Fantasy Con 2011
Wow. I’ll say again: wow. Never before have I seen so many horror, fantasy, and science-fiction luminaries packed in such close quarters and being so awesomely friendly. Brian Aldiss, Ramsey Campbell, Gwyneth Jones, Peter Atkins, Joe Abercrombie, Sarah Pinborough, and simply hundreds of other writers met up in the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton this weekend for the annual British Fantasy Society convention, or, simply, FantasyCon.
It was as hot as hell. The UK has just been treated to an Indian summer hotter than July and August combined, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees C, which in southern English coastal resorts, constructed in the glory days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when air-conditioning was a question of “log fire or no log fire?”, conditions indoors were truly torrid. Happily the intellectual and creative temperatures were soaring too, so there was plenty of room to forget the trials of This Mortal Coil and drift off in flights of fantasy and speculation.
As “Mindjammer”, my first novel, is due out later this month, over the summer it dawned on me I should really get my sorry ass off to a genre fiction convention and start working out how it all works. For the past three years I’ve been a keen convention-goer on the roleplaying game circuit, and have really enjoyed the camaraderie and cool gamer experiences such as seminars, panels, workshops, running and demoing games, and really getting in touch with people who both make and buy games. Conventions are the lifeblood of the RPG industry, and I was curious to know if the same applied to genre fiction too.
Turns out, completely by chance, that I’d signed myself up for the industry genre fiction convention. Everybody was there, and as soon as I’d wombled up with a shy and hopefully amiable smile, everyone was totally awesome in introducing me to people, showing me the ropes, and making This Helpless N00b feel really at home. By the end of Day One, I was exhilarated, stimulated, daunted, encouraged, challenged, and (finally) half-dead on my feet with the back-to-back brilliance of the schedule.
So, what went on? Well, first up, Fantasy Con was considerably smaller than a typical RPG con – probably about 500 attendees in total. Spread over 3 days (or, really, one full day and two half-days), it occupied about 7 rooms of various sizes in the Royal Albion Hotel. The attendees seemed pretty evenly divided between industry folk, including writers, editors, agents, and publishers, and fans / readers / customers / what-have-you. It’s a bit of a false divide, as pretty much all of the writers and industry folk are *also* fans!
The schedule was intense, back-to-back, and ran from 10am to 11pm and beyond, including: panel discussions; interviews; book launches; signings; readings; film-screenings; and a mega 80s disco Saturday night and the BFS AGM and Awards Ceremony & Banquet Sunday. There was so much going on, it was impossible to see and do everything I wanted, so I had to make some pretty gruelling choices: listening to a reading you really want to attend, or go to a panel discussion about marketing yourself as a novelist? Aaaaargh! Impossible! Noooo! 🙂
But, like RPG cons, a helluva lot of the really crucial stuff happened in the cracks in the schedule – those little space-time crannies in the corridors between events, in the bar, the restaurant, in smokers’ corner, or just colliding in the warrenous (New Word (c) Sarah Newton 2011) undercrofts of the Royal Albion. Those moments were truly brilliant: a half-hour convo about the nature of history with the lovely Rob Shearman and Jasper Kent on a staircase carpeted from hell just after Rob’s goose-bump reading from “Everyone’s Just So So Special” (and an opportunity to pay obeisance to Rob for That Dalek Episode); a chance to say thanks to Jo Fletcher for the very welcoming “History of Fantasy Con” presentation; and a succession of mutually-encouraging and inspiring chats propping up the bar with the squee-makingly delicious Scott Andrews, Gaie Sebold, Anne Lyle, and many others.
It’s useless to list any more names: *everyone* was there, and *everyone* was lovely. I came away frazzled and inspired, with a hunger for much, much more. Now, I’m hoarding pennies and for the first time in my life looking longingly at Prestatyn (come on, we’ve all done it!), as the SFX Weekender looks like the next shot-in-the-arm for this increasingly hopeless convention junkie.
Thanks to everyone for organizing, attending, and supporting Fantasy Con, and making it such an ace experience. And a special thanks too to Jon Oliver, Mike Molcher, and Jenni Hill of Solaris / Abaddon for letting me tag along and introducing me to everyone and everything – I owe you guys a ton of drinks!
See you at the next one!