Nine Worlds – A Second-Hand Blog

Matt BlakstadNine Worlds? Honestly, I didn’t see that much of it.

There was a fun combat panel first thing Friday morning and a sneaky couple of G&Ts in the bar on Saturday night – but I’ve never <ever> been that quiet (or that sober) at a Con before. Maybe age is catching me, who knows. Anyway.

So – this is a second-hand blog. A blog that tells of happy people buying lots of books (and I mean LOTS of books) which always makes the weekend go well. A blog that tells of happy people in every kind of cosplay; a blog that tells of an excellent venue and hotel, where the staff were sincere and helpful (and the bloke behind the bar mixing a Mai Tai (not for me) was an absolute God, a Dionysus for the modern age). Where was I? Yes – happy. From our nailed-by-our knees vantage, everybody had a very happy Con.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal – but getting this shit right is bloody difficult. Over the years, we’ve seen so many events die, or suffer from falling attendance, or become plagued with industry hamster-fighting… but with four years’ experience, Nine Worlds has absolutely got it right. People feel welcome and confident, they can dress in anything the bloody hell they want, they can attend a whole wealth of panels across every kind of format and topic. and learn about every aspect of this ever-expanding business of ours. Props to committee and program organisers for a top effort all round.

NPC Quest GuyMan of the match, though, goes to the Side-Quest Guy, handing out little Quest booklets for people to follow – I didn’t get time to follow mine sadly (missed my Gold, there) but the work and through that had gone into his costume and supporting story were amazing.

Above all, this is a blog to thank all of the lovely people that came to sign for us at our table – and those who also came to have a natter and sign their stock.

We had a bloody fabulous Con. More like this one please!

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Nine Worlds – Where I’ll Be

Nine Worlds Nine Worlds this weekend, which means you’ll find me, as ever, nailed by my knees to the trading table with a big piles o’ books, a full schedule of signings and (hopefully) a lot of tea.

I shall be on the Getting Fighting Wrong panel (not advisable, if you’ve ever tried it) alongside a suitable line-up of worthies: James Barclay, Liz de Jager, Sebastien de Castell, Oliver Langmead and Lucy Hounsom. The fur flies (or not) at 11:45am on Friday morning.

I’m also (so I’m told) on the LGBT Characters panel at 10:00am on Sunday morning – so I’d better not overdo it at the Cabaret the night before, I guess…

Signings ScheduleYou’ll also find me in the bar, as ever. And possibly dancing, but that depends upon my intake of gin.

Ah, but I shall miss the Radisson with its mad glass fish and its smell of air fuel and its…erm… character…

TomSka and the Heroes of YouTube

IMG_4826My son is addicted to YouTube – or he would be, if I didn’t ration the little bugger.

It’s a generational thing, I know that, and it mystifies me. Watching someone else play a game for hours at a time… why would you do such a thing? It’s not even like they’re in the room with you and you can share the experience by helping them solve puzzles, or by taking over the controller when they fail to beat the end-of-level Nasty and throw a wobbler.

Nope, seriously – I don’t have a clue.

Joe SuggIn the last year, we’ve had three of the big-name YouTube sensation come into the store – Joe Sugg, Stuart Ashen aka Ashens, and most recently Tom Ridgewell, aka TomSka. Joe’s signing wasn’t public, but without exception, the response to all three of them has been phenomenal.

Last Saturday, TomSka put in a three-hour shift in a somewhat overheated book store (the air-conditioning had broken down). His queue was easily two hundred people, most of them my son’s age. Isaac, of course, was there too, having his first full-on fanboy attack as he met one of his genuine heroes – he spent most of the time glued to his phone showing off to his schoolmates. And hey – he’s allowed. If he can’t nerd out in Forbidden Planet, then I’m in the wrong job. Where was I? Right – two hundred people, maybe more.

Fanboy CubAnd Tom greeted every one of them with a hug, a question, an energy that was absolutely genuine every time. He was inexhaustible, funny, human… and it made me understand something.

Celebrities signing at FP – certainly the actors – don a particular personality when they meet their fans. It’s another role, and while they’re always charming and approachable, you can see the subtle shift from the person who chats in the office to the personality that walks out into the store.

But not Tom. Not Stuart, and I’m guessing Joe would have been the same. Tom was the same person throughout, the same to every fan. Every one of them greeted him like they knew him, and he responded in kind.

One of the Mums in the department (waiting for her small people) absolutely hit the nail on the head. ‘He’s not a personality,’ she said, ‘He’s their friend’.

And, of course, that’s exactly what he is. Perhaps I understand the whole thing a bit better now.

STUFF

Art Toy Addiction Stuff.

Stuff is sacred, collected stuff, hoarded stuff. Stuff signed by artists, authors, actors, musicians… stuff that commemorates creators no longer with us, and stuff that was so special when I brought it home, but that has sat in a drawer (with similar stuff) ever since.

Stuff that you find, as you pack your house.

I have stuff. I have the stuff that was signed wrong, the graphic novel that was printed upside down, the book that the author signed with someone else’s signature (Ben Aaronovitch) for a momentary laugh. I have stuff signed by guests that were drunk, guests that were sober, guests that had fans crying as they came into the building, and, just sometimes, guests that had almost no-one there at all.

Fat Freddy's CatSo much stuff.

And stuff occupies a strange space-time law of its own – when you pack it, it goes through a long period of never getting any smaller. It’s like the sofa in Dirk Gently, ever spinning in a pattern of impossibility, and never ever going to get out of the house.

Endless stuff.

Signed Langley Original - SlaineMy Mum had stuff. Images and treasures and memories, some of which I could identify, many of which were a mystery. She had pieces of my childhood, things that bought back floods of memory. She had letters from my father, memories of him that I’d never seen. She had photographs for days – family pictures, modelling shots, one amazing shot of a handsome bad boy on a motorcycle that no-one could identify but that had us all raising our eyebrows…

Magic stuff.

As You Wish - Cary ElwesAnd yet, it had to go. All that treasure, a dragon’s hoard worth, given to friends and family, and to the cancer charities of Oxted High Street. And then there was a flat, all sad and empty of stuff.

No stuff left.

It’s made me look at all my own memories, so many things all so treasured – my Vike kit, now unused in fifteen years, my gaming dice and books, all gathering dust – and I wonder why I keep it, if it’s only going to be abandoned in the end.

Perhaps the Vikings had the right idea, in fact – take all your stuff with you.

SO much Lego!As I pack, though, I find the magic is too strong, the hope always there – and I can’t give either of them up. I like my quirky collection of art toys and geek paraphernalia, I like the memories that those old weapons and folders carry with them. I know my son will be there one day, turning them over in his hands and wondering what to do with them…

…but for now, I want to keep it all, and tell its stories, and share it with him.

Because that’s the stuff that matters.

Nine Worlds

Staypuft Marshmallow LadyIt’s always hard to write a review of a Con when you’re trading from behind a table piled creakily high with ALL THE BOOKS – and this one was sans dealers room, our usual partners in crime replaced by a lot of Gundam Mech building and some highly amusing-looking D&D (not envious, honest). Trading table or no, however, Nine Worlds continues with its own particular achievement – to bring new people into fandom with the confidence to be themselves.

Gundam Mech MasterAnd this means that, from a traders’ point of view, we see more people buying books, and reading books, and picking up new things to try… and as we cautiously stray from behind our table, we see more people able to dress and express themselves however they wish, to meet their tribe and make new friends. And lots and LOTS of wonderful Cosplay, this AoT salute one of my favourites – unsurprisingly!

Attack On Titan Survey CorpsShifting away from the demographic, I always do a certain amount of hat-swapping at Conventions. This time, much hilarity ensued from me swearing four minutes into the first panel of Friday morning (in strict disobedience of the five o’clock watershed. (In my defence, I have no recollection of seeing an email about the ban… either that or I get possessed by Ecko at critical moments, (and I know which of those worries me more)). The panel was great though, and it’s always good to not only share, but to learn from the authors with you, and the questions from the audience. Special mentions to Al Robertson and Sebastien de Castell for their wonderful senses of humour.

The Endgame ComethThere was some excitement for the publication of Ecko Endgame (hurrah!), and for the forthcoming Fight Like A Girl anthology. There was much tea (thank you Em and Cara) and much wine (no changes there) and a great fun Saturday night that ended with the sun rising at the end of the Heathrow roadway – and a reminder that I can, apparently, still get up and go to work on two hours’ sleep… it just takes me longer to recover.

Su as Tiny TinaAn overall thank you to Paul and Nazia for all their help and support, Program is a horrible job (and we all know it) and they came through it with flying colours. Thank you to Erich for his tireless help and patience, and to all the authors who signed for and with us – a huge list of mighty talent which, frankly, leaves me exhausted.

Joanne HarrisAnd finally, a particular mention to the lovely Laurell K Hamilton and her crew – a perfect fusion of charm and efficiency!

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LonCon 3: Madhouse!!

Hula DalekThere are some unwritten rules to bring a bookseller at a Con. For example: you’ll hear the following phrases many times over the course of a weekend: ‘I’ve got too many books at home, I can’t buy any more’, ‘I can’t buy books, there’s no space in my luggage’, or the slightly more extreme, ‘If I buy any more books, I’ll need a new house!’

Apparently, there are a lot of SF/F readers with money to burn, not only on books and luggage space, but on the inevitable new house when they try to squeeze one more Kingkiller Chronicle into their already bulbous bookshelves.

IMG_2485Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it. Not the bulbous shelves, (though our stall was buckling under the weight of fantastical literature), but the willingness of people to buy books. Those from over the water must’ve come with empty flightcases, because there were no concerned comments about luggage space. People were picking up five and ten and fifteen books at a time, hardcovers and signed books, books to enable them to meet their favourite authors, books to take home to friends, books that just looked interesting…  In a world where bookshops close faster than you can list them, something in me was jumping with childish glee at so much pleasure taken in the printed page.

Titan Books!One American fan commented that you only get a 20% – 30% crossover of SF/F books between the UK and the US. It hadn’t occurred to me before – but of course that’s why. If you go to a WorldCon, then the opportunity to broaden your horizons (and collection) is tremendous. Not only books, but authors and friends – no wonder you travel with only a clean pants and a Visa.

Slenderman Vs. MarkAnyway. More unwritten rules: usually, at Cons, we have time to escape our shackles and explore. Not this time! The sheer mass of fans might have been deceptively diluted by the size of ExCel – but all of them came to see us, sooner or later. I escaped for my couple of panels, and a slightly leftfield 40-minute session in the basement with the cleaning team, going through bin bags and looking for my wallet (thrown away earlier in the day, and fortunately retrieved). Even from behind the stall, though, the whole experience was intense, exhilarating, exhausting and wondrous, all in equal measure.

My Sigismund SistersMore than anything, it was fantastic to see so many people, so many friends, all together in one place. Friends from my twitter days, met in the flesh for the first time; friends from my Norwich past, back in the present as our lives rotate towards each other, friends from fandom, all over the world.

@ksonney and @ursulavAll-in-all, it was quite overwhelming. And after Nine Worlds and the Week of Madness between, its no wonder everyone came home saying, ‘Look, I love you all. But leave me the fuck alone ’til at least next Thursday.’

Free Universe!Well done, LonCon. That was tremendous!

 

 

 

 

 

2013 – A Year of Crashing Plates

PlatesIt’s been a ‘no idea where it’s gone’ year.

In these posts, you’re supposed to write about wonderful things, epic and terrible things. But not this year – it was January, and then it was summer, and then it was chaos, and then it was Christmas again, and then it was me looking at the Facebook ‘12 best moments’ and going ‘fuuuuuuu…’

Anyway.

2013 has seen my son flow from boy towards teenager – the ‘whatever’ years now lurk on the horizon. Yet Isaac has also grown in maturity and responsibility, and I’m more proud of my son that I could ever articulate. But I guess you knew that.

2013 has seen Ecko Endgame written and in – the end of a project that’s been with me for twenty years and more. I wrote that closing sentence and then burst into tears – regret and relief and fulfillment and loss and a little fear. Something that huge being ‘over’ is a very weird.

And 2013 was a frenetic year at FP – as the heatwave hit in July, so work became a sledgehammer of stress, more events than we could cover or handle. My ten-year anniversary passed in a suffocating cloud of panic, and I began to realise an inevitable truth…

More PlatesMy life is a constant juggling act – child and work and writing. Cramming it all in. Organising up the arse, and no social life to speak of because I never have time. It’s bonkers. People say to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, and this was the year I had to face a truth that I didn’t like very much…

I don’t. This summer, the plates wobbled and all came tumbling down, slo-mo.

It was just too much. Work reached critical mass, Isaac is my son, Endgame was handed in late, and then by gritted teeth and willpower – I think the tears may have been as much about sheer exhaustion as anything else. But I did it. By some miracle. Just.

Before those falling plates hit the floor and shattered into a million broken pieces.

Too Many PlatesThis year has taught me that I’m not Wonder Woman. That my time and abilities are finite. That if I take on too much, I will fuck it up. Next year, I’m going to take a step back and be happy with less. Spend more time with Isaac and family and friends. Play computer games. Laugh. Spend time – hell, days! – doing fuck all and not feeling guilty about it.

In 2013, I’ve been lucky enough to see a lifelong ambition finally achieved. In 2014, I’m going to be very bloody glad to not have to achieve it any more.

World Fantasy Con – All The Hoopla!

PopcornOne word for this – that word is ‘family’. With all of the fussing and fighting, my friends, that led up to the event, one would’ve expected fireworks and drama and fuck knows what else…

ALL THE BOOKS!…but what we got was a old school, traditional Book Convention and (from what I’ve seen) one enjoyed by all. An event run, you might say, by the book.

Titan BooksFor me, it was about family. About the Forbidden Planet family, with the huge agenda of signings and events that bracketed the weekend. About the UK SF/F family, the thing that supports us all. About the international family, the thing that surrounds us. And on a personal level, about the Titan family – the thing that came into its own at the WFC weekend.

Dealers Room

Dealers Room

As ever, I’m rather caught behind the Dealers’ Room table, but I did manage to escape for long enough to share a signing event with Francis Knight and her awesome Cake Noir – an hour that championed everything I’ve always harped on about as regards cross-pollination of readership.

Cake NoirAnd for long enough to attend the Titan party, a Saturday afternoon win complete with wine, popcorn machine, crossbows, and a signing table shared with Guy Adams.

IMG_1795Though it was rather surreal seeing people trying to win Ecko on a hoopla stall…

IMG_1790Family, too, in events run by Team Gollancz and their gin, Team Tor and their music, and by Jo Fletcher Books – though I’d been on my feet for twelve hours by the last of these and my appreciation may have faded to a weary croak that needed wine badly (thank you Snorri Kristjansson!)

Nice HatIn conclusion – an awesome Con. Something that surpassed its own rumblings and reminded all of us why we actually do this stuff.

Ten Years at FP – my Top Ten Memories

Secure Beneath Watchful Eyes10. The Launch of the London Megastore

The first event I ever did for FP – I hadn’t even started in the position and I was slung in at the proverbial deep end. Meeting GoH Ray Harryhausen left me genuinely speechless, and watching all of the journos and publicity types was like nothing I’d ever seen before.

FP are very fond of telling people to ‘hit the ground running’ – and they really weren’t kidding!

9. Signing Ecko.

Absolutely bloody surreal for all the reasons we know – but made doubly bizarre as John Barrowman were signing upstairs at the same time. As I changed hats from publicist to publicised, he was sat in the staffroom, gloriously foul-mouthed and completely at home.

Bless him for putting the icing on the evening!

Stephen Donaldson8. Fangirl Moments (cough).

Meeting Stephen Donaldson – wonderfully sarcastic, and a very drily funny man. And meeting Claudia Christian – along with getting the chance to don the classic Bab5 jacket. Insert fangirl squeee here.

7. The Gentle Giant World Tour

Karl Meyer of Gentle Giant Studios had whole Rock God thing going on, and a queue that waited for him for ten hours plus – fans that literally cheered him upon arrival. We had competitions, tour exclusive toys and tees, a party atmosphere in the store itself – the launch of the Commander Bly bust was absolutely massive.

As part of the event, we also had in store the full 3D head-scanning technology that made Gentle Giant’s busts and figures so perfectly sculpted and unique. Kind of like an MRI scanner for toys…

Gentle Giant Head Scan6. Stealing William Gibson’s Pen.

He’d actually come in to sign Spook Country, and his London fanbase was there in force to meet him. It was the afternoon Reverend Rat gave him the ‘Secure Beneath Watchful Eyes’ poster that he’d been looking for since ‘02 (I love it when that stuff happens, it’s really magical) and I watched the Godfather of Cyberpunk be struck suitably speechless by the gift. Lovely man, telling tall tales of the basement of Denmark Street in the 1980s (and I’ve heard a few of those, as well).

He only handed me his e-signature pen so I could have a look at it!*

5. Andy Serkis signing Return of the King.

I’d been at FP two months when Andy Serkis came in to sign the DVD release of Return of the King – and I’ve never seen a guest work so hard at a public event. The queue was huge as you’d expect, and the children were coming in and holding up little plastic One Rings to him, saying ‘Look! I’ve got it and you can’t have it!’ In response, he would surge over the counter at them, his whole face and attitude shifting, manifesting Gollum right before our eyes.

Andy SerkisHe did this four or five hours with no break and no let-up – and every kid was as wide-eyed as the first one.

4. Kevin Smith signing Shootin’ the Sh*t.

A consummate retail professional on top if all his other capabilities, Kevin Smith was absolutely aware of (and a part of) his fanbase. The thing that sticks in my head is him walking the store after the event had closed, commenting on stock and layout and visual merchandising – all with the eye of a man who knows exactly what you should be doing and why.

And one would expected to find him loitering outside with Jason Mewes.

3. Ray Harryhausen.

One of the first jobs I ever did for FP was escorting Ray Harryhausen back to his house in a taxi, listening to him talk – about being in LA during the war, and about how much he hated CGI. He was a very insightful and gentle man, still with a wicked twinkle, and it’s one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Ray HarryhausenLater, we took books to his house for him to sign, and our attention as Ray’s house to be signed, and we sat in the kitchen like kids, looking at the artwork in the walls and the miniature Talos on the cabinet beside us.

No words.

2. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost signing Shaun of the Dead.

One the first signings they did for us, promoting the original movie release of Shaun (the signed poster is still on the staffroom wall). I was there to run the event, and five months pregnant with Isaac. Quite aside from trying to persuade me to call my son ‘Simon Nick’ or ‘Nick Simon’ they were a great laugh, like Kevin Smith they were at one with their (substantial) audience, and fanboys to the core.

Specifically, Nick Frost won my heart by answering the business telephone and getting his mitts on a price gun… we so should’ve given him a job!

Kevin Smith1: Gerard Way signing The Umbrella Academy.

Huge. Bigger than huge. Fecking enormous. I’m forever retelling this, but it’s the only time we’ve ever shut the store for an event. It was like something out of a zombie movie, fans’ hands and faces pressed against the glass, screaming and chasing his car as he left. Love-lorn teenagers queued for hours (some from the previous night) – they burst into tears when they saw him and were absolutely unable to speak… that much was fair enough, but when it was their mums, ladies my age – that made me goggle.

Have to say, though, props to the man himself for being absolutely lovely.

And a special mention must also go to Max Brooks, and his affinity with the zombie goodies crafted by Nimba Creations. Fantastic afternoon, proving that, sometimes, legends really do come to life :)

Max Brooks

 

*I should point out that I didn’t, in fact, steal Mister Gibsons’s pen. I forgot I had it in my hand (I swear!) and he was extremely polite in asking for it back…

 

 

 

Last Night’s Book Launch!

BooksSometimes, you sit behind a table with a pen and it’s all terribly formal.

Cakeage!And then sometimes, you don’t actually get to sit down because you’re so busy, chatting, greeting old friends, putting names to faces to twitterhandles.

Sometimes, the energy generates itself and the tables are groaning under the weight of Krispy Kreme (thank you Stephen J Sweeney!), chilli chocolate cupcakes and gloriously sugary cinder toffee honeycomb (as we couldn’t have branded matches, it seemed like the next best thing)!

Sugar Rush!Sometimes, everybody just gets into the spirit of the evening and has a fantastic time – through that might have been fuelled by sugar.

Sometimes, the rather staid image of the traditional ‘book signing’ just goes straight out the window and people make a community all of their own.

Tees!With thanks to Titan Books and Lou Hellbaby, last night was awesome.

Tees!