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: 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: The Big Uneasy

I already loved The Road Ahead, and when I found out about the sequel, I was.. I don’t even know the words to say how absolutely thrilled I was.

Rebecca and Arabella are travelling together again, despite their first trip, which was not a success. This time they go to New Orleans (also known as The Big Easy). They’re also visiting Jenn, one of Rebecca’s friends, who works numerous jobs in the city. 

Jenn keeps running into Kathryn, who is on a forced vacation, and despite Kathryn’s prickly demeanor, wants to show that the city does live up to its nickname. Just like Arabella in The Road ahead, Kathryn claims to be straight. We’ll just see how that goes!

Rebecca and Arabella see the sights, explore the local cuisine and culture, and the reader gets to see not only the city through their eyes but also how their relationship develops. If you were disappointed that “nothing happened” in the previous book, it is all explained here.

The two separate storylines eventually converge, and with the help of a laughter-inducing supporting cast everything falls into place. I loved the parallels between the two pairs, the dialogue is again spot on, and dammit, I want to hug this book, too.


Review: Family Ties

“Brilliant! I’m going to lose some sleep tonight but who cares, I have to know how this ends!” That’s what I wrote on Goodreads when there was still a bit left to read.

It’s been a while since I’ve last read a political thriller – and being thrown right into the middle of the action felt great! Family Ties by Amanda Radley has it all: kick-ass heroine, big supporting cast, intrigue, even chase scenes and… and everything you’d want in this genre.

This book is a bit like P.D. James (loads of upper-class characters) meets John Grisham (gripping action that you don’t want to stop reading), but then again, there’s warmth and humour, sometimes in unexpected places.. yeah, it’s Radley.

The action is breathtaking at times, but it’s nicely balanced with calmer moments, and I never felt that there was too much of either. Sarah, the main character, was thoroughly fascinating; I really hope there will be more books with her as the lead.

(I know, this is a short review but I don’t want to spoil anything – so will not comment on the plot at all!) 


Review: Climbing the Ladder

Chloe has finally landed the job of her dreams – at a magazine she’s loved since forever. Her first week is full of excitement, drama, and action.. quite the opposite of what you’d think a first week at a new job would be.

There’s a big cast of characters, some nice, some so not, lots of office gossip, intrigue and crushes (oh, poor Darcy!), but it doesn’t seem daunting at all once you get going with the story. It’s funny and cute and had me completely invested in the characters – although I wanted to shout at Chloe for… no, not going to say. Her parents too, oh god.

Another character in the book could actually be London. The snippets of life in the city – the tube rides, the streets and crowds – are so real I almost felt like I was there!

Climbing the Ladder by A.E. Radley left me happy but hungry for more. I really want to know what happens next… to every one of the characters – yes, the uptight asshole, too.


Review: Journey’s End

The third part of The Flight Series, Journey’s End, by A.E. Radley is a great read! I loved Flight SQA016, liked the sequel, Grounded, very much (but not as much as the first book), and this last one is at least as good as the first.

Olivia and Emily get married in a refreshingly short and sweet episode (after all, the marriage ceremony is not the point of this story) and have arranged their lives anew: this time the one to commute between New York and London is Emily. Olivia has to adjust to being the stay-at-home mother, which brings about some misunderstandings and funny situations.

There’s a lot of humour and warmth, plenty of longing, but also a subplot that’s a bit unpleasant (not to read, mind you!) – but it can’t all be flowers and sunshine ‘cos that would make a pretty boring story.

Good things: the love, the humour, theatre stuff, Fluffy!

Bad things: er… that it ended – or did I just read it too quickly?

Anyway, loved it.


Review: The Road Ahead

When all planes from Faro, Portugal are grounded and the only way home is a shared car, Rebecca and Arabella, who have only just met, must try to get along. Both want to be home for Christmas and time is running out. That’s the opening premise of The Road Ahead by A.E. Radley.

Two completely different women, thrown together by circumstance, on a long road trip… You’d think this is a complete clichéfest? Nope, no potholes on this road!

Both characters have their quirks and hangups, good and bad sides. But a tentative acquaintance starts to very slowly develop into friendship. There are arguments and pauses along the way, and I loved every detail.

The bigger, more serious themes – loss and grief, living up to expectations, discovering one’s sexuality at a later age – nicely balance out the humour and dare I say, fluff (which is not a bad thing at all!). I love fluff and when this book was finished, I wanted to hug it.


Review: Bring Holly Home

A.E. Radley did it again: another book I couldn’t let go until I’d finished it!

Bigshot magazine editor Victoria Hastings is back in Paris. A year before, her assistant, Holly Carter, quit and left while they were in Paris. Now Victoria finds out Holly was injured and admitted to a hospital with severe amnesia and without an identity. Victoria arranges for Holly to be taken home – literally, to her home because she feels guilty.

This is a surprisingly pleasant tale of a long recovery, personal discoveries, budding friendship and more. I say surprisingly, because… well, it’s about someone who seems to have lost everything, along with her memory – seems a bit bleak, right? It’s not.

As in all Radley’s novels, there’s plenty of warmth and humour – perfect reading for these (still) chilly spring days and nights. (review originally written 28th March, 2018)


Review: Mergers and Acquisitions

Take two successful, competitive marketing pros (Kate and Georgina), one young assistant (Sophie), and a huge project. Add some office drama, personal drama, ambition, big egos and fangirling, mix them up in a non-hetero way, and this story is what you get. It’s not a usual sort of office romance, and if you’re looking for descriptions of wild sex in the printer room, look elsewhere.

Mergers and Acquisitions is another Radley book that I just couldn’t put down until I’d reached the end. The story starts slowly, but soon enough, there are twists and turns, and while you just know that two people will get together (hey, it’s a romance, it has to happen), you can’t be quite sure which two it will be.

There are echoes of Mirandy and Supercat (e.g. intentionally using the wrong name when talking to someone), humour and that romance. At times I wanted to shout at the characters for being so oblivious (sure sign that it’s well written if I get frustrated on their behalf)!

A very enjoyable read, which I immediately recommended to my spouse and friends.


Review: Huntress

Huntress by A.E. Radley is a mystery/crime novel which throws the reader right into the middle of the action. I really liked that – no lengthy setting of the scene or slow introduction of characters.

Amy, who has been “temping” at a motorway service station for ages, has tried to report a missing person. As the police are no help at all, she decides to investigate. Soon she is the one being investigated… and hunted!

The characters of Amy and her friend Kerry were realistic (sometimes maybe too much – put yourself in their shoes and imagine the outcome!), although I wonder how Amy had managed to survive until the events of Huntress, being so trusting of everyone. Sheer dumb luck?

The freelance agent, Claudia, seemed a bit more distant; I would have liked to read more about her as she was a really intriguing character.

Huntress was funny, kept its suspense and had a lot of interesting details, expecially for a trivia buff like me. I couldn’t put it down! Started reading late in the evening, finished a quarter to five the next morning – that’s how gripping it was.