FantasyCon was held at the Britannia Hotel in Nottingham again this year, from Friday 18th to Sunday 20th September. There were about 270 attendees, plus special guests – a good size for someone like myself who is just dipping a toe in the convention water (it was only my second “real” SF&F con, not counting RPG cons that I used to go back in the day).
FantasyCon is the official annual get-together of the British Fantasy Society, and the emphasis is very much on fiction and written media, not movie fandom – you won’t see anyone here dressed as a wizard or a stormtrooper! There are interviews with the guests of honour, panels discussing aspects of the genre (particularly, in this turbulent time, trends in publishing) and of course the BFS awards ceremony and AGM. On the sidelines there is an art exhibition, showings of short films, and the dealer’s room where you can buy secondhand books, the latest magazines and some very unusual teddy bears…
I arrived quite early and got myself a J2O at the bar, which was rapidly filling up. There was a brief opening ceremony – guest of honour Jasper Fforde was running late – then free drinks at the bar to celebrate the 60th birthdays of author Peter Crowther and artist Les Edwards. Unfortunately the few people I knew were busy organising their own contributions to the con, so after half an hour I headed off to the Quiz’n’Chips session, mostly because I was getting hungry! I sat down at a half-empty table and joined in with the questions, though since I don’t know the slightest thing about horror and my SF knowledge is a little dated, my contribution was limited. On the plus side, afterwards I got chatting to Debbie Bennett, one of the organisers (whom I met via Authonomy), and she asked if I wanted to come to dinner with herself and her daughter – and guest Gail Z Martin. Well I was hardly going to say no!
Dinner itself was frankly mediocre – as a venue the hotel was OK for the price, but the food… On the other hand Gail is lovely, the exact opposite of the prima donna Guest of Honour stereotype. It was her first time in the UK, so she was slightly bemused by everything – I felt obliged to warn her off the “chilli and rice” on the menu, pointing out that it would probably not be very good (Debbie ordered it, and it turned out to be a heap of mince and red kidney beans that had been told what a chilli pepper was but had decided against it). We mostly talked about stuff other than writing – I guess Gail was saving her stories for her interview 🙂
After dinner we went back to the Albany Suite where Gail was interviewed by Juliet McKenna. We learnt how she wrote her first story about a vampire when she was five, and loves hanging out in graveyards and imagining the lives behind the names and dates – pretty normal stuff for a fantasy writer! Now I really want to read Gail’s book The Summoner, about a disinherited prince with the power to mediate between the living and the dead.
After the interview I went to bed, since I’m not much of a night-owl. Well, not usually…
Next morning I enjoyed a leisurely cooked breakfast, thankfully much better than dinner (though the coffee was so weak, I needed three cups!). Various friends on a tighter schedule than me came and went, including Raven Dane, who is promoting the re-publication of her vampire series Legacy of the Dark Kind, and Stephen Deas, who is looking forward to the second volume of his fantasy trilogy, “King of the Crags”, coming out next spring.
After breakfast I went to a panel discussion about the role of ebooks. It was generally felt by the panel that ebooks had a huge advantage when travelling or otherwise dealing with large volumes of novels – interestingly, a lot of editors are now using ebook readers like the Sony to read manuscripts, because of the portability – but of course paper is far more durable. It was suggested that ebooks would gradually replace mass market paperbacks as the price of the hardware fell, but that printed books might survive as collectors’ editions.
Afterwards I was joined by Becks, aka R J Payne, who had driven up from Cambridge for the day. We went to the Brian Clemens interview, which was very entertaining, though I can remember few of the details except that it was Patrick Macnee who suggested Honor Blackman should wear leather… Becks and I had lunch in a Wetherspoons, as we were pushed for time and unfamiliar with the nearby pubs, then it was time for another GoH interview, this time with Jasper Fforde. Fforde was very amusing (as one might expect), whether reminiscing about his time in the film industry as a focus puller (and doing a good impression of Christopher Lambert’s brooding – actually, myopic – stare) or talking about the difficulty he had selling a genre-busting novel: “There’s this girl called Thursday Next and she has a pet dodo…”. He seemed genial enough, though being a Big Famous Guest, he pretty much disappeared from the convention after that. Either that or I need new glasses…
Becks and I bought coffee from a nearby coffee shop (in preference to the hotel stuff) then returned to the bar, where the launch of “Best New Horror” and “Wolf Men” was setting up. More of this another time – Naomi will be reading this and I don’t want to spoil the surprise…
We then went to the dealer’s room to see Roy Gray of TTA Press, where we learnt that Becks’ story is still under consideration by their editors – woohoo! I also eyed up the cute House of Igor teddies, but decided that my cats would probably only chew them, requiring even more stitches!
Then it was time for one last panel of the day, “The David Gemmell Legend: Heroic Fantasy Goes From Strength to Strength”. Participants included Gail and Stephen, but I think I was all panelled out by that point because I don’t remember much of what was said. Next time I shall take notes!
Sadly Becks had to set off for home after that, having booked too late to get a banquet ticket, so I changed into a nice silk shirt and headed back to the bar alone. I hung out with Sian, another friend from Authonomy, and we went to the banquet. The food was nothing to write home about, but the awards ceremony was entertaining enough – I tweeted the results as they were announced, probably mis-spelling half the winners’ names in my haste!
After dinner, I bumped into Roy again. He introduced me to Terry Martin, publisher of Murky Depths magazine, and we chatted for a long while – unfortunately my writing isn’t what you’d call “dark”, so I doubt I’ll be submitting anything in his direction. Eventually the banquet bar closed so we moved through into the main bar. By this time I had my second wind and spend another couple of hours mingling, talking to some charming, interesting people, and others… not so much. Word to the wise: networking does not consist of getting drunk and being rude to complete strangers.
I eventually made it into bed around 2.20am. OK, so even larks can be night owls when things get interesting 🙂
Sunday was a couple more panels, one with a group of new writers talking about their experiences, the other with a bunch of editors discussing themed anthologies. I was mainly interested in the latter, since I’ve started submitting to such publications; as panellist Ian Whates said, a theme gives authors something to focus their creativity on. I certainly find it much easier to come up with a story based on a theme, rather than having the entirety of space, time and the human condition to play with! Some of the editors’ advice was no-brainer stuff (reading the guidelines carefully, not tacking the theme onto an existing story), but it was a good panel nonetheless. I skipped the AGM (though I did join the BFS on Saturday) – I have to attend enough meetings at work, without adding extra ones in my free time!
Finally I packed, checked out and met up with my husband, and we went for lunch at Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, which I had heard mentioned at the con. It turned out to be an 800-year-old pub (c. 1189) carved into the rock below Nottingham Castle – and it does great food, too!
By the time I got home, exhaustion was kicking in – I fell into bed and slept for about fourteen hours (with brief interruptions from the cats)! I’m still feeling a bit tired, but it was a really great weekend. Now, when’s the next one…?