So. Some of you might have seen this:
Where to begin? How about four thoughts from the weekend?
1) Firsts are not always as intimidating as Seconds:
Satellite 4 was a red letter con before it began: this would mark my Debut Actually Official Actually appearance at a con – as a panelist on both the Friday and Sunday evenings, as well as having an anthology launching on the Friday. Good times. Yet, for all the pride and excitement that comes with that, frankly, I was glad to be ripping the band aid off on the first night, rather than limping through the weekend with the attendant anxiety festering underneath it all.
So on Friday at 5pm, we climbed the rickety stairs to the rostrum in Castle I, where the sheet-covered table for the Writers’ Groups panel loomed over the audience, only a dozen cherubic angels short of a school play. While I’d no fear of calling for my Mum mid-panel, wet pants were a distinct possibility. See, the Green Room does allow gathering panelists an unspecified number of free drinks beforehand, and with a bit of judicious schedule planning, an enthusiastic panelist could coast through the day on just freebies…
Luckily, the panel held a couple of familiar faces – fellow Durhamite Tony Ballantyne, and Elaine Gallagher, who I’d met last year at World Fantasy Con in Brighton – who were able to offer reassurance (“Just enjoy it.”). And once things kicked off, it seemed to go remarkably smoothly. Tony’s inexperience with Writers Groups led to some in-depth questions, countered by Jacey Bedford’s insights into the Milford workshops, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan’s thoughts on Clarion, and Elaine’s experience of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle. With some smart questions from the audience, this turned into a great discussion of why people should join a writers’ group – and how you can get as much out of the giving as from the receiving of constructive criticism.
By far the more intimidating of the two turned out to be the second panel, Good Practice in Editing and Reviewing. This was not only fairly well full up by the time we walked in (and included even more folks I knew than the previous panel), but also had most of the Gollancz and Team Mushens roster packing the first two rows. No pressure, like. However, under the guiding hand of Gillian Redfearn, a panel with the experience of agent Juliet Mushens, author and reviewer Jack Deighton, and editor Marcus Gipps was always going to worth the trip. There were also some interesting contributions from the audience on reactions to negative reviews, which I’ll probably blog more about sometime. Though, thankfully, Marcus was on hand to save me from one hairy moment, if those of you in the audience got as much out of watching it as we did taking part, then that’s a victory.
So that’s my first ever panels over and done with – and hopefully not the last. Thanks to everyone who showed up, and big thanks to all the panelists at both talks for their support and advice. Onwards!
2) Success is better shared:
No hanging around after Friday’s panel, unfortunately. Time to skidaddle upstairs for the NewCon Press / PS Publishing launch party, and the first chance for folks to get hold of the twin anthologies LA FEMME and NOIR (out now, featuring stories by the likes of Adam Roberts, Storm Constantine, and me). This was the first time I’d attended a launch party for an anthology I’d actually had a story in. Watching La Femme being brandished by NewCon press commander-in-chief Ian Whates, as he introduced the evening’s books to a room packed to the ruddy rafters was, yes, somewhat strange. More surreal was watching copies fly off the piles of books beside him as he sat selling…
However, what made the night doubly ace was seeing so many turn out for THE MOON KING, the excellent debut novel from acclaimed short story writer Neil Williamson, which launched the same night (out now, folks). Having waited over a year for this one, it was great to finally get a hold of a copy – even if I had to wait until the next day for my preferred format, since all the hardback copies brought up for the launch vanished within minutes!
Thank you so much to everyone who joined us that night. Signing copies for various folks at the launch was a humbling experience – no less so at the bar afterwards, where I was ambushed by another bunch of books. And that was where discussion about song lyrics led to the hatching of plans for something special on Sunday… But more on that in a bit.
3) Sometimes it’s good to get out:
At cons, I’ve learned it’s always good to leave a window of a few hours spare just for wandering about the place, checking out the Dealers Room and what have you. Yet when I headed up* to Glasgow, the welcoming grim of clouds that usually shrouds the place when I’m there had cleared to a gorgeous blue, and some bright yellow thing had taken up residence in the sky. Although reassurance from a friendly taxi driver that this was not the End Times kept me at the con on Friday, by Saturday, the lure of a bright sunlit day – and the chance to hide from it while watching indie bands – proved too much. So myself, Rob Adams, and Neil Williamson snuck out of the con for Record Store Day, the first one in years where I haven’t been working.
Not being willing to queue at five o’clock in the morning, sadly I missed most of my picks. However, I did manage to pick up a copy of the Xtra Mile Single Sessions vinyl box set for the label’s 10th anniversary, as well as catch live sets from The Pictish Trail and Super Adventure Club at LoveMusic. A quirk of fate (well, a signaling failure along the line to the SECC) forced us to return by foot, so we capped the day with lovely walk back along the riverside, ice cream in hand, watching the Clyde sparkling gold in the afternoon light.
4) Take the Slightest Opportunities. You never know where they’ll lead.
Which brings us to Sunday. Or rather, first, Friday. Because, see, the great thing about that Hal Duncan, is he’s got a mind like a diamond knife, and a tendency to hit upon things that, together, make perfect sense, but you’d never have thought of putting alongside in your wildest dreams. Like last year, when he found out that the lyrics to ‘The Unfortunate Rake’ perfectly fitted one of the verses from ‘A Fairytale of New York‘, and subsequently tweaked the lyrics for his brilliant Scruffians! universe of tales. You can find the blog here. He was onto something with that.
But when, a few drinks in to Friday night, we got into a discussion about how far you could actually fit his lyrics into that melody, I had to show him which line he was blatantly wrong about.
And he wanted to hear more.
Then everyone else did.
A well-timed cigarette break later, and on Sunday night, after the Planet Scotland readings’d overrun and we’d repaired to the boardroom upstairs, Hal and I unveiled our double-header finale – Hal’s brilliant reading of ‘Scruffians Stamp‘, from his new collection Scruffians!, and me, well, singing Hal’s words for a Scruffian song. And that’s what it was.
Many thanks to everyone who came to the Planet Scotland readings, to Andrew Wilson for hitting on the idea of putting it on (and co-organiser Neil Williamson for taking it on faith), and to those who stuck around afterwards for us. We hope we gave you something worth your time.
And my apologies to anyone expecting my first public singing in 15 years to be at the 50th anniversary DCYC concert. Something came up that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
So what about the rest of the weekend? There isn’t room enough to list all my highlights here, but here are a few…
Discovering Celidh dancing in Scotland is really a form of combat training (and ‘Strip The Willow’, a lesson in centripetal force)… Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s stimulating lecture on pulsars… And Brian Milton winning Best Use of a Torch and a Lazy Susan for his ‘Spin The Pulsar’ quiz… Donna Scott’s brilliant performance poetry at the Poetic License panel… Markee de Saw & Bert Finkle dropping in on Neil Williamson’s Words and Music panel… Reading Amal El–Mohtar’s The Honey Month at 1am… Elsie Donald’s disturbing wee tale at Planet Scotland… Cage fighting in the Bon Accord… Cards Against Humanity… Throwing shapes with Francis Knight to Alice Cooper… Running with a two year old… An anniversary tea for two… A weekend spent occupying the long table at the bar…
And then, all of a sudden, I’m on a train, book-loaded and bound for Edinburgh, and feeling like my heart’s been pulled out of my chest.
I’m still not entirely sure what any of this *means* as such, beyond a wonderful weekend with good friends, good entertainment, and one of the best con atmospheres I’ve experienced. Huge thanks are certainly due to the organisers of Satellite 4, for putting on such a friendly and efficiently run convention.
Maybe there are lessons here about taking your time at cons, being open to what you might find behind this door or that, or in drunken discussions on teetering bar stools. Enquiring. Questioning. Trying new things.
A note from the original, much longer version of this blog…
“Right now, I don’t have time to pull it together. I’m scratching together plans for the next few days, too full of this weekend and being amongst all those good people. And all I can think about is when I’ll be back there.”
So… I guess I’ll see you all again at Worldcon, yeah?
* A strange occurrence to start with – being Northern (in the English sense), everything is South, hence “down”, a twist of linguistic faith that often finds me “flying down in a plane” without the expected panic.