Tuesday 24 October 2023

Space Rocks and other adventures

 After a relatively quiet summer, September and October were filled with travel, including a couple of international trips - a bit of a novelty these days.

Enjoying a typically delicious Dutch appelgebak in Leiden

I started off with an enjoyable weekend as Guest of Honour at the UK Fantasycon in Birmingham. I was very pleased to be invited, and the reception couldn't have been nicer. The event hotel seemed very good and quite well located for the centre. I sat in on a few panels, attended others, and had a very nice time at the banquet and awards ceremony. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures, but I'd like thank all involved, and in particular Allan and Karen, for making me most welcome. In this day and age the genre boundaries seem to be increasingly porous, but it was still very nice that a "sci-fi guy" was invited into the fold and made to feel like one of the gang.

After that, I had a few days home before I was off again. This time it was to France, for Les Aventuriales, a lovely laid-back SF&F event near Clermont-Ferrand, in the Massif Central. The event itself took place in a small town called Menetrol, a few kilometres from Clermont-Ferrand.

Near the venue, a few of us noticed this striking wall mural:

Rather wonderfully, you only got the full view of the cat when you'd peered around the edge of the (real) wall:

The festival itself took place in a sports centre, with Medieval tents and tables set up outside during what was a spell of very pleasant late September weather. As is the norm with French SF&F events such as this, there's an emphasis on dealer tables and signing, so you tend to stay parked in your seat unless you're doing a panel or suchlike. That can sometimes be a bit of a strain, but it was far from the case in Les Aventuriales, as I had such fine company. To my right was Sara Doke, writer and translator, who was always on hand if I needed help, and on my left fellow writer Jolan Bertrand, who was equally delightful to hang out with. Here I am pretending (I stress pretending) to play Jolan's ukelele.

With my little stick of Blackpool Rock ...etc

Everyone I met was extremely nice and welcoming, and a bottle of Leffe went down very well at the end of proceedings. When does a bottle of Leffe not go down well, of course. Here I am with French fan Olivier - also a Peter Hamilton fan, so I made sure to show this to PFH when we met for a coffee recently:

And finally, here are my two hosts for the weekend, Marie and Jean-Pierre, who couldn't have been kinder. There were some unavoidable complications with my outward journey which caused us all a bit of stress, but it was all resolved efficiently, with the only downside being a very late arrival at the hotel. I'd like to thank Marie, Jean-Pierre and Dominique for sorting things out - and my wife for handling the emergency back in Wales! She was going to come with me, but we'd had a disastrous experience with an earlier attempt to travel to Paris in June, and she decided to sit this one out. This brings me to the minor observation that flight delays and cancellations have been a real headache with these trips, with each aggravation making the idea of flying next time just a little bit less attractive.

My lovely hosts for Les Aventuriales.

After some further complications on my return leg via Paris, I was back in good old Brexitland for just over a week before another trip, this time back to the Netherlands and a return to my old place of work, ESA's ESTEC Space Technology and Research centre, based on the Dutch coast in Noordwijk, close to the fine old university city of Leiden.

I was over there to participate in another Space Rocks event, this time in conjunction with ESTEC's annual open day. I've been honoured to be part of the Space Rocks family since 2018, but things have understandably been a bit quieter through the Covid years. Space Rocks is ramping up again now, and I couldn't have been happier to be invited. My hosts were Mark McCaughrean of ESA, and Alexander Milas and John O'Sullivan of Space Rocks. I was interviewed by Mark as part of the Space Rocks program of events, where we talked about the interplay between science and science fiction. After the interview, I was delighted to be presented with the inaugural Space Rocks inspiration award:

Mark McCaughrean presenting me with the award

There was also an opportunity to sign a few things just after the interview and presentation:

I was extremely honoured with the award and would like to express my gratitude to my friends from Space Rocks and ESA.

After that, it was time for a wind-down. My wife (who'd joined me for this trip) and I spent Monday quietly, then hooked up with Mark, Alexander, John, and ESA's Anja Appelt for a lovely evening over pizza and beer in one of Noordwijk's many beachfront restaurants. The Space Rocks dudes (and Mark) are prog/metal-heads so there was much to discuss besides the important matters of the day, such as which topping to order.

My wife and I spent another day in Noordwijk, enjoying ice-creams and the roar of the waves before the warm weather turned a little chillier in the afternoon. It was great to be back in Noordwijk! I spent the better part of two decades there, and it really is a special place, with the sea a constant presence through the seasons. Being as it was something of a flying visit, I must apologise to friends still in the area who we didn't manage to hook-up with, but there really wasn't time.

This is my truth, tell me yours.

All in all, a great series of trips, but it was with a certain amount of relief that I got back to Wales and could begin returning to a fairly regular writing pattern. Since my last update, I've done a bit of work for an entirely different part of ESA, and I've also written a new short story which - if all goes well - should appear on the newstands in the run-up to Christmas. More on that in due course. I've also completed a second story for Auki Labs, which has yet to go live (I'll link to it when it it does), and I've made slow but steady progress on the new novel.

I'm sure I've forgotten to thank a few people in all the above, but please forgive me if that's the case, and rest assured I was looked after very well at all times. Thank you all.

Al R


  1. That talk of ice creams makes me miss summer...
    I found that mention of "good old Brexitland" hilariously funny for some reason,

  2. It's certainly a barrel of laughs living here (morbid chuckle).

  3. wonderful photographs, the mural was beautiful. Looking forward to the new novel !

  4. I love these posts Alastair, a refreshing glimpse of how blogs on the internet used to / should still work! Look forward to browsing the newsstands :)

  5. That all sounds fantastic! And congrats on the award! As a fellow proghead/prog-metalhead, what are you listening to right now?

    1. Lots of Americana/Country type stuff at the moment - Lissie, Steve Earl, Lucinda Williams, Kacey Musgraves, plus a bit of Buddy Guy.

  6. Thanks for the update. Looking forward to new material when it comes available. Happy Holidays!

  7. Apologies, I deleted a comment by mistake. I think it was from Dave.

  8. I see Machine Vendetta is up on Amazon (at least Australian Amazon) with a publication date of April 30 2024. Any thoughts at this stage on which stores in the UK might be carrying signed copies?

    1. Hi Orin, I normally sign for Anderida books, Forbidden Planet and sometimes Waterstones but I'll update on that around the UK publication date in a month. At the moment nothing's signed and I've not seen the finished book.