With so many potential candidates, it's impossible to pinpoint the highlight of World Horror Convention 2010. This year it was held March 25-28 and set in the beach town of Brighton, England, earning it the sobriquet "Brighton Shock." It entertained over 600 attendees who hailed from 16 countries. Attendees had to make difficult choices all four days—to attend intriguing panels and book launch parties, to shop in the dealers room, to browse the art show, to participate in an intimate 10-person kaffeeklatsch with an author or editor, or to steal away to explore the unique shops of Brighton's famous Lanes. And despite a bit of rare early spring sunshine, with so much going on at the Royal Albion Hotel virtually no one found time to do the last, tempting though the used bookstores, movie memorabilia shops, and other eclectic boutiques were.
By convention's end, a consensus definitely had emerged that this WHC 2010 was one of the best World Horror Cons to date thanks to the abundance of authors, artists, and publishing professionals; a strong and varied programming slate geared to both professionals and readers; and a committed, hardworking staff led by Con Chair Amanda Foubister and Assistant Chair/Programming/Publications Stephen Jones, grand maestro of numerous award-winning horror anthologies and a fixture on the fantasy and horror convention scene since the 1980s .
Wednesday, March 27 and Thursday, March 28: Let the Rumpus Begin
The WHC was founded in 1991 as an adjunct to the World Fantasy Convention. Unlike other genre gatherings like the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) or San Diego Comic Con, WFC started in 1975 as a convention for genre readers and publishing professionals—authors, artists, editors, agents, etc. No costumes are allowed, most panels revolve around written works, and the big events include a huge autograph party where fans often bring suitcases full of books to get them signed by all their favorite authors in attendance (usually about 200) and an awards banquet that acknowledges the finest writing of the year. For professionals, WFC is a chance to talk shop with colleagues and network with editors and agents. Readers reap the benefit of conversing with their favorite authors. Even big names are approachable at small literary cons such as these, and authors often relish attending a gathering composed of their most avid readers.
Horror authors and programming had been represented at WFC, but the growing genre was restless and felt it was time to establish its own professional meeting. So a core group of fans and professionals decided to found a separate convention under the same model. Like WFC or Worldcon, the location changes every year, and WHCs past have been held all across the U.S. from Atlanta to San Francisco, New York to Seattle. WHC has been held twice in Canada, and WHC 2010 was the first to be held outside North America.
WHC 2010 activities commenced on Wednesday evening with registration, a welcome party in the hotel's main lounge, and a chance to pick up a bountiful bag of freebies in the lobby. The goodie bag included a trade hardcover of Brighton Shock, edited by Stephen Jones, an awesome souvenir anthology which includes tributes about, bibliographies of, and stories or essays by Guests of Honor Tanith Lee and David Case, Editor Guest of Honor Hugh Lamb, Mistress of Ceremonies Jo Fletcher, Special Guest of Honor James Herbert, and Special Media Guest Ingrid Pitt. One highlight is an interview with 85-year-old horror/detective writer Basil Copper, a British treasure here to accept the WHC's first lifetime achievement award. The book also features portfolios by Artist Guests of Honor Les Edwards and Dave Carson. Keeping with the setting, Jones also packed in an impressive array of seaside-inspired fiction, ranging from classic H.P. Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson tales to works by top contemporary UK writers such as Brian Lumley, Tim Lebbon, Kim Newman, and Michael Marshall Smith. Non-attendees who would like a copy can purchase a boxed collector's edition signed by 33 of the 39 participants for 95 pounds ($152) from PS Publishing.
But Thursday really kicked things off. The first big event was Pitch Black, an afternoon long fair where authors could sell the international publishing rights to their works to publishers, editors, and agents from the UK, Canada, and Greece. Innovative networking opportunities such as Pitch Black and ongoing daytime book launch parties help this con stand out. Writers at early and medium career stages found numerous opportunities to connect with other writers, editors, agents, and publishers for mentorship and leads.
Panels started that afternoon and by the evening, WHC 2010 was in full swing with opening ceremonies at 6:30. The big evening event was the first publisher's party at 8 p.m. sponsored by Canada's ChiZine Publications to celebrate the launches of multiple new titles, including Tim Lebbon's The Thief of Broken Toys, Philip Nutman's short story collection Cities of Night, Gemma Files' A Book of Tongues and more. Unlike most American conventions, the publisher parties at WHC 2010 weren't room parties but rather were held in Bar Rouge and its two adjoining rooms, creating a dynamic hub of social space between the dealers' room, the main programming lounge, and Jenny's Restaurant. Publishers would reserve the space for an hour (or in ChiZine's case, two) and footed the bill for drinks and light refreshments. The ChiZine party was just what you'd expect—packed with clever Canuck repartee, plus a chance to hear a mix of the horror genre's more literary authors read and sign their books.
Midnight, the witching hour, and the large Victorian lounge was packed with conversing attendees. ChiZine Co-Publisher Brett Alexander Savory, Tim Lebbon, WHC 2010 Reading Cafe Chair Martel Sardina and Weston Ochse (Scarecrow Gods) even have two boxes of Domino's Pizza. Yes, all the way to England (though Lebbon actually lives here) and what are these North American editors and authors eating but Domino's pepperoni and Hawaiian pizzas.
The con definitely was afoot.
Friday, March 29: When the Con Gets Going
For many, the first order of business at a con is a visit to the dealers' room, which at WHC 2010 did not disappoint. It was perhaps a bit larger than some past WHCs and well stocked with both new and old books, with the extra intrigue for American con-goers of exploring UK editions. Some vendors were familiar to attendees of stateside WFCs and WHCs, such as Cold Tonnage Books, which boasted a wide variety of UK genre titles—new, old, rare, and mass-market. Collectors also got to browse the beautiful illustrated editions of both classic and new dark fantasy published by Tartarus Press , which won the HWA Specialty Press Award on Saturday. Other dealers included Telos Publishing, specializing in collectible TV, film, and Doctor Who books, and British genre superstore, Forbidden Planet, which took up the entire Victoria Room with a large stock of Hammer Films tote bags, mugs, and other licensed memorabilia.
Most attendees spent the day alternating between book launch parties and panels. At the former, fans couldn't ask for more opportunities to get their books signed by the most prominent names of horror. At noon, Constable & Robinson celebrated the trade paperback of its blockbuster anthology, The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror. This anthology featured a story from every year between 1989 and 2008, matching its two decades of publication, and its release included a massive signing event with many of the top names in British horror. The innovative Canadian publisher, Ash-Tree Press also held a reception on Friday. And the afternoon culminated in a multi-book launch by Pete Crowther's PS Publishing, spotlighting new collections by Basil Copper and WHC 2010 Guest of Honor David Case, a prolific American author who has written over 300 novels from horror to Westerns under at least 17 pseudonyms.
The main programming track took place in the hotel's main lounge, fitted with a stage, packed with several hundred chairs, and offering the added bonus of panoramic views of the pier and beach through tall bay windows. There an interview with Guest of Honor Tanith Lee by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (both legendary female authors and good friends too) revealed some delightful surprises such as Lee recounting a personal reading list which includes Ruth Rendell, Anton Chekhov, and John Le Carré and divulging that of the approximately 70 books she's written, the one she's most proud of is The Gods Are Thirsty, a historical novel set in the French Revolution. As she noted, it was a bloody time.
Across the lobby in the smaller but constantly packed Russell Room, with gentle prodding from moderator screenwriter Stephen Volk (Gothic), Kim Newman and David Pirie reminisced about the landmark nonfiction books about horror movies that influenced their own British horror film histories. Oh, and they were just a bit frustrated with the English predisposition towards realism in cinema.
With so many vampire stories on bestseller lists, movie and TV screens from Twilight to True Blood, one couldn't expect WHC 2010 to ignore the bloodsuckers, no matter what clichés plague that wing of the genre. But "Life Sucks: Do We Really Need Any More Vampire Books?" avoided retreading a blood-drained topic by focusing on the concept of the vampire as a metaphor and other nontraditional takes. Melanie Tem recounted how a real couple she knew inspired her to write the short story, "The Better Half"(The Mammoth Book of Vampires) in which a husband sucks the spark that once lit his wife's personality into himself. Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) admitted that he wasn't interested in writing a vampire novel per se but rather writing about the moral dilemma facing a creature who drain's another life. While he had no plans for more vampire novels, he did reveal that he has written a short story called "Let the Old Dreams Die," an epilogue of sorts to his novel. Unfortunately, he had no definite word on when it will appear in print.
Friday Night: Band on the Pier
Just before 8 p.m., a benign mob gathered in the lobby to await the ubiquitous mass author autograph party. Here the sheer volume of authors gathered under one roof became clear as a massive half-moon of tables stretched lengthwise before the lounge's bay windows. Fans spent the next hour scrambling to collect signatures from as many Brighton Shock contributors as possible, including the rare treat of one from Basil Copper, who looked frail and needed some assistance from his wife, but was clearly touched at all the respect afforded him here. Of course, so many writers in one spot could be both a blessing and a curse, such prominent Americans as Weston Ochse, Yvonne Navarro, and Scott Edelman were regretfully placed in Jenny's Restaurant next door. The slow traffic in that room indicated not all fans realized that the event also spread into that space.
After the signing party, a mass exodus began towards Horatio's Bar on the historic Brighton Pier for the awesome Gory Ghoul Ball thrown by bestselling author Heather Graham and Medallion Press author/publisher Helen A. Rosburg. Graham, it turned out, wasn't just a great writer but apparently a talent agent as well, having recruited the Slush Pile Band to play the party, featuring herself, Dave Simms, Alexandra Sokoloff, Matthew Dow Smith, and F. Paul Wilson! Wilson, author of The Keep and the Repairman Jack novels, had been known to play guitar and sing at Necon, another author-heavy horror convention in Rhode Island, but he was now revealed to be a hard rockin' drummer as well.
A hot buffet of fried hors d'oeuvres and a dance floor were hits. An added treat was a free trip to the Horror Hotel, an old-fashioned dark ride on the pier. Okay, not exactly terrifying—really rather timid for any hardcore horror fan—but cheesy carnival fun nevertheless. The best part of the evening seemed to be the company of friends, and a few new faces arrived such as rising U.S. horror stars Hank Schwaeble (Damnable) and Rhodi Hawk (A Twisted Ladder). Eventually the crowd began to thin and wander back to the Royal Albion for the Phantom Gaslight Music Hall, a variety show advertised like a Victorian stage equivalent of a penny dreadful. Hosted by writer Reggie Oliver and staged with the utmost metaphor and melodrama, horrific and occasionally humorous short skits, readings, and musical performances showcased the theatrical talents of attendees. One attendee commented that the Southern Gothic songs of Lawrence C. Connolly were enhanced by his vocal similarities to Jack Nicholson. Afterwards many authors and fans hung out in Bar Rouge into the wee hours, where a deejay spun 1980s Brit pop favorites.
Saturday, March 27: A Surprise Guest
Saturday dawned to more panels, more book launch parties, and a surprise special guest—Neil Gaiman, who had flown in after a Moscow book signing in order to interview James Herbert. Gaiman's star is ever on the rise, and Herbert is an icon of British horror, often equated to England's Stephen King, although he has never achieved quite the same popularity stateside. Because of the relentless and often gory subject matter of Herbert's works, some might have been surprised that he was being interviewed by Gaiman, whose setting and characters tend more toward witty fantasy. But such skeptics would have left the noon discussion with a new view of Herbert's work thanks to Gaiman. As Herbert came to admit, "There's a lot of humor in my books that gets lost because of the horror."
Even if no one had expected Gaiman, between the well-stocked dealers' room and his contribution to Brighton Shock, it was easy to find something for him to sign, and a long line quickly formed when he sat down for an autograph session. Meanwhile in the upper part of Bar Rouge, Herbert was also signing, and so too was Ingrid Pitt, the actress who inspired so many horror fans with her portrayals of Hammer Films' voluptuous vampires. Other mega-signings and book launch parties celebrated Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories, another iconic British horror anthology series, and Edge SF&F's Evolve anthology launch.
One of the strongest panels of the entire convention was "When Is Horror Not Horror? Crossover Genres." Moderated by Christopher Fowler, the panel featured Nicholas Royle, Jasper Kent, and Simon R. Green, all known for pushing genre boundaries. The ensemble lamented the horror romance subgenre (like the Twilight series), which has overtaken bookstore horror sections, and what they saw as other barriers to innovation among present publishing industry trends. They also shined a light on struggles by themselves and others such as Kathe Koja to stretch horror's limits and reader expectations. The panel closed with a discussion on the implications of horror getting its own section in bookstores and how this has actually diminished the esteem with which horror works are viewed—compared to the 1960s and '70s when Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and Carrie were shelved right alongside mainstream literary works. Throughout the conversation, Green lightened things up with clever observations such as "The School of Twilight—a finishing school where they finish you off" or "Am I the only one who is thinking of the leaping nuns in Bedazzled?"
Back in the main programming room, Ingrid Pitt lamented "I'm old now," but she still exuded plenty of sex appeal delighting the audience with tales from her Hammer Glamour days and working—and flirting—with a young Clint Eastwood on the set of Where Eagles Dare. "He was so incredible," Pitt opined with her amorous accent. "His body—ahhh! That man was the most man I'd ever had in my love [sic] and always we had dinner."
A half hour later, Kim Newman interviewed his old friend Neil Gaiman. While the guest may have been a surprise, it wasn't surprising that the prolific writer is keeping busy with plenty of forthcoming screenplays and books. These include a script for a big-screen version of his novel Anansi Boys and a sequel to last year's young adult novel Odd and the Frost Giants. Based on another Viking saga, the latter will pick up on Odd's adventures with a visit to Jerusalem. Gaiman also mentioned his fear that airlines might begin allowing people to talk on their cell phones, which would compromise his main place of work. While the audience was clearly disappointed that his Doctor Who script will not be aired until next season and that he was allowed to reveal "nothing at all" about it, they responded enthusiastically to an anecdote about a fun but "strange" dinner with Steven Moffat before Moffat was officially named "Doctor Who Supremo." "I'd say hypothetically 'if someone would like to ask me to write Doctor Who,' and he would say hypothetically 'if someone were to ask me. . .' one bottle and a half of red wine into the meal, I came up with an idea."
Saturday Night: Fish, Chips, and Magic Tricks
Saturday night started with an art reception, where the artists chatted while their works were on display. The show was as strong as at previous WHCs, featuring generous displays by the guests of honor, and a special treat being the chance to pick up Lovecraft prints by Dave Carson at bargain prices. Other featured artists included a who's who of horror's finest including a few names not seen often stateside: Ben Baldwin, Randy Broecker, Jim Burns, Vincent Chong, Steve Crisp, Bob Eggleton, Dominic Harman, John Holmes, John Kaiine, Allen Koszowski, Tony Masero, Edward Miller, Russell Morgan, Caroline O'Neal, Stephen Upham, and Victor Valla.
Then it was time to head back to the Pier to Palm Court, one of Brighton's most famous fish and chips restaurants for the joint WHC and Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards banquet. It's a matter of perspective as to whether an awards banquet is the highlight of a convention or represents the ultimate horror of being chained to a chair and listening to never-ending speeches. But despite the rather claustrophobic seating, WHC 2010's banquet was mostly entertaining due to the wit of the presenters and some fun video accompaniment. Or maybe it was just that the fish and chips beat the usual rubber chicken by not even trying to be gourmet, the chocolate cake dessert was scrumptious, and the company was horror professionals and fans.
If interested, you've probably heard the winner's list by now, but here are the highlights. Jo Fletcher, as mistress of ceremonies, displayed just the right combination of charm and cleverness. She started the presentation with a bang, inviting past WHC Grand Masters F. Paul Wilson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Brian Lumley, and Ramsey Campbell onstage together. They were joined by new inductees Tanith Lee (2009, unable to attend WHC 2009 in Winnipeg) and James Herbert, who were presented with the honor by Yarbro and Lumley respectively. The entire group received standing ovations. Another exciting early presentation was Stephen Jones' heartfelt tribute to Copper, who accepted his aforementioned Lifetime Achievement Award.
WHC 2010 marked both the first time that the Stokers have been presented outside North America and the HWA's 25th anniversary, so one could expect some frightening fanfare. Lisa Morton emceed this portion of the presentation with HWA President Deborah LeBlanc contributing via video in a sultry black gown on a dungeon set—or maybe that really was her basement. Currently the Stokers come in eight categories, but announcements indicated that they will introduce three new ones next year—screenplay, young adult, and graphic novel.
Vince Liaguno accepted HWA's Richard Laymon President's Award for his service to the organization via video on Long Island's beach. He got a good-natured dig at Ellen Datlow, former editor of Omni magazine and current co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology, calling her the Meryl Streep of genre awards for all she's won. Lumley accepted HWA's Lifetime Achievement with his signature eye-twinkle and the comment, "Maybe it's true, one should always look on the bright side of life." And science fiction and horror author William F. Nolan (Logan's Run) appeared via video from Los Angeles, but not in 3D, as suggested by the ever-witty comedy team of Dennis Etchison and Randy Broecker. One of the most heartwarming moments was when 2005 Bram Stoker Award winner for Best Novel, Weston Ochse, wearing gold Elvis sunglasses, presented Hank Schwaeble, clearly on top of the world, with this year's award. In a weekend full of masters of horror, it was always nice to see the face of the next generation stepping up.
After the banquet, most con-goers headed straight to the Radisson Blu, another Victorian hotel just down the block from the Royal Albion, where Quercus Books, a rising British publisher known for risk-taking fiction, mysteries, and more, took over the entire bar for one of the best publisher's parties of the weekend. Most of the professionals attended, and Quercus author John Ajvide Lindqvist was even performing simple magic tricks for a few lucky guests. The latter reminded one of the thin edge an aspiring writer walks on. Just a few years ago, before the film of Let the Right One In received international acclaim and he was able to sell the rights to Hollywood, he was working as a magician and stand-up comedian in order to supplement his writing income.
Sunday, March 28 The Bittersweet End
Sunday morning, things were quiet, much too quiet. Seeing Herbert and several other authors in the lobby with suitcases made it clear that WHC 2010 was almost over. Despite an hour of lost sleep due to daylight saving time, participants in the 10 a.m. screenwriting panel still managed some spirited repartee. An added treat was the participation of Robert Shearman, a talented playwright, screenwriter, and absurdist short story author best known stateside for scribing "Dalek," the scary but also sympathetic return of the iconic Doctor Who metallic villain. While other panel participants lauded the episode as one of the best of the recent reboot, he bemoaned that he has been lambasted by fans who resent his humanization of the pepperbox-shaped villain.
The dealers' room was busy as people looked for deals and made their final purchases. The con finished up with final readings and a retrospective on memorable books, movies, and TV from the past 12 months, cleverly titled to reflect its placement in the schedule—"I Can Barely Remember the Weekend: The Year in Review." Closing Ceremonies ended at 4:30 p.m., followed by disappointment—at 6 p.m., the promised Dead Dog Party was nowhere to be found. Hours passed, and WHC 2010 went out not with a bang but a whimper. Then slowly, steadily, they begin to resurface in Bar Rouge around 10 p.m.—the living undead who had been at dinner or napping and were now prepared for a final night together.
If they're looking for a model of World Horror Convention success, the organizers of WHC 2011 in Austin, Texas wouldn't be advised to key into any one element of "Brighton Shock." As demonstrated by a tableful of publishers and authors, when asked to name their most memorable moment of the weekend, they could only agree to disagree.