Sci Fi in Cambridge

It was strange to return to Cambridge on Wednesday.  I spent two and a half years there, from Sept 1985 to the summer of 1988, while I was studying illustration at CCAT (which has now taken to calling itself Anglia Ruskin University, possibly in an attempt to throw off its association with the likes of me).  Anyway, I stepped off the train expecting to be assailed by old memories, but oddly enough nothing  felt that familiar.  Its not just that all the shops have changed, as shops do; it’s simply that very little about the place actually impressed itself on my memory.  I remember being vaguely miserable for two and a half years and then fleeing to Brighton in Andrew MacCallum’s Morris Minor, Boris.  At that point I think I deleted the Cambridge Years from my memory banks.  I wandered around like a tourist for a bit, then took refuge in the Pickerel Inn with That Sarah McIntyre, her friend Bridget, Edge Chroniclers Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart, Manga queen Emma Viecelli, and Dave Shelton, an alumnus of the same CCAT course as me and a much better illustrator (check out his comic Good Dog Bad Dog – it’s one of Sam’s favourites).

Anyway, one of the changes which has befallen the city is that the Heffers chain of bookshops, which used to bestride it like a collossus (and where I worked for a few months, in the Paperbacks and Video dept, which was regarded as worryingly cutting-edge in the ’80s) has dwindled to a single shop on Trinity Street.  Luckily it’s a very big and well-stocked bookshop, and on Wednesday night its excellent staff hosted an event so jam-packed with sci-fi and fantasy writin’ talent that, as Miss Mcintyre says,  it might as well have been a whole festival.  Unfortunately I never had a chance to speak to most of these luminaries, but that was for the very good reason that there were lots of readers to talk to  (always a relief, for I still remember some of the early signings I did when it was Just Me).   But I did manage to talk briefly to Alex Scarrow of Time Riders fame, Australian fantasy goddess and Geraldine McCaughrean look-alike Trudi Canavan (who was stopping in Cambridge on the first leg of a lengthy European book tour) and new Scholastic author Moira Young, whose debut novel Blood Red Road is already attracting some dazzling reviews.   I also met Ian Whates, whose space opera The Noise Within I’ve just started reading, and Sophia McDougall, whose modern-day Roman Empire novel Romanitas I’ve been meaning to read for ages (a copy is on order now).  Sarah has already read it, and was quite overcome to discover she was sitting next to its authoress at dinner…

China Mieville came over to say hello, and was totally charming, despite looking like the sort of chap you’d usually see giving Mad Max a hard time.  I suppose if you’re a science fiction writer it’s a good thing to look as if you come from the future.  (Needless to say, I still look as if I’m running for the last tram in 1929.)  I’ll definitely be ordering up some of China’s books as well, particularly his latest, Embassytown.

We all took turns to talk about our work and read a bit, and when we weren’t busy doing that we were signing and chatting to… is fans the word?  It seems a bit dismissive, somehow.  I was very pleased to meet a few Facebook friends ; Joseph Hammett, Dana McConkey and Natasha Footman, who were all LOVELY.  And towards the end of the evening someone I do remember from my student days arrived, in the form of Helen Patterson, who once had to stand on a chair with a teapot on her head as part of some Z-grade comedy sketch what I wrote (but she claims to have forgiven me…).   

So in the end a very nice time was had by all, and maybe I won’t let another twenty three years go by before I return to Cambridge. 

(You can read more on this whole thing over at Sarah McIntyre’s blog, which is where I pinched all these nice pictures from.)

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