I'd never done a book reading before, but this weekend's Derby Edgelit genre event has changed all that, oh yes. And no, despite the picture above, I was not on drugs. And neither was I eighty years old. HOW DARE YOU.
Book readings weren't necessarily something I've always been dying to do. Like many authors (I suspect, anyway), I'm happier for people to read the words I've written, vacuuming them into their own brains from the page. Depending on how you choose to approach the task of reading your work aloud, it can start to become a little too akin to acting for my liking. I mean, Christ - have you SEEN awesome Timebomb author Scott K Andrews do a book reading? It's like watching Macbeth at the fucking Globe! He does all the accents and everything. Wonderful to watch, but waaaaay out of my comfort zone as a 'performer'.
I couldn't possibly have had a better experience for my first book read, that's for sure. It was wonderful to be invited by Super Relaxed Fantasy Club to read from my Orbit Books novel The Last Days Of Jack Sparks (new mass-market paperback out July 28, fact fans!) SRFC was founded by authors Jen Williams and Den Patrick a few years back, as a pleasantly laidback space. It was an honour to appear at a special SRFC evening as part of Edgelit, along with the excellent Maria Lewis, whose novel Who's Afraid? is the first book of her moon-howlin' werewolf saga, out now through Orbit. Here we are, look, just before entering Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. I think it's fair to say Maria was more super-relaxed than me. Only to be expected, since she's a super-badass who sometimes starts a sentence with "Motherfucker", even when she's not pissed off with you.
In Den Patrick's absence, SRFC co-hosting duty fell to the dashing author Peter Newman, who did a splendid job (and was also very entertaining on panels earlier in the day). Maria went first, reading a pleasingly gory chapter from Who's Afraid?, before fielding questions from the other assembled and super-relaxed attendees. And then it was my turn.
First thing you notice before reading in public, is how dry your mouth happens to be. You'd think that your brain, knowing that you're about to read, would alert the saliva glands and tell them to increase production, double quick-sharp. But no. It does the frickin' opposite. Still, that's what endless sips of water are for.
I read a piece of the exorcism in Chapter One - a shorter version of the chunk you can read on the Jack Sparks site here. In this scene, arrogant celebrity journo Jack begins research for his supernatural-debunking non-fiction book, by attending the apparent exorcism of 13-year-old Maria Corvi, in a small, rural Italian church. As Father Primo Di Stefano commences the rite, Jack is endlessly sceptical about the increasingly convincing events that unfold before his eyes.
Halfway through my reading, the microphone I was using died. Just died. It became an ex-microphone. As I momentarily flailed, an attendee chuckled and said, 'Maybe it was Maria...'. Maybe it was, gentle readers! But anyway, I carried on and projected a bit more. Happily, the attendees weren't that far away from me. And it all seemed to go down well. The penultimate line, which includes the words "cock-sucking", "post-Friedkin" and "fellatio", got the kind of laugh I was hoping for, so that was a relief. The Q&A was very nice too, with some fun questions. And so thank God, the reading was done and I could have a pint.
As a sidenote to the spooky microphone business - as soon as Peter Newman tried it afterwards, it was working fine. An altogether chilling state of affairs, I'm sure you'll agree.
This was the fifth Edgelit, ably co-ordinated by the author and publisher Alex Davis. Having been chained to my desk for the last few months, toiling over Novel Two for Orbit, all the socialising came as something of a shock. But once you get over the surprise of de-hermiting yourself, it's brilliant to catch up with other writers and non-writers alike.
My day started at 10am with a panel discussing the difference between the labels horror, thriller and chiller. Hosted by the lovely VH Leslie, the panel also featured the utterly tremendous trio of Sarah Pinborough, Marie O'Regan and Johnny Mains.
Here's me talking shit on that panel, alongside La Pinborough (thanks for the pic, author/editor/properly lovely fella Paul Kane!)...
And here's me getting to know Johnny Mains later on. I'd never met him before and like him a lot - a very funny man with a real passion for horror and more than a hint of rock 'n' roll about him. Check out his Dead Funny anthologies that he co-edits with Robin Ince, gathering horror stories by comedians including Stewart Lee!
The second panel I quacked on, moderated wonderfully by Marie O'Regan this time, was all about what it's really like to be a professional writer. Definitely one of those panels where you find yourself trying to listen to the other panelists rather than talk: especially when those other panelists are of the calibre of M John Harrison, Nina Allan and Ali Shaw. I find it endless fascinating to hear other writers' experience of doing this job. At one point, I may have said that writing fiction is a ridiculous and stupid thing to do for a living. Actually, I totally said that and stand by it. Thankfully, the wonderful parts of writing fiction (the 30-second commute, having a great team around you, occasionally getting told you did an all right job, those all-too-rare times when you write with confidence and authority, feeling nigh on un-fuckin'-stoppable) make it absolutely worthwhile.
It's always lovely to see such genre titans as Paul Cornell and Mark Morris, albeit far too fleetingly amid the maze of panels and workshops. I also met some great people who I'd previously only known via email and/or the gift of social media. Gollancz author Edward Cox, for one! What a lovely man - you must check out his Relic Guild fantasy series, if you haven't already had the pleasure. I also finally met my Orbit press officer Nazia Khatun, who is brilliant at press and also brilliant in person; the mighty writer and podcast supremo Alasdair Stuart, who proved to be a really, really nice man in person (no surprise, frankly); and the author Gemma Todd, whose 2017 debut Defender certainly looks to be one to watch out for.
I also met some people who I hadn't known via any medium, like Kit Power. Very much a kindred spirit (horror, metal, Doctor Who, sayyyy no more) Kit has a novel brilliantly entitled GodBomb! and having met this fine fellow, I plan to add it to the reading pile. I also enjoyed meeting the author Russell Smith, who seemed to be doubling as a photographer for the day, multi-talented gent and British Fantasy Society chair Phil Lunt, the enigmatic-sounding-but-lovely author A K Benedict and one of the event's guests of honour, Emma Newman.
This post has now fundamentally become a list of people, which is all very well and good, but I must now stop listing people (if I inevitably missed anyone out, it's PURELY because I'm afraid of the depth of my FEELINGS FOR YOU) and keel over. Thank you Derby Edgelit - that was great. You rock, goodbye.