Well, Alt.Fiction has been and gone for another year. It's a very strange feeling post-event because something that has basically been six months in the making has shot by over the course of a weekend, and soon enough the planning stages will be starting all over again. The day itself was an absolute blast with some absolutely great experiences for me personally.
Friday morning I drop all our boxes of stuff off at the venue, with thank to Barbara and Antoinette in the Arts and Events office. Not driving is only very occassionally an issue for me but with 200 complimentary books, 500 programmes and two boxes of stationery and signage to get to the venue this is one occassion where it is! I'm able to nip over later that afternoon to check out the venue and with help from one of our fabulous volunteers in Mia, we're able to get some of the setting up done in advance. A lot of the posters are out already and one of our book tables is set up so it's nice to have a bit of a headstart.
As a consequence of this I make myself a little late to the Midland, where I'm due to meet John Jarrold, Paul Tomlinson and Harry Harrison for a drink. I have time to get in a half of coke (I'll state at this point that I don't actually drink alcohol) before we head out for a very nice Indian at Masala Art, which spends the whole weekend getting enthusiatic thumbs up from anyone who happens to eat there. It was great to have a nice dinner before the Saturday event, and to catch up with John again- we're in contact a lot via email but it's good to catch up in person. Thoroughly stuffed, we had back to the hotel and end up catching up with Debbie Miller and her daughter as well as Brian from Chronicles Network, who has again undertaken the arduous journey from Inverness to Derby. I won't go into how technical that one was...
I leave about 11:00, as I want to get a reasonably early night before arriving at the venue for 9am next morning. The venue staff let me in and it's the first chance to survey the venue, which is laid out to my satisfaction barring one or two minor changes. These are very quickly ironed out and myself and the intrepid team of volunteers (who were very prompt indeed!!) begin to make the place a bit more Alt.Fiction-ish. All the posters are up in no time, the badges are sorted, all the info is on the desks and by about 10am we're virtually ready to go. In fact most surprisingly I find myself turning Andi and Malcolm away, who have paid for a ticket and offered to volunteer before it all kicks off! I'm sure that they preferred the extra pint to volunteering mind you...
The bookshops filter in gradually, with Porcupine and Ad Astra arriving at the same time but we manage to avoid too much of a log jam in the lifts! They're those very old-fashioned ones with the pull door, which I always find kind of disturbing. It's a squeeze o fit in them as well with the big rolling cages which we use to get the books up in. Anyway, they're all set up for the best part by 11am and showtime is upon is. It really snuck up in fact- I looked at my phone to see that it was 'suddenly' ten to eleven. It's amazing how time can fly when you're busy!!
There's a pleasing number of people turning up at 11am, and peope begin to take a look over the bookstalls. The bar opens at 11:30, which is a little later than planned but nothing major really. People seem to live with their thirst anyway. A photographer turns up from the Derby Trader, whom my girlfriend deals with while I tear about doing something or other. He'd have had some great shots if he'd turned up later in the day but he's already got other plans elsewhere. Mark, Dan T and Dan C pose for a lovely photo in the t-shirts, so I shall be looking out for that one!!
At this time I find myself clocking what writers have arrived, particularly relative to who's on at 12 o'clock. I'm a chronic panicker at this stage of the day and James Barclay gives me a scare when he is fashionably on-time. It's absurd to worry so much about these things really but until I'm settled into the day I tend to be going a mile a minute!! So things kick off promptly at twelve, with our technical manager Shoki making the first announcement of many that day. They seemed to have more of an effect than last year, althouh I don't really know why.
Barclay and Mark Chadbourn both give excellent readings from their books, with mark giving us a preview of his upcoming release. A few people did this throughout the day and I think it's a real bonus for the readers (or indeed listeners) there on the day. The Q+A throws up a lot of issues about fantasy writing at large which Mark and James deal with well, and soon enough I find myself finishing off session one for the day.
The typical pattern for my free fifteen minutes was to check out what was going on elsewhere with our room managers (all of whom did a great job- that's you Pauline, Catherine and Dan T) and then locate any AWOL writers. To be fair I never bumped into anoyone who didn't know where they were supposed to be, which takes a lot of the weight off!!
Peter and Tony are already making themselves comfy when I arrive back at the Darwin Suite, which is good news for me. Another standard step before each reading was to get some water for the writers (I can imagine dry lips during a reading must be a recurring problem) and with that done we're all set for an excellent science-fiction session. Both read from books that are upcoming, giving another treat to their avid readers. I've tried writing science-fiction and struggled so I really respect people who can create those vivid future worlds, and it's evident throughout the session that we are in the presence of two excellent writers. Another good session in the bag, and the day seems to be shooting by.
2:00 sees another fantasy session with Juliet McKenna and Chaz Brenchley. Juliet reads a section from her novella with PS Publishing and Chaz regales us with the opening scene of his newest release, 'River of the World.' I have to guiltily admit that its forerunner is still on my reading pile at this point in time! Not that many in for this session but both entertaining readings and Chaz and Juliet have always been good friends and a great double-act.
Come 3:00 we're onto deadly serious subject matter with the Publishing Panel, which is always resoundingly popular with budding authors. I often suspect they'd rather hear better news during these sessions but I've always been a great believer in people knowing what they're up against! Some fantastic insights here, including the frightening statistic that John jarrold has taken on 30 clients out of 2000 submitted manuscripts. So no need to feel to bad if you're in that approximately 99% to be rejected! George Walkley from Orbit is also great on this panel and there's a very interesting discussion between the two about the relationship between agent and publishers. John Berlyne facilitates this one really well and I think this session is a real success.
By this time I'm flagging a bit and counting on a large energy drink and a bit of food over the dinner break to keep me going till 9. But before now and then there is the not inconsiderable matter of Harry Harrison's interview session with Paul Tomlinson. I must admit this session really revives my spirits, as Harry is tremendously entertaining and seems to have a near endless supply of anecdotes and tales featuring run-ins with other writers, illustrators, directors, producers and many more industry types. Paul's knowledge is absolutely enyclopaedic and the chronological tread through Harry's career is flawless. After this session one moment that stayed with me was a man who gets his book signed for a second time by Harry, having had it signed back in 1966!! I have to say it was a pleasure to have Harry at the event and I enter the dinner break feeling good about the day so far.
Unfortunately our dinner break starts with a slight hitch as the venue has had to close of the '45 suite to us earlier than expected. It's a shame because basically e lose quite a good seating area and with people carrying plates of food about that would have been ideal. I'll be looking at seating for next time around- it did come up in a few of our evaluation forms. I catch a word with John Berlyne who say 'Don't worry, you're dealing with resilient people.' I treat myself to a reasonable enough chilli and chips and a can of Relentless, which comes in a pint glass and looks uncannily like beer, which solicits a few weird looks from people who know me. They must think the stress has driven me to drink...
I grab a word with a few people during this break and sort out an interview with Mike Carey for a film website, which Mike is more than happy to oblige. His comic session by all accounts went down a storm in the slot just prior. I'm forever trying to gauge opinion at my own events and it seems to be largely positive so far, although inevitably there are a variety of small complaints and sugesstions which frankly I'm always grateful for. If you don't tell me I'll just keep getting on with it as I am...
So we kick off again pretty prompt at 6pm with Ramsey Campbell's reading, which is a stroy by the name of 'Peep'. I'd been involved in some events in Leicester and Ramsey had read the story their also, but it unquestionably warrants a second listen. I always find Ramsey's readings really engaging and it's only when he closes that I notice it's taken up most of the session! We take a couple of questions before closing and moving on to the penultimate session, and I can barely believe how much it has whistled by.
Mike Carey is on next and I have to credit how well he read- the scene he gave us from 'Dead Man's Boots' was really action packed and his intonation of everything is bang on. he gets a very good response as well and the Q+A session covers everything from Felix Castor to X-Men and Lucifer, and makes some interesting comparisons between writing novels and writing graphic novels. A great penultimate session.
The next break is pretty fraught as our booksellers are ready to leave and we've got 15 minutes before the closing session of the day! Our volunteers really came through here- the last thing anyone wants is people wheeling through half-way throug a session because it can be really off-putting.
Next up is Iain Banks, who has undertaken the arduous journey from Fife to be with us and arrives at the venue around 7:30 for his 8pm reading. iain's appearance gave the event a real added buzz in the weeks leading up to it and I'm pleased to report that he lives up to reputation. Iain receives a generous round of applause upon taking the stage and reads the prologue from his next Culture novel, Matter, which is due out in 2008 so that is a real bonus for his readers! The Q+A session goes really swimmingly and Iain is really entertaining, so much so that I wish I had booked extra time at the venue because I don't think anyone would have objected if the session were twice as long!!
So we close the day at about 8:50 with a nother big hand for Iain Banks and also one for myself, which always makes me feel a little shy but is appreciated after it all!! I must admit to real mixed feeling here and even during Iain's session- I'm not entirely sure whether to cheer or laugh or cry or what. There were a whole lot of emotions going on at that time with everything done. I think the strongest sensation is probably relief at that point though- I'm glad that everybody turned up, everything went OK with the venue and that people seemed to enjoy themselves. The period after the last session sees a lot of positive comments about the day, which is really encouraging and the evaluation forms seem to back up that opinion.
People file out of the building over the course of the next fifteen minutes and at that very point in time I feel about ready to fall into a heap! Myself and the remaining volunteers get all the stuff tidied up, packed into a storeroom with a lot of ice-cream and some random alcohol and we're away from the Assembly Rooms with another great event in the bag (I think, anyway).
By such a time as we leave the venue (that's myself, Brian, Mark, Mia and Catherine) most people have piled off for a meal of some kind, be it Italian or Indian, so we decie to head back to the Midland bar for a while. There are quite a few of our day's audience there ahead of me, as well as Harry and Paul and the mood seems to be generally very laidback and festive. Many of the day's other participants garadually filter in and it's great to have a chat and really relax after such a long day. We're sat in the back room until about midnight and I manage to chat for a bit to Iain, George and most of the Write Fantastic. A whole range of topics are on discussion and for me this is such a great end to the day. It's only when I come out to the little gentleman's room that I realise a whole host of our particpants are in there as well, including Paul and Marie, Graham, Stephen, Tim, Sarah, Pete and Nicki, Adam and Mark (I think that's everybody!) It was about 2:30 by the time that everybody had filed of to bed and I decided to head home for some rest!!
Sunday I'm pretty tired but there's still work to be done in the shape of the Alt.Fiction film screening. The showing is at 3 so myself and Emma take Ramsey (who is introducing the film) and Jenny to Le Bistrot Pierre, which is one of our favourite restaurants in Derby. The food never lets you down, so it comes with my thorough recommendation! From there we head to the Metro Cinema, arriving in plenty of time and chatting away to a few people who were along on the Saturday and a few friends of mine who've popped along. Ramsey gives a great introduction to the work of David Lynch, paying particular attention to our day's film, Mulholland Drive. With that said I sit and watch the film, which I've forgotten just how much I like and I manage to keep my attention up despite increasing tiredness!
So that's all for the weekend- this week I've been looking over the evaluation stuff, doing a little thinking about 2008 and taking it easy wherever possible as well!
Hope that everybody there enjoyed the day, and hopefully will see you all in 2008 if not before.
Thanks a lot