For the second time in a row, toward the end of October I headed to the UK. This is definitely a tradition I can get behind. My original plan was to attend both FantasyCon in Glasgow and BristolCon in, well, Bristol (surprise, surprise), but after attending the WorldCon (oh God, I still haven’t posted my write up about that…) I had to decide between one of the two. My decision fell on BristolCon, because I had a good time there last year and after the crazyness of WorldCon I needed something smaller and cozier of a social event. Plus I knew there would be friends waiting for me, old and new. But I still wanted to make the most of my vacation, so I decided to seize to opportunity and stay in London for a few days. It didn’t go quite as I expected, but I still had a great time.
London: October 21st – 24th
My travelling was pretty unremarkable – now that’s surprising. After getting my room I went to do some grocery shopping, grabbed dinner and decided to have an early night before I jumped into the adventures. Which was a sound plan, except, my room was in the basement, and the hotel was close to a train and tube station… I could hear pretty much every train going by, rattling the walls. Oh, joy. Let’s just say, I didn’t sleep much during my stay in London.
October 22nd – Shoreditch, Covent Garden, Hyde Park
The lack of sleep didn’t stop me from going into town. Before heading to London I decided to go hunt for some street art. I was debating to go on a paid tour, but decided against it, and thought I’ll be fine by myself. In retrospect, I should have gone for the smarter option, but oh well. I had a nice walk and I did find some nice art, but I’m pretty sure I missed a lot. Oh well, there is always a next time.
After my wanderings in Shoreditch, I felt like doing some shopping, so headed to Covent Garden – and ended up buying nothing.
My next stop was the Forbidden Planet, where I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to reason with myself (budget and bag space) and in the end I left with a copy of Cameron Johnston‘s The Traitor God and John Meaney‘s Bone Song. I never heard about the latter, but it caught my eyes, so it had to come.
My last stop for the day was the Hyde Park, more accurately the Italian Garden. That park is freaking HUGE and I was dead tired by the time I got there, so I just took a peek and sat down for a bit. And I got photobombed by a bird… But I absolutely could imagine myself sitting there on nice summer days, reading.
October 23rd – Little Venice, Portobello Road
Little Venice was on my list of places I wanted to check out, and to my surprise it was pretty close to the hotel where I stayed in. So, I headed there, and pretty much fell in love with that place. It’s so cool and peaceful, but I could also imagine how vibrant it must be during summer. I took a walk along the canal, and sat down to read for a while. I really adore canals and rivers and any kind of water, really. I don’t like to swim, but I love sitting there, watching, reading, writing. It definitely was a nice afternoon, even though the weather was a bit chilly.
As I wanted to do some more shopping, I went to explore the famous Portobello Road. I almost bought a wristwatch but that was about all. I think the market is more full of life on the weekends, but there was still a lot of shops and stands with all the usual stuff for tourists to buy. Still, I’m pretty proud of myself – I used to be that kind of person who bought EVERYTHING, even if it was useless, just because I was on a holiday. My parents could tell you stories…
Bristol: October 24th – 27th
This year I wanted to spend some time actually exploring Bristol, as I didn’t have the time to do that last year. Besides, Bristol is home of Banksy, my favourite street artist, so I was determined to see at least one of his works. I failed spectacularly. I’ve no regrets though, because I still had a good time. I learned a lot from last year and WorldCon about myself and how I react/feel in certain situations, so I was more prepared and was able to handle my anxiety.
I arrived early afternoon and after checking into the hotel, I went to grab lunch with Tom Clews. As we had the rest of the afternoon ahead of us, we decided to take a walk in the city. We visited the Castle, went to the harbour and according to the google maps we just missed some Banksy arts… but we had a good time, and if I ever moved to the UK, Bristol would be really high on the list of cities I’d like to live in. I wasn’t much of a company, but in my defense I was desperate for a good night’s sleep and I’m just really not good at making conversations…
I was planning to have an early night, but then I learned that a few friends from last year – Mariëlle, Julia, Andreas, Rita, Tom and T.O. – was at the bar, and it would have been rude if I didn’t went down to say hi. Which was supposed to be a short chat, ended up being a few hours long talk. Oops. But it was nice to catch up with them before the crazyness started, and hey, that’s why I was in Bristol in the first place – to socialise, so I didn’t complain. And for the first time that week, I slept really well.
My plans to go out failed when I slept in and the weather seemed to take a turn for the worse. Luckily I had a company at the bar in Mark Lawrence, Rita Sloan and Tom Clews. As people kept arriving during the day, many conversations were started, hugs were exchanged, old friends caught up and new friends were made. One of the many reasons I decided to arrive early to Bristol was that I knew that the best part of BristolCon is meeting like-minded people and feeling like being at a family gathering, only with people I actually want to spend time with. This was my second year, and while the first one was memorable in many ways, it was also hard to find my place being so new in the community. This year I came back with much more self-confidence and more sure that I belonged there (even if my brain tried to convince me otherwise from time to time). I’m really grateful for the people who welcomed me in and the friends I made. It was also great to meet some people for the first time, such as Michael Baker and Jenny Hannaford. I was really looking forward to meet Jenny, who had become a good friend of mine ever since she contacted me to beta read her first book. We were kind of supporting each other as I tried to get Peter Newman’s signature (more about that later) and she tried to chat with Mark Lawrence. Besides, I’m utterly jealous of her fabulous style! And her awesome dragon hairpin.
The entertainment that night was brought to us by the fire alarm, which started blaring and we were all ordered out of the hotel, to stand in the cold… Fortunately it was a false alarm and it didn’t take long for the staff to let us back in.
Not surprisingly I managed to go to sleep around 2 am – I’m not even sorry – so another sleep in was in the programme. There was a few readings/panels I wanted to attend that morning, but sleep won. When I went down to the bar, people were already milling about and I instantly bumped into some of the founding members of the British Irish Writing Community – Damien Larkin and Lee Conley to whom Michael Baker joined as well later. For some reason these guys let me into their group, despite the fact I’m neither British/Irish nor writer. But hey, I love these guys, and as far as I can deceive them thinking I belong, I’ll be fine.
The best thing about BristolCon is that everyone is really friendly and approachable. So this is how I ended up sitting at the same table with Mike Shackle, who previously promised me a copy of his debut book and I got a handmade bookplate to boot. I had a great time chatting with him, his dad and a fellow blogger imyril/Anna whom I previously met in Dublin. In all seriousness, check out that handmade bookplate, graphic by Mike himself:
I knew Peter Newman was also attending, so I brought all the way my copy of Deathless, waiting for my chance to make him sign it. For a while he was sitting by the next table and as my face recognition sucks I just kept staring, trying to decide if it was him or not – it was, but I didn’t want to disturb him at the time (I could have slid to the table as he was talking with some of my friends). Later on he joined to the circle I was in, but he stood with his back to me. I kid you not, the following scene played out:
Me, sitting on a stool, clutching Deathless in my hands, fixating Peter’s back. Phil Williams sliding in beside me, reading the situation.
Peter Newman moves, his back still to me, an exasperated expression on my face.
Phil: *giggling* Does he know you are waiting for him?
Me: Nooooo… But I’m patient. Don’t laugh! I’ll have my opportunity. Someday. Everything’s cool. (narrator: total bullshit)
Phil giggling away, looking on as Peter still fails to realise my
In the end my hard work and patience paid off! I got my book signed, qouted and doodled! I also attended a panel he moderated – he is a really funny and open person and I’m glad I had the chance to chat with him.
Apart from the We Don’t Need Another Hero panel featuring Martin Glassborrow, Ellen Croshain, Mike Shackle, Jaine Fenn; I also went to the Mythical Beasts Top Trumps panel which was a pretty damned good one and the last for the night. The panelists for that one were Steve McHugh, Neil Beynon, RB Watkinson, A. M. Blaushild, with Ellen Croshain moderating.
Later in the night, as I kept going from one group of people to another, I found myself sitting by Gareth L Powell‘s table courtesy to imyril/Anna and Gareth’s kindness, and I couldn’t quite believe what the hell I was doing there. It was pretty awesome to sit with the cool kids for a change. The one thing more cool than that was the performance of the ZHL string quartet. Classical music is not something I listen to, but I’ll be damned if these guys didn’t blow my mind. There was one guy specifically whom I watched and thought “Damn, this guy breaths music, it’s there in his every movement. Now that’s how a real musician looks like.”
As the night wore on, I started to feel overwhelmed by the noise and people and honestly, focusing for such a long time to understand everything that went on around me was exhausting. My English might be good, but I’m not used to listening and speaking as much. Anyway, I needed a bit of time out, so I retreated to my room. When I went back down to the bar, I arrived just in time to witness the endgame of the heroic fight Laura Hughes had with a bowl of pasta. She just finished by midnight and based on the cheer that went up, you might have thought someone won an award. I heard she’s been at it for 4 hours and by the last hour people sitting around her – Steve McHughe, Anna Smith, Jenny Hannaford, Julia Kitvaria, Andreas Oliv, GR Matthews, Justin Anderson – were totally invested in watching Laura eating. I laughed more during that one hour than the whole weekend. It also made me happy that I’m not the slowest eater I know. 😀
Besides cheering, I had the opportunity to have a good chat with Laura, and I’d like to thank her again for the encouraging words and being aweosme. 🙂
Overall, I had a really good time over the weekend, and I’ll be sure to come back next year. I guess we can say now that BristolCon had become my favourite literary event. Thankfully I was able to learn from last year and WorldCon how to handle myself in specific situations, and how to hang on to my self-confidence even if my brain tries to convince me otherwise. I still have room to improve though, as conversing still doesn’t come easy for me – partly because of the language barrier which still frustrates me, because I can’t express myself as well as I want to; and partly because social anxiety is a bitch. And, well, I’m not really that interesting, but mostly being small and quiet is a disadvantage when you try to chat in a noisy environment. Still, I’d like to thank everyone I met this year for being welcoming nice. I hope to see you all in 2020 either in Bristol or somewhere else 🙂