Things To Do In Docklands When You're Dead

Another lost weekend: I'm recovering from the vampire fangs of the World Fantasy Convention, held in a Docklands hotel whose architect was badly frightened when young by an Escher print. We're talking eldritch, inhuman geometries here, with uncanny corridor angles and fire exits impossible for sane minds to comprehend. The World Fantasy Awards – spectacularly hideous caricatures of H.P. Lovecraft's head – seemed quite at home.

My convention diary is unusually disjointed, since I was mingily commuting from Berkshire rather than pay £65 per night for a single room. Obviously it was this endless rail travel and not the booze that left me shattered. Doing an Internet on-line chat for Wired magazine didn't help ... this was scheduled for a sensible hour in Pacific Time, and so started at 2 a.m. Bleary-Eyed Langford Time.

WFC, legendarily kept expensive to discourage riff-raff like me, is a place to rub shoulders with celebrities and even M.J. Simpson. Seconds after arrival I was quizzed by Muriel Gray (there to plug her novel Furnace) about a story 'by Ray Bradbury or Arthur C.Clarke' which she thought would make a super film, and with a certain smugness I identified it as 'The Ruum' by Arthur Porges. You read it here first.

A massed wave of thirsty humanity swept me on to a Thames boat headed for Greenwich, where HarperCollins had hired a whole pub for their lavish thrash. Here Robert Silverberg was ironic at me and I finally managed to bury the hatchet with Stephen R. Donaldson – who had some irrational objection to my 1984 review awarding him 'a Collins Pocket Gem Dictionary, on the strict understanding that he gets rid of the one he's using now.'

The boat journey back to Docklands ended in drama as a horde of fantasy celebs with bursting bladders swarmed up a caged-in ramp leading to shore, and found the exit locked. There was a great and piteous whimpering, like some scene from Dante's Inferno. Eventually the boat captain did a death-defying climb from the cage and went to hunt for a key, and in a moment of madness I followed. It seemed my finest hour as I waved goodnight and wandered off towards Canary Wharf, leaving the hordes of the damned clutching futilely at the bars ... (Later, HarperCollins party supremo Malcolm Edwards loftily said: 'Oh, I came back by car.')

Next day Christopher Lee flitted awesomely about, signing his autobiography. Pat Cadigan, as always, denounced me as 'You Dog, Langford!' – some day I'll find out why. Jane Yolen danced around me satanically. Jonathan Lethem showed how to deal with autograph hunters who criticize your book, by inscribing his Amnesia Moon in large block letters: WRITE YOUR OWN ENDING YOU BASTARD. Diana Wynne Jones fulminated at having to leave the bar and drive off to sign copies of Deep Secret at Forbidden Planet, only to be told: 'Sorry! We sold all your books on Wednesday.'

One small surprise was that Naomi Mitchison, not present but much loved in sf for Memoirs of a Spacewoman, reached the age of 100 during WFC. As smartarses pointed out, that made her just as old as the first edition of Dracula which Fantasy Centre were wittily selling for £1,897.00 in the dealers' room – but the book, alas, was in better condition. A tribute to our genre's new centenarian was suggested for the WFC banquet; a convention organizer who shall be nameless said: 'Who's Naomi Mitchison?'

More snapshots. A lady helping with WFC 'Vampire Liaison' trying hard to contain her generous frontage in a low-cut dress seemingly designed for a vampire anorexic ... admiring male crowds kept forming around her. Sudden panic, and Ian Watson going completely spare, at announcements that Docklands police were removing vehicles from the roadside: 'Oh dear,' said a small voice near me, 'it's probably my fault. I have Irish number-plates.' US editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden turning handsprings and cartwheels in the bar after winning the World Fantasy Award (Best Anthology) for Starlight 1 – jolly good timing, since just a few days earlier I'd sold him a story for Starlight 2 ...

The vicious circle of WFC was that the hotel was far too hot, while there was a ceaseless round of very, very boozy promotional parties. Think about it. I don't know why I can't remember any more.

And that, children, is what a World Fantasy Convention is like.