My First EasterCon – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

Ten years ago I enjoyed/suffered/endured my first ever Eastercon as part of the Gollancz team. Looking back at my diary it’s interesting just how little of the actual conference I chronicled — mostly because I was away filming authors — but I must have liked it, as I’ve been back for more several times since, even getting to attend as an author a couple of years ago! It’s generally a slicker affair these days, but some of that ramshackle charm remains. I won’t be going this year, but I’ll always have Chester…

Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Chester for Eastercon – the British science fiction convention. There were engineering works on the trains all weekend, so I decided to drive the 240-odd miles to Chester. Points of interest along the way included a sign directing tourists to a Secret Bunker, and a pub called The Headless Woman.

I arrived at around half-six and made contact with the rest of the Gollancz gang. We had dinner at an Italian place called Piccolino’s. The author Roger Levy was there with his wife Tina. Roger is a very pleasant guy, quiet-spoken, but with a quick wit. Also with us was Dave Bradley, editor of SFX.

On Saturday morning I was up fairly early for a stroll around Chester to film its more interesting bits (I had come along to film our authors in conversation, and I thought I might need some links). Chester is completely charming. It has wonderful two-tiered shopping arcades with plenty of independent shops. Even the chains look more interesting, although once you get inside they reveal their usual indentikit selves. One highlight was an evangelist busker who played a five-string bass guitar while singing Amazing Grace at the top of his voice. He was joined by a man with a harmonica, another with an acoustic guitar and a woman in her seventies with a mandolin. They looked like the worst Led Zeppelin tribute band ever.

(Gollancz publicist) Jon Weir grew up in Chester and gave Gillian Redfearn, Sara Mulryan, myself and Marcus Gipps (lovely guy from Blackwells… looks like Paul McCartney circa Let It Be) the grand tour. We saw the ancient walls, the excavations at the amphitheatre and had lunch by the River Dee, which looks a lot like Putney and Richmond, but less crowded.

In the afternoon I filmed Richard Morgan in conversation with Ian McDonald, followed by Roger Levy and Jon Courtney Grimwood. All were great and very pleasant to work with. I like that they didn’t shamelessly plug their books, but instead discussed the issues that inspired their writing.

In the evening we had a Chinese meal at a restaurant called Raffles which had French airship murals on the walls, so we figured it hand’t been Chinese for very long. There was a heated debate between Richard Morgan, Jo Fletcher and Ian Drury on the historical accuracy of the film 300. I was way out of my depth and just listened, learning an awful lot about ancient Greece and Persia.

We followed the meal by attending the British Science Fiction Awards. It was a fairly ramshackle affair, with more in common with a village fete raffle than a glitzy awards ceremony, but that seems to be how the hardcore SF fans like it.

Today we ended the conference with a trip to Jodrell Bank. A very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We took a 3D trip to Mars, then stood and stared at the mighty dish.

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From L-R: Me, Sara Mulryan, Jon Weir, Bragelonne’s Stephane Marsan, and Gillian Redfearn

I drove with Jon Weir back to London. We discovered a mutual love for John Williams’ movies scores and sang along with Muppets and Disney show tunes. In all the weekend was less a conference and more of a weekend break. Chester is a lovely place, though, and I’d love to go back one day.

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Making time to read…

There was a time, about twenty years ago, when my reading prowess reached its peak. I could whip through a novel in a day. There was one holiday where I devoured twenty-four books in a fortnight (okay, most of them were short children’s books, but my holiday companions were all fairly impressed), and I was engaged and enthralled by all of them. No skim-reader, me.

But how times have changed. Writing takes up almost all of my spare time now. When I’m not working at the day job at Orion, I’m writing: on the train to work, my lunch break, the train home, the evenings and weekends. And then there’s real life: bits of housework and paying bills and all that crap. Oh, and a family! So I’ve found myself with very little time for reading. I tend to leave it till the end of the day, which I find is okay for non-fiction, but lately I’ve been really struggling with fiction, and at my age I need my snoozy-time beauty sleep, so I find myself reading twenty pages and nodding off.

One night last week I started reading the final Terry Pratchett novel THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN. I got about twenty pages in and had to stop myself. This was the great man’s last book. I’ve been reading Terry since I was a teenager, and would regularly read his books three or four times, and here we were at the end of his journey. This couldn’t be enjoyed piecemeal. It deserved to be savoured properly and so, for the first time in ages, I set aside some proper, quality reading time at the weekend. In the day time. And boy, does it change how you appreciate a book.

I was able to enjoy the quality of the writing, and had a much clearer feeling for the characters and their story arcs. I know this might sound like the bleeding obvious, but this was a reminder to me just how much I enjoyed reading.

So now I need to make this a regular thing. But how to make more time? I guess it means watching fewer crappy TV shows and less goofing about on Facebook and Twitter. So, should you see me there blethering on about the movies or (God forbid) politics or religion, ask me what I’m reading and that should get me skipping back to my bookshelf.

 

PS. This was written after 9pm, so apologies for any speling mistrakes. I’m rather tired…

PPS. THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN is a fitting and moving end to Terry’s work. I’m so glad I took the time to read it properly.