Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ghosts at Cymera

Last weekend (7-9th June) saw the first ever CYMERA, Scotland's Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing. The brainchild of Festival Director, Ann Landmann, Cymera had a very impressive line-up of 80 authors across 50 events throughout three days. It also offered book discussion groups, a writing competition, a Creators' Hall and a ceilidh. Featured authors included V.E. Schwab and Ben Aaronovitch  plus - naturally - Scottish/Scotland based writers including Moira McPartlin, Philip Caveney and Lari Don...and me. 

I went to the festival on the Saturday to see Zoe Marriott and Natasha Ngan discussing Eastern-inspired Fantasy with Chair Amy McCulloch. I went back on Sunday to run the M.R.James book discussion and appear in a panel about Ghosts, alongside Claire McFall and Rachel Burge, and chaired by Sarah Broadley (above; photo by Claire Cain of Fledgling Press). The discussion was wide ranging, covering nightmares, real-life paranormal experiences, urban exploration, tarot cards and Norse legends. Claire and Rachel are both immensely likeable and after reading their books (I like to do my homework!) and enjoying them, it was great to meet the authors in person. Sarah was a brilliant Chair, and kept things moving very smoothly. We all read short excerpts from our books, so I read the prologue from Ghost. I never get tired of reading out the first line, "Langlands House is haunted, but not by the ghost you think." One of the audience questions was whether Langlands is a real place, to which the answer is (as it is so often): sort of. The house was inspired by my visits to derelict Gothic mansions like Dunmore Park House; the location is round about Fowlis Wester in Perthshire, although there is no such mansion there; the name - Langlands - comes from a farmhouse my father stayed in as a child during World War Two.

I'd never visited Cymera's venue (The Pleasance in Edinburgh) before Saturday. It felt like an absolute rabbit warren, but none the worse for that! There was a big team of incredibly friendly and helpful volunteers on hand to direct audience members (or indeed, lost authors!) to the correct room. There was also a comfy Green Room for the authors, offering tea, coffee, squash and wine (sadly I couldn't have any of the latter because I had to drive later, but the thought was appreciated). They also had shortbread (well, it was a Scottish festival, after all), crisps, and - oh joy! - mint Viscount biscuits. My first ever novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was pretty much fuelled by the consumption of Viscounts, so I fell on those with great delight. 

My overall impression of the Festival was that it was enthusiastic, friendly, welcoming and inclusive. Ann and her team can feel justly proud of what they achieved this weekend.

Hopefully this was the first of many Cymera Festivals - there is talk of Cymera 2020 on Twitter! NB You can follow Cymera on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/CymeraF - keep an eye out for news!