Bristolcon 22

Bristolcon is the perfect convention for my set of requirements: easily accessible from where I live (a five minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads*); only one day (though I know there are voices clamouring for making it a two-day event); just the right size for the optimum mix of socialising and business; and above all, a good programme that will probably have at least a couple of somethings for everyone. In between the somethings – well, see the above point about socialising.

(*This year for the first time I drove, or rather got driven, which also is very easy apart from having to cope in the last ten minutes of the journey with Bristolian traffic, and one of Bristol’s quaint roundabouts that are actually two parallel bridges over the river. Also, the hotel’s carpark is not big and as my driver remarked, it appeared to be National Park Like A Twat Day, but we squeezed in.)

I will confess making it to only three panels, of which I was on two and moderating one. Though I did also make it to the essential guest of honour interview with Liz Williams, who is always interesting, a lovely person, a consummate professional, an extremely good writer, and hopefully now recovered from the cold that had lowered her voice to the nearly subsonic bass range.

My panels were “My Back Up Plan” (writing and producing art can be a precarious occupation. How do you balance the books as a writer, how do you pay the bills?) and, the one I was moderating, “Author, Publish Thyself” (a panel about the experiences of self-published authors). I enjoyed both of these greatly, I think because they weren’t just opinions that ultimately come down to taste (see paragraph below): all of us were money-earning professionals in these fields and were able to impart, share and learn actual practical expertise. And that was just among the panellists, but I hope the audience got the same.

The third panel, just to show the range, was “There were no elves at Helm’s Deep”, which is a pet peeve of many who watched the Jackson movies. I have to confess it’s not one of mine, a) because I didn’t know the book that well when I watched the movies and b) because I didn’t care. But thankfully this was not a panel of Tolkeinista fanboy ranting; it was in fact a very good discussion about adaptations. When does the adapted item become an item in its own right, divorced from the original source material?

And as J.A. Mortimore pointed out, even those who burst a blood vessel at an elven presence at Helm’s Deep stay strangely quiet over the omission of Tom Bombadil from the movies.

I also bought Juliet McKenna’s latest from Wizard’s Tower Press: if you haven’t discovered her perfectly blended brand of folk and modern fantasy, then start now. Greatly looking forward to reading this one. This is a series that richly deserves to be adapted for screen; it really should be a matter of time.

So, that was Bristolcon for another year. For all that there was so much more I could have seen, I’m also in the group that would rather keep it as a one-day event. It’s far more fun to have so much that you can’t get a grip on it all than to start spreading it thin.

Occasional recipes: sardine and anchovy traybake

An entirely made-up recipe this week, though based heavily on last week’s roast sea bass & vegetable traybake. See if you can spot the similarities.

Serves 2, but can scale up infinitely by adjusting quantities.


  • 1 jar anchovies
  • 1 tin sardines
  • red potatoes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • olives
  • beans

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees (fan) / 180 degrees otherwise. Slice potatoes as thin as you can – half a centimetre or less for maximum effect. As noted last week, this makes the body perfectly tender and the skin around the edges exactly crisp enough.

Line tray with potatoes; scatter on the tomatoes; sprinkle with olive oil like there’s no tomorrow; season with salt and pepper; mix it all together; bake for 25 minutes, turning halfway through.

Add the fish, olives and beans; sprinkle with a little more oil; mix it up again; give it another 10-15 minutes while you enjoy your G&T.

The result is a delicious fishy blend of flavours and also extremely rich, so don’t go fooling yourself that the potatoes don’t look like much. Believe me, they are plenty.

Occasional recipes: roast sea bass & vegetable traybake

This was a Mary Poppins recipe, practically perfect in every way. Minimal energy or supervision required from the chef; the most arduous part is slicing the potatoes thin enough and minding your fingers while you do it to avoid adding extra animal iron-rich protein to the mix. I could get them safely down to about 3mm, which roasted perfectly in the time allowed, giving each slice a nicely tender and tasty whatever-you-call-the-bit-inside-the-skin and a thin, crunchy layer of skin itself.

The recipe:

We did however add a handful of asparagus spears at the stage where you also add the fish. I only noticed afterwards that it also says half the olives – but you know what? Stuff that. I’d already sliced the potatoes, so what more did they want?

And the timing for the last stage – “a further 7-8 mins” – might be a bit optimistic. We could comfortably give it >10mins to allow time for a proper savouring of the pre-prandial G&T and it turned out fine.