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!

IMG_4942

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.

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…

 

 

 

Max Brooks Did Not Write This Blog Post

P1050317But he tells a mean anecdote, chats to everybody and is in equal parts charming, shameless, insightful and very funny. He also wields possibly the swiftest pen we’ve ever seen. (Look out Dave Gibbons, that’s your record he’s challenging!)

P1050323He’s happy to help out wherever, to judge best-dressed Zombie competitions, to take merciless Sharpie revenge on the film’s promotional poster, and to wield wit well-worthy of his father. Max’s presence left all of us for (un)dead.

PlottingMore than anything, perhaps more so than any other author we’ve met, he felt strongly the changes from book to film – the loss of control, the distance that becomes necessary. The movie is not what Max wrote – he can scribble on posters and tease the director about this openly – but the undeath of your own text must be a very strange feeling.

Nimba CreationsAlong for the day were also Tom and Siobhan from Nimba Creations, with a masterclass in the finest zombie make-up…

War Face…Tim from the Empire in Leicester Square, volunteering for latex fun…

DistractoGirl!…Jenni, the almost-winner of the Twitter contest…

IMG_1285…and Luke Smith who’s ten-minute alleyway transformation from living to undead earned him Zombie of the Day, and Nimba’s gloriously gruesome prize mask.

Street War ZPlus a final and SPECIAL thank you to Jamie for eyeball cupcakes, hammocks and survival fun…

WWZI’m never going ANYwhere without this bag!!

FP’s Small Press Expo – and a Question…

From an original idea by Jared Shurin, randomly dropped on the table during a meeting, yesterday’s Small Press Expo had the potential to do something new. Throw in NewCon Press’s brand new ‘Hauntings’ Anthology, specifically organised by Ian Whates to launch at the occasion, and a host of titles brought to us by Ian, by Jared’s Jurrasic label, and also by Snowbooks and Myrmidon Books, and we can spin an industry mixer at which everybody wins.

An almighty guest list included Christopher Priest, Philip Palmer, Adrian Tchaikovsky and a host of authors and artists and movers and shakers from across the genres – as well as some good news for the Apocalypse Girls and some subsequent fun in the pub with Fifty Shades of Geekdom (no link for that one – you’ll have to wait!).

Guaranteed, the books department at FP is a little too warm for that many bodies – huge thanks to everybody for eating the cupcakes before they slumped under the heat. Many of us were popping out for a breather, but the fact that everybody came back is testimony to a wonderfully successful occasion.

And it leaves me with a question.

We know that the nature of the book signing is changing – that the days of bloke-with-pen are rapidly falling behind us. We’ve had talks, readings, Q&As, and we’ve flown the FP rocket at other venues, at the British Library and the British Institution.

This month, two weekends in succession, we’ve had big events at the store – both times simultaneously with equally large and well-attended events at comic- and bookstores nearby. So the question is, with bookstores struggling to maintain life against the Amazonian onslaught, (not to mention Katie Price and her – erm – horse), has the very nature of the ‘signing’, the ‘promotional event’, become competitive?

Perhaps not so much in the UK – after all, we’re all mates. People go from one event to the other; we all wind up in the same pub and the bonds of community are as strong as ever. But moving forwards…

…it is that long before we’ll be needing orange speedos and vodka bottles to make an event a success? Please, tell me it will never happen…

 

‘The Long Earth’

What if there are multiple quantum earths? And what if we could go there?

Totally impossible of course, but it was once said of science fiction that it is a kind of exercise bicycle for the mind, which while it might not take you anywhere, may possibly tone up the muscles that might!

In a unique event at London’s Royal Institution, world famous authors Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter come together on 21st June 2012 to discuss their new series of novels entitled ‘The Long Earth’ inspired by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory – aided by philosopher of physics David Wallace.
To celebrate this event, Forbidden Planet and the Royal Institution are proud to present a limited edition version of ‘The Long Earth‘, signed by Stephen Baxter and featuring a unique event-specific commemorative stamp. Get in quick though, as it will be limited to 2,000 copies!

If you miss it, you can see the full video of this unique event on the Royal Institution website from 11:00am on Tuesday 26th June.

 

Iain Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson

How does that saying go? I love it when a plan comes together?

This one is thanks to Rose at Orbit and Jon at the Brish Library, and it goes something like this…

Forbidden Planet and Orbit Books, in association with the British Library, are delighted to present a unique opportunity to hear two giants of the genre in conversation about 2012, the end of the world, and the future of science fiction. This event will take place in the Auditorium at the British Library.

Tickets £7.50, concessions £5. Doors open 3pm, for a 3:30 start and the event will be followed by a public signing from 5 – 6pm.

For tickets or more information, you can find the event on the FP website.

Conventions, it seems, aren’t the only things that are changing with the times :)

BristolCon

Watching by the beady eyes of the Overlord, it’s been a busy weekend in Bristol.

Two signings at the store – an open-plan group event for a Rogues’ Gallery of local authors, flawlessly cat-herded by Cheryl Morgan, followed by the main man himself, Richard Morgan, bringing us brutality, bloodshed and gay elf sex with The Cold Commands.

Then, on Saturday, suitably armed with a well-earned hangover (and still watched by the Overlord), we unpacked a table of books at BristolCon, an event doubled in size from the previous year and featuring lots of familiar faces and @nametags.

So. Another Con. What’s so special about this one?

During both signings at FP, there was a strong sense of family – a connection between authors and readers and fans that spilled over from staffroom to shop floor and brought everyone together to buy books, and to swap ideas and stories. And that sense of community was both expounded and expanded at the Con itself – a lack of barriers, social and physical, and a welcoming warmth that made BristolCon something above the ordinary.

Nailed to the trading table as usual, Tim and I were nevertheless right in the middle of things – not only selling books, but establishing and re-establishing those lines of communication and support that pull us all together as an industry, and give us that reassuring sense of exactly where we need to be.

For me, the weekend was made special by re-bonding with an old friend I haven’t seen in nearly a decade (bless you, Ken) and by pub-crawling round the watering holes of the city in the company of another friend that I don’t see nearly enough. Though my capacity for beer is sadly lacking these days, it’s apparently been replaced by a capacity for Mexican Burrito(e?)s and cake. Whodathunkit.

On a more serious note, the weekend was also made special (and a little bizarre!) by Jo asking me to do a reading from my own forthcoming title at BristolCon next year… I guess some part of me will never quite grasp that this is real until… not I’m standing there with my heart in my mouth, my book in my hand and (hopefully!) some people to read it to.

That… and my FREE KITTEN.