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: One Way or Another

Bethany hasn’t dated in ages. Sarah doesn’t do relationships. They meet sort of accidentally in front of a sex shop – one’s nervous, one’s outrageously flirty. This is, at first look, a simple opposites attract type of a romance, but there’s more layers than you’d think. I won’t spoil it, though, because there are enough hints throughout the slow burn (but fortunately not too slow!) romance.

I really, really liked One Way or Another by A.L. Brooks. I grinned, laughed out loud at times (so glad I wasn’t reading in public!), sighed happily, and at one point ground my teeth and needed some chocolate to take a break. I may also have called Sarah a few choice names.

The pacing was great, ditto the dialogue, supporting characters.. and just about everything! So.. five stars? Yeah, close enough, I’ll round this up to five. Maybe a bit more length and a bit less obvious secondary romance  (glad it wasn’t explored in great detail) and it would have been a certain, solid five.

🎯🎯🎯🎯🎯

Review: The Club

No-strings attached sex, for women-loving women. That’s what the club is about… but the book, The Club by A.L. Brooks, is much more than that. Yes, there are hot sex scenes of all kinds, but the story spans a couple of decades, the flashbacks seen through the eyes of the club owner.

There’s a bunch or characters, some appear only in one chapter, some have a longer story arc. At first it looks almost like a collection of short stories, but it’s not – it’s just constructed in a really cool way.

I pretty much fell in love with this book after reading the first few chapters. I was so invested in the characters’ lives and everything that I wanted to read it in one sitting (impossible, but one can dream). This was a perfect mix of sex and feels.. and made me so hungry for more. The day after finishing The Club, I bought another book by Brooks and devoured that too.

🎯🎯🎯🎯