Yesterday I set out on a walk through some woods in the northern part of Berlin. Because I get lost very easily, I got turned around (not in the woods, but on the road) and ended up at my intended destination later than I planned, but it turned out for the best, because I was there in time to catch the sunset.
Then I met this fox! I love foxes. We met eyes for several seconds, but by the time I came to my sense to try and get a photo, he was on the move again. This is the best of a batch of blurred photos.
This summer, over the weekend of August 19-21, I’ll be at the Dublin Ghost Story Festival in (where else?) Dublin, Ireland, the city of Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan Le Fanu (among others) along with many luminaries: Guest of Honor Adam Nevill, Toastmaster John Connolly, and assorted guests David Mitchell, Angela Slatter, Sarah Pinborough, A.K. Benedict, Paul Kane, Marie O’Regan, and John Reppion. Oh, and also me. Tickets are a mere €30 for what should prove to be a brilliant weekend of spooky fun including a performance of an M.R. James play by the legendary Nunkie Theatre Company.
There’s a limit of 150 attendees with no tickets sold at the door, and the festival is filling up fast! So book now to avoid disappointment. Dublin is a great city and who knows…maybe we’ll even manage to conjure up an apparition or two.
It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts about this event, and while I’m not all the way there yet, this post risks passing into utter irrelevancy if I don’t get it up soon, so here it is.
It’s almost too overwhelming to try to write about the convention, and this won’t be a comprehensive report like some of my friends and colleagues have produced. There’s no way I could reconstruct all the things I did and saw and talked about and to who and if I even began to try and list all the people I chatted with I’d be editing this post till the day I died as I kept remembering folks I’d forgotten to mention. But people sometimes ask me what we do at these things and why I’m so worn out afterward; for a flavor of that, check out some of these posts:
The reason these events are so wonderful is because for a few days, you get to spend every minute with a huge group of amazingly talented, smart, witty, visionary, passionate, extraordinary people and have the best conversations of the year. I got to talk to people about Arthur Machen and M.R. James, about the intense experience of reading Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series as a child, about S.T. Joshi’s critical writings and the house (the real house, that you can visit) at Greene Knowe. I saw weird insect art by Arthur Machen’s great-granddaughter, Tessa Farmer, as part of a terrific art show. I discussed everything from film to football to real-life ghost stories and more with folks. Seeing Susan Cooper interviewed was a real highlight for me (I saw her give a talk about a dozen years ago in Portland as well; she’s the only one of my childhood writing idols I’ve had the chance to see not once but two times). I talked with people who profoundly influenced my writing early on like Ramsey Campbell, Melanie Tem, Lisa Tuttle, and Steve Rasnic Tem; I met people in person for the first time like Rosanne Rabinowitz and Gary Couzens who I’ve known online for well over a dozen years; I finally got to speak to people whose work I’ve admired for years like Nina Allan (who I saw far to little of!) and Conrad Williams and tell them that. I spent too little time with too many lovely folks like Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner, Allison Littlewood, and loads more of you; I met lots more of you for the first time that I previously only knew from your work and/or social media–I won’t even begin to try to list you all.
In celebration of Arthur Machen’s birthday, there was a track of Machen programming which I loved, and would have loved even more if I hadn’t found myself scheduled against nearly every one of the Machen bits I most wanted to attend. Machen is a writer who is little known outside of genre aficionados, but he’s a strong influence on many of us, myself included–in fact, a panel on current writers influenced by Machen included Adam Nevill, Michael Kelly, Thana Niveau, Tim Lebbon, Paul Finch and Ramsey Campbell while Rosanne Rabinowitz’s novella “Helen’s Story” from PS Publishing tells the story of the woman in “The Great God Pan” from her point of view.
There was also pirate programming that included talks on LARPs and costuming as well as guerilla readings!
I know there are writers and others in the industry who eschew such events, but for me, they are absolutely one of the biggest perks of being a writer. I love meeting readers and other writers and the agents and editors and publishers who are so passionate about the work that we all do; I’m always so sad when they come to an end, but fired up with creativity.
This was a terrific convention, run by the same group of people who did the amazing 2010 World Horror Con in Brighton as well as a couple of British Fantasycons, all in Brighton. Each of these conventions has meant a great deal to me for personal and professional reasons, and I’m sorry there won’t be any more there the foreseeable future. But next year, there is the British Fantasy Convention in York, which I’ll be attending.
World Fantasy is a bit of a madhouse, and this one was bigger than usual: I heard somewhere in the neighborhood of 1400 or 1500 attendees. This meant loads of people there I wanted to talk to, but it also meant it was easy to miss people. It meant that even though I sat on a panel with R.C. Matheson, son of the late Richard Matheson, I somehow neglected to tell him how much I loved his father’s work; it meant too many people I saw or spoke to only in passing and several I didn’t run into at all.
Oh, and I also had a book launch. Steve Rasnic Tem, who wrote the introduction to my collection The Moon Will Look Strange, kicked it off with some words about my writing that were so lovely–and I can barely recall much about the launch now, to be honest except being overwhelmed at how many people turned up and how delightful you all were, old friends and new friends and people I’d never even met who were excited to read the book.
I also did a reading of the first half of the story “Ash-Mouth” from The Moon Will Look Strange and despite the fact that I was opposite James Blaylock reading and other interesting items, a few people even turned up to hear me! (There was also a lady at the start who said “Oh! Are you the one reading? I thought this was James Blaylock! I’m in the wrong room!” and ran out. When I told this story to a few people they were kind of horrified on my behalf, but I was actually telling it because I thought it was really funny. I mean, I’d been joking about turning up and asking people why on earth they were turning up to listen to me read when they could be in James Blaylock’s reading.)
Stephen Jones, below, has been hugely encouraging to me ever since he selected my third published story, “No More A-Roving,” for a Mammoth Best New Horror, and that encouragement has been one of the things that has carried me through the darker times.
The British Fantasy Awards and World Fantasy Awards were also handed out at the end of the weekend, and again, I’m delighted with the winners (okay, save for Cabin in the Woods for screenplay, which I thought was a terrible, terrible film), many friends among them–again, I won’t try to list them all.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the North. How long? Last time I was there, the streets of Belfast and Derry were full of British soldiers; in Belfast, you had to pass through police checkpoints just to travel around the city. I’d become friends with another American girl in Dublin and together we spent a few weeks hitchhiking round the Republic and the North. When we got ready to return to Dublin from Belfast, we decided to splurge and take the train. Except that we ended up not getting the train, we had to take the bus, because the IRA had called in a bomb threat on the track.
We never felt in any danger in the North, and in fact it was still quite a safe place for tourists to visit. We met lovely people and sometimes drank with them in pubs and chatted to them about various things — including politics, actually. Still, it was a relief to get back to the Republic where there weren’t soldiers everywhere.
I didn’t know a great deal about the Troubles at that stage beyond a broad outline of the situation. I know far more about all of it now, and I know and have talked to and am friends and acquaintances with Irish people who are all across the spectrum as regards the politics of it all. Ultimately, my position is that I am not Irish and thus, well, I don’t have a position. Only a general one, which applies more or less across the board to all situations: killing innocent civilians is a pretty bad thing to do whether it’s state-sponsored or not. Colonizing other countries is also bad. Undoing colonization can be easier said than done when the effects of said colonization are entrenched in a culture and economy. When people are made to feel powerless and marginalized from a social and economic standpoint, it’s more likely that they will ally themselves with an organization that makes them feel as though they belong to something. People often have the same reasons for joining their country’s military as others do for engaging in guerrilla warfare and terrorist activities, whether it’s the aforementioned marginalization or notions about honor and justice. Most people think they are doing the right thing, whatever it is they are doing; people also do right things for wrong reasons and wrong things for right reasons. A few people are sociopaths who will take advantage of any breakdown in the social order or any institutionalized opportunity for violence to act out their sociopathy. Ireland has a complicated history and if you are not Irish (and by that I mean Irish-Irish not “Irish American”) and you think you understand it you probably don’t.
All this is by way of saying, it was lovely to return to a de-militarized, as it were, North.
This is an excellent used bookstore I visited in Belfast. I could have easily spent hundreds of pounds in this store if I’d had it. All my favorite sections — general fiction, classics, science fiction, fantasy, and travel — were bursting with books I want to read. It’s a small shop, but whoever does the buying is only selecting the best stuff.
I don’t have a photo of the shop next door, Atomic Collectibles, where for just a couple of pounds I scored these two paperbacks:
Now my secret is out: yes, I have a weakness for Dennis Wheatley novels. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure.
And I never pass up a chance to read a new-to-me John Wyndham novel, and that’s one I’d never heard of before.
Onwards to Derry. The soldiers have left the streets in the North, but the Union Jack still flies to mark Unionist areas while paint on road signs obscures the “London” part of “Londonderry.”
Derry was the site for the awful massacre of innocent civilians by British troops in 1972 known as Bloody Sunday. Conditions for the Catholic residents at the time were appalling, and nationalists had established an area known as “Free Derry.”
Today, murals tell the story of the events in Derry at the time. These are just a few.
The Museum of Free Derry is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about these events, and I’d highly recommend a visit to anyone stopping off in the town.
It would be naive to simply say all that it is in the past now. The dead are far from forgotten.
Tensions remain. Signs and graffiti reference “POWs” and demand their release. You’ll need to click on the photo below to enlarge it and read the graffiti that says “RIP DOLOURS PRICE IRA.”
But Derry, and the North in general, is still a very different place now.
I feel like I should have a moral to wrap all this up at the end here, but the only things I can think of sound simplistic and patronizing. So: Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and people and places don’t always change, but sometimes they do. And it does give one hope.