Ah, Pontins, by the sea, in winter. Perhaps not the most enticing destination, but despite the freezing cold and the less than ideal facilities, the SFX Weekender 2012 was a jolly good show.
Of course, this makes me wonder what the SFX Weekender would be like if the venue was actually good. I was one of the lucky ones, I think – I arrived on Friday morning when there was no queue to check-in. My chalet was warm, had hot water, electricity, a nice bathroom and a comfortable bed – okay, there were no mirrors, but considering what some other guests had to put up with, I think I got a good deal.
Pontins Prestatyn Sands may have been recently refurbished, but a Pontins is still, unfortunately, a Pontins. The food was unspeakable, and that’s no exaggeration – not only did you have to queue for an hour to get any, but when you did get was akin to eating warmed-up cardboard and/or carpet. Aside from the single cafeteria, there was nowhere to get tea and coffee unless you’d brought your own and could make it in your chalet. There were several bars, all of which were understaffed which meant a 20-30 minute wait to get a drink even when it was quiet.
But possibly the biggest issue was the total lack of anywhere quiet to sit – even if you did, on those rare occassions, manage to get a seat in the pub (with a surprisingly small number of tables and chairs considering the size of it), there was usually something on which was Very Loud Indeed. It was the same in the Main Void, the dealer’s area (immediately adjacent to said Void), and the Screening Room.
So, Pontins is awful, I think we’re agreed. I suppose the SFX Weekender is held there because the organisers a] want a residential convention experience, and b] there is nowhere else big enough to cater for 6,000 attendees. It’s a huge shame, though, that Pontins really is quite so spectacularly awful. I should say that the refurbished Prestatyn camp is a whole lot better than the concentration camp-like surrounds of Camber Sands, where the Weekender was held in 2010 and 2011, but that’s not remotely any kind of positive endorsement.
But hey, I wasn’t there for a holiday. Venue aside, the SFX Weekender was, quite frankly, brill. It was my first event as a published author, which was very cool, and I spent most of the weekend rushing from one thing to another (oh, that’s the other problem with Pontins – the place was so huge that if you lost someone it was impossible to find them again for hours, and it was impossible to phone or text them due to the noise).
So, what did I do? Well, signing books at the Angry Robot stand with Dan Abnett was a blast – Dan is great company and it was a real pleasure to sign copies of Empire State for people. Empire State – and several other Angry Robot titles – sold out by the end of the weekend! The Using History panel was fun, although I was slightly spooked by the sight of about 400 people in the audience – one great thing about the SFX Weekender is that due to the sheer size of the thing, even the literary/book panels (which do still feel a little out of place, somehow) got large audiences. On the Friday night I drove Will Hill, Lou Morgan and Laura Lam down the narrowest country roads in all of Wales to find the fabled Tor party, but once there I had a fine time debating the Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction case with Paul Cornell, watching Sarah Pinborough eat cake (don’t ask), drinking tonic water with Laura out of what I’m sure was a crystal candlestick holder, and being delivered pizza by Joe Abercrombie. Actually, that’s a useful tip – standing by the oven in the kitchen is a great way to ensure you get food.
The Orbit/Gollancz party on the Saturday night was no less fun, even if I spent most of it outside on the balcony given that a regular-sized chalet cannot really fit about 100 people. However, I met Ken MacCleod, chilled (quite literally) with Emma Newman and Pat Kelleher, as Jared from Pornokitsch (perhaps not deliberately) threw shot glasses of Kraken rum at people. The Kitchies awards on the Friday night were much fun, too, and I totally failed to predict any of the winners.
The event culminated in Craig Charles’s DJ set, and although he arrived fashionably late (half-past midnight, I think), it was fun to watch him from the sidelines while I tried to catch up with everybody I’d so far managed to miss (I refer the reader to my comment about the silly size of the place, above).
I brought home eight books, all of which I managed to get signed, along with a couple of things to add to be ever-growing project list. I took no pictures, although you can see me on the balcony outside the Orbit party on their blog here.
Will I go next year? I think I will – Prestatyn is only just over an hour’s drive from where I live, and things will be much more comfortable at the Beaches hotel I think. Despite the complaints – nearly all of which are Pontin’s related – the SFX Weekender is a lot of fun.