I've kind of resisted writing about the World Fantasy Awards for the last few weeks for a number of reasons. Partly because it was such a strange whirl I'm still not *entirely* sure I understood it, or what was going on - and therefore can't quite believe that I actually came back from the thing clutching one of the statuettes in question. (Well, all right, not clutching. Buried in the bottom of my hand luggage. Smothered in bubble wrap, which was itself inside a separate bag, which was itself concealed beneath piles of underpants and socks. I'd been warned by Steven Jones that whenever *he* won one, that airport security always threatened to smash it up in case it had drugs smuggled inside. And clearly I thought that trying to hide the award as much as I could was the best way to avoid suspicion.) Where was I? Oh yes - and partly because, well, I *did* win - and that was great and incredible and frankly a bit tearjerking, but I'm British, damn it, and I hate to sound as if I'm showing off.
But also partly because there's a danger that the Awards and the Statuettes and All That Stuff can seem a bit too important, and overwhelm the rest of my time there. And although if I'm honest, once I *did* win Best Collection, overwhelming was just the start of what I was feeling - up to the moment they announced I'd won I was perfectly happy with the *probability* of losing. I'd had a great time. I'd met some terrific people. I'd bought some expensive books, and laughed at airport welcomers in cowboy hats. I'd have flown home to London perfectly happy with my lot, still proud as punch to have been a nominee, and not wanting to have missed the experience for the world.
So, let's get the award out of the way first. Okay. Not to sound ungrateful, but it's the ugliest thing I have in my house. And I have pictures of me on my wedding day. It's a bust of H P Lovecraft's head. H P Lovecraft probably wasn't a looker at the best of times, but frozen in statue form he's been caught on the worst day of his life, with a streaming head cold and an allergy, having just received a letter in the post telling him that his house is to be repossessed, with the neighbours next door playing very loud bass music. It's not a happy statue. Lovecraft's eyes has no pupils, for one thing. And his lips are curled in a sneer. And the back of his head bulges like a knobbly arse. All cast in silver resin. Mmmm. Steven Jones was wrong about airport security - they didn't want to give it a closer inspection when it passed through X-ray, they didn't want to *touch* the thing. It now sits in my library. Where it wards away the cat. Because it scares him. It scares me a bit too.
But I have never been prouder of something so ugly. The award ceremony itself was agonising. It was a reasonably smart affair in the big dining hall, and advertised it as a Banquet. I like banquets. They sound medieval and sumptuous. The difficulty was that said banquet was set to take place at 12.30 pm - and as greedy as I am, my stomach is not really equipped to deal with something as grand as a banquet at a time of day when it hasn't quite yet started to think overmuch about a light lunch. There were starters and entrees and desserts, and lots of bread rolls, and wine - and I didn't want to have any of it. Because I was far too nervous. For the past few days the award nomination hadn't mattered a jot to me, and now, suddenly, horribly, it actually did. I saw fellow nominees up for the same award as me, also nervous, also unable to eat - and we'd all become friends over the convention, and mutually supportive, and now I wanted them to *lose*, ha ha! And a part of me had never wanted to prepare an acceptance speech, because the assumption I might win might seem terribly arrogant, and now I began to worry about that too. That I'd win, get up on the podium, say something embarrassing, and everyone would throw their banquets at me. Or, if not actually *throw*, perhaps *flick*. With a spoon. Janie texted me during the meal to say that it didn't matter if I won or not, she'd still be proud of me. And so when my name was announced, and I was genuinely shocked (I thought there was a chance I might win Best Short Story, but Best Actual Book Of The Things was so clearly an impossibility I almost wasn't listening when they read my name out), all I could think of what to say when I got up to receive the award was to mention that text. And give it a comic reversal, so that I pretended my wife had said I wouldn't be welcome home unless I'd won, that she'd dump me. It got a laugh. Which was reassuring. And then I looked at the award, picked it up - it was bloody heavy! - and thought, "Shit, that is *repulsive*!" I nearly said so. I doubt that would have been politic.)
The rest of the convention wasn't repulsive at all. And I had my appetite, and ate a lot of beef - which Calgary does rather pride itself on, hence the huge great bloody buffalo head on the wall in the bar looming over anyone brave enough to sit under it - and put on weight. Which is why I'm now back on a diet. I made some great friends. Mark Morris and Stephen Volk, terrific writers both, flew over to Canada on the same flight - and became the mates I could retreat to when all the socialising got a bit too much. (We explored Calgary together, and it was fun to watch Mark almost pick up the nerve to walk on the glass floor at the top of Calgary Tower.) Ellen Datlow was a sweetheart. I burbled my enormous love of 'The Arrival' to Shaun Tan, and to his credit, he didn't run away. Even on the third day when I was still doing it. I was able to discuss short stories with new pal Deb Biancotti, whose debut collection is out next year, and is clearly going to be great. My old Doctor Who writing pal Paul Cornell tried his level best to get me to meet everyone he knew, and encouraged me to network a bit. And was gloriously patient with me whenever my shyness prevented me from making the most of those opportunities.
And I loved Calgary too - whenever the sci-fi and fantasy got a bit too much, I'd escape into the city. It's small and friendly, and clearly only really comes alive during the Stampede in the summer, when everyone jumps about on cattle and wears cowboy hats and shoots revolvers into the air, most probably. But I loved it *because* it wasn't doing that, that there was some sanity in the air whenever I needed fresh air, and the only cowboy hats I saw were in tourist shops, and on the heads of poor elderly ladies in the airport arrivals lounge, whose job it was to present international travellers with a glimpse of Calgary which conformed to all the Wild West stereotypes of my guide books. (I don't know, because I'm always too tired to check - but maybe at London Heathrow we do the same, and we have beefeaters, and people driving red buses, and lots of miserable repressed people holding umbrellas and moaning about the economy.)
But maybe the most memorable thing... really... was the flight back. On the night of November 4th. When my plane took off, there was still no word on the US elections; the ballots were closed, but we were hours away from any announcements. At some time in the early hours, with most of the passengers still dozing, the pilot turned on the intercom and told us - very softly - that we might like to know that Barack Obama was the new President of the US. The resultant applause rippling around the aeroplane - and to be a part of it too - was wonderful. I'd left Britain with the world still feeling strange and uncertain, and a place where people were invited to listen to the words of Sarah Palin without irony. I returned to one which seemed rather giddy with hope. And one, too, in which I had a very ugly head in my hand luggage. Yay for both things, I say.
I'm off to Chicago on Thursday, for a Doctor Who convention I love. Lots more food - turkeys on Thanksgiving - lots more friends. Maybe the greeters at the airport will be dressed like Al Capone. I fully expect some other world changing announcement of glee to be given on my flight home the week later. I've come to expect it now.