SCLHO from one fangirl’s POV

The South Coast Lesfic Hangout took place on May 4th, 2019 in Crawley.

My travel plans started way back in February with a to-do list and pep talks to myself to Just. Do. It. I made the list public (on Facebook and Tumblr) to reduce the chance of chickening out. Also listened to Seize the Day podcasts (whole lot of positivity, interviews with authors and an important one about conquering your fears).

To do:

  • get photo
  • apply for new passport (old one expired in 2011)
  • book flights and hotel
  • book bus tickets
  • budget for food and shopping (also, cider)
  • take a small suitcase and leave it near-empty (for books)
  • take a backpack, notebook and pens
  • remember charger & adapter
  • don’t freak out when you meet them
  • don’t just sit alone in some corner (it may freak them out)

Jae (my spouse, not the famous writer) added:

  • leave spouse with kids
  • enjoy alone time
  • remember to come back home

I stressed and worried about the silliest things. But hey – twelve years since my last trip to the UK, things had probably changed a bit! And this was only my second weekend trip to the UK (the last one was in 1990, when I went to see Elaine Paige in Anything Goes and there was a fan club meet & greet).

I had, prior to this trip, emailed and chatted online with a few writers, even helped some out a bit (like beta reading, typo hunting etc.) so not everyone was a stranger. Still, nerve-wracking to finally see them face to face!

Things got easier on Friday, 3rd of May when I finally left for Helsinki, and even more when I managed to arrive at the right gate at the airport (Helsinki airport had changed a lot, and not for the better – it was a maze!). As for the flight, I’d completely forgotten how boring it was to just sit for three hours, doing practically nothing.

Gatwick turned out to be not that bad of a maze.. but without detailed directions from Wendy Hudson, I would have taken ages to get to the bus platforms; it’s like they were hidden beyond a secret exit! Got the bus to town centre, found my hotel, checked in, had a quick shower and change of clothes, and went out again. At this point I was pretty much famished, having eaten nothing since before leaving for the airport several hours ago.

There was a Pizza Express nearby so I ate there, then headed out to the evening’s destination: Bar 7. It’s a small bar but easy to find, and I was there in no time. Saw familiar faces already from the door – at least two tables were occupied by SCLHO people. I said hi to Claire, Carol and Jenn and went to the bar to get a drink.

There were two people standing at the bar – a tall one, facing me, whom I recognised instantly as Wendy (at this point my knees started to shake a bit) and a shorter one whom I saw clearly only when I was right next to them: A.L. Brooks. Cue shaky voice and knees! I said hello, shook their hands, said something else, and got that drink. Wendy said the handshakes would turn to hugs before the weekend was over.

The rest of the evening was spent in excellent company (Kit Mallory and Lise Gold being completely new acquaintances, both lovely even though I immediately confessed I hadn’t yet read anything by them), talking about books and loads of other stuff.

Carol and I occasionally reverted to fangirl mode – hope the authors didn’t mind too much! I sneaked a few pics and sent them to Jae, had a few more drinks – six in all before finally leaving for the hotel. Tipsy but happy and relaxed – the good night hug from Wendy certainly helped! Went to bed after a few more messages to Jae, woke up very early in the morning, dying of thirst, drank some water and slept for two more hours.

In the morning, I messaged a bit back and forth with Angela about breakfast plans. As the place I’d planned to go to wasn’t open yet, I went downstairs for a Full English with Angela and Kit *). Besides, it was ”unlimited”.. and I ate a lot! Had planned to skip lunch so this was perfect.

The venue.

Kit offered us a ride to the Crawley Horticultural Society and we accepted. At the gate we spotted Wendy. I stayed with her for a bit while the others went to set up. I just wanted to keep out of the way.

Inside, I got my name sticker (name and pronouns! Cool!), watched as people arrived and set up their tables, said hi to few more people, donated a bunch of queer books (only to fill up my backpack later) and well, sort of waited a bit. Jenn was the first one I approached about books; bought Hooked on You and a crocheted rainbow-coloured guinea pig.

At first I was nervous as hell and only hung out close to Wendy, Carol, Kit and Angela.. also, got some tea and puzzled looks when I asked Chris to fill the cup (no milk), and make it strong, without sugar. I took pics of the authors, tables, raffle prizes, my growing pile of books.. Chatted with a few more people and just enjoyed. Bookish fangirl heaven, seriously.

Every now and then an author got up on the small stage to read an excerpt of their book – and everyone else listened quietly. There was also a short but very informative talk about audiobooks. I took notes, it was that interesting. Sometimes people disappeared for a bit into a corner of the stage, where Jenn had set up a Calm down zone, complete with colouring pictures & pens, fidget toys, stuffed animal toys and the like.

The Radley sandwich!

At some point I finally got up the nerve to say hi to Emma Sterner-Radley and A.E. Radley and to buy some of their books. Later, at Jae’s insistence over Whatsapp, and with Carol’s help, I got the fan pic I wanted.

Managed to talk to Kiki Archer, who was quite a bit less intimidating when she was sitting down. She distracted me and I never did get to gush about her YouTube stuff or anything else; instead I ended up on her video clip, talking with Emma – in Swedish (her dialect is adorable)!

Another surprise came when I saw the audiobook narrators. I’d just finished a book that Jessica Jeffries had narrated and talked with her about that, and found out there’s a new one in the works.. and then I of course had to talk to the author – Emma Nichols – too (cue shaky knees all over again).

Arizona X. Tape

Coolest T-shirt of the day was probably that of Arizona Tape, another unknown writer to me. I talked with her a bit, got a pic of her and that awesome shirt, and of course bought a book. Not an unknown any more!

There was a raffle to benefit Allsorts Youth Project, for local LGBTQ youth. The profits from sales of coffee, tea, cakes etc. went to Allsorts, too, and I later heard that in all, we’d raised about a hundred pounds! Never mind that I didn’t win anything. Just being there was a win in my books.

What I’d planned to buy:

  • Wendy Hudson: Meant to Be Me
  • Claire Highton-Stevenson: The Dollmaker
  • Emma Sterner-Radley: Greengage Plots, Tinderbox tales 1-2
  • Amanda Radley: Second Chances
  • Kiki Archer: The Way You Smile
  • Jenn Matthews: Hooked on you, guinea pig, keyring?
  • Emma Nichols: Forbidden
  • Lise Gold: French summer
  • A.L. Brooks: (any book, signed)

What I got:

  • Wendy Hudson: Meant to Be Me
  • Claire Highton-Stevenson: Forget it
  • Emma Sterner-Radley: Greengage Plots, Tinderbox tales 1-2
  • Amanda Radley: Second Chances
  • Kiki Archer: The Way You Smile (e-book; my backpack was about to burst at the seams)
  • Jenn Matthews: Hooked on You, guinea pig
  • Arizona Tape: Not today
  • Kit Mallory: Blackout
  • Lise Gold: Northern Lights, French summer
  • A.L. Brooks: Write Your Own Script
  • 2 bookmarks (from Emma Wallis)
Fangirling with Claire

When the event was winding down and people started gathering their stuff, Claire, Organiser Extraordinaire was already gathering a list of people for a dinner reservation. I gave my name and tried to help out with the chairs and tables, but Claire’s Crew (aka Chris, Lou, Elaine and Nic) had it all under control. So after saying goodbye to Kit, who had to leave for home, Wendy, Angela and I walked back to town centre.

Angela and Wendy went elsewhere for dinner but we agreed to meet at Bar 7 again afterwards, and after a quick detour I joined the main group at Bella Italia. The place was packed but we fit well enough, ate our fill, talked and talked – about books, languages, life, food.. everything important. This went on for the rest of the evening, including at Bar 7, where I had a few drinks but mainly just continued soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the company.

When it was time to go, it was hugs all around and I probably declared my undying love and respect to everyone (if I did – a bit hazy on the details – I meant every word and still stand by those words). Walked to the hotel, packed, went to bed, couldn’t sleep, read something like two chapters of French Summer (by Lise Gold) before finally conking out.

Bye, Crawley. We’ll meet again.

The way back next morning was uneventful, except for bloody Helsinki airport where there were long lines everywhere and masses of people who had no idea of how to move in a place with masses of people (i.e. they didn’t). Missed my bus and got the slow one home; glad the driver still accepted my ticket.

Stella the Drama Queen (our dog) was beside herself with happiness when I got home, The Bear Cub (human child) loved his guinea pig and immediately made a house and a bed for it, Jae liked the loot but soon(ish) got tired of me talking about the Hangout. I didn’t shut up for hours.

So many people have already blogged about the event.. like Jenn, Amanda, Claire, Kit Eyre.. Carol (LESBIreviewed), of course, did a video about it. This one’s a long ramble but hey, it was my first event of this type and I’m clearly still quite not over it.

*)Still can't get over the fact that I was on a first-name basis with all these cool people, eek!

Review: Write Your Own Script

This book was love at first sight, from the teaser that was published in March, to the preview chapters …to when I finally had the book on my phone to read. 

The story starts with both protagonists needing some space away from other people. Tamsyn has had enough of sexism and ageism in the workplace (she’s a super popular actor, firmly in the closet) and Maggie is fighting a writer’s block (she’s written hugely successful historical romances under one pseudonym and lesfic under another). They meet. Maggie turns out to have a huge crush on Tamsyn.. and Tamsyn is more than a bit intrigued by Maggie.

They make a deal – just this short affair, while they’re both away from their own worlds, and that’s it.

Both characters are complex, realistic people – I loved them both equally and could easily relate to Maggie (not as a writer, but a fangirl). Third character, Gizmo, was a total sweetie (I’ve known one like him)! The story spans quite a long time, so even though it starts with a bang, it’s a sort of slow burn with enough drama to last for pages and pages – and all so beautifully written!

Once I started, I didn’t want to stop reading (which was a bit difficult considering I was reading at work), and when I’d stopped, I had to start over, just in case I’d read it too quickly and missed something important. Yep, Write Your Own Script by A.L. Brooks caused a classic book hangover.

I have recommended this book to just about everyone, gushed about it on social media and with other readers, and surprisingly enough, managed to stay somewhat civilised when talking to the author – but that’s another story.


Review: You’re My Kind

As a nod to a certain movie mentioned in the book: Gripping. It’s not Jane Austen, it’s not Henry James but it’s gripping.

A bit darker tones here in a story about love, life, death and – cake. Justine is more than a bit bitter about her ex, Maddie, suddenly turning up to a friend’s funeral.. and even more so when she finds out Maddie intends to stay and wants to be friends again. Maddie, who ten years previously just up and left without any explanation! The nerve!

Basically You’re My Kind by Clare Lydon is still a romcom, with the dark nicely balanced with the light-hearted. I wouldn’t have been as forgiving as Justine, but to each their own.

So many good bits, funny and sweet and emotional.. and I’m so happy I didn’t read this on day two of my period (tmi, sorry)! Especially loved the gender-neutral baby things, the toolbelt reference, the dachshund.. and probably other details I can’t think of right now. Have to read it again soon!

Oh, and this one:
I stopped breathing. Just the fact of her lips so close to mine rendered me speechless.
I held my breath too while reading that! Like I said, gripping.


Review: Meant to Be Me

First of all, this is Hudson’s best yet!

Things start innocently enough – there’s a chance encounter and instant attraction sort of a thing between Darcy and Eilidh. Darcy’s best friend, Anja is very supportive but cautious, because Darcy has a stalker. Through everything, Darcy tries to stay optimistic but careful, Eilidh seems to be looking for love, and Anja has her own personal things to figure out, too. 

These three plus a few supporting characters make up the cast around whom the story revolves and tightens until it’s almost too much and you need a break – but can’t stop reading.. because it’s almost too much!

The storyline and characters are realistic and relatable, so the thriller side of Meant to Be Me by Wendy Hudson is truly scary. There are no instantly recognisable super-villains: this mad stalker could be anyone! To counterbalance the thrills, the romance is really sweet and warm. Of course the reader is again ahead of the protagonists, which makes for a nail-biting experience – and it remains gripping until the very end*).


*) and in my case, beyond the end. The story continued in my dream, where [redacted] had [redacted, censored] and was plotting revenge. Was happy to wake up a bit earlier than usual!

Review: Forget It

Brooke is ex-military and needs a job, because she needs to take care of Robin, her teenaged sister. Robin is responsible but sassy, and a thoroughly refreshing character. Brooke and Catherine hook up one night, and things soon get complicated. Brooke wants a relationship but Catherine has been burned once.

Forget It by Claire Highton-Stevenson is a romance full of delicious heartache, a generous handful of hurt/comfort, a balancing dash of humour and to top it all, an ice queen.

Characters and situations were real enough that I wanted to yell at them (couldn’t, though – was reading at night with everyone else sleeping), and I just couldn’t put the book down until I was sure things would turn out ok.


Review: Hooked on You

Anna, a divorced teacher, needs a hobby… or a friend… or a life beyond work. Ollie runs a crochet class and a yarn shop. Anna joins the class, which turns out to be a bit more than just a craft thing. Little by little (real slow burn, this one – loved it) these two learn things about each other, find out they have quite a bit in common, strike up a friendship and move on from there.

Both protagonists of Hooked on You by Jenn Matthews are middle-aged, with grown children, so this is a nice change from the usual lesfic fare – although to be honest, it’s getting more common now to have older main characters (yay!).

There’s a bunch of funny side characters, very little drama, and it’s a sweet story over all. And damn if the book didn’t make me want to learn a bit more than the chain stitch (which is the only thing I learned about crocheting, in school, years and years ago)!


Review: A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale

Amber, who works at a publishing house, has an impossible mission just before Christmas: she needs to secure the rights to an old collection of fairy tales. The problem is that the rights are held by the granddaughter of the original author of said fairy tales – and she’s a recluse who only communicates through snail mail. She also lives in Sweden.

A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale by A.E. Radley was sweet, funny, stressful and satisfying. Funny because of the unexpected culture clashes (I didn’t think Brits and Nordics were that different), stressful because dammit, they should have talked more – and why was the boss so unreasonable? Wut, yelling at fictional characters again – who, me?

The ending was very satisfying, although I did think [character] was a bit OOC for doing that. But hey, it’s romcom, not srs lit. This book was perfect reading for a cold winter evening (don’t forget the hot drink and woollen socks!).


Review: Drawing the Line

Drawing the Line by KD WIlliamson is the fourth book in the Cops & Docs series (but only the second one I’ve read). Exes Dani and Rebecca are thrown together again after a few years and there’s a whole lot of tension – not just the sexual kind. It’s like the aftermath of a war between these two, but they have to learn to get along again.

At first there’s a whole lot of bad blood between the two main characters, and their individual storylines reflect that. Both just try to to focus on their jobs. One’s kind of cold at work, too, one tries to adjust to a new workplace.

There are a few important supporting characters who are really fleshed out, complete people with their own traits, flaws and storylines. Main focus is still very much on Dani and Becca, with all the angsty slow burn you’d ever want. There’s even a bit of hate sex and hurt/comfort thrown in, so this was quite a ride. I liked it!


Review: London, Actually

The best of the series! No, seriously. All the things that are good in a Lydon romcom, dialed up to the max. There’s the usual gallery of main characters who are sweet but far from perfect, quirky friends and relatives (and of course, old acquaintances from previous books), and a plot that will keep you entertained to the end.

Cleo and Becca meet at a wedding, and while neither is looking for a relationship with the other, they hit it off and become friends. Friends who can’t seem to stay away from each other, no matter how hard they try to convince themselves.

Snappy dialogue, funny (and sometimes embarrassing) situations, and London as the backdrop.. London, Actually by Clare Lydon was pretty much the perfect romcom. I also loved how it sometimes made fun of itself.

I started this book the same day it was released (some time in the evening) and couldn’t stop reading until the end, which was in the small hours of the next morning. My eyes were double-bagged the next day but it was so worth it!