World Horror Convention 2010
The 2010 World Horror Convention was held for the first time
The traditional English seaside city of Brighton has been home to World SF Cons, British Easter Cons, the national Filk Con, all those silly political conferences, and now to the 20th World Horror Convention (WHC) as, for the first time, the WHC has ventured outside of North America. Once again Brighton proved a very good venue.
Now I am not a horror fan, and I had not been to a WHC before, so this was going to be an interesting weekend (25th - 28th March). I arrived a day early to find that I was far from the only one, many of the North American visitors having decided to settle in and relax before it all got going. Indeed, they’d even organised an Early Arrivals Party for the evening (with free wine!) and that proved to be not only a most enjoyable event but also a good chance to get to know a few of the folks before it all started getting busy.
The con hotel was the Royal Albion Hotel, a classic Victorian hotel right on the sea front and conveniently opposite the end of the pier, with the next-door Radisson Blu also being used for the Kaffeeklatsches and a few private parties. Being an older building, the Albion had its quirks; the lift was small, the stairs wide, and it was full of corridors and steps up to this bit and down to that bit - but the layout worked well for the event. The quality of the bedrooms seemed to be a bit pot-luck, not surprising for the age of the hotel, but I heard no serious complaints and I was certainly very happy with mine - a view of the sea and a balcony!
A slight downside of the hotel was that, its days of glory clearly passed, it is now geared towards coach parties of tourists (but we had it pretty much to ourselves). As with many hotels, it had only the 'popular, easy to serve' drinks, i.e. no real ale, though it was occasionally possible to find a bottle of Newcastle Brown before it was condemned to the chiller cabinet and frozen to death. The hotel restaurant was OK but nothing to boast about, and breakfast nothing special either (and it felt like a sauna as it seemed that none of the windows could be opened). When they said breakfast finished at 10 they meant it - the food disappeared immediately, leaving nothing but thermoses of undrinkable coffee. The staff were ferociously fast at clearing up; if they saw an empty plate it was taken from under your nose, and if you left the table for, say, some toast, you would return to find the table cleared, re-laid, and other people now using it - we soon learned to leave table guards!
The hub for the weekend was the hotel lobby, being home to both the hotel and the convention registration desks, and directly off which were the two main programme rooms; the Regency Lounge with its views of the sea front, and the smaller Russell Room. Being so compact, the con seemed to be run effortlessly from the registration desk by the small team of friendly and quietly efficient red (T-)shirts - not one of whom died!
Upon registering, we were each given a tote bag filled, and I do mean filled, with over a dozen full-sized books, as well as publishers’ brochures, tourist information, and, of course, a stick of rock. In addition were “Brighton Shock”, the superbly produced hardback souvenir book with over 400 pages of stories and illustrations (and much signed over the weekend), and the Pocket Programme, itself also hardback (a first!) and containing all the information you’d need to enjoy the con (as Steve Jones said at the Opening Ceremony “don’t keep asking me, read the Pocket Programme - it’s all in there”). The pocket programme was an excellently produced hardback (a first for the WHC!) but one that only fitted a very large pocket. Yet its utility was such that it was much in evidence and oft seen over the weekend. All that was missing was a separate copy of the convention's programme grid (schedule) so you could write your own notes on it as well as keep it in a shirt pocket: nobody wanted to deface such an excellent publication as the hardback, and everybody needed a portable programme schedule.
Between the two main rooms, there was an interesting, balanced, and relevant programme, with enough items to keep us all satisfied yet not so many that you felt rushed off your feet trying to attend them. Indeed, it was nice to see that the temptation to have too many programme streams had been resisted - quality rather than pointless quantity!
As well as the hotel bar (again conveniently off the lobby), the con had its own day-and-evening-long bar in the Bar Rogue. Not only was this a popular social area where many a fan got the chance for a long and meaningful discussion with a favourite writer but it also provided a third sort-of-stream with several book launches and multiple signings each day. And book launches meant more of that free wine!
The Dealers’ Room was well populated but sales, I gather, were a little slow. The Art Show was very good and it took me several visits to feel I had done it justice; there were some excellent paintings (though I am not sure I would want many of them on my walls - I told you I am not really a horror fan). The Kaffeeklatsches were popular, and I certainly enjoyed a very entertaining hour with Ian Watson as he told us of his time writing the screenstory for AI with Stanley Kubrick. Also appreciated (though I confess I did not get to any) were the Reading Cafés, suitably tucked away down in the dungeons, er sorry, the basement floor.
The 'big event' for the weekend was the HWA (Horror Writers Association) Bram Stoker Awards Banquet held in the Palm Court Fish and Chip Restaurant on the pier: just how much more English could we get? And yes, it was the best fish and chips of the weekend. Once the chocolate fudge cake was safely tucked away, the WHC started off the formal proceedings as our own Tanith Lee received the 2009 Grand Master Award, presented by past Grand Master Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (2003), with past Grand Masters F. Paul Wilson (2005), Ramsey Campbell (1999), and Brian Lumley (1998) also in attendance.
I will not go through the list of 2010 Horror Writers Association's (HWA) Stoker Awards awards for 2009, but of particular interest was the Lifetime Achievement Awards presented to English (nay Geordie!) writer Brian Lumley, who was much in evidence all weekend, and American writer William F. Nolan (who had a prior engagement). The only disappointment was the appalling address from the HWA President, Deborah LeBlanc. This was a recording in the style of a seductive, Vampirella-like character, and was unbelievably amateurish; it was saved only by technical differences of the international DVD standards, or maybe just plain bad authoring, as the lip sync was comically bad. And to add insult, she finished with an advert for her latest book - it was so bad it was not even kitsch.
For those requiring a little evening entertainment there were a number of small parties, as well as the larger Heather Graham’s party on the pier. The latter included free rides in the Haunted House (what did you expect?), free food and drink, and live music; I only stopped in for a while but the survivors told me it got quite surreal as the evening wore on.
Meanwhile, back in the Lounge, there was the Phantom Gaslight Music Hall. It appeared well attended and the one time I popped in they were singing folk songs (though of a ghoulish nature - hmmm, SF has Filk music, what does Horror call it?). And for those who fancied the evening air, Silas the Ghost Hunter (aka actor Rob Marks in full Victorian costume) took us on his 'Ghost Walk of The Lanes'. This is a regular event in Brighton and I would recommend it as good street theatre; he lead us round telling us of various foul deeds and the still-present spirits of the gruesomely departed; suitable for Children of All Ages, the real goose bumps came more from the evening sea air than the supernatural. Fun though!
As The Lanes were just round the corner from the hotel, much of the membership found itself wandering round them from time to time, buying souvenirs for the folks back home, or just looking for the sake of it. I think a lot of the members, particularly from abroad, spent quite some time playing tourist (and why not? I do when I go to foreign cons!), and other nearby popular spots were the Royal Pavilion (George VI’s pleasure palace), the Marina, and the Pier, with the cliffs and the sea front providing opportunities for an enjoyable stroll and some fresh air (especially useful after all that free wine).
The membership was capped at around 600, which was enough to make it feel busy without being too busy, apart from the Saturday when the day members made it a little over-crowded. The membership seemed a surprisingly quiet bunch of folks, being somewhat older on average than at many cons, and also with a larger percentage of writers, publishers, and the like. The only exception were a couple of groups of British fans who were of slightly ladish behaviour at the bar, but by no means a problem. (Shall we just say they were a touch exuberant; probably being 'local' meant they didn’t have jet-lag.)
The only lament I heard was from a friend who lives nearby on the south coast and had, by coincidence, popped over to Brighton for the day and commented that all he’d found was 'this lousy' horror con - if he had gone the weekend before he’d have found a chocolate festival !! So there’s a hint for all you horror artists: if it is brown and dripping from fangs, make sure it is Dairy Milk and not ichor!
All-in-all, the whole event was well organised, well run on the day, with an interesting programme, and a very pleasant group of people whose company I much enjoyed. I didn’t spot any problems though chair Amanda Foubister sometimes appeared to be On Her Way Somewhere With Intent, and co-chair Steve Jones looked sublimely happy and confident behind an eternal glass of red wine that preceded him everywhere. Of course, there may have been many little legs paddling furiously under the surface, but if so they succeeded in their endeavours.
My congratulations go to all involved with the running of an excellent convention!
Other news (talks and panels and stuff) from the 2010 World Horror Convention can be found here in our seasonal newscast.