Dublin Ghost Story Festival

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 guests 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.

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a trip to the North

Last weekend, I made a brief trip across the border to Northern Ireland for the 2D Northern Ireland Comic Festival in Derry, stopping off in Belfast along the way for a bit of (what else?) bookstore browsing.

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.

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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:

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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.”

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Today, murals tell the story of the events in Derry at the time. These are just a few.

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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.

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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.”

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But Derry, and the North in general, is still a very different place now.

And the 2D Festival is a lovely one, across three excellent venues, friendly and fun — that’s the report from the Forbidden Planet blog. And Maura McHugh’s report is here. Here was no politics, no tragedy, no broken divided city, just kids and grown-ups, comics readers and artists and writers and creators mingling (like the legendary Herb Trimpe! who I did not know was legendary as I chattered away to him and his lovely wife in Sandino’s Bar on Friday night!). As someone who prefers my conventions small and homey and focused on literature, whose idea of hell is attending a massive media extravaganza like the San Diego Comicon, 2D with its mix of independents and big names, Irish and international titles, is the perfect size and atmosphere.

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.

Fantasycon 2012 and a little good magic

In 2010, I went to the best con I’ve ever attended, the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England. When I found out that the same team that was responsible for that awesome weekend would be running the British Fantasy Convention at the same hotel in 2012, I immediately put it on my wish list.

Well, the best laid plans, etc. etc., and as the date hurtled ever closer it became increasingly clear to me that for various reasons, I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I sucked it up, as you do; you can’t always get what you want, as the song tells us, and there’d be other cons (but I didn’t want other cons, I wanted this con). I’d spend the weekend writing furiously and resolutely not thinking about all the fun I wasn’t having.

But! At the last minute, some good magic happened–it does that sometimes, you know, when you least expect it–and almost literally before I knew what had happened with my reversal of fortune I was on a train hurtling back down to Brighton.

And a fine, fine, fine weekend it was indeed. It was lovely to see people I’d met two years earlier and not seen since; it was wonderful to make new friends (though I really missed those of you I met in 2010 who couldn’t attend this convention). I did a panel on blurring genre boundaries in place of Emma Newman, who couldn’t attend at the last minute, and there was a reading that wasn’t, and a terrific panel on fairy folk (where I learned it’s wisest to never actually utter that word) and an awesome Joe Lansdale interview and ice cream on a chilly beach and a few spins by moonlight on the Brighton Wheel and interesting rocks collected in a solitary walk along the shore and more kebabs than any human should eat over a four-day period and (permit me my single moment of name-dropping) getting to tell Robin Hardy that The Wicker Man is one of my favorite films of all time and then chatting with him about US presidential politics, and new friends and talking and talking and talking to some of the most wonderful and engaging people and not just about books and writing, either, but about film and football and feminism and music and more. Oh! And I got to hold the British Fantasy Award deservedly won (well, I would say that, wouldn’t it?) by Black Static. My solitary regret is the people I meant to speak to over the weekend and somehow missed, or those of you I managed only to speak to rather than having a substantial conversation. Next time I shall make a list and I won’t rest till I’ve tracked you all down like a demented scavenger hunter. (That sounds much more unsettling than intended, coming from a horror writer, doesn’t it? I only want to chat! And probably tell you how much I loved this one amazing story that you wrote!)

It turned out to be exactly what I needed and then some, a glorious writerly weekend in the very best company. And next year I get to do it all again! World Fantasy Convention in Brighton 2013, run by the same folks yet again (mustn’t they be worn out by now?), in a slightly more upscale venue (but I will forever have a deep love for the Royal Albion in all its faded seaside glory). And I have the bones of a Brighton story taking unsettling shape somewhere in the cellars of my brain. So thanks to lovely Brighton for showing me a good time yet again, to the Royal Albion Hotel, to the 2012 Fantasycon committee, to everyone who turned up and made every minute so much fun, and to the good magic that spirited me there.

for sche schulde than make al the world to wondyr on hir*

Two terrific stories of contemporary women adventurers/explorers:

Dutch teenager Laura Dekker succeeded in sailing solo around the world. I’ve been following her story since 2009, when the Dutch government denied her permission to set out on this journey at 14, citing child welfare issues. Given what lots of kids endure just by virtue of turning up at school, I find it difficult to sympathize with their position on this. But all’s well that ends well, and Laura’s been able to complete her journey at last. Her website is here.

Also: Felicity Aston has become the first women to cross the Antarctica solo, in fifty-nine days. I have a real fascination for tales of Antarctic exploration, although personally I loathe being cold. A few years ago I had a brief period of fantasizing about working down at McMurdo Station after reading Jerri Nielson’s Icebound (sadly, she’s since succumbed to the cancer that first surfaced while she was working there) before coming to my senses. Antarctica’s on my long list of places to visit someday, but I don’t expect to be particularly adventurous or ground-breaking in the attempt.

There are still too few women travellers and adventurers as role models, although if we scratch below history’s surface they certainly exist. (Try eleventh-century Japanese lady-in-waiting Lady Sarashina’s As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams for one of the earliest surviving accounts of a woman traveller.) When I was a child, I used to wish I’d been born a boy, because as far as I could see, boys got to do things and girls didn’t. I hope that is less the case for kids today, but I’m not sure it is; Bella Swan came after Buffy, not before, which makes me think that old gender stratification is in many ways as pernicious as ever.

*From The Boke of Margery Kempe, the account of another medieval woman traveller (and mystic). In Modern English: For she should then make all the world to wonder on her.