Oh, man, what a fun con, seriously. I had a great time. It didn’t start out that way, but it certainly ended up that way.
Why did it not start that way? Because of a train derailment. I was supposed to travel from London Euston to Chester, and from there catch a train to Prestatyn, where the con was being held. Yeah. Nothing was going out of Euston on Friday, so instead of my happy little three-and-a-half-hour or so trip I ended up spending seven and a half hours either standing in crowded train aisles or perched on the edge of a seat (my suitcase took up most of it). Or just standing around in the freezing cold; the train out of Derby I was told to take was so full some of us had to wait an hour for the next one.
But I finally arrived, and after some confusion found where I was supposed to check in (which I did, along with the female Holley from Red Dwarf, who was so nice. Then I went back to get my key–they had to cut me a new one–who did I find standing there but the male Holley, who was also very friendly and nice and we had a lovely little chat. So I met both Holleys in my first half hour there, which was pretty cool).
I don’t know what it is about me and cons, but I always seem to end up rooming with these gorgeous curvy brunette sex goddesses. First, of course, there is my wonderful friend Caitlin Kittredge, with whom I room because we plan it that way. But Caitlin wasn’t at this one (and I missed her!) and SFX was handling my accomodation, so they had me rooming with Maria Dahvana Headley, who–guess what?–is a gorgeous curvy brunette sex goddess. Seriously, the woman could stop traffic. See how stunning she looks on her website? Doesn’t even come close.
Anyway. The con was held at a Pontins, which for those unaware is a “holiday camp.” It looks like a gulag with exclamation points. But our “chalet”–actually just a pretty standard little one-bedroom apartment in a block of them–was clean, which was more than I expected, and the electric radiators worked fairly well, although there wasn’t one in the bathroom. And the bathroom door wouldn’t stay closed. And the smoke alarms beeped randomly and irritatingly, at least until Maria, um, fixed them.
We did not have a mirror in the whole place.
I ended up staying in the room Friday night–I didn’t know anyone there–and doing some work. Or, well, I was supposed to be working but I ended up watching The Untouchables. Oh, and standing up every fifteen minutes or so to lean over the radiator and warm up.
Saturday was the Big Day. Of course, I totally forgot about the shiny red jeans I bought specifically for that con, so they languished in my suitcase, dammit. And it was COLD. So very, very cold. It also rained. And the “chalet” was so very far away from the main building.
My first panel was “What is Urban Fantasy?” And dude. Most cons I go to have maybe a hundred, hundred and fifty people at each panel. This one (and the later one)? In a huge room. A huge full room. I saw someone estimate the capacity at a thousand, but I think it was probably closer to half of that; then again, I wouldn’t know, because the room was dark and we had lights aimed right at us so I couldn’t see the audience (that’s important later; I couldn’t see beyond the front row).
So “What is Urban Fantasy?” was me, Paul Cornell, Ben Aaronovitch, Benedict Jacka, and Sam Stone. And it was awesome. A really interesting, in-depth look at the genre, and not one person suggested it was just chicks in leather fucking vampires. We talked about the nature of monsters and the darkness inside all of us and whether UF is sort of like horror where the protagonist lives (I LOVED that definition, as you can probably guess). Just such a cool panel, and so much fun to be a part of. I felt a little weird being the only American there, but it didn’t seem to matter at all. (There’s a picture of that panel on the Orbit blog.)
Next I signed books at the Forbidden Planet booth (Forbidden Planet is a huge UK SFF bookstore chain) with Maria. We had a great time, and she fixed my lipstick. Somewhere there should be a picture of us together but I don’t know where or if it’s up yet. Unfortunately–or fortunately, I’m not sure which–FP ran out of our books in the first 15 minutes or so. I’m hoping that’s a good sign but for all I know they only had five copies of each, so who knows. And what matters is that it was fun; Maria and I had some laughs, we got to meet some great readers, and it was just cool all around.
Then we had the “Ready Steady Flash!” panel. Okay. This was basically, the moderator–Lee from Angry Robot Books, what a cool guy–gave us a topic and we had five minutes to write a flash story about it. I have never written flash fiction before, but figured hey, why not? And it meant I got to be at a table with Juliet E. McKenna, Paul Cornell (again, and let me tell you he is awesome), and Tony Lee. One of these things (read: me) is not like the others…
(My flash pieces and the rest of the con under the cut)
Anyway. Our first topic was “The Old Gods,” and here is what I wrote:
The old gods. Covered in blood, covered in darkness. Not the gods people knew about, not Odin with his ravens or Hecate with her dogs, but the ones even older than that. They had no names. They were emotion and power; they were day and night. They were every feeling humanity struggled to give a name, back when small dark beings invented fire, back when they first noticed they had feelings at all.
And they were hungry.
Lenore felt them, following her. Every step she took, everything she did, they lurked behind her, waiting with hungry teeth and sharp talons. Waiting to eat her alive.
Especially when she began planning the murder.
Maybe murder wasn’t the best way to deal with it. Maybe she could have moved on. But the more she thought about it—about him, and what he’d done to her, about what he’d probably do again—the more she realized that he had to die, that the only way to make herself feel better was to rid the earth of him entirely.
So she planned. She looked online—everything could be found online, couldn’t it?—and found a website from some very small country with too many vowels in the name where she could buy the poison.
(Yes, I know it really should have been “too many consonants in the name,” but I was panicking because we only had fifteen seconds left.)
Anyway. Juliet McKenna won that round. She said she’s going to blog her stories, too; Tony Lee has already blogged his, and he won the next round with an awesome and hilarious poem.
The topic for that round was “Zombies and Prestatyn.” I was a bit zombied out, for secret reasons, so had a tough time with that one. Here’s what I wrote:
They came out of the ocean. They came from the graveyards, clawing their way out of the earth, breaking through old stone floors and out of gullies.
The magic powering them glowed, ran through their bodies in silvery veins of energy. Energy from the living, coalesced and formed into something capable of bringing the dead back to life. They didn’t eat brains. They ate life. They ate souls.
They turned the town of Prestatyn into a ghost town—a zombie town—in less than a day, leaving energy-drained corpses behind them as they sucked every last bit of life out of everyone they found like soda through a straw.
Prestatyn was quarantined by the end of the day. It didn’t help. How do you fight against something that needs only to touch you to kill you, something whose very presence drains your soul?
You don’t. Which is why it only took a week. Only a week for humanity to fall, leaving a few of the living to starve in caves and holes, until they were gone forever.
Tony won that round handily; like I said, the poem was hilarious.
The audience got to select the final topic, and someone suggested “Unicorn Sandwich.” Lucky for me, an idea immediately popped into my head, and I figured what the hell, so…
Fantasy creatures threw the wildest parties. In the corner stood a couple of centaurs comparing muscles. Over by the bar she noticed a gaggle of elves, looking down their noses at everyone and being snide whenever someone tried to speak to them.
But she had her eye on the unicorns, their shimmering manes, their strong bodies. They looked like they could show a girl a good time, and she’d had just enough beer at that point to feel brave enough to go over and talk to them. Hey, if it was good enough for Catherine the Great… Well, it really wasn’t but it was in legend, and that was enough for her.
She picked the most likely-looking two and wandered over to them, making sure to swing her hips and stick out her chest so they’d know exactly what she was after. She felt their dark gazes on her as she crossed the room.
“Hey” she said, when she got close enough to reach out and touch them. “I’m kind of hungry.”
Their eyebrows—unicorns have eyebrows, they do—rose. “Oh?” One of them responded. “What would you like to eat, then?”
She grinned. “A sandwich. I’d like a unicorn sandwich, please.”
“We can definitely do that,” said the taller of the two, and the three of them left together. She was definitely going to be full tonight.
I’m pleased to say I won that round. In fact, the response was quite enthusiastic, which was nice, to the point that for the rest of the day and until I boarded the train home random people would call out, “Hey! Unicorn sandwich!” at me. So, you know, I guess I made an impression (Paul Cornell has informed me on Twitter that he wants to see the story expanded to full-length, but I’m not sure I can do a full-on bestiality menage scene, to be honest. Incestuous cannibals and ghost whores described as “Chinese fingertraps,” sure, but two-horses-and-a-girl? Hmm. Would that be m/f/m or u/f/u?).
Anyway, moving on. I spent the afternoon chatting with a lovely actress and reader in the pub, which was awesome, although everyone raised their eyebrows at me when I just asked for a Sprite (ulcer=no alcohol allowed). Seriously, I met the coolest people at this show; everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic and it was just the loveliest atmosphere.
With one exception, actually, and I guess now is a good time to mention it.
I noticed several people walking around on stilts; very cool costumes, actually, and that’s not the problem. Not entirely. The problem was that the stilt-walkers came in two varieties: scantily clad ladies, and fully clothed men.
They’d been hired by SFX to, well, wander around and entertain and amuse. Fine. But, um, why were only the ladies scantily clad? Why, at the disco later, were the women on stage wearing bikinis with neon lights on their breasts and “front bottoms,” but the lone man who danced onstage for a few songs was wearing some sort of enormous neon robot costume which covered him from head to toe in bulky fabric and huge shoulder pads?
In other words, why did the con choose to cater exclusively to the sexual tastes of straight men, and completely ignore those of straight women and gay men? There were plenty of straight women and gay men at the show, it’s not like we weren’t there. But SFX…well, they sort of acted like we might as well not have been, when they decided to present sexual fantasies/ogling material only to straight men and no one else (and yes, I know, lesbians. But because I seriously doubt the barely-dressed ladies were provided with lesbians in mind, lesbians too became ignored, because they’re women and the con’s official policy appears to be “Women are just objects of lust for men.”)
The worst thing was that I was informed by a lovely lady who (I believe) works for Orbit, that at my Urban Fantasy panel, the con staffer (NOT the panel’s moderator, let me be very clear; this was someone else who stood on the side with a microphone to offer to those with questions) completely ignored the women in the audience with raised hands and only allowed men the mic to ask their questions.
That is just not cool. At all.
I admit I wondered why no women asked questions at that panel. I guess now I know why, and I find it very upsetting. Like I said, I couldn’t see the audience beyond the first row because of the lights, so had no idea that was happening; I wish I had known.
But. That aside–and it is a big issue–it was a great convention, so here’s hoping next year SFX remembers that women attend their convention, too, and we like eye candy just as much as straight men and we deserve not to feel ignored, left out, or objectified. See, when there’s someone for everyone to ogle, no one is left out. When there are only people for men to ogle, then by default straight male sexuality becomes the only valid one, and all women become nothing more than eye candy.
Moving past that unpleasantness–and this is getting very long, I know–we get to Saturday night, and the Orbit party, which was a blast. Maria was there, with China Meiville, who is very cool to talk to. I chatted with Adrian Tchaikovsky a little bit and a whole bunch of other writers and awesome Orbit editors and staffers, including a publicity rep from Gollancz who was just the coolest, sweetest guy ever. Undoubtedly the highlight for me was getting to hang out with Mark Buckingham (and his lovely wife) a bit–he’s an amazing comic artist–and tell him that his Bigby in FABLES (written by my delightful Twitter pal Bill Willingham) was one of the inspirations for Terrible’s appearance.
My publicist friend, China, and Maria convinced me to go to the disco thing happening. I did not dance. But I did get to meet and chat with more cool people, including a writer named Tom Pollock whose upcoming novel sounds awesome and who I made promise to send me an ARC.
I headed back to the “chalet” around two-thirty, I think, and Maria came back half an hour or so later, and we chit-chatted until about three-thirty. Like a slumber party. I even wore the pink footie pajamas my MIL gave me as a gag Christmas gift, but man did they come in handy! Especially when we woke up in the morning to realize we had no electricity and thus no heat.
Luckily my trip home was uneventful; there were no trains leaving Prestatyn and I was going to have to wait in a huge line for a bus, but luckily a group of con-goers asked me if I’d like to share a cab into Chester with them, which I gratefully accepted. I cannot thank them enough for that.
I sailed home, playing online and working, and made it back by dinnertime (I was starving, btw; there wasn’t much available as far as food went at the show, so I ate nothing the entire weekend but three chocolate croissants and a handful of Pringles).
It was an amazing, wonderful, totally fun weekend, it really was. I enjoyed it immensely. And if you were there and are now visiting here, thank you so much for being so friendly, warm, and welcoming.