Return to Dust stood proudly racked with the other books my publisher, Fantastic Books Publishing was launching at Fantasticon 2018. I entered the big arena, the sports hall at Cleethorpes Leisure Centre, on Saturday morning before the public were given access. The whole place was an exciting hive of activity. But I get ahead of myself.
Let’s start with the six and a half hours it took me to travel from home to the Lincolnshire town just 209 miles away. Nah, let’s not.
Okay, how about the change of route that took me into the strange town via a different route and my need to call the hotel to find it! But, no. Who cares? I got there.
After a brief rest in my box of a room, I sought directions from the receptionist and set off for the venue along busy seaside streets with the sparkling sea occasionally breaking through gaps in the trees, railings and other objects bordering the street parallel to the seafront promenade.
The staff at the leisure centre happily let me into the area we were to use. I spent time wandering about and looking for others. Lots of unpacked and packed boxes, and a few posters already in place. Eventually, a couple appeared and I learned the volunteer crew had gone for much needed food and would return ‘soon’. I’d managed a bar of chocolate and a bottle of water on the road, so I was okay. For now.
They arrived, and we started making up a stack of old cardboard boxes to be used as barriers and obstacles in the Nerf Wars.
Dan Grubb and the van turned up and the serious unpacking began, with a steady stream of willing, friendly labour trekking from vehicle to the various rooms we were to use. Penny also landed and, together, we set up the book stall area. Tables covered, posters placed. A short break for me to pop up the road for a quick snack of KFC, being the nearest source of food at the time. Then more organisation and my eventual surrender to rest at around 23:20. The walk back to the hotel was quiet.
So, Saturday. Breakfast was ‘Continental’ but supplemented by scrambled egg on toast. The walk was along the seafront promenade now I knew where I was going. Early morning sunshine dazzled on the receding waters of the Humber Estuary, throwing distant Spurn Point lighthouse and two old wartime fortresses into silhouette on the horizon.
Plenty going on in the sports hall. Penny had already set out a lot of the books and I helped prepare the rest, set up informative notice boards, and spread a few posters about before attendees started to arrive.
There were new faces along with the regulars, and some of us greeted each other like long-lost friends. Engaged in conversations, mostly about books and writing, I whiled away the morning, selling single books, sets, and mixtures along the way. Danuta Reah was due to host a chat with three authors but two had fallen ill, so I was asked to step in. We had a short chat in preparation, and then Danuta, Alex Janaway and I were invited to the stage by Dan to take part in an on-stage discussion about fantasy. We had a great audience and the discussion extended over a wide range of topics. It seemed well-received. A hot dog and a pint of Excalibur from the bar formed my lunch.
The afternoon was back to book-signing and selling, chatting to readers, and watching the generous and warm-hearted folk that make up every Fantasticon crowd. Last year, Drew Wagar and I held an on-stage chat about our work, and we’d been invited to do something similar this year. So, come the time, we sat on stage and chatted informally and spontaneously about the differences and similarities around fantasy and science fiction: Drew’s recently diverted his unquestionable scifi talents into a new fantasy series, starting with his launch book, The Lords of Midnight, and I’ve spent the last three years, following the publication of my fantasy trilogy, A Seared Sky, on the scifi series, Generation Mars, with my launch book, Return to Dust. Again, the chat went well with the attentive audience and I returned to the bookstore for the remainder of the day.
Come 18:00 or so, the venue closed to the public and only those with special tickets remained for some fun, great live music, and an open bar. Tempting, but at 70, I was completely knackered, and hungry, so I wandered back toward the hotel, stopping off at the pier to indulge in fresh cod and chips at the marvellous Papas, where I sat outside and breathed in the wonderful sea air.
The hotel had no restaurant, but sold odd bottles of various sorts and I took advantage of a special offer, taking a couple of beers and a glass to my box of a room, where I read and watch the idiot’s lantern until sleep drowned me in the realm of dreams.
Sunday, I had breakfast with a couple of other helpers staying at the same hotel. Dorothy and her delightful daughter, Georgia, entertained me before I set out along the sea front again, this time armed with my camera. The start to the day was less hectic, and I could afford to be a little more relaxed, so took a few pictures of the seafront and the estuary.
The venue was still quiet on my arrival, though the Sunday crowd was slowly forming. More signing and selling, chatting and guiding. Then, with a little less demand on our time at the bookstall, I took a wander around the various attractions and captured a few candid shots for this post.
Raffle tickets were folded, ready for the draw, but the door was still open for late comers and I sat as ticket dispenser for a short while until Dan and Gabi, his stalwart and lovely wife, popped along with new daughter, Lacey, to relieve me and pack up that part of the operation.
Back in the sports hall, Steph Wyeth was doing her usual excellent job of hosting the raffle draw (I won nothing this year!) and amusing all and sundry with her fun-packed commentary and comments on prize-winners. Dan came along to compere the awards ceremony, handing out rewards to those who’d excelled in various activities.
Last minute shoppers picked up more books even as we started the long and demanding process of dismantling the convention. The few unsold books were packed into boxes; stands, display units, notice boards et al were deconstructed and put back into their designated boxes and the van was packed by Dan as about eight of us carted all the stuff to him. Last of all was the discarded cardboard from the Nerf Wars – a great pile of it stuffed into the back of the van destined for the recycling centre.
Ready for food and rest, I was about to walk back to the hotel but was prevailed on to join the rest up the road for a celebratory meal at the local Brewer’s Fayre. Glad I gave in. Had a lovely meal, in great company and a nice pint of Black Sheep before the two mile (or so) walk back to my hotel (I refused lifts as I needed fresh air and steady exercise).
Monday morning saw me packed, breakfasted, and on the road by 09:00. This time, the journey took only five hours and I was pleased to be back home to my gorgeous wife in time for a refreshing walk in the forest before a late lunch.
A wonderful weekend. And a good lot of books sold. Old friendships and acquaintanceships renewed, and new people met, new contacts made. A thoroughly worthwhile visit. And, as always, Dan and Gabi made the whole thing not only possible but enjoyable.