Gosh, that was fun.
I’ve been trying to figure out what my FantasyCon highlight was. There were the free books courtesy of a host of SFF major and indie publishers, and the free booze courtesy (mostly) of Jo Fletcher Books, and being introduced to the great and the good by the lovely Nicola Budd thusly: ‘Oh, have you met Stephanie? She’s one of our authors.’ There was the almost-impossible SFF trivia quiz which we came oh-so-close to winning, and the casual chat about one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite publishers, during which just enough was said about his next book to have me literally salivating in anticipation. It might have been getting to know the delightful Tom Pollock, reading (over and over) the inscription he wrote in my copy of The City’s Son or hearing him read the first chapter of its as-yet-unfinished sequel The Glass Republic; or laughing and talking literature with the equally delightful Snorri Kristjansson, whose first novel The Swords of Good Men I’m now looking forward to just as much.
But on reflection, wonderful as all those moments were, THE moment was something else. And I didn’t even know it at the time.
It was at the JFB 1st-anniversary party on Saturday night, surrounded by the beautiful books they’ve published over the past year and the beautiful bookmarks showcasing some of the volumes – including mine – coming next year. I started chatting to another of the authors whose novel Planesrunner is also featured on said bookmark. He was a convivial bloke named Ian McDonald, possessed of a thick brogue, a battered black leather jacket and amusingly wry commentary about books that do well in the US but not the UK and vice versa, for no reason that anyone can work out. There was something very familiar about him, though we clearly had never met before, and I blame the wine for me not paying sufficient attention to that fact at the time. He politely asked about me, and I gushed forth – as I’m afraid I may have done rather a lot – about how amazed and lucky I felt to be an about-to-be-published writer, how quickly and unexpectedly it had all happened, that a year ago I hadn’t even finished writing the novel whose cover art we were admiring. He blinked in what looked like genuine surprise and complimented me, something along the lines of: that’s pretty unusual, must be a really good book. So they tell me, I said, but let’s see what the punters think when it comes time to drop a tenner on it at Waterstones. And we had a chuckle, and shortly after that the currents of the party pulled us in different directions, as they do, and I didn’t see him again.
I wish I could say that the penny dropped the moment that scruffy jacket disappeared into the crowd, that waves of enlightenment parted around him and crashed over me in a well-deserved tsunami. I’m afraid it took a little longer, but I got there in the end. Ian McDonald. That’s the guy who wrote River of Gods and Brasyl, along with a host of other award-winning and -nominated books of the past twenty-odd years. The BSFA, Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke. That Ian McDonald. Look him up if you don’t know. I did, as the penny pirouetted to a halt with a mocking tinkle. I must have not-quite-recognised him from a book jacket, or maybe from a webcast interview he did with that aforementioned favourite author of mine, talking about their respective Great Works. And he must have clocked me as an oblivious newbie, unaware of the extent of my own ignorance, and just let it go.
And that, in microcosm, was what made FantasyCon such a good experience. The warmth and welcome, the genuine enthusiasm and complete lack of pretension, the amused and kindly forbearance of the veterans for the novices. The fact that a giant of our genre was nice enough to let me prattle on, and felt absolutely no need to clue me in to who he was. To say and not say exactly the things that made me feel that I belonged there, just as he did.
Mr. McDonald, sir: I salute you. Better late than never.