Sunday, 14 September 2014

Research Corner #7: Random Research

Well not random as such, it's just that I've reached a point now where I have so many novels in the works - at this point, four that I'm actively working on - that my research reading is bouncing between topics considerably more than it was at the beginning of the year.  This is actually proving to be a lot more fun, since you can only read so much about the First World War before your faith in humanity starts to flag; but it's also also a bit confusing, for reasons that will probably become apparent.  I seem to have accidentally stumbled across the literary equivalent of late night channel swapping...

Crossing the Line by Christian Plowman

 Having never read a great deal of True Crime before, I suddenly found myself tearing through quite a lot of it as research for current novel and my first attempt at writing (non-True) Crime, The Bad Neighbour.  Out of everything I read this was one of my favourites, in that the writer-protagonist wasn't a complete asshat - from my limited experience, this being a definite thing when it comes to True Crime.  (For which, see below.)

Plowman's definitely a capable storyteller, with a sense of humour and a good grasp of language, and if that sounds like faint praise then trust me, for this particular sub-genre it's pretty much declaring him to be the next Shakespeare. The experiences he relates were not perhaps that exceptional given the line of work he was in - undercover policing of one sort and another - but his outsider-looking-in focus is definitely the right way to bring this sort of material to life.  Plowman manages to keep things both interesting and suitably horrifying, and as with so many of these books, make you kind of resent the police - watch as your taxes are squandered in horrifying quantities to little noticeable effect! - whilst also being really glad that it's them and not you.

The Defence of the Realm by Christopher Andrew

If there's one thing I've never had much desire to read it was a history of MI5, so I approached this one with trepidation.  Misguided trepidation as it turned out, for the sections I read turned out to be an intriguing, in-depth, warts-and-all take on a vital part of British history and, more interestingly, a distinctively slanted interpretation of that period.  Given their particular concerns, the burgeoning MI5 didn't view the First World War through quite the same eyes as everyone else did, and as such their approach, for better or worse, was quite different.

I don't know exactly what access Andrew had but he certainly seems to know his stuff, and he does a great job of introducing the major personalities and then plunging the reader into their murky affairs.  There's a constant, fun vibe of being made party to something you probably shouldn't be hearing this much about, and also a solid sense of just what this kind of organization does and why and how it can go both right and drastically wrong.  Given that this was supposed to be research I couldn't justify reading beyond the end of WW1, which took me to about page one hundred out of six hundred ... it's a hefty tome.  But what I got through was a fascinating read, and I hope I find an excuse to finish it one of these days.

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

I based a lot of my To End All Wars protagonist Rafael Forrester on Siegfried Sassoon, whose journals were a huge influence on my early research.  But with all respect to Sassoon, if I'd read Graves first then it would have been him that I picked; in fact, given that I came to to Goodbye to All That too late for it to have a significant influence, it's uncanny how much Forrester feels modeled on Graves.  If only because Graves, with the advantage of writing long after the event, is a heck of a lot more open about his private life and particularly his sexuality.

At any rate, this is pretty much a glorious biography.  Graves is sharp, witty, self-effacing, endlessly entertaining, and always writing with a clear sense of what was vital about the times that he witnessed.  Where the first volume of Sassoon's biography was something of a slog for me, as a reader with less than no interest in fox hunting, Graves is pretty much brilliant from the get-go.  In short, a great read this, especially if you have even the faintest interest in the history and personalities of the first decades of the twentieth century.

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer

I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't know a great deal about Gandhi before I read this.  And I haven't read a great number of biographies, so that when I say this is the best one I've read, I suppose you have to take that with a pinch of salt.  Nevertheless it is, and as such I recommend it wholeheartedly.  Gandhi was an astonishing individual, a truly unique, extraordinary, revolutionary figure of the kind that comes along perhaps once in a generation, if that.  He was also - and I say this with no intended disrespect, not to mention a healthy dose of understatement - kind of crazy.  And perhaps the main reason that this is a great biography is that it embraces both of those extremes, without ignoring the middle ground whereby Gandhi was a human being with the usual human concerns and frailties.  Fischer has no qualms about portraying Gandhi as a saint, nor about showing the occasions when his eccentricities did harm, as they often did, particularly to his own family.  But by the end it's hard not love and mourn the man, and to be saddened at the thought of the world we might be living if only he had been listened to a little more.
Running With the Firm by James Bannon

Ostensibly a book about an undercover cop masquerading as a football hooligan, Running With the Firm soon starts to look like the precise opposite: Bannon hints that he could have gone either way, and it seems more luck than judgement that he ended up at least nominally on the right side of the law.  Whatever the case, he sure does love pretending to be a hooligan, and doesn't seem greatly bothered by who gets hurt along the way.  What follows is a lot about Bannon's own life and thoughts and feelings and a largely insightless account into football hooliganism, (hooligans are just normally people, basically, except that they really like football and kicking the crap out of each other on a weekend), backed up with a whole lot of self-justification, whereby Bannon tries to convince that he was just doing his job, or else that it wasn't a job worth doing in the first place, but at any rate he's definitely a good guy.

By his own limited definition that's probably true, but by anyone else's maybe less so, and by the end I was really glad not to have to spend any more time in his company.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

FantasyCon 2014

I had some significant doubts about going to this year's FantasyCon.  After all, my reaction to FantasyCon 2012 and to last year's World Fantasy were a long ways from positive.  I went this year because it couldn't have been a whole lot closer without being in my back garden and because I knew that Lee Harris, my Angry Robot editor, had taken over organizing duties.  Taking those things together, I figured I'd give it one more go for old times' sake and then, if it did turn out to be another horrible shambles, feel good about the fact that I'd never have to go again.

One small gripe: this cost £8.25.  £8.25!
Given what a fantastic three days I had, it feels a little odd to be saying all this.  It's perhaps too much to claim that FantasyCon 2014 wiped out the memory of all the lousy FantasyCon's I've been to, but what I can't forget I can at least now forgive.  And I say this as someone who's just read through his posts about those last two and confirmed that practically every single complaint I had was addressed to a greater or lesser degree.  A nice venue?  Check.  Panel equity and an harassment policy in place?  Check.  More choice of things to do?  Some actual discussion of Fantasy, instead of the overriding emphasis on Horror that's dogged previous years?  The British Fantasy Awards not being a gigantic train-wreck?  Check, check, check.  It was my favourite Con of the year thus far.  I am already looking forward to the next one.  Check checkity check.

So at this point I should probably talk about what I actually did, right?  That's what people do in these posts.  Only I've been finding it awfully hard to piece together.  And not because of the drinking, either (although, yes, there was a modicum of that.)  No, this time around it's because I just talked to so many damn people that I've literally spend the last couple of days trying to piece it all together and still completely failed.  I have never talked to so many people in the space of three days in my life, or for that matter made as many new friends.  And, thinking about it, that right there is a good summing up of why I had such an awesome weekend.  It's also the reason that I think I'm going to avoid a blow-by-blow account; it wouldn't be terribly interesting for anyone but me and I'd hope that everyone I met had a fair idea of how much I enjoyed talking to them.  But here are a few highlights:

Being introduced to real ales by Ian Sales on the Friday night, and then on the Saturday, having dinner in a rather good Turkish restaurant with Ian and Kev McVeigh, discussing Werner Herzog movies and swapping recipes.  Geeking out with Pat Kelleher about World War One history.  Hanging out with Andy Knighton and Charlotte Bond, who I met on the Friday night and then seemed to end up spending about half the weekend with - and rightly so!  Catching up, for not as long as I'd have liked, with Stephen Theaker.  (Stephen, I hope you change your mind about coming next year!)  Signing a whole ton of copies of Crown Thief, most of them on the freebie table but a couple because people actually tracked me down.  My panel, of course, which seemed to go very well indeed - thanks to fellow panelists Joanne Harris, Kim Lakin-Smith, Frances Hardinge and Libby McGugan, and particularly to panel moderator James Barclay, who did a sterling job.  (Also Joanne Harris is completely awesome at drawing pirates, who knew?)  Chilling in the bar on Sunday before the BFS awards with Mhairi Simpson and Sammy Smith and friends.  Getting a lift back with the wonderful Justina Robson and getting to chat about writing stuff instead of stressing over catching a replacement bus.

But writing it all up like that, I'm pretty sure that's only a fraction of the good stuff, and certainly only a portion of the brilliant people I got talking to.  Now if FantasyCon 2015 can only replicate all that with a hotel bar where I can get a drink without mortgaging my house then I'm a convert for life...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

My FantasyCon 2014 Schedule, Such As It Is

I'm not doing a great deal of official stuff at Fantasycon this year, but then not a great deal is still more than I've been invited to do for the last couple of years, so gift horses and dental inspection and all that.  Anyway, I'm on precisely the one panel and it is:

12.00 Noon, Saturday 6th – Gentleman Thieves, Loveable Pirates and Sexy Tricksters*

Gentlemen Thieves, Loveable Pirates and Sexy Tricksters. Why are untrustworthy characters and criminals among SFF’s most beloved characters?  Does sympathy for the underdog shade into idealizing predators?

James Barclay (m), Joanne Harris, Kim Lakin-Smith, Frances Hardinge, Libby McGuigan, David Tallerman

Which if there was ever a panel topic that was written for me then it's that one right there.

Besides that I have no idea what I'll be doing, which is quite exciting, thinking about it.  At any rate I'll be about for the entire Convention, what with it being pretty much on my doorstep.  And I'll certainly be staying for the BFS Awards on Sunday afternoon, since I was one of the judges for the Best Short Story award, and having never been an awards judge before it stands to reason that I've never been to an awards ceremony where I was one of the judges either.

Beyond that, it looks like a pretty interesting program this year, so I'll do my best to avoid my usual practice of spending the entire weekend hanging around in the bar.  But hey, no promises...

* The last time I looked at the program that lost one was down as 'sex tricksters', which is a whole 'nother thing altogether.  Since I really don't want to be on a panel talking about loveable pirates and sex tricksters, I'm choosing to assume it was a typo.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Of Grief and Griefcom: Part 2

To briefly recap Part 1:  late last year I sold a story, A Shadow Play, to a magazine called Transfusion, owned by an outfit named Bleeding Heart Publications.  A number of months  passed, in which I asked for the money I was owed for it quite a number of times and was met with a variety of excuses and unfulfilled promises, until, six months after I should have been paid, I explained that if the amount wasn't in my account by the end of that week then I'd pass the matter to the SFWA's Griefcom team.  The money didn't arrive.  I got in touch with Griefcom.

Now, in retrospect I'm not sure what I was expecting ... possibly ninja lawyers to dive through the windows in a shower of glass and contract clauses.  What I hadn't mentally taken into account and in retrospect seems obvious is that Griefcom is a service provided by busy people with many other important things that they could be doing, who are giving up their time in order to help their fellow writers be treated less crappily.  Thus things got off to a slowish start, and it was a little while before I got a response to my request.  Then my designated liaison, Eric, asked for full details of what had been said so far and of my contract with Bleeding Heart, so that it was a while longer yet before we got to the point of his actually get in touch with BH's director and co-founder Gordon Ross.

More time passed.  Eric got in touch to tell me he'd finally heard from Gordon, who'd said that he couldn't discuss the situation with Eric unless he was sure Eric was properly authorized by me to do so.  This seemed like obvious prevarication, since I'd told Gordon in my last e-mail that someone from Griefcom would be in touch and then, hey presto!, someone from Griefcom had been in touch.  But Eric took it in his stride, drafting a simple form e-mail I could send to say that, yes, I did indeed authorize him to act on my behalf.

A couple of more weeks more went by and Eric got in touch once more, to say that Gordon was willing to settle up the monies owed via wire transfer, and could I discuss this with my bank?  Having only heard of wire transfers from nineteen-forties movies, I was dubious, and sure enough the guy in Santander - obscure, regional banking chain that it is! - had never heard of such a thing.  But he guessed it might be what was now an International Money Transfer, and those I knew how to do.  I sent Eric all the relevant details and doubtfully crossed my fingers.

We were at the end of June by now.  A week later Eric told me that Gordon had promised payment for that week.  A week later and no payment had arrived - and a week after that, nothing still.  Eric queried once more and told me that Gordon had told him I'd been "inadvertently left off" their payment run.  I couple of days later Gordon claimed that the money would be in my account on that Tuesday.  It wasn't.  But when I mentioned this to Eric the next day, he told me Gordon had also been in touch, to say that his bank wasn't accepting my Sort Code.  Eric confirmed that the details were correct - and later that day, just under nine months and more e-mails and Facebook messages than I care to count after my story was published, my money arrived.

I never did get my contributor copy, though.

Now it's entirely possible that Bleeding Heart had always intended to pay me.  It's possible that, at worst, settling their debt to me was just low on their list of priorities and they kept getting distracted by shiny things and loud noises.  It's entirely conceivable that there were valid reasons why they couldn't pay via Paypal, as just about every other publisher in the world does, and conceivable too that they had reasons for not explaining those reasons to me, or ever giving the slightest explanation of why they hadn't paid.  All of those things are possible, if unlikely in aggregate.
But here's the thing: I don't care.  Not the slightest bit do I care.  And there's no reason at all that I should care.  Because my relationship with them was as a craftsman selling a product, and the terms of our business arrangement were clearly agreed in the contract we both signed, and that, in the end, has to be where the buck stops with this things.

Which isn't to suggest that as a writer you should be needlessly a jerk about this stuff.  Publishers are people and sometimes people have problems, and sometimes those problems are of cash-flow nature, and not everyone is one hundred percent organised all the time, and if you're selling your work then sometimes difficulties or delays will inevitably arise.  If people play straight with you then a degree of tolerance is clearly a good thing, and much more likely to produce results than wading in with threats and shouty rage.

Then there are the times when people jerk you around for no clear reason, ignore your e-mails,  mislead and obfuscate and keep it up for month upon month, with no clear end in sight ... and on those rare occasions, a service like Griefcom can be an absolute goddamned blessing.  I'm glad they were there to fight my corner, and even more glad that they did such an effective job of it.  And I really, really hope I never need to call on them again.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Of Grief and Griefcom: Part 1

I said a while back that part of my plan for this year was to start fighting my corner a little harder and to be more proactive in the face of injustice.  But ever since I began writing for money there was one fight I had no desire to fight, that I dreaded ever becoming an issue, and that was trying to get payment out of a publisher who wasn't inclined to pay.

It's not a situation you want to find yourself in, not in any line of work, and perhaps it's that little bit worse when it comes to the publishing industry, where remuneration often seems to be viewed as more a perk than a contractual right.  I think on the whole that I've been fortunate, in that I went for seven years without ever having a publisher downright refuse or otherwise seriously neglect to cough up monies owed.  (The one time it did happen it was for a measly ten dollars and I just didn't have the heart to kick up a fuss over the price of a (London) pint.)  But luck only lasts so long, and I knew it was a problem that was bound to come up sooner or later.

Which it finally did when I sold my story A Shadow Play to - at that time - new outfit Bleeding Heart Publications' literary magazine Transfusion.  It's always a risk selling to untried markets, especially when they're as cagey about what they pay as this lot were.  But they were enthusiastic about the story, it meant getting a piece that I liked a lot out into the world, and it turned out that the money was good: $100 for just over 800 words.  They promised payment within a month of publication and were quick to get a contract over, which looked entirely kosher.

Me, but not literally.
This was in August and September of last year, and it didn't take long for things to start going suspiciously wrong.  The issue with A Shadow Play in came out in October, I think, and when December came around and I hadn't been paid or received my contributor copy, or even been told that the issue was out, I sent a polite e-mail with a simple form invoice attached.  (Invoicing was something I'd already decided I'd do when payment was late, to try and subtly enforce the point that this was both my profession and my livelihood.)

When two weeks passed and I'd had no response I resent the invoice.  This time I got an undeliverable receipt back - and the alarm bells that had until then been ringing softly began to clang.  Had Bleeding Heart vanished and not felt the need to settle their debts?  There was nothing useful on their website, but when I checked their Facebook page they were still posting, which gave me the idea of sending them a note via Facebook.  This time I did get an answer, explaining that my "honorarium" would be paid when my contributor copy was shipped "at the beginning of the year." 

A rather vague term that, so I waited until early February before I checked again.  This time I was told that my issue and payment had been mailed.  Curious as to how my payment had been mailed (US cheques being both difficult and expensive to cash in the UK) I suggested Paypal as a possible alternative, and was told that payment was via a money order and that Bleeding Heart weren't able to pay by PayPal.  By this point those alarm bells were positively clattering, and I wasn't surprised when neither payment nor issue arrived.  I gave it another month-and-a-bit and then wrote again, once more via Facebook since that seemed to be the only thing that worked, explaining that nothing had turned up and asking if I might be paid by some other means, like PayPal as I'd suggested.  Within a week I'd had an apology and assurance that another contributor copy and payment by some other means would be arranged.

Two weeks later and I hadn't heard anything.  I queried again and got no reply.  By this point it was abundantly clear that I was dealing with people who, at best, did not consider honouring their contractual agreements to pay writers to be a high priority.  So I gave it one more week and then sent the following, both via Facebook and to every e-mail I could find online for Bleeding Heart or had had any communication from:  

"I'm writing to you once again to ask that you pay me the $100 you owe for the use of my story "A Shadow Play" in Transfusion issue #2.

I was promised payment with 30 days of the issue going to print; that makes it now five months overdue. This will be the sixth time I've had to query, and it's both frustrating and embarrassing to have to keep asking you for this money.

My PayPal account is under [PayPal account details redacted!].  Please can you transfer my payment by the end of this week. If I haven't received it by then I will be passing the matter to the SFWA's legal team* for investigation."

This time I got a response: a same-day response in fact, and from someone I hadn't dealt with previously, an individual named Gordon Ross whom the Bleeding Heart website listed as both director and co-founder.  Gordon's somewhat terse reply said, "Apologies for the delay, we will get it sorted in the week or 2."

I wrote back saying that, as per my e-mail, a week or two would be too late, and got a faintly apologetic reply suggesting that "threatening legal action ... will not speed up the process."  I explained that I wasn't threatening legal action and what exactly the SFWA's Griefcom service was, and suggested that Bleeding Heart had already had ample time to settle the debt, and in fact could have done it in the time it had taken for us to have that particular conversation.  I didn't get a reply.  So five days later, as the night that I'd given as a deadline drew to a close with no payment and no convincing sign of impending payment, I sent Gordon one more e-mail, explaining that I'd be referring the issue to Griefcom as I'd said I would.  Which was exactly what I did the next morning.

Next: More Grief!  Griefcom!  Explosions!**

* Not a particularly accurate representation of Griefcom as it turned out, and I should probably have done my research first, but it does sound impressive.

** Explosions may be of a metaphorical nature, or else an outright fib.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Nine Worlds 2014: Part 2

Part of my plan for Nine Worlds was that I'd make a proper go of the Saturday, according to the logic that the middle day of a convention is invariably the one most worth devoting your energies to.  This was why I'd gone to bed at a reasonable time the night before and this was why I dragged myself out of bed at an entirely sensible nine o'clock in the morning, having slept for precisely twelve minutes due to my misguided attempt to save money by staying in the cheapest place I could find.  So up I got and out I went, arriving just in time for the first program slot. I picked a lecture on Temporal Lobes and Spiritual Experiences, which turned out to be not such a great start: a rather dull and aimless take on an interesting subject.  Not to be deterred, I used the opportunity to wade through the schedule (of which there remained an insane eleven pages worth) and then left half way through and milled until the next slot.  I tried for Writing the Other, which turned out to be advance booking only, despite the program saying nothing of the sort.  In vague desperation, I wandered into Policing the Net, mostly because it was next-door.  Not a bad choice as it proved; Jane Fae offered some intriguing food for thought on the topic of - yes - policing the net, and if I didn't agree with most of her conclusions, at least it was interesting to hear them.

Annie Catling, Emma Newman, Labyrinth, my favourite Nine Worlds photo.
For the first of the afternoon slots there was nothing I was terribly excited about, so I took a stab at If A Woman Was Cast As the Doctor from the Doctor Who thread, mostly because Adrian Tchaikovsky was a panelist.  Having quite enjoyed it for forty-five minutes I began to realise that I'm not that interested in Doctor Who, and since everyone on the panel agreed on every front - yes we need a female Doctor, yes the sooner the better, yes a female Doctor would be best served by a female show-runner - I felt it lost focus a bit in the last half hour.  (I'm not entirely sold on seventy-five minute panel slots.)

By this point I was eager for fresh air and food.  So I wandered back to the nearby pub and ordered lunch, which led to me somehow getting embroiled in a plot by the bar staff to clingfilm the chef's car and after that to a half hour's reading about feral children.   Fortunately at that point Dan came to join me and together we wandered back to catch the Bechdel Test panel - which turned out to be full.  This time at least we were allowed to sit in the corridor and listen, and it proved to be a solid debate, not to mention one I really wished I'd been a part of.

Fortunately I was on the Blurred Lines: Boycotting and Buying In panel that followed, with Dan Hart, Melissa T and my good friend and one-time comics dealer Alasdair Stuart, and, like all my panels really, it turned out to be a lot of fun.  Perhaps in subconscious response to the lack of vitriol on the Doctor Who panel I decided to play devil's advocate, and then quickly found myself questioning my own ethical stance; but it all ended up okay because I got to plug Kathryn Immonen's entirely marvelous Journey into Mystery run.

My plan from that point onward had basically involved passing the remainder of the night and a good proportion of the morning in the bar, something I felt I'd earned after being so sensible the night before.  However I'd run into my friend Flick in the Bechdel Test panel and she'd persuaded me that we should team up and ace the film quiz later than night.  Sadly the quiz turned out not to be a quiz at all but some sort of ... thing ... full of squeeing and shouting and throwing of stuff.  I managed about ten minutes and then made my excuses (which I seem to remember were, "this is my idea of hell"), and fled to - you guessed it! - the bar.  Fortunately Flick chose to follow and we hurriedly invented our own film quiz, which mostly revolved around Disney movies.

Having finally drifted back to my guest house sometime after three in the morning, I didn't do quite so well at getting up the next morning and missed the first slot, but that was okay because there was nothing I'd wanted to go to anyway.  There were a few things I fancied in the late morning slot but nothing that quite managed to outweigh my hangover, so in the end it was half one and the Gamification of Everything lecture that turned out to be the proper beginning of my last day.  It was interesting in that gamification's a fascinating topic, but disappointing in that it seemed to be geared towards a corporate audience that Nine Worlds clearly wasn't.

At any rate it did a good job of passing the time until quarter past three and my last panel, More Than Mild Peril, a discussion on young adults and children in comics with (deep breath) Louie Stowell, Kate McAlpine, Emma Vieceli, Malin Ryden, Melissa T, Heather Wickson, Nat Wilkinson and Charlotte Geater.  Of everything I was doing this was the one I'd been most nervous about, because there were nine of us on there and I couldn't imagine how a panel could work with that many people.  But it did, and it did really well, and in fact it turned out to be one of the best panels I've ever been on; the presence of a couple of young adults in the debate on what's interesting or appropriate for young adults was a stroke of brilliance.  All told it was a great note to end my Nine Worlds experience on.

Now, reading over what I've written I'm aware that it sounds like I didn't have such a great time and that I wasn't overwhelmed by the content I experienced, and thinking about it, I guess both of those things are true.  But they're not really a criticism of Nine Worlds, for two reasons: first, as I said in part 1, I had some personal stuff going that somewhat dampened my enjoyment, and second because, more than any other UK convention out there, Nine Worlds is what you make of it.  It offers an abundance, even an overabundance of content, and then challenges you to do with it what you will.  And not all of it's brilliant, and definitely not all of it's for everyone, but that's okay, because there's just so damn much.  Nine Worlds takes effort, but it also rewards it.

So I guess what I'm saying is, it wasn't Nine Worlds that failed but me.  I definitely wish I'd devoted more time to the Comics strand; looking back over the program there are a few others things I can't believe I didn't manage to find time for.

Oh well!  Next year I'll do better.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Nine Worlds 2014: Part 1

I mentioned in my last post that, although I'd definitely had a mostly-good time, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about my Nine Worlds experience.  A couple of days on and I'm clearer, though perhaps still not entirely there.  Part of the problem, I think, is that I was just expecting too damn much - the excellence of last year but with the rough edges shaved off, basically - and that was not entirely reasonable.  Part of the problem, too, was that there was some last-minute personal stuff that made the whole experience a bit more stressful that it might have been.  However with a couple of day's perspective I suspect that the remaining part is that it was just the teeniest bit disappointing; probably as good as last year's Con, which lest we forget was pretty damn great, but without those refinements to the formula I'd hoped the intervening year might have produced.

Now out, Germany.
Anyway, I'm preempting myself here, so maybe I should just talk about what actually went on instead.  The day got off to a pretty good start when I traveled from Leeds to London on a freebie first class ticket that East Coast had given me to apologize for once making me two and a half hours late, and I arrived in King's Cross with a proper breakfast in me and my socialist ideals somewhat tarnished.  From there I made a brief trip up the Northern line to visit my agents, Zeno, who were holding some copies of the just-out paperback release of the German edition of Giant Thief for me.  Then, with yet more books in my rucksack - I think I was up to sixteen by this point - I headed back south and picked up the Piccadilly Line for Heathrow.  From there I hurried to Nine Worlds, checked in, rushed on to my guest house, checked in there too, had a quick and much needed shower and dropped off my bag and headed back to the conference hotel - and then kept going, to grab a sandwich from the nearby garage - and finally, finally, properly arrived at Nine Worlds at somewhere around three o'clock.

Thus began a rather irritating trend that would end up being one of my few gripes with the convention, as I dashed to the Archeological World-building talk only to be turned away because the room was full.  (In the end this happened three times over the course of the weekend; as Oscar Wilde famously said, to misjudge the audience size for one panel may be regarded as a misfortune; to misjudge three looks like carelessness.)  Oh and hey, let's get most of the grumbling out of the way right here, shall we?  As someone who believes in sustainability, not to mention not carrying around loads of crap I don't want, I really don't want a plastic carrier bag full of books I'll never read and adverts and booklets and little plastic tokens that don't look even slightly recyclable.  Seriously, I get that everyone does this, Nine Worlds, but you guys know better.  And in fact, what with the millions of plastic cups floating about and a few other things, things were pretty crummy on the giving-the-slightest-crap-about-the-environment front.  Please will someone in the Con scene set a precedent for not getting this so wrong?  And since no one else seems even close to trying, please could it be Nine Worlds?

Okay, done grumbling!  (Well, mostly.)  So, denied enlightenment on the Archeological World-building front, I gave in to my baser Con-going instincts and retired to the bar to meet my friend and bestselling-author-to-be Dan Scrivener, and sometime after that my friend Jobeda Ali.  And both of them were nice enough to buy my drinks, which - not being an oil baron - I would otherwise have struggled to afford.  (Damn it!  Okay, now I'm done.  For this post anyway.)

All of this afternoon drinking was in fact just psychological preparation for early that evening, when came my third-ever stab at panel moderating: the Writing Trans-Media panel.  This time around, however, what with the whole 'writing being the day job' thing, I had one advantage I'd never had in the past: I was shockingly over-prepared.  I mean, 'two pages of questions with sub-questions, having researched my panelists and even prepared specific questions for them' over-prepared.  And having done it that way once I'm convinced it's the way to go in future, because once we got started I wasn't a bit nervous, things went unexpectedly brilliantly, and my panelists - Barry Nugent, Anna Caltabiano, Simon Guerrier and Adam Christopher - were every one of them completely great.  If you happen to read this, thank you everyone, you made a scary thing painless to the point of being actual fun.

After that, of course, it was back to the bar. This being my third Con near Heathrow and my second in that particular hotel, I now know the area distressingly well, so I dragged Dan to a half-decent pub nearby and then back to the hotel bar, where we eventually ran into Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ian Whates and - it being a bar - lots of other people.  But because I was determined the learn the lessons of all the conventions I've made a hash of in the past, I retired at the entirely sensible hour of midnight to my guest house cell.  (I mean this in the monastic rather than the prison sense.  It was spartan, but there were no bars on the windows.)

Thus ended Friday.  Next: Saturday!  Sunday!  Less griping!  More drinking!