Fall Travels Part 2: England & The World Fantasy Convention 2013

Calendar Proof!

On Friday the calendar proof arrived!

Blog_Proof2Venetia and I looked through it and all the images are vibrant and look gorgeous which means that today (Monday the 18th) it is going to press and printing.

Blog_Proof1You can order the calendar through the Clarion Indiegogo Here.
For a limited time only!

UPDATE: The calendar is now on sale HERE.

But now, back to our previously scheduled travel journal.  We begin with:

LONDON

After a short morning flight from Reyjkavic and the necessary adjustments to my phone, we began our trip from Heathrow into London proper. The long tube ride punctuated by the posh recorded voice of an eloquent woman saying, in the loveliest way possible, “Cockfosters. This is the line to Cockfosters” at every one of the many stops.

When our nebulous plans for adventures in the north fell through, we sought housing advice from our friends on Facebook, and the Sapphire Hotel (recommended by Brook) proved a lovely choice, at a good price for London, good location close to the underground. Sadly however, they had room at the inn for only the first night of our impromptu London bivouac. It wasn’t long after our arrival that we fell into a…
Nap. Surprise! We awoke in time to meet up with our International Discworld friends Richard and Amy. From Charing Cross and Nelson’s fabled Column, we through the Strand, stomped by the Savoy, and dodged as artfully as we could through ancient tunnels filled with Friday Night revellers and spilt ale.
After a Bistro dinner and delightful tale-telling, we wandered east to St Paul’s Cathedral (sight of shenanigans in Robert Rankin’s recently-read The Japanese Devilfish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions) by way of the Twinings Tea offices and Fleet Street, admiring architecture high and low.

EnglandWFC'13_045After Cornflakes in the Sapphire Hotel (not much else we can eat these days it seems, with eggs and gluten counterindicated by doctors), we packed our bags and headed up the street in Shepherd’s Bush (is it just me, or does everything in London sound like a euphemism?) to the vastly more-expensive Ibis Hotel. Given how limited our choices were, I suppose we should thank our stars we found a room at the inn at all. Then, duly ensconced, we headed out to lunch near the National Theater at Waterloo with Jessica Rabbit, who we had met en route to Cairns Australia earlier in the year. We had an absolutely splendid time with her – walking about with the tourists in the food markets and hearing tales of East Indian parades, talking US politics and UK Remembrance Day.

EnglandWFC'13_082When we tried to travel to the Docklands for a long-anticipated meeting with Aly Fell, we were foiled. The Docklands Light Railroad was closed, and our attempts to circumvent the closure were met with an almost farcical lack of knowledge and savvy by the staff of the train lines. So, we made the sensible decision and called it a day. We got amazing (and gluten-free) Ethiopian food upon our return to the Bush (do they call it “the Bush”? We would in the US I think). Ethiopian seems like one of the best cuisines for current diet, though gluten is often mixed with teff for injera, so even it is not foolproof.
After our daily allotment of napping, we lounged in bed, wrote blogs and drew Small Gods and wondered if aliens would soon be arriving in our bathroom pod.

EnglandWFC'13_108Oxford

When planning our trip to Oxford, Shepherd’s Bush proved a very lucky headquarters indeed. Rather than schlepping our baggage to Victoria to hop the Oxford Tube (a 2-level red omnibus, natch. because really, why call something by its name when fostering (cockfostering?) confusion is so much more fun?), we discovered that the coach stopped a mere 2 blocks from our latest hotel. And while seats were at a premium, we found room across an aisle and made excellent time to Oxford. (We were able to remember our stop by the rhyme “Oranges and lemons, the bells of St. Clemens”.)

I had met Maha many years ago in Laurel Maryland, but I hadn’t seen her since her days in the south of France, and I’d certainly never met her wife Sinead. While they had not loved their time in Oxford (where Class is less something one attends than something one is born into), they knew it well and were exceptional tour guides. And while I had not expected to even be in Oxford (we’d met them there only because they had attended a weekend wedding), the timing proved incredible.

EnglandWFC'13_229As we wandered the city and campus (technically one of the campuses), we came across the Bodleian Library, and the most surprising and exceptional exhibit – Magical Books. It was not a large exhibit, but oh what a trove!
JRR Tolkien’s original illustrations for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, manuscripts from Susan Cooper, drawings by CS Lewis, JK Rowling’s drawing in a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ labelled “Snape contemplates the unfairness of it all”, John Dee’s marble Magickal Table, illuminated Bestiaries, and books books books. We’d have taken pictures inside if allowed, but this photo of the outside board will have to suffice:

EnglandWFC'13_206After a look to the Oxonian halls that served as Harry Potter sets, we took a all by the park where we saw cattle seemingly unchanged since they’d been the subjects of paintings hundreds of years earlier. We saw deer and cranes, and what Maha assured us were loads of entitled young bounders in boats, rowing.

EnglandWFC'13_285 copyWe took our food (and beer for our hosts) in an alleyway Oxford bar that’s existed forever and set off at sunset in Sinead’s car for the Solihull home of Liz and Matt. The drive passed swiftly, and a discussion of the UK’s regrettable User Interface led to her revelation of the worst sign she’s seen in her time there. See if you can parse it:
“AMBER GAMBLING SNARLS TRAFFIC”.

We arrived in time for takeaway Indian dinner, and a Sunday evening tradition: a group of musical aficionados gather by their laptops and listen to music from around the globe. This week, in honor of horror and encroaching Halloween, each member had contributed a song that truly scared them. And the variety was great – The Bonzo Dog Band fought Eurotrash metal. Children screams and wailed. The uninflected voices of sober scientists gave terrifying news and people shivered in rooms from America to Norway.

And saddest of all, we learned that Lou Reed had died. Strangely, Liz had chosen a song of his for the folio, and we raised a toast to him. Later we watched ‘University Challenge’ (which I would not do again. It felt like the loathsome rich kids in the ‘Seven Up’ series wailing on the much nicer and much poorer ones. Besides, my time of caring exactly which year something happened is long past), and ‘Only Connect’ which I loved and enjoyed playing along with. Though having Matt and Liz and Venetia on our team was surely the key to the Home Team’s victory. We ended the evening with ‘Nevermind the Buzzcocks’, the first time I’ve ever seen it new.
I enjoyed the music magazine ‘The Word’ while I was there too – especially the lead articles on Ray Davies and Richard Thompson. Such a delight to be in the home of such music lovers!

Liz greeted us at noon the next day with a tray of food we could (and indeed would) eat! The variety was astonishing and delicious. Venetia made the acquaintance of Nutella, and the two hit it off admirably.

LizBirmingham_12(Photo by Liz)

After breakfast and talk we ventured forth with big plans to see the sights of Birmingham, England’s “Second City”. But we did not take in the grandeur of the classic artworks and ancient churches, not even a little. Instead we stopped in Sparkhill intending to run an errand or two, and found ourselves entranced by the wonderful shops food and people. While Liz helped Venetia try on suits and saris in the Islamic Charity Shop, she had a dreadful pause to think “oh no. I’ve left Lee out there with all those devout Muslim ladies!” She needn’t have worried of course. After some respectful conversation about mirrors and their mountings, Liz found me “holding court”.

EnglandWFC'13_014Most happily, the ladies in question were so enchanted with Venetia’s pixie self in the first outfit, that they sought out others they felt would be better choices for her complexion- returning swiftly with dresses in “more Mughal” colors. Happy as we were for the excellent expert advice, the Eritrean woman behind the counter was even happier – she hadn’t any more idea how to fold the sash than we had. I suspect everyone there will be talking about that day for some time to come. I hope so anyway!

LizBirmingham_8The next day we slept in while the rest of the house got cleaned, venturing downstairs late, eating and relaxing (and making some Small Gods in advance of the busy convention weekend). But most of all we were watching movies – a rare treat for us indeed. Despicable Me, Big Trouble in Little China, and the most recent Muppet movie. All in the comfort of Liz and Matt’s home.

LizBirmingham_13(Photo by Liz – Daily Small Gods)

World Fantasy Con 2013 in Brighton

We took the almost unbelievably cheap first class train from Birmingham into London, eating and drinking in right high style, even as I mourned Thatcher’s privatization of the common weal. Strange to think that it has been so long since my 1988 trip, when her menace was ever present. Now her bitter greedy legacy, like Reagan’s in the US, is a fact not just an omen.

When we changed trains (and stations) in London, we spotted a comrade in arms (well, in books) also looking for the first-class car to Brighton. Ewa (pronounced “Evah, like forevah and evah”) was heading south to volunteer and made a most delightful traveling companion. Wherever we needed to be over the weekend, she was always there, one step ahead of the game. The volunteers were splendid, and overall the convention was a delight. Some details, hints and tips:

Should you come to Brighton, do not stay at the “Hilton” Hotel Metropole. While lovely in some particulars (the architecture in the old lobby and breakfast spaces, stairs and bar) the convention space was a pretty ghastly affair – non-Euclidean and a nightmare for anyone with impaired mobility. and our room was a bad joke- an overheated sauna that could not be cooled, a bathroom backlit for one’s shaving convenience, toilets that didn’t flush until the 8th try, faucets that could have used a proper Vice-Grip to use, windows that opened a mere 4 inches, surly service, a convenient built-in drinks refrigerator just to “hold” your drinks, not to actually cool them. But perhaps the egregious scalping of internet service (15 pounds per day here, but free at the less pretentious TravelLodge, natch) was worst of all. No communication with the outside meant no updates, reportage, tweets or any of it. So the account that follows is one from my dim exhausted brain, rather than accurate or up-to-the-minute as I had hoped in advance.
I did hear great things about the nearby Granville though.

So many lovely people that I cannot begin to list them all. But starting at the beginning, we bid Ewa goodbye and got registered. The hard-cover program book lovely, but both outdated (neither China Mieville nor Alan Lee made it to the show) and deeply impractical for foreign travels given the tiny book bags provided. After a much needed nap we arose for the Early party and took in the lay of the land.

Halloween dawned with breakfast in the big hotel dining room where we were placed next to birthday girl (and fashion plate) Shannon Page and artist (or is he still author?) Mark Ferrari. Both had come from Portland, but had come a week early to the country and spent far more time in the mighty Metropolis of London than we.

We’d gotten much of the art show hung by the time we met Simon and Julia Indelicate for lunch. Brighton is their old stomping grounds and we spent not just lunch but the better part of the afternoon with them – traveling through town, picking up last minute printing, and admiring the shops. Every bit as interesting as their records suggest, we hope to see and hear much more of them in the near future.

EnglandWFC'13_023That said, before Andri’s house party in Iceland, we’d not heard of the onerous tariffs that the US has placed on foreign musicians. Quite horrible for The Indelicates as well, locked out of the US by trade restrictions. The US – Where trade is apparently everything unless it’s creative….

By the time we returned to the Hotel, the joint was jumping. No longer a few lost souls wandering aimlessly, the volume level was very high and people were getting into the spirit of the convention.

Dinner on the first full day was taken with Todd and Rita Lockwood, because seeing people from the Pacific Northwest is clearly easier in Brighton. Delicious lamb and rice and fool….

There was no trick-or-treating, but a few brave souls dressed up and made the evening a little more jolly than it otherwise would have been. The censorious and scolding tone of the Convention’s messaging happily forgotten for a little while.

Ben Rosenbaum turned up here and there, I wish I’d taken a good picture of him with Ted Chiang, talking like undergrads on the giant staircase. We got to speak at greater length on Sunday, and I hope a curious game may result in the coming months. :)

I got to show the ineffable Mary Robinette Kowal the pin-up I’d painted from The Year Without a Summer for the Clarion Pin-Up calendar. And the night of the Mass Signing, We got signatures in the 2013 version from Robin Hobb, Pat Rothfuss and toastmaster Neil Gaiman (whose kind words about my portrait if his wife were most appreciated). Sir Terry Pratchett was briefly glimpsed, but his time is without price, and we are delighted he made it at all. Were that Ray Bradbury had been able to join in around this literary Halloween Tree….

Mary introduced me to author and blue-haired book maven Nene from Malmö in Sweden (the second of the long weekend’s birthday celebrants), and I hope to see much more of her in future. Knowing she will be present in Wisconsin come May tempts me to Wiscon and House on the Rock, but plans for my impending 50th birthday party might make that untenable…. Bird lover that she is, I was delighted to introduce her to her Hawaiian namesake in a rare moment of internet function.

The dinners (and occasionally lunches) seemed to fall in thematic patterns – Portlanders (David, Kate, Shannon, Mark), Art Show Staples (even though we went with John Picacio and Tara, we found ourselves across the empty Indian Restaurant with Les and Val Edwards and the Zipsers), DC 2014 World Fantasy Con planners (Peggy Rae, Colleen and …), DC Friends of mine unknown to one another (Nancy Greene and the Zipsers) and finally the infamous Frenemeses category- one from Tel Aviv, one Jerusalem (each would rather die than live in the others city), one Brooklyn, one Riverdale (“you’re such a Jersey Girl” says Barry the agent to Laura Anne Gilman, his client), one birthday Swede, our duly-appointed member of the press in PreRaphaelite glory, and me. Mad fun in a BBQ restaurant that, in striving for verisimilitude with is US counterpart, served obscenely large portions to the shock and awe of all present.

In the midst of the madness, I took the time to participate in a fun and quirky project by Shanna Germain and Monte Cook: We Are All Strange.

The Art Show space was as well arranged and run as possible, given the peculiarities of the space. Brava to Val Edwards – there was no drama, no fretting and the clear understanding of a dab hand at work. The couches and tables a terrific idea, and the artwork quite impressive – though we all missed Alan Lee, and admit to some disappointment that Greg Manchess left his things at home, it was a real treat to see the works of Pennington, Edwards, Picacio up close. While the Artists reception felt under-attended, those who did attend we’re attentive and interesting. I enjoyed showing Neil Gaiman the portraits of “Good Omens” stars and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and meeting the wonderful Frenchmen who purchased my work. And it was the French who did, the British didn’t (beyond Neil) seem to care much (a fellow from the Isle of Man suggested it might be too spicy for the UK, but really? Pictures of Doctor Who and Small Gods? I suspect the real answer is a dearth of wallspace, love of books, and an economy that’s still a bit dodgy). Happily, the French Publishers Bragelonne bought 2 of my pieces for their offices, and I greatly enjoyed my conversations with them. Perhaps we can work together in the future. I do hope so. Especially if my intermittent discussions with Centipede Press about doing a book about the sculpture of expatriot Henry Clews Jr. one day come to fruition….

Seeing people from so many countries with a common bond led many to discussions of Family, and reunions we in evidence everywhere one looked. Overall, I’m glad we went and I hope that next year’s version will bring so many from overseas.

Postscript: Plane Home

Overheard as the London plane disembarked in Iceland: An adorable woman in sweater, coat, and fuzzy technicolor hat to the African Man who’d been seated next to her watching “Wolverine”:

“It doesn’t GET cold in Australia. This coat is too tight at the arms. Must be my massive guns…. Do you know Harry Potter?” He does.
“Well, it’s kind of a… thing in my life. I bought a BIG mug while I was there. The woman at customs didn’t like it. ‘What IS this?’ It’s a mug I replied. You drink out of it…. She was SO unhappy with her life”.

We arrived safely in Seattle, where we were rescued at our very low ebb by Rob. How lucky to have such fine friends!

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