I’m sure in the summer, Prestatyn is a pretty place, full of excited holiday makers, but in winter it feels slightly depressing; bleak and lonely.
We arrived in darkness, and morning found us in something between a council estate and a prison, a gated holiday-community in the form of Pontins. We were lucky, we had gold accommodation. However, having to choose via a ominous switch on the wall between hot water and the cooker, the lack of a microwave, the need to bring our own towels, and the large iron mark on the carpet in one of the bedrooms, one couldn’t help but wonder what extra hardships those in silver would have to endure? Even the television, a relic of the 80s cabled into their ‘network’, had worse reception than my first ever wire-aerial TV.

This would not be the type of place I would ordinarily come to. I could live with the basic accommodation, I could even put up with the crappy onsite chip shop that shut at 6pm and made ‘chips’ so thin, you wondered if there was any potato in them at all. Though maybe I’d draw the line at the cheeseburger that was so thin it redefined the word flaccid.
No, the reason we were here, far removed from the real world was for the SFX Weekender, and in contrast to the venue, the actual event was fun, open and enjoyable.

For a weekend, Pontins got transformed into a SF Penal colony containing Sci Fi’s greatest monsters from Daleks to Aliens. Where else could you be woken in the morning by a Dalek trundlling past your chalet? There were also a smattering of heroes as well, from numerous doctors to a couple of Judge Dredds. Oh, and about 4000 Sci Fi fans.
There’s a lot to be said for SFX Weekender. Yes, the venue is a bit crappy but this is a more general crowd than your Eastercon or Fantasycon. Here be SF fans, of which some do not read.
And so whilst there are some valid online discussions going on about gender balance (I know of at least one female writer who said they’d elected not to come in an official capacity) and the stilt walkers (whose costumes I felt were more SF and less exploitative than last year – I thought the Judge Dredd was awesome), it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot SFX Weekender is doing well. It’s a big con, with big guests and a nice mix of attendees.

Stilt-Walking Judge Dredd

On the writer-front, I don’t know whether the infamous Tor Cottage turned SFX Weekender into a behind the scenes mix of writers’ retreat meets annual publisher get-together, or whether the fact that the vast majority of attendees of SFX are the type of people you wouldn’t see at an Eastercon or Fantasycon, but it is very well supported by publishers and their writers. The fact that the book dealers reported fantastic sales isn’t bad either!
As a result, aside from big name TV stars like Eve Myles and Brian Blessed, you get a lot of writers at the event, not all of them on panels.
My Chalet-mates and I had decided that we’d all do our own thing as we all had different interests and this worked out well as there was always lots to report back on when we met up. I ended up hanging out with some of my usual convention buddies and catching up with all their recent successes : great reviews, their own imprints, upcoming publication.

Even so, there were so many people I never got time to really chat to. Either our paths never crossed or when they did, they were busy. Never even got chance to say “Hi” to Mark Charan Newton or the Pornokitsch team, amongst many others.
I was at least pleased to be able to support the Kitschies, a growing award with a name I can never spell, from the wonderful Pornokitsch. It’s an intelligent award (with a remit beyond a simple ‘best’) coupled with a complete lack of snobbery. Any award where a YA book goes up against a MIeville is going to be interesting and the fact the YA book won goes to show just how progressive their thinking is.

The highlight of the weekend, however, had to be Paul Cornell’s ‘Just A Minute’ which I sold to my chalet-mates on the basis that “Sarah Pinborough would swear a lot”. All the participants really played to the crowd and it lead to a very, very enjoyable hour. We even got to see Joe Abercrombie correct China Mieville on the English language.

It was a good weekend that clearly worked on multiple levels, as was evident by our chalet and its occupants’ different interests, all who had an excellent time. Couple this with a disco each night for us to “get down with our bad selves” and the oppressive accommodation, poor food and long drive were made worthwhile.

The view from the chalet

Prestatyn seemed to be the only place in the UK to avoid the snow, and after tales of people having to push buses, we left relatively early on Sunday and hit snow almost as soon as we were over the border. The roads were surprisingly clear, only for the danger to be reinforced every couple of hours with an accident, jack-knifed lorry or car on its side on the opposite carriageway. I had to drop my Chalet-mates off in Cambridge before heading home, a route that seemed to take in the hotspots of the weekend’s snowpocalypse, and as a result it was a long and intense 8 hour drive back to my home.

Chaletmates toast a successful weekender

As to whether I’ll go again next year? I’m not sure. I typically leave booking cons until the last minute, and if one of our party hadn’t won a competition, it would have been quite an expensive weekend. And frankly, it’s only the money that puts me off. But then a year’s a long time and a lot can happen in that space.