - and this was my first time meeting him - be prepared for someone who is enthusiastic, chatty and very personable, who possess a youthful curiosity and interest for everything and everyone around him. With Kit was Neil Snowdon and after we all introduced ourselves, we got in line to pick up our name badges and goodie bags and then, we were in.
Thank God for Neil Snowden. Immediately put at ease, we got talking interviews, non-fiction articles, and I immediately began to relax. I started to think maybe this was going to work out after all. Paul showed up, toting a giant sports bag of books ‘for signing’.
Hands shaken, and my heart rate returning to normal, we watched the initial queue until it died down a bit, then made our way inside.
Sign-up sheets! Goodie bags! With a hardback book inside! A program! Best of all – nametags!!!!! Such an obviously brilliant move! Suddenly I saw how this thing might actually work – after all, if I see a name I know, it’s a lot easier to sidle up and offer a hand to shake, start chatting about recent releases or reviews. OK, Kit, let’s do this thing.
I started easy, breakfast and more chatting with Neil and Paul. Others started to appear. Adam Millard. Adam Nevill. Stephen Volk(!!). I got relaxed enough that when Paul decided to head over to the dealer room to see Mr. Millard and offload his book bag, I felt only the momentary ‘first-day-at-school’ twinge.
Shameful confession: I’m awful with remembering names. Consequently, I quickly lost track of who was coming and going. Luckily, however, there was a common theme – kindness. With exactly zero exceptions, everybody was… not merely approachable, but engaged, welcoming, eager to talk. Before I knew it, an hour had flown by, and I realised I hadn’t caught back up with Paul. Making my excuses, I made my way into the dealers room…
Paul M. Feeney
I pretty much spent most of the morning sitting in the dealer's room (once I found it; I lugged that heavy friggin' bag up to the top floor and back before being told the dealer's room was on the ground floor, behind the box office) - I should realistically say, hiding there. I have a confession to make (though not one that's much of a secret if you know me even the barest); like Kit, I have terrible social anxiety, which has seemed to have gotten worse over the last few years for various reasons. This can range from being pretty bad at small talk, to having the absolute jitters meeting people who, due to both what they've achieved professionally and the resonance they have in my mind, ensure that I will always feel star-struck in their presence. Like that hateful little voice I get when writing, there is always this constant nagging in my mind that I don't belong in this world, that I'm a pretender, that people can see through me.
So, I hid. But as it was, I spent the first few hours of the event in the company of the awesome Adam Millard (author of Dead Cell, The Human Santapede and Larry amongst many, many others) and his wife, Zoe-Ray two of the nicest and most genuine people you could hope to meet. Together, they run Crowded Quarantine Publications and they graciously allowed me to be a part of their table for a few hours.
Whilst there, of course, many others I had met before, or knew only from Facebook came passing through. There was Mark West (author of Drive and The Mill) and Ross Warren (whose short stories have appeared in Sanitarium magazine and the anthology Killer Bees From Outer Space, and who is also a commissioning editor at Pendragon Press as well as editing many other anthologies), who stopped to say a few words; Phil Sloman (whose short stories have appeared in the anthologies Grimorium Verum, Chip Shop Of Horrors and Potatoes amongst others); Fiona Ní Éalaighthe, serial convention stalker and friend of Jim McLeod, Graeme Reynolds and others; Steve Harris (or 'Byrne', author of Phoenix and the provider of a lovely quote to the cover of my debut novella); Andrew Hook (author of The Immortalists and Church Of Wire, and whose short stories have appeared in numerous issues of Black Static and Interzone) who was manning his own dealer's table further down the room with his partner Sophie came up to say hello, and the very lovely Lily Childs; and I'm ashamed to admit, I had to check her name badge to know who it was - I think my brain was already on its way out even then. Also popping in were Ray Cluley (author of Water For Drowning and another Black Static regular) and his lovely partner Jess (and this was the beginning of me spending various points in the day trying to secure a copy of his collection Probably Monsters) and Dan Howarth (of This Is Horror fame) and his lovely partner Jenny. Steve Shaw (of Great British Horror fame, for all your horror t-short and clothing needs) stopped by and had a custom made t-shirt for me. I also met Sophie Sparham (author of Snow In Hell), who had a table next to the Millards. Adam introduced her as a 'proper writer', but I forgot to pick up copy of her book. Next time, for sure. There may have been others, so I apologise for forgetting.
But I could hide no longer; it was time to brave the wider world of Edge-Lit...
It was good to see Paul busy working through his signature sheets, tag teaming with Adam on gluing. Better yet to get copy 55 of 'The Last Bus' personalised by the author himself. Also, finally got to meet Adam Millard in the flesh – we'd previously spoken as part of a live podcast to promote the Black Room Manuscripts anthology (due out August 16!), but nothing can quite prepare you for Adam in the flesh – lavishly tattooed, immaculately quaffed moustache, and an infectious grin. We chatted for a while, and he was gracious enough to sign a copy of 'Larry' for me – which I am REALLY looking forward to reading, after Vinyl Destination.
“Oh, by the way, Mark West is over there!”
Mark West! I really enjoyed Drive, and I loved being given the excuse to re-read Fleming's Moonraker. Scanning in the direction of the pointed finger, there he was resplendent in a T-Shirt displaying the movie poster of Moonraker (of course). No sooner had I introduced myself and shaken hands than I was being pulled into a group photo! Surreal, but very pleasant.
Two hours in. Guess I should take a look at the program. Oh, wait, not just workshops, there's panels too. Wait, these are all included in the ticket price? Wow... 'How Much History Does Fantasy Fiction Need?' That sounds pretty interesting... Joanne Harris? Fucking hell, I've seen her on telly! Bollocks, I'm going to this...
She didn't disappoint and neither did the rest of the panel. Joanne talks about stories and fiction with such brilliance that whatever she's said seems obvious once she's said it, even though you'd never have thought of it in a million years. In a day characterised by unexpected yet enjoyable chance encounters, this was one of the highlights for me.
Talking of chance encounters, lunch beckoned, so I made my way down to the Quad cafe...
Paul M. Feeney
This part of the day is a bit of a blur. I know I went out, ostensibly in the search for a cash machine and also to get some of the books I'd brought signed. I can honestly say, I hardly remember anything that happened for a couple of hours - at least, not with any coherency.
I know I spoke to the very interesting Jasper Kent (author of the Danilov quintet) and this was directly prior to racing upstairs to catch the tail-end of the Spectral Press launch of Cate Gardner's novella The Bureau Of Them, Mark Morris's novella Albion Fay and Stephen Volk's novella Leytonstone. I only managed to hear Mark Morris's reading, which was the final one, but it was a very interesting piece and I look forward to receiving my signed, limited hardback of it and Cate's novella.
So, forgive me if this bit seems disjointed (but this seems to be the nature of Edge-Lit - lots to do, loads of people to meet, but all of it a bit of a blur and very fast paced in a short amount of time). I do recall bumping into the very personable James Bennett (a writer to watch out for as he's just secured a three book deal with Orbit - but he doesn't like to talk about that...) and it was wonderful to finally meet someone I had interacted with online extensively and find they are even more interesting and entertaining in real life. I found Christopher Teague (head man at Pendragon Press) sequestered in a dark corner and had a quick chat with him. I also spoke briefly to James Everington (author of The Shelter and Falling Down) and got a hug from the lovely Adele Wearing (head honcho at Fox Spirit Books). I remember speaking briefly to Alex Davis as he rushed through the area. At some point, I was back in the dealer's room taking a few pictures of the tables and chatting to folk, whilst also securing signatures from the likes of Andrew Hook and Mike Carey (author of The Girl With All The Gifts under the name M. R. Carey). I remember Mark Morris introduced himself at some point and was very pleasant. I bumped into Jethro Lentle (artist extraordinaire and creator of covers to books by Craig Saunders, Ian R. McLeod and William Holloway's forthcoming novel, amongst many others), who I'd met before and had a good catch up.
As I say, I spent a good wee while chatting to Jasper Kent at the cafe/bar and then it was upstairs for the final minutes of the Spectral book launch (following Kit Power's text to tell me it had started), before the second event I wanted to see kicked off - the Knightwatch Press launch...
So the real pinch yourself moment came at lunch where, at Neil's invitation (and again, what a lifesaver) I sat down to eat with Mark Morris, Alexandra Benedict and Stephen Volk. And after swapping anecdotes about Doctor Who, getting Stephen’s autograph on my copy of Whitstable (!!!!) and discussing the recent Norrel and Strange TV show, Mark casually asks me what I’m working on.. and suddenly I’m giving the elevator pitch of my novel and short story collection. At THAT table. It’s a measure of how kind and welcoming everyone was that it only feels profoundly surreal in retrospect.
Mark was one of the members of the Monsters panel, so we made our way up to that at 2pm. Again, an engaging and provocative discussion, ably hosted by Adam Nevill, who I thought did an outstanding job of being even-handed through some at times choppy waters. I also happened to be sat nearby Graeme Reynolds, and couldn’t resist shaking the hand that wrote High Moor and High Moor II, and is currently (as in, I hope right this second) working on the final part of the trilogy. Sorry for interrupting your enjoyment of the panel, man. But seriously, dude - finish High Moor 3. Now.
Next, I headed over to The Box for the Spectral Press book launch. I settled in at the back and dropped Paul out the text to let him know the event was about to begin. After readings from Stephen Volk, Mark Morris and Cate Gardener, there was a brief Q&A, during which Stephen was kind enough to mention the interview we recently completed for this very site, and which you can read here. Gratifying doesn’t even cover it - I was genuinely touched. I saw Paul arrive, and after getting my novellas signed we sat and caught up - just in time for the Knightwatch Press launch, featuring some top readings and very big announcements…
Paul M Feeney
Once Spectral had cleared the room (with Adam Nevill briefly saying hello to me and me promising to grab him for a book signature, and me giving Dan Howarth a big hug as he and his partner jenny had to rush off - he pretended he didn't, but I know he enjoyed that immensely), Knightwatch Press set up for the launch of a number of anthologies. Again, my memory is not the greatest, so you'll forgive me if I forget a name or two. Knightwatch head honcho Theresa Derwin was there, of course, along with Phil Sloman, Kevin Redfern, Dion Winton-Polak, Stewart Hotston, Louise Maskill, Alex Davis and no doubt a few others I can't recall (maybe Kit can help me with that).
There were quite a number of readings from various stories, but three in particular struck me. I can't remember the precise running order, but I was suitably impressed with partial story readings from Kevin Redfern (whose contribution about a sinister red devil rubber duck at bath time is in Killer Bees From Outer Space), Phil Sloman (who read his hugely entertaining contribution to the anthology Chip Shop Of Horrors) and Louise Maskill (who gave us a very funny snippet of 'zombie racing' from Sunny With A Chance Of Zombies). There were other great readings and then a little bit of news as Theresa Derwin announced she would be handing the reins of Knightwatch over to Steve Shaw, he of Great British Horror clothing. That will be one to keep an eye on...
Time was racing on at this point and I needed to make sure I wasn't holding up the Millards (they were looking after my big bag of books to be signed). I made my way downstairs to the dealer's room, where they were still in situ. Deciding now was the time to grab a few books to get them signed, I spent the next half hour or so catching folk and harassing them into giving me signatures. First up was Alison Littlewood (author of Path Of Needles and The Unquiet House), pointed out to me by Adam, who very graciously signed all three of her novels for me, after my hasty introduction, despite the fact that she was rushing off to do a panel. Then I grabbed books by James Everington, Steve Byrne, Mark West, Lily Childs and Ross Warren and grabbed them all for signatures before they disappeared (most going for an early curry as Phil needed to head for his train after the raffle). I managed to get two books from Terry Grimwood, which was great as I'd intended to get one from the Pendragon table but missed Chris before he closed shop. I also got Kit Power to provide a signature for his contribution in the magazine Splatterpunk #6, and was very proud to discover it was his very first author signature. You read it here first, ladies and gents - that baby will be worth a fortune in years to come...
Finally, as the main event wound down, it was time for me to drag my cumbersome and weighty bag of books off to my hotel room (Kit and I had debated getting Adam Nevill to sign our books, but as he was relaxing outside the cafe with friends, we felt it would be a bit too cheeky). We arranged to meet back at the Quad and off I went...
It took me far too long to get back to the hotel (memo to self for next time - Google maps printouts are your friend), and a combination of tiredness and the heat meant I was seriously flagging. Luckily a shower and change of clothes did me the world of good, and I was back at the Quad for 7:30 and met back up with Paul.
From there, having established food would be served at the bar until 10pm (and seriously, how great is that?) we ascended to the raffle.
It will take a far better writer than I to do justice to the grand, side splitting majesty that is John Connolly and Sarah Pinborough in full flow. Suffice it to say it was like if Morecombe and Wise had decided to do a Derek and Clive skit, only with better accents and more laughs. Never have I cared less about winning or losing a raffle, even with the truly exceptional prizes on offer. An absolute highlight, and a fitting climax for what turned out to be my final part of official Edge-Lit business.
My rumbling stomach called me to the bar, where Mr. Feeney and I sat and discussed the day, the people we’d met, and the slightly overwhelming nature of the whole event. At which point I started to consume alcohol in earnest, which probably explains the relative fragmentation of my remaining memories.
Said memories include collaring Graeme Reynolds outside the toilet (!) and hearing all about projects he’s got coming up for Horrific Tales publishing - in fact, I would have several juicy exclusives for you, only all I can remember now is grinning and thinking/saying ‘wow’ a lot. So Graeme, your secret is safe with me. Thanks to Guinness and whisky.
After that, more beer (always a good plan), Cate Gardner and Simon Bestwick, who holds the dubious honour of hating Tories even more than I do (and who should therefore probably go into hiding before the roundups begin in earnest) and Jethro Lentle, who was the finest company a drunken leftie horror writer could ask for, quite honestly.
I believe there was a pub at some point after that, and I have a distinct memory of sitting in my hotel bar at 1am with a neat Jameson’s in one hand and my autographed copy of The Last Bus in the other (not form Paul: What the hell were you doing with it?!?).
I will spare you the inevitable pounding head and grumbling belly of the following day, and merely say instead, thank you. Thank you to everyone that organised Edge Lit, everyone who attended, everyone who chatted to the nobody with the long hair and Keith Richard’s T-Shirt, especially the people I haven’t named here, because I am the world's worst person when it comes to names, especially once alcohol is added to the mix. Thank you for opening my eyes to the enormously open and friendly sense of community that exists in genre fiction. I genuinely feel proud that my own little scribblings for Ginger Nuts and my own attempts at fiction are parts, however humble and insignificant, of this wider, diverse, humongous, multifaceted whole.
Basically, I bloody love you guys, I do. Same again?
See you at FCon.
Paul M. Feeney
I was bloody knackered, I can tell you. That walk, with a ton of books banging against my legs was the toughest thing I've ever done. I might not have come back to the Quad had Steve Shaw not messaged me wanting to know where the book I'd promised him was (aargh, I knew I'd forgotten something, plus I still had to secure Ray Cluley's Probably Monsters).
I went back. And was glad I did. I spent much of the remaining time being entertained by James Bennett, Kit Power, Jethro Lentle (whom I'd bumped into earlier and persuaded to stay following a hunt for cigars and Irn Bru), meeting the awesome couple that is Cate Gardner and Simon Bestwick (author of The Faceless) for the first time. Speaking briefly to Graeme Reynolds, to Kevin Redfern (telling him how much I liked his reading from his story in the anthology Killer Bees From Outer Space), going to the very entertaining raffle where I derived at least as much of my amusement from sitting beside James Bennett and listening to the frequent and good-natured expletives (he was upset because he didn't win anything despite clearly wanting to win something) he directed towards the stage. Seeing John Connolly (one of my favourite writers and if you haven't read his Charlie Parker novels, you really should) and Sarah Pinborough (author of The Death House) bounce off each other was also pretty damn fine entertainment. Sitting and half-listening to Kit and Jethro talk politics (I was more interested in my food - hadn't eaten since that morning). Completely missing the departure of Mark West, James Everington and others (I was quite upset at that). Finally getting my hands on Probably Monsters, complete with an extra flash fiction short on a postcard. Cheers Ray!
And then it was off to the pub with various people from above, plus Dion Winter-Polak (editor of Sunny With A Chance Of Zombies) who I was meeting for the first time. I must admit, weariness was really setting in at this point and I could hardly focus on what people were saying. I also felt my usual maudlin, isolation set in (a result of anxiety disorders and lack of self-confidence, blah, blah) so I contented myself to simply allowing the chatter to wash over me while I drank diet cokes and snuck in the occasional cigar.
Eventually, I had to drag myself off to my hotel, completing half the journey with Chris Teague. What a long and - surprisingly - emotional day. I can't stress how much this kind of thing means to me, and why I think any writer worth their salt should get themselves along to a convention. The sense of welcome, of camaraderie, is second to none and it's essential on in order to put names to faces and personalities. I think this is the biggest part of it. All too often, you can get a deep sense of being isolated and completely on your own form solely online interaction and events like these, while rare, provide a chance for you to realise you are not alone, there are others who are just like you, who get you. As James Everington said last year, "These are my people!"
So massive thanks and kudos to Alex Davis for organising another stonking Edge-Lit. Judging by the status updates on FB, it proved very successful and popular. Here's to next year...
Despite the post-con blues setting in the next few days, despite overspending my budget, despite the fact that I'm a bit old for all this, I cannot wait for the next one (and next year, I'm going to try and structure my day more - I really should be getting in to some of these panels and workshops), and cannot wait to see these people again. Maybe this time I'll get a chance to have a longer conversation with some.
p.s. My apologies if I spoke to you and I've forgotten to mention it here, I truly have a brain of mush.