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My Fantasycon 2014 Experience

I’m back from my first Fantasycon in York which started out on Friday with some Austin Powers style car parking. I was staying at a very central Bed and Breakfast, which was lovely, and the owners kindly gave me a parking permit for the weekend. Brilliant, I thought. I could leave my car all weekend, and not have to worry about trying to move it or pay for parking. The only problem was the space was on the main road, squeezed between a car, a tree and a conveniently placed post. So while dodging traffic and waiting for the lights to change and the road to be clear, I tried several times to get into the space. Finally, I managed to reverse in, nearly ran someone over on the pavement and then preceded to reverse back and forth about twenty times until I wasn’t on the road and no wheels were touching the pavement section. I’ve seen people get tickets for less in the past from enthusiastic traffic wardens.

Thankfully the weekend picked up after that as I met up at the pub for lunch with a fairly healthy contingent of TeamMushens, fellow authors who also have the same agent as me, Juliet Mushens. The posse included Niel Bushnell, Andrew Reid, Peter Newman, Den Patrick, Jen Williams, Richard Kellum and the Grand Dame herself was also there. Being a writer can be a fairly lonely job, as it usually involves a lot of sitting quietly in a room by yourself, staring at a screen and listening to the voices in your head. Getting to meet up with fellow writers who understand all of the challenges, the angst, the editing, the self-loathing, the rewrites, is actually a very rewarding experience. Meeting up with fellow TeamMushens people is a privilege as they’re all remarkable and very talented people. All of us write in the the SFF genre space, but despite common interests and hobbies we couldn’t be more different, which I find fascinating.

Finding and connecting with your tribe is much easier now than it was in my youth, thanks mostly to the internet, but it is still not the same as meeting up in person. Unfortunately I don’t get to see this group of friends more than once or twice a year as we’re all spread out across the UK, so it’s always a genuine pleasure to see them and spend time together.

The rest of Friday was taken up with running from one panel to the next, including one about Awards and their value to a writer. I also sat on a panel about podcasting which seemed to go fairly well. After that I went to one of the bars in the hotel where karaoke had been set up. Niel and I grabbed a quick fast food dinner on the hoof, then raced back to watch some of our fellow writers own the microphone. Andrew’s duet with Juliet was a highlight as well as her solo later on. Sadly I’d wandered off to the other bar so didn’t see Pete Newman fulfil his side of a bet, but I hear it went very well. After a few more drinks and some Cards Against Humanity where Jen Williams won, I called it a night.

Saturday began with a panel about Page to Screen where people including one of the Guests of Honour, Toby Whithouse, spoke about pitching, adaptations, working in TV and film. One interesting thing Toby mentioned was that he used to be an actor and now whenever he writes anything, he always give every character a full name, first and last. This is to avoid what often happens such as Policeman3 or Thug2. It also ties in nicely to something I mentioned on the podcast panel. One question from the audience was to name our favourite podcast, and mine is The Tobolowsky Files (also on iTunes), where character actor Stephen Tobolowsky talks about life, love and the entertainment business and he has a theory that you can tell the value of a part by the name of the character. A  job title is low on the totem pole, like Judge, then you get titles and numbers Doctor3, then it goes up to just a single name and right up to a part with both names. The name convention indicates the number of lines and how important the part will be. Toby was very aware of this having been an actor for years, so he wanted to ensure that every actor who had a part in any of his shows would have two names so it looked better on their CV. He also tried to ensure that if they had even one line that it was a joke, so that it mattered.

The panel that followed, The Reign of the Geek, was very interesting and as with many situations, it’s while I’m thinking about it later that it affects me. It was something Joanne Harris said about being an outsider that really struck a chord with me, and I’ll come back to it in another post soon once I’ve found the right words.

Jen Williams and I then attended a panel with Charlaine Harris in conversation and it was fantastic. She’s a fascinating woman and had a lot of wisdom to share about her experiences with writing novels and seeing her work adapted for television.

I find going to several panels in a row can be exhausting, so after that I took a bit of a break and left the hotel, had some lunch in a quiet place, then came back for a panel on Grimdark, and how it has evolved from a joke to an actual label people have started using for a particular type of fantasy novel.

After more panels I found time to sit and chat to some old friends who had come to their first Fantasycon. Then there was the brilliant and funny live edition of Tea and Jeopardy, with Emma Newman and Pete Newman in costume as her surly and dodgy butler, Latimer. He stayed in character throughout and was very funny indeed!

After a quick curry with Niel and James Oswald I  caught up with some other people from TeamMushens including Laura Lam, Syd Moore and lots of other friends I don’t get to see very often. I went to the very well attended Super Relaxed Fantasy Club where there were four readings and James Barclay interviewed Simon Spanton.

I must mention that the army of volunteer redcoats did a great job of coordinating everything at the convention and it wouldn’t have run as smoothly without them giving up their time.

By the time I got down to the party on Saturday night it was in full swing and it had been a long day. Somehow I managed to stay awake and was sat chatting to people when they closed the bar and turned on the lights indicating that the party was officially over.

I had to head back home first thing on Sunday morning so I said goodbye to everyone that night and I felt quite sad at the thought of not seeing them again until next year. We’ll talk online via social media and email each other, but it’s not the same. So I’ve found myself looking ahead to conventions next year already and wondering when I’ll run into them.

Fantasycon2014 was a lot of fun, for the social side as much as the panels. It was also exhausting but thankfully I didn’t have too far to travel compared to some. York is a fantastic city and for those who had time to spare they explored some of the remarkable sites, went on a Ghost Walk, popped into the famous Betty’s tea room, explored the cathedral and wandered around the Shambles.

So for now, it’s back to the writing and the editing on book 2, and I’m looking forward to attending at least a couple of conventions next year and the build up to the launch of book 1, Battlemage.

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Summer Holiday

In a few days I’ll be off on my annual summer holiday for a much needed week of rest and relaxation in the sun. It will give me a chance to catch up on my reading (see previous for my list of books I’m taking away), my sleep and to recharge the batteries because when I get back it’s going to get very busy for a while.

In August I will be attending the second annual Nine Worlds event. I’ve posted about it before and after hearing such great things about it from last year I’m really looking forward to it this year. Not because of my small role in helping to organise a small part of it (the podcast track which I’ve running with a friend), but because of the many other tracks that are running at the event and the variety. Conventions are typically quite linear, organised around a particular TV show, or film, and to be fair sometimes there are cross TV show conventions, where a few guests from two or three shows.

Book conventions often bring together authors from related genres and sometimes there’s a tangentially connected guest from left field, but by necessity really events are quite focused so people know what they’re getting when they buy a ticket. Nine Worlds is the first convention of its kind that I’ve seen in the UK. One that has a track for books, and you can spend all weekend at that one, but if you want to jump over here for a few hours and do something else you can. So I’m going to jumping between monitoring the podcasting track, attending panels on the book track, dipping in and out of the games track, and possibly the gaming area, browsing the dealer room and probably dropping in on a few other panels here and there. I’m also appearing on a couple of panels, one for the podcast track and one for the book track, but I’ll post more info closer to the time.

Another reason I’m excited about the convention is because I don’t get down to London very often, maybe once or twice a year, and it will give me a chance to meet up with a lot of convention friends I only see when I’m down there. I spend a fair amount of time talking to them online via social media and email, but it really isn’t the same. So I’m really looking forward to sitting down and chatting over a pint or two, and meeting up in person with some new people I’ve chatted to online for the first time.There are too many to name individually, but I’m sure there will be photographic evidence and lots of blog posts after the fact.

So at Nine Worlds there will be copious drinking, hopefully a few games of Cards Against Humanity and I’m taking my Magic cards and might get to battle a few people with those, although I am incredibly rusty so it will take me a while to get back into the swing of things. When I say rusty I’m not being modest, I mean it. The last time I played Magic was when it first came out, maybe ten or twelve years ago, so I definitely need to practice a bit. Overall I think it’s going to be a cracking weekend but utterly exhausting.

Thankfully it’s nearly a month until the next convention, Fantasycon in York, so I will have plenty of time to recover. I’m not running anything at that event, so it should be a bit more relaxing, but no doubt there will be more drinking, meet-ups, panels and organised chaos.

After that it’s all quiet for a while, so I’ll be head down grafting away on book 2, then making a start on book 3. As tiring as the events will be they’re actually really good for invigorating me, and they make me want to get back to my own writing. I think it has sometimes to do with being around so many other creative people. Even though I could away exhausted it’s a good thing. So, I’m off soon, have a good summer holiday and I’ll probably see some of you at Nine Worlds next month.


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Halloween Short Story

As part of a group effort for Halloween, myself and several other authors who are represented by Juliet Mushens, decided to post some short flash fiction horror or spooky stories to tie in with the forthcoming World Fantasy Convention and Halloween. More info over at Andrew Reid’s blog here.

In the meantime, below is my short story.

The Burden of Sin

+++++“I want to thank you for letting me share your shelter. It was kind of you. It’s hard to know who to trust, especially these days. My name’s Mike, by the way.”
+++++The family said nothing, just stared at him, and Mike held up both hands to show they were empty. They continued to say nothing, which he took as a good sign. Mike closed his eyes and listened.
+++++Silence. Endless silence in all directions. So much it made his ears ring and his head echo like a cathedral bell. The lack of sound filled him to bursting.
+++++Would you folks like to hear my story?” he asked, and the wife’s right hand fluttered. He took it as a yes. “I’m nearly forty. Practically ancient, right?” he laughed and ran a hand across the grey bristles on his face. Shaving wasn’t important these days. He desperately needed a shower though. They all stank.
+++++“You folks don’t look twenty five. Course I’m old enough to remember what life was like before. I wasn’t much older than you are now when it happened.”
+++++Mike cleared his throat and took a sip of water from his canteen. His audience waited.
+++++“My story really starts when I was a teenager. Me and Mary, we met in high school, when she was just seventeen. We were inseparable. I’d borrow my dad’s car and we’d drive out to this little lake and…” Mike trailed off. The parents looked uncomfortable and he guessed the children were already bored.
+++++“We’d do what young folks do. But after, we’d talk. We’d talk for hours, sometimes until the sun came up. Back then it was still quiet. This was long before the Internet and mobile phones.
+++++“Years passed and me and Mary got married, got jobs and everything around us started to change. Life was noisy and people were always busy, rushing here and there, constantly talking and texting. There was an endless stream of words and information, all day and night. It’s a shame so much of it meant so little.” Mike laughed and shook his head.
+++++“I know how that must sound, given what we’ve all lost, but it’s the cold hard truth. And these days that’s what people value most of all. Of course me and Mary weren’t immune. Somewhere down the line we stopped talking to one another about what was important. We always had one eye somewhere else.”
+++++“Then it happened. The world stopped, the dead rose and suddenly there were so many, what do you call them? I’ve heard many names. Walkers, slugs, zombies. What a silly word. Like something from TV. But it was real. People died and then they came back and life was harder than ever before. But Mary and me, we found each other again. For the first time in years, it was quiet and oh so still. There were no distractions from the truth, and amidst the blood and the chaos, we both fell in love again.”
+++++Mike paused and wiped a stray tear from his right eye.
+++++“For years we moved from place to place. Sometimes we met good folks and stayed with them, sometimes it was just the two of us. The seasons turned and still the slugs seemed to be endless in number. But it was all right, we had each other. At night we’d sit out like we used to, just us and the sky and the stars, and we’d listen to the world. We’d talk for hours about what mattered, about what was in our hearts. I won’t say that life was perfect, but we had it good.”
+++++One of the children, the little boy, slid sideways in his chair and closed his eyes.
+++++“I wish I could say that was all of my story. That it had a happy ending, but five years ago I lost my Mary. Something went wrong that shouldn’t, a door was left unlocked, and she got bit. I knew there was no medicine, no cure to stop what was coming, but it didn’t stop me from trying. But like sand falling through the hourglass, it was inevitable and then it happened. She closed her eyes one final time and then she was gone. What came back wasn’t her. Not really. After that I was alone.”
+++++No matter how many times he told it, this part always made him cry. Mike wiped at his wet cheeks until he felt he could go on.
+++++“After, I wandered for days, wrapped up in my loneliness, shrouded in my grief. Somehow I found myself in a church. It wasn’t fancy, just a run down old thing. I’d never been a religious man. Far from it, in fact. God was for other people. They were all crazy, or fools not strong enough to get by without a crutch. I fell down on the ground in the church and wept. I cursed and cried until I was wrung out and my throat was hoarse. But then something happened. I felt His presence. He spoke to me for the first time in my life. Me, of all people! I asked him ‘Why now?’, and he said because I was a man of sorrow and because the time was right. He chose me and gave me a purpose.”
+++++The children didn’t seem impressed. The parents’ mouths gaped and their whole bodies trembled.
+++++“That was how I felt for the first week. But I had been given a mission and I could not refuse. Some folk think these are the End of Days, or it was science that made the dead rise, but they’re wrong. He sent the plague to cleanse the Earth, to create a new paradise. Ever since Eden we’ve all been born with sinful hearts. We used to pray, and ask for forgiveness, but then life became so busy. We became wrapped up in ourselves, and like sheep we were all led astray. But now the Lord has chosen me to be his righteous hand, to send souls of the living to him for judgement.”
+++++The husband started to shake and Mike held up his hands. “Calm down now. It’s already done. I put something in the food an hour ago. I’ve already freed your souls. All that’s left behind is the sins you committed in life, chained to dead flesh.”
+++++The final stages of the change began to take hold. The husband’s eyes turned milky white, his mouth gaped and his hands stretched out towards Mike in a mockery of life. With one smooth motion Mike pulled the long knife from his jacket and plunged it between the man’s eyes. He yanked it free and a stream of blood followed. Next came the wife, struggling to her feet. Mike put her down as well, driving the blade through one eye, twisting it left and right, scrambling her brain.
+++++The little boy hadn’t moved at all, but Mike put a foot of metal into the back of his skull. The little girl snarled and gnashed her teeth, but he kept her at arms length with a hand on top of her head, like a playground bully. She tried to reach up for him but her arms were too short. Pressing the blade to the crown of her head he stabbed downwards into her brain.
+++++Silence returned. Stretching out in every direction to the horizon. But Mike knew it was only an illusion. Somewhere, out there, were other souls waiting for their final judgement and a plague of sin that needed to be destroyed.

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