Ginger Nuts of Horror
Ah, that difficult second Con.
This time, it will be different. I’ve gotten prepared, that’s the thing. I’ve downloaded onto my Google calendar all the events I want to make it to - even added the location into the title so I know which hotel I’m going to be in. I’ve got a Panel on Saturday afternoon, a reading Saturday evening, and another panel Sunday afternoon. I will be focussed. I will be disciplined. I will got to every launch I want to get to, every panel and interview I want to see. I will go to bed at a sensible time on Friday, and I will not drink on Saturday until I finish my reading at 11:30pm. Last year, I got overwhelmed and rolled over by the sheer scale of the event, star struck and bobbing like a cork on the tides of fate. Not this time. This time, FCon, I am wise to you. This time, I’m in the driving seat.
You can already see where this is going.
So I arrived on Friday afternoon, made it into the lobby of the Grand, and waited with the bags while Vix (who was insanely kind enough to swing by MK on the way past to pick me up) parked up.
I see Joe Hill, chatting with people in the lobby. Awesome, looking forward to seeing him. Adam Nevill, ditto. Then suddenly the Don is here, and it’s all about the bear hugs and face splitting grins and good to see yous. We chat about which hotel we’re in (he’s here, I’m there), who we’ve seen so far, and stand through a couple of those awkward silences when you’ve got so much you want to say that you don’t know how to start.
I may have briefly seen Graeme Reynolds and Charlotte Macdonald - already, the FCon haze is starting to set in, a fog creeping up around the edge of my memory, stealing chronology and replacing it with warm fuzzy feelings - like a badly written James Everington pastiche put together by a splatterpunk fiction writer who should know better. So, just to be crystal clear, entirely unlike James Everington.
I got to my room, I remember that. Unpacked. Went through the program. Tried to connect to the wi-fi (to save time, I’m going to ask you to remember and repeat that sentence every three minutes for the rest of the article). Repacked my bag, based on who I knew I was going to be seeing that day and wanted signatures from, and who else I needed to give books to, then for one of only a handful of times over the weekend, I send a brief message to the group chat on Facebook. Shower, T-Shirt change, quick swipe of the deodorant, and I’m out the door.
And that’s the end of the ‘coherent narrative’ portion of the post.
I’m being given a tour of the ground floor of The Grand by… someone. Andrew? We meet Simon Bestwick. He’s his usual charming, funny self, warm handshake, riffing on a new story idea. It’s surreal. I feel like a dodgy documentary camera - why else would he be talking to me?
Adan Nevill (!!!) waves, smiles. “Good to see you, Kit! We’ll chat soon, yeah?” “Yes, absolutely.” *blink, blink*
Andrew Freudenberg is a goddamn rock. He shows me around, pointing out the relevant rooms, including the dining room where we will later endure what Jim accurately described as a ‘school dinner buffet’. Chris Barnes! Neil Snowden! (‘I’ll get that book to you later! Good to see you!’ ‘You too!’). It’s already a blur, hopeless. But marvelous. At some point, someone inevitably offers to buy me a drink, and I inevitably say ‘yes’.
I’m in the central lounge, and it’s late. Jim is there, and Andrew, and others, we’re chatting, laughing, and suddenly Jasper Bark is there. Jasper fucking Bark. I hug him possibly just a little bit over-enthusiastically, but fuck it, he’s a legend and a friend and we’ve never actually met. He bares it with good grace, and we chat, and it’s amazing.
Later, I get to introduce Jasper to Jason Arnopp, author of the fantastic The Last Days Of Jack Sparks (review to follow). We met at Edge Lit, and knowing he’s written for Kerrang! In a previous life, and that Jasper had written for the NME at a similar time, I figured it’d be good times. I couldn’t have been righter. Joined by Andrew, Adam Millard, Jim, we sit out on the balcony and dodge seagull shit - or at least, most of us. I laugh until my sides hurt. Who took the damn photo? Sorry. Thank you.
This is the problem, of course. I basically didn’t have a bad moment, all weekend. But I also don’t get much sleep. I make it back to my room sometime around 2am on Friday, and I am so drunk and the window rattles and it wakes me up every time it does, but I’m too drunk to realise what is waking me up and then too tired and stupid to figure out what to do about it because I am drunk and tired and I keep getting woken up. Saturday, I think to sleep in the spare room part of my hotel room (!!), which helps with the not getting woken up thing, but on the flip side, it’s 3:30am and I’m drunker, so, you know, swings and roundabouts.
What else? Mark West! Lovely man - our ships pass in the night several times. Adam Nevill in conversation with Mark Morris, which I have to sneak out of before it finishes to go to my panel (a trick I’ll repeat the following day during the big Joe Hill interview - walking out of the room as Joe talked about his father’s bedtimes stories being my own personal low point of the entire event). Never mind, I’ll catch them both at their respective launches.
The panels! Bright Lights (pretty appropriate name, as I nurse a Saturday afternoon headache and sip Coke from a can and try and read my own handwriting so I don’t forget to name anyone I want to mention when I’m asked about potential future winners - names being my own personal nemesis, and again part of the reason I hate doing these kinds of articles - again, if I forgot you, I didn’t, I just forgot your name, sorry sorry sorry). I name Laura Mauro and VH Leslie and Damien Angelica Waters and Mark Morris (whose name fully gets a cheer), and Jasper Bark and Adam Millard, and most hilariously of all, James Everington - hilarious because he’s sitting next to me at the time and goes redder than I’d have thought possible. And I meant every bloody word, and if you don’t pick up Pauper's Grave you’re a fool, because it’s utterly brilliant.
And then someone from the audience mentions the Rabid Puppies, and it’s my turn to go red, a combination of my own idiocy at not having an answer ready for such a blindingly obvious question in the context of a panel about awards, and also because I realise I’m too tired, too not yet sober to avoid getting angry, and as the mic is passed in to my hand, a red mist descends, and I have no idea what I say except a clear memory of yelling ‘Fight the fascists!’ before the moderator politely takes the mic back out of my hand, so, yeah.
Oh, and there’s drinks with James, where we sit and have lunch and a pint and talk about all kinds of stuff, which was marvelous, and also nice because I guess it means I’m forgiven for the humiliation thing at the panel. This is also the only point at which I try and record an interview with anyone. I get about three minutes before my ham egg and chips arrives. Sorry, Jim. I suck at FCon podcasts.
As I said on Faceboook the day I got back - it’s the people. Always. Jasper, Andrew, Jason (already on first name terms, yeah, we was all hanging out, just chillin, y’know, it’s cool, man) and RJ Barker, and Scott K Andrews, and I’m on to the second or third pint and suddenly everything is Hilarious. There’s cats with arsenic on their ears, and Weld! Chips! Run! And Frazzles Xtra, as well as the legend of Keith Marmal, and oh my God, my face is aching just thinking about it. You had to be there, man.
And snuck in there, a moment of surreal synchronicity. Jason is wearing a Baby Chaos T-Shirt, and I compliment him on his excellent taste, and we get onto music of that era, which inevitably means The Wildhearts, and Jason worked at Kerrang!!! When they smashed up the office but IT GETS BETTER because then I tell Jason how I bought Earth Vs. The Wildhearts on cassette because of the 5 K review, which was a big fucking deal due to how little money I had, and… well, you guessed, probably, because unlike me, you’re not drunk and sleep deprived, but as I quote the review at him, he tells me he wrote it.
I may never get over that. Any of it.
More drinks! Moving to lemonade because Reading. READING! Jim Webster being charming and beautifully rich deep voiced, reading character studies, while I skip through my story wondering how the hell I am going to say these chicken names and fit the whole thing in 15 minutes, the roaring and pounding of blood in my ears, and then WOOOOOOOOOOSH! And I’m GONE, words falling out in a blur, and I hear laughs, chuckles, which slowly fade as I hit the last two pages, and I read out the last sentence just as the clock ticks over to 11:30, and I look up at a bunch of stricken faces, and I have to tell you, false modesty aside, that felt good! Thank you, all of you, for coming out for my madness, yet again. It’s all for you.
What else? Shit, everything. Missing Joe Hill again and again, finally getting Vix to grab him to sign my hardback of The Fireman while I am starting my panel on movies and their influence and trying not to just say the word Robocop, like, a million times.
Robocop! The lovely, wonderful Neil Snowden, who broke the ice with me my first ever Con, EdgeLit, a guy I could chat with for hours and saw for barely five minutes, presses into my hand a huge hardback about the making of Robocop, and I barely have time to thank this prince of a man before we’re swept in different directions. Sir, next con, I’m making some time, and it’s my round. Thank you.
Oh, the movie panel - Charlotte! Charlotte Bond, Gingernuts contributor, brilliant speaker, lovely woman. So good to finally meet and chat. Rob Shearman! Like Mark Morris, Mark West, Adam Nevill, a gent amongst gents, so happy to chat, so open, so friendly, down to earth. It’s so odd, part of me is enjoying the conversation, while deep in my fanboy brain a shrill voice insists on yelling ‘ROB SHERMAN! FUCKING ROB SHERMAN!’ over and over again, which, distracting, but I do my best. Versions of this will happen throughout the weekend - at Adam Nevill’s signing, when Stephen Volk fully HUGS ME as we pass at a different signing (‘STEPHEN VOLK!!!!’), and on and on. It’s nuts.
I mean, how long have you got? VH Leslie is signing my paperback of Bodies of Water for my wife (again, review to follow, but bloody amazing book) and she’s complimenting me on my reading from LAST year, and I get just a touch lightheaded.
That launch was ludicrous, by the way, in terms of volume of talent per square inch - VH Leslie, Laura Mauro, Adam Millard, James Everington Jasper Bark, Ray Cluley, Simon Kurt Unsworth, AK Benedict, Phil ‘freakishly tall’ Sloman, Adrian Tchaikovsky, on and on and on... even the seagull was stood at the window, yelling, like ‘fucking hell!’.
Regrets? Fuck yeah. Hardly spoke to Stephen Volk, Adam Nevill, Mark West, Neill Snowden, Mark Morris, Laura Mauro (though we did finally manage a brief chat, which was lovely), Graeme Reynolds, Charlotte Macdonald, so many more. Missed some launches, the photographic evidence of which on Facebook has caused me physical pain. Seriously, you guys. Gutted. Must do better. Sorry.
But isn’t that the way? Too much going on, too little time. As I saw Mark Morris observe on Facebook after the fact, to get to everyone you wanted to, for as long as you wanted, you’d need a month. Truthfully, it still wouldn't be enough.
And in a far more important way, it doesn’t matter a damn. What matters is the tribe, yeah, okay, MY tribe - a tribe that I now feel a part of, as surely as my metal tribe or my Who tribe - met, celebrated, revelled. Hands were shaken, glasses raised. Those passed were remembered. The future was discussed, with optimism and expectation. And in the ever living, ever loving present, we burned long into the nighttime, in defiance of the dark.
I bloody love you guys. My cup runneth over.