World Horror Con 2010 – Overview

“Brighton Shock” was the title of World Horror Con 2010 – the first World Horror Con to be held outside North America, in its 20-year history.

Although a regular Con-goer this was the first time I had attended WHC. I usually go to Cons alone, but my husband decided to come along as well, partly because he does occasionally read horror, but mostly because he thought, correctly, Brighton would be a nice place for a weekend away.

Two things struck me fairly quickly about this Con compared to others. The first was the amount of Free Stuff we got. Upon checking in at the registration desk and picking up our name badges (issued in a very useful neck pouch that had a number of pockets in – so one could carry cash, business cards, anything else one might need all in one place), we were both handed a large heavy WHC shoulder bag containing vast quantities of freebies – mostly books. Initially we thought we’d been given a set each of the same books. On further inspection, each bag contained a selection of different books. I am impressed. I now have enough books to last me for the next six months.

The other difference with World Con was the amount of free booze on offer. Most Cons offer free alcohol of some kind, be it a launch or a reception or some such, at some point over the weekend. Horror Con had all manner of launches, and each one supplied free drinks. It was entirely possible, if one felt so inclined, to spend the whole weekend tipsy without having to pay for any alcohol.

We arrived early Friday evening, and we decided to go to the party on Brighton Pier hosted by American novelist Heather Graham. I haven’t read any of Heather’s books yet, but I got two of them free at the Con, so I shall be remedying that situation soon.

Upon ordering my small glass of wine at the bar, the bartender said – “It’s a free bar – why don’t you have a large one?” Sadly that proved to be my undoing. However, it was a very good party and it is true that the best place to talk to people at a Con is at the bar – especially a free bar. Everyone was wandering around in name badges, so you could identify who you wanted to talk to. I caught up with Gavin Williams and Tim Lebbon, who I used to know many, many years ago before either of them were published writers. They are both doing quite well for themselves writing-wise, it was good to hear.

Then Michael Marshall Smith stopped to chat to us for a while. I have met him before on a couple of occasions, and he came to speak to the T Party a couple of years ago. He’s one of the few writers my husband and I both read – Chris likes his sci fi books; I like his crime thrillers.

I also spent some time talking to Lisa Tuttle, who I hadn’t met before, but when I saw her standing on her own I decided it was a good opportunity to meet her. And we exchanged cards. Eventually. That was another lesson I learned about Cons. Although I took some of my specially-printed cards with the link to buy STC along, we went out for dinner after dumping the luggage and I found myself in the bar without any of them, which necessitated my chasing the people I’d talked to on Friday down later in the weekend, to pass on the cards (note to self: never go anywhere – especially anywhere serving alcohol – without a stash of STC business cards on my person).

We eventually flagged and went to bed – earlier than most, it seemed. I felt decidedly worse for wear Saturday morning, but managed to get to the first panel on time. The panel was called “Look at Me” and was about how to promote oneself. Most of the panel members seemed to be in a similar state to me, to be honest. It seemed the party went on until the wee hours of the morning. The panel members’ advice on how to make a good impression as a writer included: remember to shower. And use deodorant. And change your clothes. And brush your teeth. Especially if you’ve been out drinking till 3am the previous night, and never managed to get to bed. It seemed all the panel members enjoyed the party as well.

After that, I went to the panel about the history of Pan Horror books. I’m sure I used to have some of those Pan Horror collections as a teenager. What I didn’t know is that they stopped being produced in 1989, and those that are still around could be quite valuable (another note to self: check all those old paperbacks up in the attic).

After that, I was a bit torn as to where to go next. The next item on the agenda was an interview with James Herbert, which I really wanted to see. However, at the same time was a panel on women In horror – more relevant for my writing career, I felt. In the end, I went to the “Women In Horror” panel, and glad I did, as it was very interesting.

It was, by that point, lunch time, so we left the hotel in search of a bite to eat. We spent a pleasant hour or so in the Piano & Pitcher by the sea front. I had a ham and cheese baguette, with chips, and a large bottle of water, which was theoretically to share but I drank most of it myself, still feeling decidedly dehydrated from the night before. Food and water really helped, and I went back to the Con feeling much refreshed.

Chris decided to take the air in Brighton while I went to the panel on crossover genres in horror (actually he snuck off to the guitar shop, which is probably another reason why he decided to come to Brighton in the first place).

Meanwhile, the panel I attended was largely to do with how modern horror usually crosses genres, such as crime and horror, historical horror, romance and horror, and so on. And that publishers are always far more keen to emphasise the genre that’s not horror, in an attempt to avoid putting off their potential readership. I asked the question why that should be – after all, if I pick up a book expecting it to be horror and it’s full of romance, I get pretty miffed, and no one’s worried about offending me.

One of the answers that was put forth is that in the 70s when horror was in its heyday, there was so much ‘bad’ horror published, in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, that it gave the genre something of a bad reputation. This has happened in other genres too, of course. But somehow ‘bad’ horror is always much more of an embarrassment than, say, bad sci fi or a bad bodice ripper.

I had an hour to kill after that before the next panel I wanted to go to was on, so I decided to explore the rest of the convention. There was a James Herbert signing session going on. In the end I decided not to join it – the queue was extremely long, and I hadn’t actually brought any Herbert books along with me, whereas most people in the line were clutching half a dozen. So sadly I didn’t get to meet James Herbert. But I don’t think I would have got to talk to him anyway. After all, he’s a giant amongst horror writers, and I am a lowly mollusc.

I did, however, get chatting to Sarah Pinborough, who had been on the Women In Horror panel, and as she’s a writer of both crime and horror, like me, I was keen to get her view on writing in both genres. Her opinion is that the two genres have a lot in common and plenty of writers do it. I worry about my dual-genre writing sometimes, as many industry opinions suggest that publishers like you to stick to one, to build up a fan base.

The final panel of the day I attended was entitled “State of the Art” and was meant to be reflecting on where horror will be in the future. Unfortunately I think perhaps the steady stream of free alcohol was starting to take its toll, as the panel on the whole didn’t really answer the question. Though there was quite a lot of discussion about one panellist’s former career as editor of a certain ‘gentlemen’s magazine’.

Saturday evening was the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet. We didn’t attend, choosing instead to hook up with the two other Con-going T Party members, Gary and Denni, and go out to find a pizza place.

By the time we returned, the chronic lack of sleep the night before was catching up with us, and we ended up going to bed rather early.

Sunday I had my spot at the Reading Cafe, where I made the reading debut of SUFFER THE CHILDREN. However, Sunday at 12:30pm was probably not the best spot to have – everyone was either having lunch, or had left, or if they were still at the Con they were in the panel about how to make a living writing. So my audience consisted of four people – Chris; Gary; Denni; and the WHC staff member who was co-ordinating the Reading Cafe. Still, it was good practice, and at least I had a friendly, if small audience (and a woeful reminder that outside my own circle of family and friends, no one knows or cares who I am at this point in my writing career).

We departed Brighton soon after that, having to take taxis to and from the station to manage our enormous stash of free books. It was an exhausting weekend, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Bookings are already being taken for World Horror Con 2011, which is to take place in Austin, Texas, from 28 April to 1 May next year. I would very much like to go, but I think it will depend on annual leave and finances. And, possibly, on how well SUFFER THE CHILDREN sells.


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