So - this is what I'll be up to at the weekend.
|Friday||4pm||Boardroom||"Small Press Stories"|
|What’s it like running a small SF/F Press? Editors from some of our local publishers share stories about their business. Colin Tate (Clarion Press) moderates Bob Neilson (Aeon Press), Pete Crowther (PS Publishing), Donna Scott (Immanion) and Ian Whates (Newcon Press).|
|Friday||10pm||Rowan||"Just a Minute"|
|Four amusing people are invited to talk for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition by the finest Nicholas Parsons impersonator a pint can buy (that’d be Owen Dunn, then).|
|Sunday||12noon||Boardroom||"Ready, Steady, Flash"|
|Lee Harris challenges authors to produce short themed fiction to a very tight deadline, and then read it out. Paul Cornell, Cory Doctorow, Roz Kaveney and Emma Newman scribble, and Donna Scott entertains while they write.|
|Sunday||7pm||Main||"BSFA Awards / LonCon 3 Update"|
|Award Administrator Donna Scott and Master of Ceremonies Paul Cornell, assisted by our Guests of Honour, present the BSFA Awards for 2012. They then hand over to the LonCon 3 team for a presentation and update on next year’s UK Worldcon.|
I have narrated this short story for Pseudopod, What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night by Michael Marshall Smith .
It's a very creepy story. It's my first attempt at recording something by myself, so there are things I've learned in the process. Hopefully I'll get to do some more!
It has been a busy few weeks and my head is in a whirl. Sleep is not my friend, though very often my travelling companion (good job I don't drive).
I had a great time down at The Forbidden Planet Expo, and it was really busy in there. I just went as a punter (and I did buy a couple of books), though when m'friend Gareth L Powell dropped out, I was almost tempted to grab his poor neglected author name tag. "No, honest, I am him." As it happened a couple of books I was in did happen to be on the sale tables that day. One day, hey?
...and this is me there with m'friend Paul Cornell.
The following weekend was spent on a stag and hen weekend in Brum, with very many of the same people. We went to a gin palace, played street ping pong and then went on to Eddies which has moved and is now in what looks ike an Estate WMC and has reassuringly sticky carpet. RAWK!
Since this time, my life has been taken up with three major things: the witchcraft exhibition, the play, and comedy nights.
The 1612 Northamptonshire Witch Trials exhibition opened on 21st July. We'd managed to get quite a bit of advance publicity thanks to BBC Northampton Radio. On the day I was putting the exhibition up, they were sending someone to interview me at the museum. typical then that my bus got stuck behind an accident.
I weighed up my chances of making the interview on time if I stayed on the bus. I was 2 miles from the town centre, there were no footpaths for a mile of that... but I had no helpful information from the driver either, and so I took my chances, left the bus, and commenced wading through the tall grass, stumbling across brambles and rabbit holes, heading for town. About ten minutes into my walk, the bus went past. Nooooo!
I got to the top of London Road, a long hill that goes past Delapre Abbey. I mostly ran down that. My phone was ringing as I neared the Carlsberg factory. Had I missed them? No - they were there, but hurry! I ran through the doors and almost hurt my face on the interviewer's microphone. No time for a drink or to stop the drippy sweat tap, it was straight into the interview. The interviewer kept asking how you could tell a witch so he could see if his girlfriend was one... oh dear.
But how Alan Partridge was that?!
We heard the interview after and it was fine. They were playing Frank Sinatra's 'It's Witchcraft' in the background, which made me think of Peter Kay and how he said in his biography that he "improved" a production of The Crucible he was in by singing it at the end.
I did another radio interview the morning of the exhibition opening, this time in the studio. It must have worked as we packed the small exhibition space out with people. I gave a talk, and Anne-Marie Sandos was telling witchy stories in character. The white wine went very quickly.
The following night I held a cabaret night down the Vic Inn. It being the exact anniversary of the witch trials, I felt it should be marked in some way, so I wrote a long theatrical poem (with props!) called 'Waking the Witch'. We had to put the show back an hour to get an uadience, but otherwise all went well and we got some great responses. Justin Thyme of Raising the Awen, Milton Keynes Poet Laureate, Mark Niel and comedian Hannah Silvester all came to lend their talents and we had a really nice time.
This cleared a bit of space in my head to concentrate on the next thing: comedy at The Racehorse. It's a fairly new thing for us and a venue we love, so we want to make a good fist of things, but it's very hard to relax just yet. Playing that night we had Dan Wright, doing his Edinburgh Preview Michael Jackson Touched Me. Also playing was local legend Mark Cram, who did a really excellent job, and feminist comedian as most recently (and bizarrely) seen on The Bachelor Kate Smurthwaite . She did a little bit from her Edinburgh show News at Kate, and went down very well with the crowd, so hopefully she will be back sometime.
Last night I got to work with Imaginary Ordinary puppetry expert Lisa Shepherd ready for The Arabian Nights next week, where I will be manipulating the talking bird character. I'm so glad to have been given the role - it's my favourite character, and the puppet is simply beautiful. I will post pics up when the play is done. For now, you'll just have to come and see it live.
Anne-Marie Sandos and me were interviewed about our exhibition for BBC Northampton's John Griff show on Tuesday. It's at 1 hour 37 minutes in, if you want to catch it on Listen again here.
I am dead excited to be bringing comedy to the legendary Northampton Racehorse! Beginning this Wednesday, 27th July, we will be holding monthly comedy nights, and the first couple of shows will be Edinburgh previews.
This will be a great opportunity to see theatre shows in development, for whatever price you think fits.
First up, we have Vikki Stone, musical comedian extraodinaire. She's amazingly talented and immensely funny. Next month, we have Dan Wright, who is a brilliant storytelling comedian, usually seen with his partner Steve Marsh of Electric Forecast. You might recognise them both as they've been on TV a fair bit. They're not the ubiquitous panel-show types, but they certainly beat my one appearance in the audience of Central Weekend into a cocked hat.
Vikki's show is called Hot Mess, and Dan Wright's is Michael Jackson Touched Me. Explains the glove(s), I suppose?
I'm hoping to bring a lot of fresh and diverse comedy talent before The Racehorse's lovely and peculier clientele, who are a mish-mash of alternative types. I'm looking for acts that are original, different, and who may be left off mainstream bills in favour of samey, laddy, unpolitically-correct comedy.
This night will be the comedy break in a week chock-full of editing work (I loves it!). Then at the weekend, I am going to go to a couple of literary things.
First up children's writer Andy Briggs is giving a talk at Northampton Central library on Friday 29th June from 7-8pm. If you fancy going along, I advise booking a space on firstname.lastname@example.org
Then, on Saturday, it's down to the big smoke. Old London tahn... where m'friends Ian Whates, Mark West and Kim Lakin-Smith are among many fab writers attending Forbidden Planet's Small Press Expo . Newcon Press's anthology Hauntings can no longer be pre-ordered from Forbidden Planet as it's selling so fast, but do pop down on the day to grab your copy and get it signed personally. Should be a really good day out, and I may be partaking in a bit of red wine. Look out for the many photos that will inevitably be taken of me with red wine lips.
I've just got back in from an absolutely brilliant afternoon. I was running a creative writing workshop at Northampton Central Library themed on the town's1612 witch trials and had a good number of really keen and enthusiastic people turn up. I was blown away by the quality of some of the pieces that the group came up with in such a short space of time, running the gamut of lyrical, clever, witty, funny and awesomely emotional stuff.
I got home from the BSFA Awards discussion panel last night, groggy from train snooze, fuzzy from red wine, and full of the wibbles you get after the rush of adrenalin has died down, and the slightly shaky feeling from thinking that I may, just may have heaped a whole bucketload of tee-ar-uh-double-burr-ull-TRUBBLE on my head through admitting to things I did or enabled with the BSFA Awards that people may not have liked... only everyone (present) seemed to understand after all. Phew!
Still, I thought, all controversies dealt with, but controversies get people talking, don't they?
This morning no one is talking about me. I'm like a pouty Oscar Wilde.
Duncan Lawie and Dave Hutchinson were extremely pleasant guests and though we did talk around opinions of works on the shortlist, we veered towards the postive and no former or current comedians-who-also-write were injured by the process. Possibly the positivity was helped by one of the shortlistees being in the room, somehow representing (in my head) the aw-pshaws, smiles and blushes of those who could not be there. Comparison with the recently published Clarke Award shortlist was also made, and I was disappointed by the absence of Tom Hunter, because he is quite often in attendance and I thought we could tease him that our shortlist was more Clarke than the Clarkes this time round. Nonetheless, we concluded that we do have a pretty good list with some quite literary aspirations, and both lists offer good stuff to read.
Also, revolutionary fervour was seeded with discussion of my little controversies: the non-fiction award being a bit too general and why we had an extended nominations amnesty. Suggestions were made, people were enthusiastic and my heart was gladdened.
I'm relieved I didn't know about Chris Priest's latest blog before last night, because it could well have coloured the conversation and taken the focus away from what we are trying to achieve with the BSFA Awards. It might have been a lot less pleasant. One of the Clarke shortlistees, Charlie Stross, was brought up by a couple of people as someone people thought was missing from our list, and I pointed out that he had only narrowly missed being so. Just goes to show how subjective opinion can be.
But why would it have changed things, some of you may be asking, if we had known what Christopher Priest had written? All the books on both lists were published last year. The content or quality does not change based on a blog written yesterday. However, the readers are human, and not inured to the temptations of gossip or scandal, and especially in the puddle-splash of the sf community, some of the things that were said concern people many of us know and possibly even like. Oh, and the BSFA actually appointed two of those judges as well!
There is nothing wrong with voicing an opinion. It's okay not to like something and it's fine to explain and justify why you might find a piece of work wanting. I was shocked when I first read the post, but going back through there are only a few points that are hugely shockworthy, or that I can even argue against as I don't know the work in question. For the most part, Priest does go for the work and not the person, although that line is blurred in places. Calling for the cancellation of the Clarkes is more than a tad bombastic and he probably realises this. I feel most sorry for Mark Billingham, and his character Tom Thorne would have trouble identifying exactly what crime he is meant to have committed here. Agreeing to be a pannelist at Oxford Literary Festival? How dare he grace the same stage? After all, his books are only eminently readable and popular crime fiction novels with engaging narratives, rounded characters and squeeze in political topicality to boot. Plus he's a very funny chap. Saying he employs 'heavy-handed' puns in his novels knowing full well that comedy was his first success is akin to pointing to something on him that isn't there and flicking him in the face.
But I do want to make a point, because Eastercon is only round the corner now, and this is when I will get most of the votes for the BSFA Awards. The Islanders is on that shortlist. I'm not sure if Christopher Priest has forgotten how small the pond is, or if he doesn't care, or if his eye was only ever on the Clarkes, but I am hoping that potential voters will remember that they certainly don't have to agree with any of the shortlistees opinions about people, books, politics, or anything. This book is part of the very good shortlist that the BSFA meeting was discussing last night. It is still made up of the same words in the same order. With the BSFA Awards and the Clarke Awards you can discover some excellent science fiction, and with only one book on both lists, you have variety and plenty to form your own opinions on... if you feel so inclined. You can also just enjoy them.
Last month, my brother, James, his wife, Annie and my littlest nephew Basher took a city break to Lille, had a lovely time, and thoughtfully picked up some waffle biscuits for me (I like these very much). As I live in the same town, it should have been a simple matter of me popping round one night for a cuppa and picking these up.
I looked at my schedule, however, and couldn’t find room to squeeze a visit in: I had meetings, gigs, planned nights out, museum stuff. I’ve not even had time to catch up with TV I’ve planned to watch on iPlayer. No – I haven’t even seen Dirk Gently!
Eventually I got to see James and Annie – they had to come to one of my gigs to catch me.
Now, whilst that was no hardship, I’m sure (it was an excellent We are Most Amused night, with an amazingly good line-up of Jay Handley, Colin Hinchley, Paul Broad, Paul Mutageija, Celia Wilding, Susie Amato, Nick Clarke, Matt Diggle Davies as Johnny Dazzle and magic Al Rudge, performing to a packed out room) I did feel guilt pangs a-plenty. My own brother, who lives, what, twenty minutes’ walk away, and I couldn’t find time for him?
Granted, I’ve deliberately made myself very busy since Christmas, just to chase the bad clouds out of my head. But I should be making time for family.
But Spring is here and it’s time for a post-Winter, post grief-coping strategy declutter. And because I need method for my metaphor, this weekend I had a chuck out of my beloved but worn out shoes (goodbye tartan DMs, ruined whilst fishing for mackerel), some makeup I’d been clinging on to since university and a load of other hoarded junk. Office – you’re next! *shudder*
N has urged me to look at my ever-growing to do list and sort out my priorities. I need to keep the stuff that will help my literary endeavours and with the pursuit of my dream career, drop the fun stuff that hurts my pocket but doesn’t help my CV. Oh, yes, and probably do more of something – write.
I’ve dropped a couple of open-mic poetry gigs I’d fancied going to in the past couple of weeks – I wouldn’t necessarily have performed, but they would have been fun to be at in any case. Now if I, or anyone else, wants me to do something, I have to be able to complete the phrase “This will be good for me because…” with a really good, non-idiotic ending. “There will be cider,” for example, is not good enough.
Instead, I’m forging ahead with editorial work and am now embarking on a new post-slush reading role, which makes me happy. I’ve got edits coming back to me on a short story that should be out later in the year and I’m also researching the 1612 Northamptonshire witch trials for an exhibition at the museum this summer. So far, my imagining brain has led my feet to the supposed gallows site in Abington Park (where afterwards I sat eating muffins in the café, bewildered by the owner’s numerous photos of himself with James Blunt), and my researching brain to the basement at the library, and back to the museum where, by chance, I bumped into the chairwoman of Heritage Hunters a (local history group) and chatted to her about the gallows site.
I’ve also been speaking with local folklore history expert, Peter Hill, who has been telling me about the mysterious imagery that abounds in Northamptonshire churches. Did you know, for example, that Northamptonshire is teeming with Green Cats? Green Cats Think not of Mooncat or genetically moggified jellyfish creatures – these Green Cats are akin to Green Men, Pagan imagery that has found its way into churches all over the place. There is apparently one in St Peters on Black Lion Hill, and Peter is giving a talk on the Green Man in the Black Lion pub next door to the church on Saturday 19th May at 2pm. I’m particularly keen to hear Peter’s theory on why there are carvings in the church of men holding sweetcorn, dating from before the supposed discovery of the Americas.
All of this is also feeding the fuel for Waking the Witch - a shortish solo poetical performance that I will be doing on 22nd July with some musical and spoken word guest artists.
I’ve also been given my panels for Eastercon, which are as follows:
Friday 6th April – 6pm Commonwealth – Just a Minute I seek to emulate Sue Perkins in this regard, and if I can win this, I claim the right to go eat things with Giles Coren at some point in the very near future. Thanks.
Saturday 7th April – 3pm – 41 (Winchester) – Running an Award “How do you run an award? Who are awards run for - is it the industry, or the readers? How do you engage with your audience? How do older awards stay fresh and relevant to the field, and how do newer awards find a place for themselves?” These are questions the audience wants answered, right? Okay – just checking.
Sunday 8th April – 6pm Commonwealth – the BSFA Awards. Acclaimed writer John Meaney is MCing and presenting the awards will be Cory “Little Brother” Doctorow, Paul “Demon Knights” Cornell, Tricia “Lightborn” Sullivan and George R “Game of Thrones” R Martin. Squee! I will be running round like a mad bird in a dress.
Oh – and my Supermarket challenge continues. If you want to know more about that, you need to be on my friends list on Still Not Enough Rice Pudding.
X-posted from Still Not Enough Rice Pudding
This week, I think I have moved a little closer to finding the art of my heart... at the very least what I appreciate the most in others. The trouble with this sort of realisation is that you think you've been working hard, but there's going to be lots to do yet.
On Wednesday I went to the big smoke in that there London to see my mate Ian Whates interview the marvellous Liz Williams. It was a fascinating night and some of the discussion was also pretty useful to me in gleaning the perspective of a modern practitioner of witchcraft (Liz)as I am writing the bulk of the 1612: the witch trials of Northampton exhibition. also nice to have a little drinkie with some of my pals from sf.
On Thursday I joined in with the Milton Keynes massive once again and headed to Bilston - my old town in the Black Country - to a packed out Bilston Voices in the Cafe Metro. This is the baby of Emmma Purshouse, who most ably MC'd the night, and a sweet gig it is too. It was lovely to be able to meet up with Jane Seabourne and Eileen Ward-Birch, also of the now sadly defunct Wimmin Wot Wroight. Unfortunately, my dad was waylaid by motorway traffic on the way home, so I didn't get to see him there.
The evening was kicked off by Al Barz reading some of Geoff Stevens' poems in tribute to him. With Geoff's passing, the poetry scene is missing one of its great and good.
Then we had readings from newcomer Alan Glover, who had poems about his depression to make you think... and smile. More smiles came from Lichfield poet Janet Jenkins. I liked her frog poem a lot.
Then I came on, and according to Gary Longden's review, I performed with brio and chutzpah... I like that... makes it sound like a crime-fighting duo. Or maybe a music hall act in the Edwardian style - Brio and Chutzpah! I was presumably their Betty: Brio, Chutzpah and Betty.
Penultimate act was the very brilliant new bard of Stony Stratford, Danni Antagonist, whose poems are extremely well-crafted, the narratives touching light as a butterfly wing, leaving hurricanes of thinking in their wake. I think Embrace is a new favourite of mine.
Mark Niel is newly a full-time professional poet and actor and he writes and performs with extreme skill. His poems' themes are light-hearted and universal, and very entertaining and though I might not be prepared to take off my shirt in the middle of a poem like he does (sorry, I know some of you are disappointed by this), I look to him and Danni for inspiration and guidance down this road of performance poetry. I'm so very glad they took me along with them.
It was a fun night... also I sold some magazines (which paid for my share of the petrol,yay!) and I inroduced Mark and Danni to the delights of the Black Country orange chip! Nom, nom, nom.
On Friday N and I went back to Milton Keynes to see the amazing Jordan Reyne play The Stables Studio and we made a little 'sf' table with our friends Jessica and Cris. Jordan is also someone we know from the world of sf, and though I have been in love with her sound for a while, N hadn't really heard any... so I had that lovely moment you get when you introduce your partner to new music and you see the look on their face that says this is the best thing, ever! To be honest, the lot of us were astounded at just how brilliant and accomplished she is live. If you have not heard her, check out www.jordanreyne.com and then make sure you get to one of her future gigs. Her music is a mix of Trent Reznor and traditional folk, flavours you think will never work on paper... but they so do! She has the kudos of awards and a cult following, but she deserves to be immensely famous.
Then of course, the weekend went too quickly... full of meetings and work and housework. But you know what? I am feeling super organised. I know what I need to do and I think I'm going down the right road now. Wish me luck!
X-posted from Still Not Enough Rice Pudding .
Constitution, willpower, finances, immune system.
All of these have taken a considerable battering following a most joyously raucous weekend beside the cold North Wales seaside celebrating SCIENCE!! FICTION!!!!. Yes, it was the SFX Weekender. And yes it was two weekends ago...
We travelled on Thursday to make the pre-Party. Having decided to not be such a girl about these things, I packed light (only 4 pairs of DMs - 5 pairs of shoes if you count the wellies). This was to make room in the car for the fishing rods, lures, catch bucket and car picnic. The car picnic is still evident on the floor of the car (M&S sandwiches - reduced to £1.50).
We took the opportunity of being by the sea to practice a bit of casting out for mackerel. We didn't stand a chance of catching any. It's February - cod time. Hadn't got the right bait though. N didn't catch anything either. Not even a cold... he'd already got one. I did manage to fall over and whilst I was not hurt I was shocked quite badly, so much of my time on the beach was trying to climb down the rocks using legs shaking like a Yorkshire Terrier wielding a pneumatic drill.
With sloshing wellies we went to Pontins reception slightly early to check in, which is how we managed to only be there for 25 minutes or so. Good job, or we might be missing a few toes to frostbite.
Checked into chalet. Fine. Things worked. We poured our wellies into the available bucket.
This was when we discovered how lightly we had packed. Neil had no other trousers, so we had to dry his jeans out for hours by the radiator before we could go anywhere. Sam and Paul came round and we broke open the alcohol... Del and Kim were still en route, so we'd had a few by the time they got there. It was just like being a student! Suitably lubricated, we went out to find the pub. N put his jeans back on first.
So Thursday night was all about the booze... but with Dutch courage on my side I volunteered to perform comedy during Lee Harris's 'Ready Steady Flash' panel, which he was hosting on Saturday to help occupy the audience while the panellists were writing. In the end I decided that a set more leaning towards comedy poetry might be condusive to the writerly atmosphere of a flash fiction workshop.
It was a very fun panel, with the stories provided by Paul Cornell, Juliette E McKenna, Tony Lee (also a very funny poet as it turned out) and Stacia Kane. I enjoyed doing my bit too... and my could it have been one of my biggest crowds to date? I daresay... there were quite a lot of people there for the whole workshop, but a few more sneaked in halfway through to grab seats for the panel immediately after - The Two Hollies: Norman Lovett and Hattie Hayridge introducing the episode of Red Dwarf where they played Holly and Hilly.
Needless to say, that was my personal weekend highlight, but there were some other stonkingly good things on. For the second year in a row, I've noticed that SFX has so much interesting stuff on that we actually go to panels... several in a row!
I think it was unanimously decreed on the interwebs that Paul Cornell hosting Just a Minute was excellent - and Sarah Pinborough was really funny. Sylvester McCoy was erudite and entertaining, as was Colin Baker. I couldn't get near the Void when Brian Blessed was on, so I went to the pub instead... and I missed Eve Myles who I hear was lovely.
The girls on sticks this year seemed to be lacking the universal all-round talent of last year's troupe and felt they had to make up for this by not adjusting themselves when their leotards (at N's eye level -slap!) had gone up their cracks (Finger and thumb, girls!). I mean, if you were on stilts wearing just your pants and wanted to take a closer look at the Judge Dredd covers, wouldn't you get the stall holder to pass you them or would you bend over at the waist?
...and if anyone thinks I'm jealous, look, I've been 21 and all that. If you wanted to see that much of me back then, it would have taken at least 3 Blastaways... and I always stopped at 2. And a half. And another half. So nuh.
Best thing of all though was the chance to see all my friends and make a couple more. I miss those guys... promises have been made to see each other more often!
Oh and the rapturous joy of everyone dressed in fancy dress for the Saturday night party. Josie Long is definitely right about that. Kim went as Bladerunner's Priss; Paul and Sam went as The Joker and Harlequin; Gareth L Powell donned an Adamantesque facial stripe and Del got lots of compliments for dressing as himself. N went as Uncle Nobby, which confused the two drunk Welsh lads near the shop who were trying to serenade everyone who passed with the appropriate theme tune. If we go next year I'm going dressed as something. Hopefully something sexy that I can get away with in my slightly pudgy years. Jabba the Slut?
Last week was another We are Most Amused at which our mate Mark West's mate Johnny Fields made his comedy debut, and we had some really funny fellas on - including Ben Goddard and Chris le Mottee, who I met at Laughing Horse. Ben not only looks a bit like Simon Pegg, but also turns out to be a brilliant illustrator with a penchant for comic drawing. I cannot confirm whether he has ever drawn a mutant bear with a massive claw, though. Good stuff as always from Birthday Ben Briggs, and from Leon Clifford and Dave Tomlinson.
Then on Saturday, I slammed in Bilston. Did a poem about Top Gear. Lots of great comments, but no place in the semis. All crash, no burn. Another top drawer night arranged by Marcus Moore and Sarah-Jane Arbury of Spiel, Emma Purshouse and the Imperial Banqueting Suite. It gets better and better.
There was a contingent from Manchester down: Kieren King, Dave Viney, Dominic Berry and Rod Tame, and they were all excellent. They made the semis along with Fergus McGonigal, who won the last slam I went to (also a Spiel) and Lorna Meehan. The probability was that one of the lovely Manc lads, who were all sitting on our table, was going to take the prize. Lorna and Kieren went head to head, but Kieren pipped her to the top prize.
On Behind the Arras, Gary Longden has questioned whether there may be unconscious sexism creeping in to the scoring, there. To be honest, I really don't think so. Kieren and Lorna were both equally brilliant, and there was hardly anything between them points-wise. The Manc lads are committed, seasoned performance poets with very strong writing and a supportive and mutual creative ethic to just go out there and do stuff which clearly pays off... as individuals with a roughly equal number of men to women, the maths would be more arguable, but as a group, the probability bore out in their favour, backed up by material that was fresh and original. Inspirational you might say.
It was a bit weird for me, all in all... this time last year, my mom was with me. Going to Bilston and her not being there was more than odd. A few times during the evening I had to bat away a tear or two. Ah well... it would only have been frustrating if I'd won after this time just when she wasn't there to see.
Friday was my office party. No jeans, no trainers. So, somewhat honour of This is England '88 I decided that
Now here's a twist: I went to a convention and it was absolutely nothing to do with science fiction!
No - it was a bloggers' convention. A foodie blogger's convention at that.
The Bite n' Write con was put together by my brother James Bolton and my sister-in-law Annie Ko who are specialists in web media and baking lovely things respectively. It was a project they'd had in mind a while ago, but they've been working on it really hard and yesterday's event was the culmination of that effort. Honestly, if people knew the issues they have had to work through to get this con off the ground... they are the veritable swan's legs that pair. Considering the heartache we've all had as a family lately with mom's death, well, I can only repeat what I've told them already and will keep telling them. They have done a blinding job, and she would be so utterly proud of them.
Hats off too to the friends who assisted behind the scenes. I'm sorry I didn't catch everyone's names, but hello to Emma-Jane who I saw running round and helping lots.
N also helped with some much needed tech backup and I opened and closed the event with some food-based poetry. I had lots of lovely comments about the poems, which made me very happy.
So what can you expect from a food bloggers' convention? Well, some of the ingredients included...
The event was held in the Old Library at the Custard Factory in Digbeth.To begin with it was a bit of a cold custard, but it warmed up - thankfully.
One of the key sessions was a chocolate tasting from Artisan du Chocolat. Think gorgeous chocolate quality with a touch of Heston Blumenthal madness: green Matcha white chocolate; lemon and thyme; thyme and sage; balsamic vinegar; Mole chilli; tobacco. Some combinations sounded great but were very strange on the palate and I discovered after thirty years of believing otherwise that there is such a thing as too bitter a chocolate for me - 100% chocolate might be all right for cooking, but a chunk of it is not nice for snacking. Love love love the Masala chai, Passion fruit discs, salted caramel pearls and sparkling British wine truffles, though.
We had an excellent talk on food photography from Frasershot. Craig Fraser has worked with some impressive names in food, from J D Wetherspoons to Waitrose, and from Gary Rhodes to Marcus Wareing. For an example of how to do it badly on a smartphone, just look below, but Craig gave us some fabulous insights and tips. Did you know that margarine is often used instead of ice cream on shoots as it doesn't melt? Don't think food photography is all fakery and high tech, though. A lot of it is just getting the light right, and some of his spontaneous shots were just gorgeous.
Another fascinating and very useful talk on SEO from Judith Lewis - an SEO specialist, who is the brain behind the very popular Mostly About Chocolate blog. I've tried to incorporate some of her tips on my website today, although that combined with James's talk on Wordpress makes me think I'm getting Wordpress envy. Luckily there's a cake for that (see below).
There was a flurry of excitement on the #bitenwrite Twitter feed as Great British Bake Off's Ben Frazer made an appearance to speak about video blogging. No pink cake from him... though some of us were still eating the red velvet cupcakes we'd got from Fallen Angel Bakery earlier in the day. Dee-lish!
Let's just say, the buffet lunch was amazing - smoked salmon, spinach, green bean salad, new potatoes. Oh, and yet more cake!
And just when we didn't think we could squeeze in another mouthful, the Bay Leaf restaurant invited everyone next door for some luscious samosas, pakora and bhajis, served with raita and tamarind sauce. Flavourful rather than spicy, with some unusual veg-filling choices, like artichoke (???) - very nice indeed.
All in all a great day, and if this is the kind of thing you can participate in as a poet, rest assured I'm going to be writing a lot more foodie poetry from now on!