Last weekend was the sixth alt.fiction, and the first in a new venue in Leicester. I’ve been to every one so far. The first alt.fictions took place in the Assembly Rooms in Derby, which I quite liked as it’s a well-known piece of Brutalist architecture. After a couple of years, it moved across the Market Place to QUAD, a cinema and arts complex. This year, however, alt.fiction has moved somewhat further – all the way to the Phoenix Digital Arts Centre in Leicester.
The move to Leicester doubled the journey time by train for me, but it’s still much closer than many other UK cons. I took with me a suitcase filled with my remaining copies of Rocket Science, and a few dozen hardback and paperback editions of Adrift on the Sea of Rains. Because of this, I took a taxi from the railway station to Phoenix Square, though it’s only a five-minute walk away. I arrived about eleven o’clock, so I missed the first item on the programme. (Some people had arrived in the city the evening before and stayed overnight.) As soon as I walked into the venue, I spotted Colum Paget and Iain Cairns, contributors to Rocket Science. (Later that evening, Craig Pay, another contributor, turned up.)
The day proved to be one of spotting people I knew, and saying hello but very little else. Some people I knew were present I never actually saw. I had several lengthy discussions, on topics as diverse as writing, science fiction and, er, programming methodologies. I didn’t make it to any of the programme items. So no change there. The dealers room, as at past alt.fictions, wasn’t very good. Terry Martin of Murky Depths had a table. And someone else was selling independent graphic novels. There was also a volunteer from Waterstone’s with a table full of paperbacks by alt.fiction’s guests. He kindly agreed to sell copies of Rocket Science and Adrift on the Sea of Rains. And he did a good job of it, too, selling most of the stock I’d given him.
I ate at Phoenix Square, and it was a pleasure to be able to say to the staff “no dairy”, and for them make no fuss over it and provide what I wanted in a dairy-free form. I hadn’t dared do that at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel during the Eastercon. I pretty much spent the entire day in the café/bar on the ground floor of Phoenix Square. In the evening, a large group of us went for a curry, which was much better than the one I’d had in Heathrow the weekend before. The restaurant was called, unsurprisingly, The Curry House. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel where we were all staying, the Ramada, and filled up the bar. I eventually went to bed about two am.
I’d enjoyed the curry, but I don’t think all of it agreed with me. I was fine when I woke up, and had the usual hearty hotel breakfast… Though I have to admit I think they’ve gone down in quality over the past few years. Somehow hotel chefs do something to fried eggs that makes them look and taste completely unappetising. I like fried eggs, I have one or two most Sundays. But those gelid primary-coloured things you see sitting in a bath of grease at hotel breakfast buffets bear only a passing resemblance to them. And the bacon… Do chefs have some philosophical objection to cooking it? Or do they get a kick from the thought of diners spending fruitless minutes trying to chew rubbery fat?
Anyway, by about eleven I was starting to feel ill, and I recognised the symptoms. Something I’d eaten had contained dairy. None of the meals I’d eaten had on previous occasions caused me any trouble… except I did have a tarka daal with my chicken saag and pilau rice in The Curry House. Perhaps there was ghee in the daal? I don’t know. I ordered a plate of chips for lunch in Phoenix Square, but I couldn’t eat it. I went outside a couple of times for some fresh air. I even went and sat in a programme item, to see if that would help. The panel was on “The Return of the Short Story”, which the panel members admitted was a misnomer as the short story had never gone away. I lasted about fifteen minutes before needing some more fresh air. I didn’t actually feel any better until I got to the railway station around quarter to two.
I’d only been there about twenty minutes when Ken MacLeod appeared on the platform. It seemed we were catching the same train, although he was getting off in Derby to catch a connecting train back to Scotland. I was staying on until the terminus in Sheffield. At Derby, Ken disembarked. When I reached Sheffield, I climbed the stairs from the platform… and saw Ken MacLeod looking somewhat lost. (He explained that his train had stopped for ten minutes in Sheffield, so he was looking for somewhere to buy a coffee.)
So that was alt.fiction #6. I like the new venue. There are less stairs than the QUAD, and the café/bar in the foyer is bigger and more pleasant. There was a terrace, but it was too cold to use it. Leicester city centre, or at least that portion where Phoenix Square is located, seemed curiously deserted throughout the entire weekend. So no marching brass band playing outside like last year’s alt.fiction in Derby. (Or drummers practicing in the room next to the bar as at a previous alt.fiction in the Assembly Rooms.) The hotel was modern and very pleasant, and conveniently close to Phoenix Square. It is, I think, an all together better venue for alt.fiction. I certainly plan to go next year.