Monday, 6 August 2018
Jamie and I are just back from Heppenheim, where we were the guests of Nic Bonczyk, our German publisher, at Manticon. Paul Mason, who used to be a regular in our Tekumel games, was also over from Japan so it became quite a reunion.
We got to watch an axe-throwing contest (Jamie actually threw a few himself; nobody was maimed), gave a couple of talks (on roleplaying and on gamebooks), chatted to lots of great people who we previously only knew from the internet, feasted mightily on fine Teutonic fare, and drank our fill of great beer - including the justly fabled Mantibräu.
This all took place at Starkenburg Castle, which overlooks the town like the backlot set for a James Whale movie - and, as a matter of fact, Berg Frankenstein is just a few miles up the valley. While sitting in the town square I couldn't help thinking of the scenes from my comic Mirabilis, themselves hommage to The Fearless Vampire Killers, in which the villagers are watched from on high as they go unsuspectingly about their business.
My only regrets: one, missing the Heppenheim lantern trail, a jaunt around the folklore-themed streetlamps of the old town; and, two, not getting to join in Nic's every-hombre-for-himself Wild West one-shot game, which he was running in a dark corner of the battlements while we gave our second talk.
Nic's game was being played in German, mind you, which would have presented me with something of a challenge as I can understand about ten words - among them, Können Sie Brausgang? which Paul suggested as the German title of our latest Spielbüch. I can forgive continental gamebook fans not being much interested in that one, though; after three days away, returning to Britain felt to me and Jamie like coming back to a madhouse. The newspaper headline was "Doctor" Liam Fox accusing the EU of putting "theological obsession ahead of economic wellbeing". Wait, what? "We've arrived at Heathrow Terminal Decline," said Jamie. We felt like turning right round and getting the plane back to a place of sanity. I can see why most Europeans take no real interest in what's going on in our politics -- probably out of polite embarrassment for the recent British collapse into utter senility.
Here's a spooky small-world moment from our trip. Eating al fresco on the final night, I noticed a guy on the next table wearing an Iron Man t-shirt. I don't mean some johnny-come-lately movie-Shellhead fan, either. This was a proper Gene Colan armour design from the Tales of Suspense days. I wanted to go and shake his hand, but he wasn't one of the convention attendees (they were all up at the castle) and I figured we'd just end up trying to communicate in sign language. Then he looked over at our table and said: "Jamie?" Turns out it was Garry Shaw, a writer and Egyptologist whom Jamie had met at a book festival in Wigtown a couple of years ago. Surrounded by all that Hessian folklore on the street lamps, the chance encounter didn't even seem all that strange.
Just to digress for a moment (as if I hadn't already), some of the Manticon attendees were asking me what I thought of today's gamebooks, and Martin Noutch's Steam Highwayman got some love. So this seems as good a place as any to point out that he's running a Kickstarter for the second SH book. If you like Fabled Lands you'll want to back this. There's just over a week to go and the campaign has already made its target, so what have you got to lose?
Anyway, many thanks to Nic and the Manticon folks for making us welcome. It was our first trip to Germany but it won't be the last.