On getting ready to visit the frozen North . . .

So barely have I finished my Frankfurt Report (for which, dear Rights colleagues, read: I promise you’ll have it by the end of the week!) than it’s time to start preparing for the World Fantasy Convention, the annual gathering of the great and good of the fantasy world (or at least a goodly proportion thereof). From January next year you’ll be hearing a great deal from me and mine about the 2013 WFC, because it’s going to be held in Great Britain, for only the third time since it was started in 1975, and Jo Fletcher Books is obviously going to be supporting the event big-time.

It will take place in Brighton, and not only will JFB be going down en masse, but I’ve been trying to persuade all my European colleagues to sign up too, to make it the most international convention thus far:  we’re trying to put the ‘World’ into the WFC!

But what, I hear you ask, of this year? Here’s a hint: I am digging out my warmest jumpers and my stash of dollars – Canadian dollars, that is (but not the Canadian silver dollar I won in 1968 when I was part of the team from Wakefield Elementary School which cleaned up at a very prestigious public speaking contest; that I will treasure for ever. In fact, Miss Templeman, my fifth-grade teacher, is one of the people responsible for my love of fantasy fiction, because it was in her classroom that I met the works of C.S. Lewis for the first time, when she read The Horse and His Boy out loud to us. I always find this sort of thing – the reasons one takes this path instead of that – fascinating, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that I have continued to write to Miss Templeman – or ‘Helen’, as I am allowed to call her, now that I’m a bona fide grown-up). At any rate, I’m very much looking forward to going back to Canada for this year’s WFC, and I will make sure I take a day out to drive to Wakefield, Québec, the idyllic village on the shore of the Gatineau where I spent two very happy years as a child, and just make sure it’s still remarkable.

So back to the convention, which technically is in Toronto (although I gather that’s like saying Chingford is London), and I have to admit to being the tiniest bit disappointed that we’re not anywhere near the city centre – one of the great delights of an annual convention that moves to a different location every year is that over the 30-odd (some very odd) years that I have been attending, I have been able to visit some amazing cities that I would never have got to in the normal course of my life.

I will never forget Providence, Rhode Island, for the fifth WFC, where a group of us (five Brits, and one American, who was promptly handed the chauffeur’s hat we, being British, had had the foresight to pack, and the keys to the enormous black town car we’d ended up with) rolled out to see H.P. Lovecraft’s grave. It had been a beautiful day, but whilst we were posing by the gravestone, as one does, it started to snow, so we made our way back to the monster car to discover the American from North Carolina had left the keys in the ignition and the Brits had rolled up all the windows and locked the doors . . . it was a long, cold wait, and I’m still not sure the grave keeper has forgiven us for our opening line: ‘Hello, I’m afraid we’ve locked ourselves out of our car; could we borrow a wire coathanger, please?’ (Too many shades of Sharpe there: ‘It’s hard to trust a man who’s just asked to borrow a set of lockpicks, sir.’)

But you’ll be delighted to know that the trusting gent from Carolina did indeed know how to break into a rented automobile, so we made it safely back to the convention, just in time for me to fall off the kerb outside the Shunned House and break my bad ankle . . .

Then there was the convention in Baltimore, where we arrived at the airport and looked around for the promised shuttle bus, only to discover that Baltimore has three airports, and the instructions in the progress reports were all for the local airfield, some 170 miles away from where we were standing in the International lounge. (In those days there were half a dozen of us from the UK who went regularly; many of the attendees had never actually seen a proper foreign person – with odd accent – before!) Thank heavens for a passing chauffeur who took pity on the poor Brits looking dumbly at the information desk employee who was explaining that there was no such thing as ‘public transport’ around there and perhaps we should just prepare to fork over a vast amount of money each to fly to the other airfield?

The WFC in Nashville included a trip to the Bluebird Café, where Chet Atkins just dropped in to play a bit . . . in Saratoga Springs there was an Aladdin’s Cave of a bookshop that made a mockery of weight limits . . . and in Phoenix, the customs officer, on being told why we were in the country, was proud to tell us Peter S. Beagle had been his next-door-neighbour many, many years before. (Well, that’s what I remember; Ian is probably not alone on remembering the Hallowe’en parade through town which mostly consisted of very pretty female students wearing the contents of a lingerie catalogue . . .)

And yet, as enjoyable as these memories are, they pale into insignificance next to the excitement of meeting some of the genre’s best writers and artists, and chatting to the editors and agents and publishers who have helped to shape those illustrious careers . . . just as Miss Templeman was one of those amazing people who introduced me to fantasy fiction at school, I truly believe that if I hadn’t gone to the WFC in Providence in 1979 with Stephen Jones (then ‘just’ the editor of an award-winning little magazine called Fantasy Tales and never even dreaming that would morph into a career as one of the world’s most prolific and acclaimed editors of horror and dark fantasy anthologies), I wouldn’t be getting ready to attend the thirty-eighth World Fantasy Convention as Publisher of Jo Fletcher Books . . .

. . . where I shall be meeting my latest signing, a terrific writer of heroic fantasy . . .

Guess you’ll have to wait for the name now!

Leave a Reply