steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

O Sing unto my Roundelay

It must be about twelve years since I was in Bristol's Doubleday Hotel, then called either the Hilton or the Ramada. It was to meet my father, who was attending a conference of dowsers. It's not the most interesting place, but perfectly fine in a Hiltonish way. The windswept road where it stands is remarkable for the ugliness and anonymity of its office blocks and casino, with the notable exceptions of two buildings. One is St Mary Redcliffe, which (as they never tire of telling you) Elizabeth I called "the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England". It is indeed very lovely, though Elizabeth was no Nikolaus Pevsner. The other building, directly over the road from the hotel, is the schoolhouse where Thomas Chatteron grew up. This is how it normally looks, stranded amidst the larger buildings and spared by the developers presumably because of its history. Its isolation lends it a rather pathetic air. Right now it's covered in scaffolding, and you can barely see anything Chattertonian at all.

Wordsworth-like in all but Cumbrian accent, I found myself musing on Chatterton as I crossed the road to the hotel on Saturday, where I was going not for dowsers but for writers - unless the delvers into fantasy and science's eldritcher reaches who were gathered there for Bristolcon might be called dowsers of another stripe? I had to dip in and out over the course of the day (having other commitments), but I took part in a couple of good panels, and got to catch up with jemck and la_marquise_de_ amongst other friends, though alas I missed mevennen. Anyway, on the last panel I found myself sitting next to Philip Reeve, who is something of a hero of mine, but one I'd never properly met before. Not only does he write well in his own steampunky field, which is far from being my speciality, but he managed - almost as a jeu d'esprit - to toss off the best Arthurian novel of the last decade along the way. And not only that, he started out as a professional illustrator - an accomplishment that in my own inability to draw at all I value perhaps even to excess. During the panel he was doodling in his con programme, and I was peering over, murmuring "Marvellous boy!" (he is three years my junior). He also seems like a thoroughly nice cove, and it was good to have the fannish opportunity to tell him of my admiration.

Anyway, at the end of the panel I got my own bit of fangirling, when a woman who'd been listening came up to me and seemed genuinely excited to be meeting the author of Four British Fantasists: a perfectly proper reaction, but not one I encounter as often as you'd expect. Not only that, but Philip R came back in for the reading I was doing immediately afterward - a page of my ever-blocked WIP - and seemed pretty keen on it. So I was quite buoyed by the time I left. Cons are self-reflecting pocket universes in which it's easy to lose perspective, but it was very pleasant to spend time in this one, if salutary to emerge at the end onto the dank Bristol streets where no one has heard of any of us, and see Chatterton's house in all its scaffolded inglory, a testament to the tenacious vulnerability of poets.
Tags: my writing, real life
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