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.

weekend at the NASFiC

So I did indeed attend the NASFiC in Raleigh, North Carolina this past weekend.  And what, you may ask, is a NASFiC?  Well, when the World Science Fiction Convention is held outside of North America (it’s in Australia this year), a North American Science Fiction Convention rises up to take its place.  I’ve never been to a WorldCon or a NASFiC before, and this one just up the road, a nice few hours’ drive from Athens, seemed like as good a place as any to start.

I had a fantastic time, although I confess I didn’t see too much of the actual convention.  I saw my friend and fellow Odyssey grad Matt Rotundo do a really good reading, and I did my panels.  Our moderator didn’t show up for “Evil in Print vs. Evil on Screen” late Friday afternoon, which was kind of an unpleasant development for me as I couldn’t imagine what direction the panel was going to go in and turned up completely unprepared and hoping the moderator would guide the discussion.  Lucky for me, my fellow panelists Heather Urbanski and Shane Tourtellotte were both erudite and articulate and I hope we got through it without it turning into one of those panels.  Saturday night’s panel on writing characters based on real people had failed to designate a moderator and I showed up late, but Walter Hunt had stepped bravely into the breach and guided the discussion in a productive direction.  Well, I thought it was productive, and hopefully the audience did too.

So, potential disasters averted.

The rest of the time I was running around and talking a lot and meeting new people and enjoying some of the awesome used bookstores and great food Raleigh has to offer  (I’ve cried myself to sleep the last two nights over the thought that Clyde Cooper’s BBQ is six hours away from me) and helping with the London in 2014 Worldcon bid parties meet-and-greets (you really should sign up for a supporting membership because they make videos like this and throw kickass parties meet-and-greets and are gonna roll out one of the best cons ever).  I picked up a copy of local (Durham) fiction mag Bull Spec, a promising new publication, not least of which because they are looking to TTA Press as one model for producing gorgeous, quality magazines.  And speaking of TTA Press, I also did a video interview with Pete Bullock of Transmissions from Beyond and y’all, I am camera shy as it is and now I’m gonna be preserved on the internet on video no less, saying god knows what, but I shall dutifully inform you all when it is posted all the same, and probably go into hiding shortly after.  A podcast of one of my TTA Press-published stories is also forthcoming.  Again, details to come.

Came home tired and happy and now have loads of work to catch up on and an overflowing email inbox (not to mention a mound of laundry), so it’s back to what passes for normal life around here.  Perhaps I’ll even get the hang of updating this blog on a semi-regular basis.

WHC 2010: Brighton Shock!

Best convention ever?  I’m hardly an expert–I’ve only been to a few in the past, and found a couple to be very good, a couple of middling quality, and a couple which made me fervently wish I’d spent my limited time and cash on a nice weekend in Paris or something instead.  World Horror Con 2010 is certainly the best I’ve ever attended–credit to the organizers, who put together an awesome event which in turn attracted a fantastic crowd of people.  And the red-shirted volunteers were tireless–did you poor people ever rest?  I saw the same set over and over and you managed to be everyplace you were needed at the same time.

It would be churlish of me to start naming names of all the wonderful people I met and chatted with and listened to (speaking or reading) over the weekend, because I’d inevitably leave some out, although I think a shout-out to the ‘4-nation alliance,’ a terrific group of people who made the weekend even more special for me, is in order: Sandra, Wendy, Jenni, Helen, Claude, Dom, and Anthea.  Y’all, writers and readers of horror (and the partners who love and support them in their endeavors) are an astonishingly convivial bunch.  I was also delighted to meet some of the wonderful and influential-for-me writers I alluded to in my last post, although I missed some as well, so I suppose I’ll have to return to the UK for more conventions, darn it all.

Maura McHugh moderated my favorite panel of the weekend, on women in horror–an especially contentious issue of late–and there were some other program highlights for me as well, including the readings I attended, but mostly it was all about the people I met and the talks we had and, yeah, sure, the drinks we consumed, as the best of these events always are.  So I don’t have a proper con report.  I took about six pictures the entire weekend because I am lame but also because everyone around me had cameras, so those will be turning up somewhere soon.  There were book launches and freely flowing wine and two actual days of pretty decent weather and a couple of great meals in local restaurants and truly a international feel to the event to go along with the “world” in its title–I really think both this convention and World Fantasy would benefit not just from being held more often outside the US but off the North American continent altogether.  (Plus, I think we are starting to get a nasty reputation for beating, arresting, and/or deporting folks in the speculative fiction scene, insidious types that they are, which can’t bode well for future attendance from outside the walls of fortress America.  But I digress.)

I was a walking technological disaster this weekend, by the way: the hard drive on my week-old laptop expired (hence no updates here) on Thursday afternoon, I kept demagnetizing my hotel key card no matter where I put it, and somewhere between entering the security line at Gatwick and landing (but not yet disembarking) on the plane to Atlanta, I lost my cell phone, which, in combination with my flight mysteriously vanishing from the usually-available online updates, caused my loved ones back home to imagine I’d fallen into some sort of bizarre Bermuda Triangle until I actually did turn up back here in Athens around 5 p.m.

Anyway, as nice as it is to be home, it’s always disorienting trying to integrate back into the swing of “normal” life and feels like a bit of a let down, so I’m already thinking ahead to future conventions: Where shall I go next?