As my friend Saxon Bullock says, always open on a song. This played in my head for four straight days in Brighton and Hugh Laurie in spats became my unofficial spirit animal. That combination of jovial, charming and slightly intense served me very well during my Redcoat week.
The problem is, conventions are impossible to write about. They’re the ultimate embodiment of the ‘come in alone’ response to media, with everyone’s experiences being different, often contradictory to, but never less valid than, everyone else’s.
World Fantasycon 2013 is a perfect example of this. Go take a look at the numerous blogs that have been published about the con and you’ll see that first hand. From parades of photos of the same people who took photos together last year to detailed breakdowns of why the con’s programming was great/awful/indifferent/delete as applicable, there’s two things these blogs all agree on; their authors were present.
So was I. Here’s my take on it, including special guest starts Hugh Laurie, Jan Hammer, Jed Bartlet and Urdnot Wrex.
One of my very first experiences on arrival is seeing someone asking a female colleague of mine a question. She answers him and he repeats the question. She answers him again, slightly differently, and he repeats the question. She answers him a third time, and he repeats the question. It’s like she’s speaking Teflon.
She catches my eye and introduces me, the question is asked a fourth time and this time, between the two of us, it sticks. After he’s gone I ask how many times she has to repeat her answers in any given conversation. The average is three
I am wearing my jacket for the first time. It’s red and dapper and magnificent. It’s also completely huge, to the point where it’s slightly baggy even on me and I am by far the broadest shouldered, largest Redcoat. Several of my colleagues look like they’re wearing tents. One, Ewa, looks like she’s just stepped out of a particularly great 1980s cyberpunk fashion shoot. We all roll the sleeves up. The concept of Brighton Vice is born and this plays in my head for five straight days.
I’m working the reading rooms. It’s a good job, make sure the authors are in place, give them a five minute wrap up signal and hang around if you’re interested. I am, as Guy Adams is reading. Guy is an old friend, a fiercely talented author and a former guide with the same ghost tour my Dad works for. He’s also a former customer, and once memorably pursued an unpleasant card gaming customer out of the store yelling ‘EXCHANGE THOSE CARDS FOR PUBERTY!’
He’s reading a Holmes story and it’s absolutely brilliant. Watson is invited out for dinner by Holmes and a case unfolds across the three courses. It’s smart and funny, a rigidly paced, beautifully designed engine of a story and I almost lose track of time.
But, the 5 minute warning has to be given, and so it is and… Guy keeps going.
They’re not quite at dessert.
He brings the story in like a Russian gymnast, landing perfectly, precisely on time and with a killer final line. Then looks at me, chuckles and says ‘Blimey that was close.’ Doesn’t matter. It’s an amazing piece and he nailed it.
Standing guard at the back of the main hall, during the mass signing, my brain full of bad wiring from earlier. There was a seating plan for the signing but, much like no plan survives contact with the enemy, no seating plan survives contact with authors. So we’ve got people sitting with their mates, sitting with people the same nationality, or who have the same agent, or the same publishing company. The crowd find their way to who they need, and I stand watch over crates of books and try very hard to not be angry about what I saw earlier today.
Terry Pratchett did a one off panel for the con, and Andrew, Pixie and I were the three redcoats asked to help security get him in and out of the building. It was, make no mistake, an honour. My own emotional connection to Pratchett’s work has never been especially high but his intelligence and talent, the endless years he’s put into popularizing and legitimizing multiple genres of fiction, can’t be overstated. He’s a titan. Without him, the current idea of Geek as cultural default, would be a good five years less developed than it is.
But he’s dying and there’s no getting around that and we saw it up close. He’s still him, still vital, still fiercely clever but he’s getting further away. I saw that up close as we walked him in, and out of the con. He’s still working and has a great team of people around him but seeing him as reduced as he is was difficult.
Seeing people choosing not to notice it was worse. On the way out of the con, someone came up and asked for a picture. We said no as he was very tired and had to leave and she smiled, nodded and said ‘Oh I’ll just take it surreptitiously then.’
Just a little photo.
Earlier we’d stood at the back of the con hall waiting for his panel to start. A crowd had formed about twenty feet away, all taking pictures, no one approaching him.
Just a little photo. Nothing much. Don’t engage, don’t ask, just take the shot from a distance.
I left. I left and I came apart at the seams for a minute or two. Lou Morgan, the head Redcoat, put me back together and apologized but she had nothing to apologize for. I got to help get one of the greatest genre writers of the last thirty years in and out of the building. I got to help a man whose work helped me and others. That’s something I cherish, even under the ghoulish elements of the audience, even under the organizational snafus that the redcoats had to both deal with and bear the brunt of.
No, the problem was embodied by a moment I didn’t see. The panel was hijacked by someone who gave Pratchett a Grand Master award from the European Science Fiction Association. He did this because they’d decided Pratchett needed the award ‘before he died’. His words.
Just a little photo. Just a little plaque. You know, before…
Back in the hall, I am not in the best of moods as I watch people get books signed, it seems, by the yard. I wonder darkly how many are actually being read, how many are treasured possessions and how much of this is just increasing the value of an investment. I’m thirsty, I’m hungry, I’m grumpy. I am, as a friend of mine would say, embracing my Inner Krogan.
On Tuchanka, Slam Poetry involves actual Slamming. Of Rocks. Into Other Poets.
I’m watching a pink book crate wheel up to me. The switch flips, I talk, I’m charming, I’m professional and I can feel every cog turn as I do it. You see, I’m at the back of the hall guarding these crates because we can’t have them on the aisles. Authors can sit where they like but some of these crates and cases are so big it would get ugly. Like, ‘Ben Hur, with sharpened copies of Atlas Shrugged on the hubcaps levels of ugly’. So I guard the book crates and chat to the lady with the pink one. Lucy Coats is completely friendly, completely grateful for me being there and hugely fun to talk to. Slowly, I feel better. Ashley, a Pseudopod listener asks me to sign her Kindle (I’m on a Kindle! That’s got my book on it! That’s weird and cool!), Joan De La Haye and friends bring me an emergency baklava transfusion and Andrew, Lou, Ewa, Naz and I help bring the event into land. It’s a bit like crawling from the wreckage, but a win’s a win.
I’m late. Lou’s doing a reading and she asked me to introduce her. Part of me, the part that sees fat but not muscle, failure but never success tells me it’s because she knows I had a bad day and wants to throw me a bone. The rest of me politely tells it to get fucked. She asked me because she’s a friend, and I used to be her editor, and it’s awesome and I’m late.
But I have something many people in this hotel do not; a red coat, and the strange architectural wisdoms that come with it. Or, to put it another way, I know where the staff lifts are and they come out right by the reading rooms.
Where I should have been.
Five minutes ago.
Because I’m late.
The lift doors open, I walk out and Martel, who’s running the reading rooms, looks at me and nods and…something odd happens.
This plays in my head.
The frustration of the last day or so stills and lowers and I know exactly what needs to happen next.
I am going to run for re election. And win.
I open the door, walk in, start talking as I move. It’s cheap theater but Mick Foley never met a cheap pop he didn’t love. I go up to the stage, explain how I was the editor of Hub and what was bad, and good about that and freelancer life. The good, I say, was most definitely in giving authors like Lou, and Joan De La Haye and Danie Ware, a turn in the spotlight. I’m articulate and funny and I make people smile and I never, ever hesitate or ‘umm’ once.
I finish, take the red jacket off, sit down and watch as one of my dearest friends reads one of the best short stories I’ve heard all year.
I sit and watch Joan De La Haye nail a reading from Oasis, and marvel that she’s been able to find something genuinely new to say about zombies.
I have a long, two part conversation with Saxon Bullock in which we fill each other in on the various things that have happened in our lives over the last two years, the scars they’ve left and what we’ve learned. Also about Star Wars. And bookshops. And writing.
Applauding my friend Nad, who’s Halloween costume (Corpse Bride meets ’50s bopper complete with full facial make up) blows every other costume on Halloween out of the water.
I get the most polite trash talk ever from an American author. I walk her to her reading and as we chat, she mentions she lives in the Bay Area. I mention I lived in Fremont in 2012 and she says ‘Never mind dear, I’m sure you had fun when you got to the Bay Area.’
I narrowly miss a party and, reveling in my Manx ability to walk along Brighton seafront in a gale and not die, refuse to let myself go back to the hotel room. Instead, I go find a party and, in short order, run into Jayson Utz and Nina Niskanen, both Pseudopod fans. I hang out with them, and spend three very happy hours chatting in the international language of geek.
On Sunday we launch Tales of Eve, the new Fox Spirit anthology. I suddenly find myself on the opposite side of tables I’ve been helping run all week. I’m not there as a Redcoat, I’m there as an author.
And people are coming to see me, and the other authors. Several of them are clearly people we don’t know! And they’re giving us money for books!
For close to an hour, we sign books. We shift 27 copies of the anthology, including several author ones. I sign each one with ‘THANK YOU’ and try not to look incredulous.
It’s official. I’m an author now. Which means I maybe need a bibliography…
Conventions are impossible to write about. They’re the ultimate embodiment of the ‘come in alone’ response to media, with everyone’s experiences being different, often contradictory to, but never less valid than, everyone else’s.
World Fantasycon 2013 was a perfect example of that and if you want very different perspectives on the convention, check any of the numerous other reports. I’d recommend starting with ALittleBriton not only because her work’s great, it is, but because she’s done a couple of really good round ups of other posts.
For me though, these are the moments, and the people, who mattered.
. So to Lou, Andrew, Ewa, Naz, Jen, Boo, Joely, Joan, Vinny, Den, Lucy, Jayson, Nina, Ashley, Mhairi, KT, Moses, Saxon, Emma, James, Guy, Paul , Sullivan and friends, Anne, the unknown techie who I officially became bros with and all the others, thank you. My red coat is handed in, and I’m back in civilian life.
Until next year….