It’s that time of year again, where fans of fantasy and science fiction come together and throw books (not literally) at their favourite authors to be signed. GollanczFest is always a treat not to be missed.
Armed with tickets to room 2 and bags full of books, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus, and oh, what a sight awaited us. Many people know that I am not a fan of London, but Piccadilly Circus is an absolute, well, circus. Full of tourists and music and people protesting everything under the sun, it’s a wonder people don’t get trampled on a daily basis (or maybe they do). But, thankfully, the Waterstones is only a minute away from the tube station, and once we had it fixed in our sights, we bulldozed our way through the crowds (in other words, we ‘got our London on’, which isn’t an official definition of the way one walks in London, but bloody well should be. It involves elbows and angry glares).
Waterstones Piccadilly is magnificent, so I can see why Gollancz chose it as a venue. Hundreds of thousands of books, spread over several floors, with plenty of comfy chairs and a couple of cafes. The information cards, giving reviews and telling you which book to start with if you’re new to an author (“which Joe Abercrombie book should I read first?” is a ridiculously common question) are a particularly nice touch. Smaller Waterstones, take note (I’m looking at you, Hitchin).
Now, the festival. After hunting for a toilet for what seemed like forever, we made it down to the lower ground floor to join a very long queue, which meant we sat right at the back of the room. The lovely Sophie Calder introduced the line-up, and then we were on to the first panel. Several members of the audience were live-tweeting as it went on, including myself, so I won’t bore you with the little details, but it’s always nice to hear your favourite authors discuss topics you’ve probably discussed with your partner/friends/book club in the past. The panels were well-moderated and hilarious, and although Joe Abercrombie usually steals the show as the funniest guy in grimdark, all of the authors were engaging and entertaining.
During the break, we decided to go and grab some food before we fainted with hunger. We found a KFC and sat down to eat – which turned out to be a huge mistake. A bunch of activists stormed in, declaring that meat is murder, and demanding that we all step away from the chicken. In true British fashion, pretty much everyone hid laughter behind their chicken-y hands and ignored them, although things did get somewhat heated at one point. (Without delving into the ethics of eating meat, barging into a restaurant while I’m eating dinner is one way to ensure you do not get my sympathy.)
After that debacle, we made our way back to Waterstones and wandered around in awe for a while, before heading back downstairs, where a queue was already forming for the mass signing. It seems like everyone and their dog was there to see Brandon Sanderson, and the other authors must have felt a bit put out. But they bore it in high spirits, and Ben Aaronovitch in particular was a good sport (I hope you ended up with many more than 15 visitors after I saw you!). After standing in line for what felt like forever, a very nice Waterstones guy led us into the fray, and I headed straight for Joe Hill, while my partner went to Joe Abercrombie. Instead of being swamped by fans as I expected, both Joes were free, and doodling on scrap pieces of paper. Joe Hill was great, hilarious and just plain lovely (if you think I’m fangirling, you should have seen my partner), and it was a genuine pleasure to meet him. I’m a big fan of his books, and am so looking forward to The Fireman, which is due to be released next April (and we got an exclusive preview in our goody bags, which will be devoured very soon!). My partner and I swapped Joes, and I realised I’d only brought one Abercrombie book to be signed, but he was jolly as usual, and even attempted modesty. As an aside, it transpires that Joe Hill has a son with the same name as my partner (“definitely named after me”, “of course, dear”).
I sheepishly pushed my proof copy of The Death House towards Sarah Pinborough, who was fun and bubbly, and then I attacked Pat Cadigan with over-friendliness. I chatted with the brilliant Ben Aaronovitch for a while, before grabbing Edward Cox, who a) recognised me! and b) promised to write me a testimonial for this blog next month. Then I rejoined the queue for Brandon Sanderson, which barely seemed to have moved, but he was worth the wait. A lovely guy, who was happy to swap stories about cats with me.
Looking around the room, I realised that it looked like my dining table, which is rarely used for dining, and more often used for storing the books I receive from Gollancz. I couldn’t bring every book – I need to start hiring strong people to carry my books to signings – but I want every author to know that seeing them at GollanczFest was a real pleasure, and I hope to meet them again in the future. (I also want to interview you all, so if you’re reading this and don’t mind being pestered by yours truly, get in touch. I’ll be gentle.)
I hope Gollancz decides to run the event next year, as I’ll definitely be in attendance, even if it does mean braving London Piccadilly once more. The Festival for Writers, which Sophie kindly invited me to, was held on Sunday, and if it was anything like Saturday’s event, I’m sure it was a blast.