First let me say that I caught man flu whilst in Prestatyn, but I'll try not to mention it - I'll just soldier on bravely. *cough*
Where was I? Oh yes, the SFX Weekender in Prestatyn, where 4,000 dedicated fans of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror descended upon a small Welsh town to give them a dose of geek culture, all hosted by SFX Magazine.
For the third year of the event, the Weekender had moved on from Camber Sands (which had, someone claimed, closed down for health and safety reasons a mere two weeks after we'd been there). It moved to Prestatyn, in North Wales, where the Pontins was described by E46_Fanatic in their Trip Advisor review like this: "The room was disgusting, blood on the bedding of both beds, stains left in the toilet, a sofa which smelt like BO and a TV I am sure is older than me! There was grime around the kitchen and the windows were so covered in bird poo I don't think they had been cleaned for years".
Of course, none of the Tor UK authors - Peter Hamilton, China Miéville, Paul Cornell, Adrian Tchaikovsky, myself, as well as the wonderful Team Tor - can really comment on this. No, we were taken to a cottage three miles away from Pontins, situated with a glorious view of the Prestatyn riviera. It was a lovely cosy arrangement, which seemed surreal three years ago, a bizarre sitcom, but by now it was the most natural thing in the world. I should say right now that the star of the show was clearly Alahna, Julie's baby, who attracted all the attention. Alahna was even taken to the event itself, to begin the introduction to geek culture at an early age. (She nodded off in a couple of panels, but she wasn't alone.)
The other half of Team Tor eventually arrived after taking an accidental two-hour detour through the Peak District (Chloe told me not to say anything, so I wont). Then we girded our loins for the convention, driving down the world's steepest hill into Pontins, where we attended the Kitschies (the new progressive and respected SFF awards). Immediately after we dragged everyone back to the Tor cottage for the publishing event of the year: the Tor party, where most of the SFF industry is gathered under one roof, drinking lots of wine and whisky, chatting, mingling, meeting old friends and new. To be fair, the Gollancz and Orbit crew also held a party in one of the chalets the next night, but a chalet roof was considerably smaller than the cottage roof, so most of us stood outside on the balcony, swigging lager and generally feeling like we underage drinkers again. Which is no bad thing.
As for the Weekender itself: more people wore costume than those who did not. I lost count of the number of times I nearly kicked off at a Stormtrooper for getting in the way (a letter of complaint to the Emperor is not out of the question). Ladies walked by on stilts, wearing marginally more clothing this year; fans walked by taking pictures of Daleks and Doctor Who lookalikes; and there were a few not-so-shabby superheroes queuing at the canteen for their £2.99 burger and chips.
It's everything you'd expect from a big American SFF convention, but filtered through the decaying lens of a British holiday resort. There's a strange energy about the SFX Weekender which no other UK genre convention possesses. Sure there's other media involved - TV, film as well as books - but the literary side of things is still enormous. The broad selection of book panels is always entertaining and moderated well (I struggled through one, even with my man flu *cough*, not that I'm mentioning it). Fans can feel happy and relaxed to just walk up to authors to chat, without feeling shy or that it wasn't the done thing - no room for snobbery or elitism, and the genre is all the more stronger for it. At the Weekender, that's all cool.
For an author, it's exciting. It's vibrant. It makes you feel even better about literature. The SFX Weekender is a celebration of the genre that's so big you start to realise genre has already gone mainstream. Kudos to the guys at SFX magazine for doing that - it wasn't easy, I'm sure.
I want to add, finally, and genuinely not because I have to, that the ladies at Team Tor - Chloe, Isolde, Bella, Julie (and Alahna) - all did an amazing job of looking after the authors and organising a fantastic weekend. We genuinely wouldn't have had as much fun if you hadn't all kept an eye on us (or made us stay in chalets).