I was kindly invited to speak at the Birmingham Science Fiction Group’s monthly gathering. As well as monthly meetings, this fine SF group organize Novacon conventions on an annual basis, which have run since 1971 (the year I was born!). However, having been seriously ill for two weeks, coughing up lumps of green lung-fudge, it was with great lethargy (and a kick from my wife) that I dragged myself from my man-flu pit and was chauffeured in a state of near-delirium to the gig; [Man-flu, by the way, is a serious medical affliction afflicting only men in an afflicting kind of way. When women are ill, they suffer, hell sure, but if a man contracts the same virus then I guarantee his suffering will be tenfold. This is a scientific fact. Men suffer worse disease. Just look at the Elephant Man!!].
Anyway, I arrived in the sprawl of Birmingham (God, but it’s big!) to be greeted at the Britannia Hotel by Vernon Brown, BSFG Chairman, who gave me a very succinct introduction as I gazed across a sea of stern faces. At this point I admit to being a tad nervous. After all, this was the hardcore SF contingent, right? No games here. A deadly serious atmosphere. These people were ready to lynch. To garotte. To kill. These were the sciferati. The SFanish Inquisition [hoho].
On a heady cocktail of paracetamol, codeine, caffeine and medicinal alcohol, I gave a 40 minute speech working my way from childhood, early Enid Blyton and Star Wars obsessions, through my zig-zag teenage years, a discovery of writing, a discovery of Dave Gemmell and Terry Pratchett’s works, the purchase of my first Sinclair Spectrum, then on to my first attempts at novels mixing with an ever-growing interest in science fiction writing and movies, from Phil Dick to Iain M. Banks, Blade Runner to Return of the Jedi to Total Recall. The audience were polite, and didn’t throw things at me, which I took to be a Very Good Sign. Then, we came to the Q&A. A few questions, I thought, then I can nip to the bar for a medicinal brandy to counter the effects of my raging chest infection. But oh no. The sciferati had different plans, and what ensued was a 45 minute grilling which reminded me of a session in a Cuban torture cell. I was thus asked a wide-ranging collection of intelligent questions, which I did my best to answer truthfully. Great, thought I, this is going brilliantly! It’s really good to meet some fans of my books, and these people are at least interested enough to ask me questions… and not just play on their mobile phones at the back of the conference suite! Things are looking rosy! And they even appear interested in my new novel, WAR MACHINE, which was being passed around the room and scrutinized.
At the back of the room, in support of my quest for illness-riddled guest-speaking, sat my wife and 2 little boys, Joe and Oliver. And it was at this point that my 2 year old, Olli, who’d spent much of my speech shouting “Daddy”, giggling, and playing with his Iggle Piggle (that’s a BBC toy, by the way), but had finally fallen into an alcohol induced slumber… well, he chose that moment to projectile vomit over himself, his pram, and the floor. BLEEEEEEUUUUUUUURRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHH went the kid. Exorcist sick. Mr Creosote sick. This, not surprisingly, managed to halt me quite effectively mid-sentence.
Perhaps Ol hadn’t enjoyed the content of my speech? Perhaps he thought my (torturers) audience were giving me an unfair grilling? Or maybe it was just the dodgy chicken hotpot supplied by his child-minder that lunchtime. Whatever, it was certainly a colourful and explosive finale to a pleasant (if ill!) evening.
Then came a short signing session, and afterwards, in the warm glow of post-speech beer, I chatted to some fans, the BFSG committee, and met Rog Peyton, once-owner of Birmingham’s book-mafia ANDROMEDA, and the man who helped Dave Gemmell get his first American sale. Ahh, the name-dropping!
Anyway, overall, a very enjoyable experience! Can’t wait for Novacon! Real ale! Beards! And the release of War Machine the very next day, on Bonfire Night. Handy, really, if people feel the need to burn the book. War Machine, by the way, is a hardcore sizzling rollercoaster of a novel with a gratuitous excess of violence, sex, dark humour and exotic aliens all wrapped up in a high-octane cling-film plot concerning an elite military unit illegally reformed who must battle across alien planets to discover justice, truth and revenge. Couldn’t resist the plug!
Thanks to Vernon Brown, Pat Brown, Vicky Cook, Rog Peyton, and those people mad enough to attend a baby vomiting session ☺.