It can’t be difficult, surely, to organise a book launch (as part of the recent FantasyCon weekend). After all, I have organised and co-organised the British Fantasy Convention itself – several times – plus many one-off events. Ah, as with all best-laid plans, it didn’t quite go according to – well – plan.
My first worry was: did I have enough copies of the books to be launched? It turned out, yes I did. It’s better to bring home unsold copies then it is to run out.
Number 2: Would I have enough wine? I counted the number of authors who said they’d come along to the event and the anticipated audience based on pre-convention interest. Thus a couple of weeks beforehand I doubled the wine order. Weirdly, considering this was a fantasy, horror and science fiction convention (those who have attended these things in the past know that attendees drink like fish), relatively few people were in fact drinking the wine (and for hotel wine it wasn’t too bad). I brought home a few unopened bottles of the red and white stuff. Never fear – it will be drunk.
This year’s FantasyCon is less than a month away and that has set me reminiscing. Out with the abacas (actually, I checked in Silver Rhapsody) and – ye gods – this will be my fortieth British Fantasy Convention. Yup, my first was FantasyCon 2 back in 1976! And you know what: I have, for my sins, attended everyone since over these past forty years, even the one-day events in Champagne Charlie in London. Is this a record? Can anyone else match this claim to fame (or is it infamy)?
It’s silly regretting not attending the first FantasyCon. It was a one-day event held in Birmingham and the travel up from Portsmouth, where I was then living, seemed a bit excessive just to meet some people I had only encountered in name through the pages of Dark Horizons and the BFS Bulletin. There was no internet, no online social media back then.
At the 2013 World Fantasy Convention, held in Brighton, Joel Lane’s Where Furnaces Burn won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Due to personal problems Joel wasn’t able to collect the award in person. I had intended to visit Joel soon after, meet up for one of our irregular balti meals with mutual friends Dave Sutton, James Brogden, John Howard, Mike Chinn and Stan Nicholls, and to toast Joel for the win. Sadly, that visit to Birmingham didn’t materialise in time – for not long after the convention Joel passed away in his sleep. His death left a huge cavity in my life.
Last year, after months of sorting out the detritus of his life (in other words, clearing his house in preparation for its sale) Pauline Morgan mentioned the wealth of notes Joel had left behind. The notes were penned in his immaculate handwriting on all manner of pieces of paper; some were bullet points, some long detailed pages – all preliminary to unwritten stories and poems. It occurred to us that these notes should not be lost, that they should form the basis of a book of stories completed by Joel’s friends and colleagues. Pauline and I read through dozens and dozens and dozens of notes, finally honing them down to a score or two.
A long time ago, before I started The Alchemy Press, I did a lot of editing and production work for the British Fantasy Society — including the magazines Chills (aka Winter Chills) and Dark Horizons. I’ve started to list these here. Back then we didn’t have the luxury of home computers with DTP programs. Magazine production involved manual (or electric) typewriters, Letraset, scissors, glue and a lot of paper. It was “fun”!
Today’s small press publishers do not know how easy they have it.
A few hours chin-wagging over beer and food in a Birmingham city centre pub, with a couple of good friends, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon? I gave James Brogden a copy of his soon-to-be published collection Evocations (coming from The Alchemy Press) and he was very pleased with the book. We talked about a possible new anthology for 2016 (more details later). Otherwise the topics of conversation were, mostly, inconsequential. But that’s fine – one can’t save the world every time one meets.
I drove into Birmingham from the south, along the A38, aiming to park somewhere in the Brindley Place area. Now, I lived in Birmingham for 20-odd years. I thought I knew the area well enough. Turns out, I didn’t and I was confused further by the new build in the that area — and all those bloody road closures due to them tearing up the city centre. How much more of Brum can they dig up?
All day Sunday and Monday morning the Met Office, along with countless news bulletins on TV and radio, warned us against travelling: we were due a huge storm with buckets of rain and mighty winds. But Jan and I had to travel on Monday afternoon: there was an event we simply could not miss, not on any account. At the Robin Hood Crematorium in Solihull our friend’s body was to face its final days on earth in its physical form.
Joel Lane died almost a month ago. The post mortem was inconclusive – but Joel had been suffering from ill health for some time, including diabetes and, recently, sleep apnoea. But despite these ailments, to die at the youthful age of just 50 was simply wrong.
I read Joel Lane’s short story “Ragged Claws” (in Astrologica) on Monday. In it, the protagonist is being consumed by an illness, a cancer-like disease, until he dies. Then the following day, yesterday, I received two emails telling me the God-awful news: my friend of 30 years had died – he was found in his bed, apparently dying in his sleep. That story suddenly became prophetic (I must stress that at the moment the cause of his death is unknown).
I first encountered Joel through his fiction – I think it was probably in the pages of Dark Horizons, edited by David Sutton. I then met him in person – it was Dave who introduced us. I have to admit that at that meeting I failed to recognise his name and when I asked if he had written anything Dave put me to rights. Joel was amused by ignorance, but never held it against me. We became good friends, part of the Brum Balti Boys (Joel, David, Mike Chinn, John Howard, Stan Nicholls and I and later James Brogden), meeting semi-regularly for a few drinks and then a meal in one of the numerous Balti houses in Sparkhill (after buying our beverages in the Off Licence, of course). In fact we were in the process of trying to arrange a meal before this Christmas…