Monday, December 22, 2008

Fear and driving in Los Angeles

Okay, before the year comes to its end I thought it was about time I related some more of our '08 holiday experiences. So here goes. The flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles wasn’t too bad at all, just long! Makes me wish I could afford first class… We (Jan and I) landed at 6.30 pm local time. It was pretty dark by then. We did get to see the lights of Las Vegas drift by beneath us. LV seems such a compact city from the air. One moment it’s all bright lights (the Strip was very obvious); the next, the surrounding desert was pitch.

Passing through immigration, etc, was remarkably easy. So we were soon on our way to collect our pre-booked hire car, loading the suitcases, and getting on our way. Of course, I had forgotten how the automatic gears work, making me look a total fool in front of everyone with kangaroo starts. But that was a minor glitch, and then it was out onto the streets of LA… That’s when the ‘fear’ began.

It wasn’t really fear – well for me it was just total confusion and a bit of panic. Jan, on the other hand, was scrunching down under the dashboard with eyes tightly shut! Prior to our holiday we bought a road map of LA and had worked out a route to the hotel in Glendale. Oh no, you don’t want to go that way we were informed. The quickest route was north up the 405 and east along the 101. Yup it certainly looked more straightforward. So we hit the road – remembering to drive on the ‘wrong’ side. Within mere minutes we were driving onto the 405. By now it was around 7.30, so we hoped the road to be reasonably empty. No way. It was full and fast and furious. And I had forgotten to adjust the wing mirrors first!

Somewhere along the 101 we took an exit. The wrong exit of course. We took a turn and then another, attempting to get back to the 101. Now, anyone familiar with the American grid system knows just how easy it is to get around a city like Los Angels. But at that moment, exhausted and hungry, we simply got confused. Okay: lost. We crossed, I’m sure, the same roads countless times but at different junctions. But somehow, we picked up a major road (i.e. one that was marked on our map) and made our way to Glendale, and our hotel. The restaurant next door had closed by then so we had to pick up some junk food from a convenience store, before we fell into bed to sleep off the 11 hour flight fatigue.

The following morning, our first act (after a huge American-style breakfast) was to buy detailed road maps of Glendale, Burbank, etc, before we hit the road again. This time, driving to Santa Monica, in daylight, was straightforward enough. I had become used to driving on the right (although Jan still felt I passed vehicles in the right-hand lane far too close for comfort – her comfort that is), turning right on a red light, and the grid system. Jan was excellent at navigating now that she dared open her eyes.

And then, after a couple of days in LA we took the freeway east, out to the deserts of southern California. By now, I felt rather nonchalant behind the wheel, that is until a succession of huge semis (articulated lorries, to us Brits) roared past on both sides of the car (and we were doing 70 mph), reminded us of our vulnerability in the rental.

More later.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Donald Sydney-Fryer


On Tuesday 4th November, the US election night, Jan and I helped Stephen Jones celebrate 20 years in professional publishing, at a party in the great horror-orientated bookstore in Burbank, Los Angeles, Dark Delicacies. Stephen has written about, and posted photos (taken by yours truley) on his website. It was a fun evening, and among the people I met was the renowned poet Donald Sydney-Fryer. Here's a photo of us (taken by Jan).



Woman in Black

I've been away from the blog for quite a while. It's not that nothing has happened. In fact, rather a lot has, including a fortnight in sunny and very hot California. I'm in the process of editing the photos before posting them, so watch this space (but don't hold your breath).

Before leaving cold and damp Britain, Jan and I went to the theatre in Hanley, to see a rather fabulous adaptation of Susan Hill's ghost story The Woman in Black, starring Sean Baker and Ben Porter. The play was adapted by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford. The play was atmospherically done, with lots of low lights and flowing curtains, and minimal props.

The audience seemed to consist mostly of school children, and I feared for a disrupted evening (this is of course very prejudicial of me). In fact, the kids were spellbound by the play, and jumped & screamed at all the appropriate moments.

If you get a chance to see this play, do go.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Birthday Party

Here are a couple of photos from Jo's birthday party (more photos can be seen on www.petercoleborn.co.uk but please note, this website is in its infancy):









Images (c) Peter Coleborn

Cafe Manet?

Jan and I stayed in a hotel in St Albans last week. Nearby, we came across a Cafe Rouge. I was impressed by the bar -- so I took a photo (with permission). The cafe reminded me so of the Impressionist painting by Manet.

Photo (c) Peter Coleborn


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Down Portobello Road

Jan and I had a wonderful time yesterday evening. We spent the dark hours in the upstairs room of a fabulous restaurant in Portobello Road. Around twenty diners congregated together to celebrate Jo Fletcher's special birthday. There was plenty of wine (including bubbly), superb food and excellent company. The meal finished with a 'roast'. Not the sort involving an oven, but where we all spoke a few words, relaying our memories of Jo -- some were incredibly funny. As usual, I was armed with my camera and documented the evening. I hope to post a few pictures on the blog.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poet Laureate Announced

It's just been confirmed that my friend Chris Morgan has been appointed as Birmingham's Poet Laureate. Well done, Chris. He will be expected to write poems about the city, mentor the Young Poet Laureate, and attend special events. A very prestigious appointment.

With his permission, here is one of Chris’ poems:

THE CAR BODY PLANT

I always cycled in through pre-dawn
gloom, it seemed, for the 7.15 start,
yellow and sweating beneath my cape,
just one of a tide of half-asleeps
flowing into that infernal manufactory,
smoke-city of the blood-red night, each
of us squeezed into a terrifying conformity;
for them, fat pay-packets like an addiction.

My green boiler-suit, APPRENTICE
on chest pocket, possessed me,
marking me out, to be sent
for left-handed screwdrivers, for tubs
of elbow grease, for a laff. My O levels
and RP accent made me an outsider,
fuelled a mutual misunderstanding,
and a soupcon (my word, not theirs) of guilt.

Huge presses shook the floor, crunching
improbable shapes from steel sheets,
Richter six point something as I walked past;
older press operators all lacked
a finger, blood sacrifice to inattention;
hearing dimmed by decades of carcrash;
I never asked about their hearts or souls.
On assembly lines, spotwelding guns

were like futuristic weapons from a movie,
spitting chains of sparks across gangways
as their superhero crab-claws pinched,
and the air smelled sharply of lung-
destroying metal dust. Always loud hissing
and screeching, as of dying breaths,
as bodies were tortured into shape.

Chris Morgan

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cthulhu Statuette

This is one of five statuettes I cast in resin-plaster over the summer months. I can't cast any more because I managed to badly damage the mould on number five. The original clay master is also, alas, destroyed.

The statuette stands about 6" tall, and looks great on the mantle above the fire place.


If you are interested in obtaining one, please get in touch.


Photo (c) Peter Coleborn

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Prince of Stories

I had a pleasant surprise this morning. I received copies of Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, compiled by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen Bisette (published by St Martin's Press). This is a great-looking book covering the career of Neil Gaiman, from the earliest of days to now. I haven't had time to investigate it fully, but I did read the chapter 'Fantasytime at the New Imperial' over breakfast.

The New Imperial. How many people remember that hotel? It was the home of the first Fantasycon, and remained so for many years -- until it was closed down to mutate into offices or shops or something. It was the type of hotel where, to paraphrase Karl Wagner, the johns were down the corridor. But it had a strangeness and charm that modern hotels simply lack.

Anyway, back to this book and Gaiman's chapter. It is a wonderfully funny report of his adventures at his first ever convention -- Fantasycon VIII in 1984. His anecdote on the Lovecraft panel, where a certain artist said that he liked to draw tentacles, is priceless.

The book also includes several photographs I took of Neil Gaiman over the years, and it's great to see them included, some in full colour. Others acknowledged in the credits include Stephen Jones and Peter Crowther.

The cover art is by Dave McKean.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Appetite by Nicholas Royle.

The Appetite by Nicholas Royle. Gray Friar Press (2008) £8.00
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Nicholas Royle is one of the UK’s literary secrets. He quietly and all too infrequently writes masterfully disturbing stories and novels. The Appetite is such an example. This novella (similarly to Graham Joyce’s Three Ways to Snog an Alien, also reviewed in this blog) is about two people falling in love. Royle places this romance against the backdrop of a hurricane and its aftermath. The fierce storm, with its strong merciless winds, swept people up into the clouds, seemingly to disappear. But a few days later they return, falling out of the sky. Miraculously, there are only slight injuries.

Sally is one of the storm’s victims, and returning to earth she falls into Mike’s arms. And so begins their romantic liaison. She, though, is happily married and refuses to leave her husband. And so their relationship spirals into issues of guilt and claustrophobia.

And at the same time the world around them shifts, moving closer together, as if things are shrinking. This only compounds the sense of claustrophobia.

The Appetite effectively captures the conflicting emotions of Mike and Sally. It delineates their stresses as they test their relationship, until Sally has to finally decide.

Nicholas Royle, in this book, has taken a simple tale, added an element of strangeness, and then twisted in the literary knife. This is surely a front runner for the British Fantasy Award’s Best Novella next year.

Three Ways to Snog an Alien: book review

Three Ways to Snog an Alien by Graham Joyce. Faber (2008) £6.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

A terrible cover. Looks like chic lit for teenage girls. But get past that and you’ll find a wonderful exploration of teenagers in love. At first I was reminded of the Matheson story ‘The Trouble with Julie’; but Joyce has very much his own voice and his own compelling story to relate.

Doogie falls for the new girl Angelica. Naturally, for kids of his age, there’re the usual taunts about Doogie loving Angelica. Nevertheless, they go on a date – for an ice cream in a local cafĂ©. But he sees something disturbing, something that convinces him that Angelica is an alien. And now he’s on the look out for all things weird. The girl’s parents’ strange behaviour only further confirm his suspicions.

At home, Doogie does what we all would nowadays. He Googles the Web. He soon encounters a group of on-line conspiracy theorists who concur with him. Doogie is sucked into an investigation, armed with pointers to prove Angelica’s alien nature. He is warned that the investigation could prove highly dangerous.

But at the same time, Doogie is using the Web to search out dating tips, on how to handle women. The conflicts these two threads create are very amusing. Made me giggle out loud a few times.

If I didn’t know better, I’d suggest that Graham Joyce was writing from experience (well, to all teenage boys, girls are unfathomable, anyway). But – big but – Joyce adds that element of ambiguity. Doogie’s question is fully answered. Or is it? Are Angelica and her parents aliens? Or are they just strange? I’m not telling here.

I am a great fan of Joyce’s writing. He writes crisply and engagingly, with no superfluous words. He has a knack of creating very real people. They have normal lives, in normal towns and cities. And then he shifts reality ever so slightly, using that conflict to create perfect fiction.

Joyce’s previous young adult titles published by Faber are TWOC and Do the Creepy Thing. Read them all.

Allen Ashley

I received an email from Allen Ashley, bemoaning the lack of a photograph of a certain individual. In the meantime, here is Allen selling Elastic Press books at Fantasycon. Allen is generally a good sort -- even if he is an Arsenal fan.

Check out the Elastic Press website -- they publish some nice books, including a new one due in a month or so, edited by Mr Ashley.
Photo (c) Peter Coleborn




Mythago Wood

I recently re-read Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood -- reissued as a fine hardcover edition. Here is my review of it, initially posted on Amazon and sent to the BFS' Prism:

Back in 1981, Robert Holdstock wrote the novella 'Mythago Wood'. It was so good it was expanded into the World Fantasy Award winning novel of the same name (it won it in 1985). I am so happy to see Mythago Wood reprinted as a handsome hard cover, over twenty years on.

The decades have not dimmed the story or the quality of the writing. Ryhope Wood is a wooded area in the English countryside - but that's not all it is. From the outside, one can walk around it in hours; yet once inside the journey may take weeks. It is also a piece of land that has its roots (pun intended) travelling back not just in time, but to the realms that generate our myths, where the archetypes of legend originate.

This book is no rote fantasy. It tells of the passionate obsession and loyalty of the Huxley family, of two brothers and their father. Returning from the War, Stephen discovers that his brother Christian had disappeared into Ryhope, searching for their father. Stephen and his companions follow. But the trip in to the woods becomes a trek, and the hapless travellers become lost and subsumed into the myths they set out to explore.

Mythago Wood engages the reader as all good books should and so few do. Although Holdstock later wrote sequels to this story, Mythago Wood is a standalone novel. It is brilliantly written by one of the UK's foremost fantasists. Buy it. Read it. Love it.

-- Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Monday, October 6, 2008

Time travel, or cock-up?

Had a nice email from Andrew I Porter, former editor and publisher of that invaluable, and sorely missed, news magazine, Science Fiction Chronicle (not sure if it's still being published under its DNA regime). Andrew pointed out that I had incorrectly dated Fantasycon 2008 -- I said it occured in November. Pretty clever, since I posted my report in early October. So much for proof reading. Anyway, the report has now been amended.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Garden Sculpture


Last year I started ceramics/pottery classes. Needless to say, I soon got fed up with making bowls and so tried my hand at crafting sculptures. The photo shows my latest creation. No guesses on whom (or what) it's based. This piece is around 40cm tall and fired to stoneware, so it's suitable for outside use. Yup, it's going to be a water feature. I hope to pump water up through the middle of the thing and forced out of the hole near its 'lip' -- to cascade into the pond. That's the plan, anyway.
Photo (c) Peter Coleborn



Yet more photos from Fantasycon 2008


Reggie Oliver











Christopher Fowler











Chaz Brenchley, Graham Joyce & Mark Newton







Simon Green












The Fantasycon Banquet







Chris Morgan








All photos (c) Peter Coleborn

More Fantasycon 2008 Images


Stephen Jones & Bob Garcia









Stephen Volk & Sam Stone











Ian Watson, Jonathan Oliver, Ian Whates & John Grant






Sarah Pinborough & Guy Adams










Photos (c) Peter Coleborn

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fantasycon 2009

If you've read my report on Fantasycon 2008, you may have noticed that I am co-Chairing next year's convention. This will take place over the weekend 18-20 September, 2009. Once again it's at the Britannia Hotel, Nottingham. The Guests of Honour are still being sorted. However, we (the Fantasycon committee) are proud to announce our Master of Ceremonies: IAN WATSON. (http://www.ianwatson.info/)

The FCon committee are Guy Adams and me (co-Chairs), Debbie Bennett, Jen Barber, Pat Barber, Jan Edwards, Troo Topham, Alex Davies ... so far.

Fantasycon 2008 images

Vincent Chong











Dave McKean & Paul Kane







Tim Lebbon & Christopher Golden









James Barclay











Peter Crowther, Paul Finch, Dave McKean & Stephen Volk








British Fantasy Award winners







All photos (c) Peter Coleborn

If anyone wishes to use any of the photos on this blog please contact me beforehand. I am also able to provide high resolution images suitable for print.

Fantasycon 2008: some observations

The British Fantasy Society's annual convention took place over the weekend 19-21 September, at the Britannia Hotel, Nottingham.

If a Fantasycon is seen to run seamlessly for the attendees, it’s almost inevitable that the organisers had few moments to relax (I know; been there; done that). Personally, Fantasycon did run smoothly; and so a big thanks to the Fantasycon committee.

Fantasycon was fully multi-streamed, which is a nice touch, but perhaps not practical for a smallish convention. It meant that many audiences in the conference halls were sparse. Sad, really. It also meant that I wasn’t able to take photos of panels running simultaneously – at least, not without killing myself by racing up and down the stairs between two floors.

We (Debbie, Jan and I) arrived Friday afternoon, in plenty of time to unload the car and set up our dealer’s tables. Then it was off to Nottingham city centre to buy some food. And then back to the hotel, to register and open up our table to sell a selection of paperbacks and hard covers, most from 2007, and mostly American. We sold quite a lot of stock over the weekend but, to be honest, I was surprised by how many US books we didn’t sell. Don’t UK fans buy US books anymore?

The dealers’ room was full of folk trying to sell their products. But ultimately, for me, it was a disappointment. Besides our table, only The Talking Dead had a large selection of inexpensive books for sale (they were also selling the entire catalogue of PS titles). Almost all the other dealers were small presses, mostly only selling a small range of titles from their own presses. Of course, it is vital for small presses to sell their stock; but I would love to see a dealers’ room full of booksellers hawking products from rare, and expensive, hard covers to inexpensive paperbacks and magazines. Fantasycons of the past also attracted dealers selling jewellery and other similar products. Unfortunately, not this year.

The dealers’ room also housed the art show. Despite some massive Dave McKean originals, plus Vincent Chong prints and paintings, the art show was disappointing. The art show should have its own room, assuming the hotel has the space, and should be full of gorgeous artwork. Actually, Jan and I exhibited some of our ceramic sculptures; we even sold a few pieces.

Master of Ceremonies Christopher Fowler opened the convention on Friday evening. Then the next event was the Fantastique Quiz, hosted by David Howe. It is difficult to organise a quiz with a decent range of questions, so congrats to David for getting it sorted. It’s a pity, then, that few people entered the quiz. Mind you, when I popped in, the first thing question I heard left me stumped. So it was back to the bar for me. The quiz is intended to help break the ice for new comers. I hope it worked.

The rest of the evening was filled with several panels, readings and a book launch. I didn’t get to any of these. Once you’ve attended conventions for many years, missing panels becomes inevitable (although I recall in my youth religiously sitting through all the panels and interviews and talks). For many, Fantasycon has become a meeting place, somewhere to catch up with conversations left incomplete twelve months previously.

Saturday started quite early. The hotel breakfast wasn’t too bad, if you don’t mind greasy bacon (bet it wasn’t free range bacon, either). Then it was off to our table to sell more books. Actually, I rather left that to Jan whilst I toted a camera around, trying to take that elusive shot that defined Fantasycon. Not sure if I managed that, but I did take quite a few (thank the gods for digital photography). So, what did Saturday have to offer?

There were panels on movies, Dr Who, fantastic worlds, taboos, scripting, publishing… I felt that rather too many panels were aimed at the aspiring writer, and not enough were solely celebrating the fantasy genre. There were also the guest of honour interviews: James Barclay, Christopher Golden and Dave McKean. And interspersed throughout the day were several book launches, including a mega launch of several PS titles plus that of Best New Horror volume 19, edited by Stephen Jones. Many of the anthology’s contributors were on hand to sign copies of the book, which sold out pretty quickly.

For a change, the banquet was moved from Sunday to Saturday evening. The room was wonderfully decorated by Jen and Pat Barber, with balloons, candles, and miniature gargoyles. Alas, the food wasn’t brilliant, and the wine was awful – I was informed (you see, Jan and I popped out for a Chinese meal instead). But we made it back for the speeches and the announcement of the British Fantasy Awards . And after that? The “Fabulous Fantasycon Raffle”, executed with panache (and maybe too much haste due to time limits) by Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of panic that evening. Some bastard stole the DVD projector, which delayed the two movie events, a homage to Ray Harryhausen and a selection of Dave McKean shorts. Fortunately, thefts are uncommon at these events. Alas, we live in a world which includes criminals and conmen, and occasionally they find their way into our conventions…

The main event on Sunday morning, for BFS members, is the annual AGM. This year there was a changing of the guards, with the departure of Marie O’Regan and Vicky Cooke and some others. The new Chair of the society is now Guy Adams, and Helen Hopley was elected secretary. Once again, the AGM managed to discuss the British Fantasy Awards. Maybe, one day, everyone will be content with the rules surrounding these. Then there was a bit of argy bargy about submitting resolution. Very animated. Good fun.

After lunch, I moderated a panel discussion to an audience of maybe ten, on “How to Run a Literary Event”. Actually, this was quite apposite because I lumbered myself the task of co-Chairing, with Guy Adams, Fantasycon 2009. My fellow panellists were Alex Davies, Amanda Foubister, David Howe and Ian Whates. Then the convention slowly imploded with the “Monster Small Press Launch” and the “Dead Dog Party”. To be honest, it was a rather flat way for Fantasycon to end, as many people had already left, to trek back home to the mundane world.

So if you missed Fantasycon 2008, who didn’t you get to chat to? In alphabetical order: James Barclay, Chaz Brenchley, Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clarke, Peter Crowther, Christopher Fowler, Christopher Golden, Simon Green, Stephen Jones, Graham Joyce, Tim Lebbon, Dave McKean, Mark Morris, Reggie Oliver, Sarah Pinborough, Tony Richards, Ian Watson, and many, many others.

All in all, a good, enjoyable and entertaining weekend. I’ll be back next year (well, I have to, don’t I?) And if you’ve never attended a fantasy/SF convention and are worried about coming along, maybe alone, don’t fret and come to Fantasycon 2009. This convention tries hard to make everyone welcomed. And you never know, you may find yourself running one, one day.

(c) Peter Coleborn