So I set off for Fantasycon 2016 in a state of both excitement and terror, excitement at finally being in the same room as some of the names in the genre I respect and admire, terror at the prospect of actually introducing myself to them.
I left on Friday morning with the more established horror writer Thomas Emson (Maneater, Skarlet, Zombie Britannica etc) and after a hellish eight hour journey, arrived in Scarborough just before 6pm. We dropped our bags at our hotel and then, somewhat hesitantly stepped across into the Grand Hotel where the convention was being held. Now I'm no stranger to events like this. I was a guest at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year. I've done more than my share of other festivals. But this was different. I was invited to those events. They were expecting me. I was heading to this one as a Fantasycon virgin and hadn't met anybody (except online where it doesn't count) before so anything resembling a cool exterior was precisely that.
I have to say that much of Friday evening felt peculiar. It wasn't the volunteers who passed me my badge and pack of goodies. They were great. It wasn't the organisation. As far as I could tell, things were happening where they were meant to happen at the time they were meant to start. It wasn't the hotel. If ever there was a hotel that suited a convention like this one, the Grand was it! But a lot of people had been there a few hours already. Most people were catching up with old friends. There were clusters of people who knew one another. There was lots of hugging. And then there was Thomas and I. He's a great bloke but we'd been in close company for about 16 hours at this point. We were running out of things to say. Towards the end of the evening I managed brief conversations with a couple of people but much alcohol had been consumed. You know what I mean! I returned to my room at 1am feeling a bit frustrated. Lying in bed I had to remind myself that actually, when I thought about it, the Edinburgh Book Festival had felt much the same on the first evening. It had turned out more than great in the end.
I woke Saturday with renewed vigour. I set off for a panel 'Is Reality the New Horror?' The discussion was thought provoking. There were legendary figures on the panel and the things they were saying demonstrated a knowledge of the genre that was a little intimidating. But there were people in the audience whose names I recognised. Some of those people had work in the same publications where my work has appeared. I took notes. I settled down. I almost asked a question.
I followed that panel with Adam Nevill's interview by Mark Morris. Two more big names in the genre. This was one of the highlights of the weekend for me, particularly when Adam talked about the mentally exhausting experience of writing and taking things to the limit. I felt much like this after completing 'FAN'. And here's the thing about Fantasycon, because soon after I was stood at a table trying to choose some books from the late Joel Lane's collection when Adam appeared next to me. We shared a few brief words on the subject. He was approachable and friendly. As the day rolled on I found that everybody else was approachable and friendly too. It was just a case of introducing myself. I sat in the bar until 3am hammering the Jack Daniel's. I haven't done that since...well, since Edinburgh.
A big thanks then to Stephen Bacon, Mark West, Gary McMahon, Gary Fry, Carrie and Neil Buchanan, Christopher Teague, Jim Mcleod, Georgia Duffy, Neil Williamson, Adrian Faulkner, Lynda E Rucker, Des Lewis, Simon Bestwick, Ray Cluley (and all of the other people I met who I did not manage to get the name of) for making Fantasycon such an incredible experience and sharing a little bit of their convention time with me. A big thanks to Andy Cox at TTA Press too, for accepting my stories and making me feel at least a little legitimate in the company listed above. That's important. There were others I'd have liked to say 'hello' to but that will have to wait for another year.
I left for home on Sunday after attending the Joe Hill interview, another entertaining, inspiring and entirely honest insight into what being a writer is all about. I spotted Joe moving around the festival venue at various moments during the weekend, just an ordinary bloke with a beard and a book under his arm.