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This was the year the ten plagues of Egypt descended on BristolCon.  There were even rumours of a crazed monkey rampaging through the bar at midnight, but you’ll have to ask Gareth L Powell about that one….

Sadly, the pestilence laid low a number of members who had hoped to turn up, and even ravaged some of the guests, GOH’s and interviewers, who bravely turned out in full bio suits (Juliet McKenna) and immaculately applied lipstick (Anne Sudworth) – I hope everyone feels 100% better very soon!

There was also a small electrical fire in the lift motor room, which led to the evacuation of the entire hotel at midnight – the only casualties were someone’s full pint of beer and a few people’s dignity.  A monkey in a flying jacket was possibly seen lurking near the lifts, chomping on a cigar and muttering about loving it when a plan comes together, but he has yet to be apprehended by the authorities…

So that’s the fire and pestilence taken care of.  I’ve checked the weather forecast for next year, and hopefully the predicted rains of blood and frogs will hold off at least for the duration of the convention.

Luckily there wasn’t a repeat of the early-morning queue chaos of last year, and our very capable reception desks managed to get everyone through the doors super-quick, even the people who turned up two minutes before their panels (naming no names but looking hard at Guy Hayley and Mark Clapham ;)). Everybody who was meant to be on a panel was on one, I think, even the people who were nursing lurgy – what a bunch of troupers!  I’m going to single out Mike Dollin especially, who’s first panel first thing in the morning was not only his first EVER panel, but one that he was on with one of his all-time writer heroes, Ben Jeapes.  I would have been struck dumb and fumbling, but Mike did a superb job.

I wasn’t on any panels until the afternoon, which was nice as it meant I got to whizz around the con and chat to some of the artists, dealers, panelists and bar-lurkers in not-too frenetic fashion – though I wish the day had been about 56 hours long so I could have spent more time chatting to everyone!  I also got to go to the launch of Stephanie Burgis’s A Reckless Magick, where she did a reading and signed books.  It was very well attended, and I’m sure that was due to far more than the lure of free wine 😉 (thank you to Templar Publishing for financing wine and nibbles, and to Roz Clarke for organising the launch so expertly).  I also got a copy of Mortal Engines signed by next years GOH Philip Reeve for my godson, who “wants a signed book” – I don’t think he’s bothered WHAT book, so I thought I’d get him a really good one!  I also picked up books by Fran Jacobs and Ben Galley, and thank you to Paul from Corvus Press for generously giving me a big handful of Decemberists CDs – I’m enjoying them very much!

My first panel was “Women in Sensible Armour”, moderated by Philip Reeve and featuring Foz Meadows, Danie Ware (who has been a woman in sensible armour many times on her days off), and Jonathan L Howard, who is not a woman but probably wears perfectly sensible armour.  We talked about the 1970’s preponderance for Julie Bell / Boris Vallejo (sp?) style “naked torso art” and how writers don’t have any say in cover design, and the discussing broadened more into the role of the female warrior in fantasy and SF in general, via the Amazons, solid gold hotpants, and whether SFF writers can balance femininity with strength. Juliet McKenna and Alex Dally McFarlane had some particularly interesting points to make from the audience about this one.

Towards the end of the day I was very happy to be on the “Ghost of Honour” tribute to the late, great, Colin Harvey.  I’ve talked about Colin a lot on the blog, but that’s because he was brilliant and deserves to be talked about and remembered and read widely.  The panel was held together excellently by Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot (Colin’s publishers), who introduced a short film of Gareth L Powell interviewing Colin for TTA press, which had been recorded but never uploaded, so this was its first public showing.  I’d seen it, but I still had a few lip-wobbles…  I read a short section from Winter Song, because Colin had launched WS at the very first BristolCon, and it seemed appropriate.  Then Nick Walters talked about Colin’s editing work, Roz Clarke launched our Colinthology (on sale NOW from Wizards Tower, all proceeds to Above and Beyond, go get it, blogging on that soon, etc….), and John Hawkes-Reed read an extract from “Buzz Nausea, King of the Aircraft Men”, one of the highlights in an anthology crammed full of highlights.  We were going to auction a canvas of the cover art, but Colin’s wife Kate asked if she could have it, and we were more than happy to give it to her to thank her for her support.

Colinthology cover art by Andy Bigwood

We also showed Sam Lemberg’s short film “Chameleon”, based on a short story of Colin’s, but I had to scamper off before the end because I was late for my next panel, which also means I sadly missed Emma Pass reading from ACID – looks like I’ll just have to buy it instead 😉 My final panel of the day, just before the closing ceremony, was on Writing Challenges and what they can do for YOU, dear manuscript wrangler.  This one was moderated by Ben Jeapes, and featured Leigh Kennedy (who WILL be back next year – she’s already signed up!), inveterate Nano-er Dolly Garland, and Jonathan L Howard, who is going to think I’m stalking him at this rate.

The panel was a relaxed affair with lots of audience interaction, talking about how writing challenges can be an invigorating boot up the backside, how novel writing is a marathon not a sprint and sometimes you will flag, and the sense of community you can find on the Nano forums.  There was even a suggestion that for busy, untidy novelists there should be a NaHoWoMo – a National House Work Month! Don’t see myself signing up for that any time soon, I’m afraid…

After that it was over to the bar for a slightly chaotic closing ceremony – my fault, I should have been more organised but I had back-to-back late-running panels just before it started, so there was lots of running and breathlessness involved.  Somehow we managed to drag everyone into the bar to thank everyone for coming and dash off a quick auction of articles generously donated by some of our guests (thanks to Anne Sudworth, Marjorie, Janie Fenn and Raven Dane for your contributions, as well as anyone I might have missed).  If we’d known we were going to have so many kind donations we might have done a raffle, but you never know how these things are going to go.  Congratulations and thank you to Hayley Goldsmith, who had the winning bid – enjoy!

We also got to announce our Guests of Honour for next year – Philip Reeve, Storm Constantine, and our Artist GOH will be Mark Buckingham (Fables, 2000AD). And we presented this years GOH’s, Anne Sudworth, John Meaney and Gareth, with their gifts.  Anne got local chocolate, John got Bristol Beer Factory Beer, and Gareth got something a little more…exotic.

Gareth gets his monkey out – photo by Tim Maughan

(The fact that Ack-Ack Macaque might have later tried to burn down the hotel is in no way the responsibility of the ConCom.)

Then there an hour long set of sweetly-voiced acid tongued folk music from the brilliant Talis Kimberly and her band – I got to hear a bit as I wandered in and out, and I will be buying “Queen of Spindles” from Talis’s website as soon as I have the cash.  And the quiz, where my team were a respectable second despite not knowing very much about Doctor Who (which was a bit of a handicap, let’s be honest….)

If this all sounds like your cup of tea, we will be taking sign-ups for next year on the BristolCon website just as soon as we’ve all had a lie down and a large slice of cake.  Or three.

Now back to writing books, which is, after all, my real job.  Thanks to everyone who helped make BristolCon such a success!