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FantasyCon 2012 (Part One)

October 2, 2012

Wow. Just wow. That was an awesome convention.

I’ve just got back from FantasyCon 2012 – the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society, held this year at the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton, England. Three-and-a-bit days (if you count the Thursday night meet’n’greet) of genre fiction fandom, where readers, writers, editors, illustrators, publishers, agents, and basically anyone who’s passionate-mad about fantasy, horror, science fiction, weird fiction, and other genre fiction writing gets to hang out in a mindblowing mayhem of sleeplessness and inspiration. What an event!

This year was my second FantasyCon, and the first where I’ve actually had a novel to talk about – Mindjammer, my transhuman space opera adventure, was published in August this year. My first FantasyCon, in 2011, was very much a fact-finding mission, a brief reconnaissance of just Saturday afternoon and Sunday, a rapid-eye-movement of kaleidoscopic colour which was intoxicating and enticing, but way too short. This year I remedied that by arriving well in time, coming in from Normandy on the Thursday afternoon, and rocking up to the meet’n’greet in the bar on the Thursday night, and staying until the Dead Dog Party on the Sunday afternoon.

I’m so glad I did. FantasyCon is divvied up many different ways: there are readings by authors; panel discussions on topics such as “Has Science-Fiction Caught Up?”, “The Importance of Blogging”, and the ever-youthful “Does Gender Matter?”, which is kind of like having 60 minutes to come up with a viable plan for world peace… one of these years we’ll crack it. There are film shows, book launches, a dealers’ room filled with awesome titles; interviews with special guests such as (this year) Mark Gatiss, Joe Lansdale, and Muriel Grey; and even masterclasses on getting agents, writing for TV, and more. And, alongside and penetrating all this, there is a massive social melee, of people hunkering down in bars, restaurants, comfy chairs and staircases, engaging in earnest discussions of inspiring and thought-provoking topics. The whole thing is a massive genre-literary firework display, in which every attendee is invited to light the blue touch paper in their own brains and burn as bright as they can. Wonderful stuff.

There were so many highlights. So many, in fact, that I’m going to divide this blog into two parts – both to spare you, gentle reader, a blog the size of a complete short story, and also to keep myself sharp as I write up my recollection of events. This is part one, covering all the way to Saturday lunchtime; part two will follow tomorrow.

As soon as I walked in the door on the first “pre-con” Thursday, I bumped into Mike Chinn, inventor of the Anglerre setting and writer of the Anglerre stories for the Starblazer comic, one of the co-authors of my Legends of Anglerre roleplaying game. Mike and I had corresponded by email several times over the past few years, but this was the first time we’d had chance to meet face-to-face and chat in person. Very cool – Mike gave me some insights into the genesis of the Anglerre setting, and whispered secrets about unpublished Anglerre stories which made me wish that DC Thomson would publish more! Mike was there launching The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes anthology which he’d edited – very exciting, and it looks like there’s a volume 2 to come!

On the back of that meeting, Mike kindly agreed to do an interview with me here at the Meme Machine blog, and touch upon some of those awesome Anglerre and Starblazer details. Hopefully we’ll get to that in the next couple of weeks – watch this space!

Mike introduced me to Peter Coleborn, Mister Alchemy Press himself, who introduced me to Heide Goody, who introduced me to Colum Paget, and so began the first evening of splendid discussion, food, drink, and generally mind-expanding stimulation. I’d had about 4 hours sleep the night before (this was to become a theme of this year’s FantasyCon…), so I was pretty much running on fumes, but the high-octane conversation of hearing about Heide’s new novel Clovenhoof, an extremely cool-sounding comic fantasy co-written with author Iain Grant, and then off into the realms of science-fiction with Colum, kept us going into the wee hours. I made the tragic error of drinking a white wine spritzer at 12.30am; the tiny, thimblefull of alcohol in the drink triggered my latent tiredness, and I wobbled uncertainly to bed by 1am, rueing I couldn’t keep going longer.

Friday dawned with the first formal schedule for the con – but, even before that, I had the happy circumstance of breakfasting with Tina Rath, actor, author, and all-round polymath and vampire cognoscenta, who I’d met in the hoary, timeless check-in queue the afternoon before, where we chewed the cud and felt our lifeforce drain as the entire convention seemed to be trying to book in at once. Breakfast was more relaxed, and Tina introduced me to writer and reviewer Dave Brzeski and author Jilly Paddock, and we revved up for the coming three days.

Pablo Cheesecake spars with Sarah Pinborough

After breakfast we wandered into the lounge, where the bright red hair of Pablo Cheesecake, aka Paul Holmes of The Eloquent Page, lit up the room. The Elegant Page is an excellent book blog, chock full of awesome reviews, and Paul had announced on Twitter he’d be instantly recognisable with his Very Red Hair, and indeed he was. It was great to chat with him at last and partner and co-conspirator Nadine about things genre and bloggy, with a brief diversion for some nerdy I.T. reminiscences from one of my previous lives (this one as a web developer). Paul and Nadine maintain an excellent blog – go there and check it out immediately if you don’t know it already. 🙂

In the convo with Paul and Nadine I met Janet Edwards, author of Earth Girl, and we swapped scifi thoughts and plans for the coming panels and discussions, including Janet’s appearance in the scifi panel the next day. In fact, the afternoon followed with wall-to-wall panels – my most intense session of the weekend, with panels on “How Important are Blogs?” (answer: very), “Blurring Genre Boundaries” (conclusion: Octopus Tennis is the next big thing), and “Does Gender Matter?” The answer to the latter is: “Wha-? Hang on – well… Yeah… But can I just say -?” *ping* Time’s up! Hell, you could devote an entire convention to just that question – and I guess as long as it’s necessary to even ask, we’ll keep hammering the point home. Generally I got the feeling the panel was preaching to the converted – perhaps from now on it may be more useful to hammer out a manifesto and plan of action for the wider world, rather than re-tread the same path each time. Gender parity was pretty much all over every panel I saw, which was very cool. Progress is being made, and everyone’s backs are to the wheel. A good feeling that we can effect some real ongoing change – although with the current economic collapse, I personally worry about retrenchment. Like I say, you could run an entire convention on just this topic…

That evening I’d arranged to meet the very wonderful Paco Jaen of G*M*S Magazine for dinner – Paco’s an old friend from another previous life, and a Brighton resident, so we just had to. Before that, however, I gravitated into the bar and met up with King of Steampunk Jonathan Green, who introduced me to the awesomely prolific Cav Scott at last. Cav and I had corresponded over the proofing work I’d been doing on the BFS Journal, and it was so cool to meet in person at last. There too were the charming Vincent Shaw-Morton, wonderful illustrator, designer, and writer, and Kit Cox, AKA Major Jack Union, two time travellers from the late nineteenth century who were in search of exotic creatures to study, document, and (in the case of Major Jack) shoot with a vast array of well-maintained masterwork weaponry. Major Jack’s new book How to Bag a Jabberwock was shown around to general “oohs” and sighs of pleasure – a gorgeous piece, lavishly illustrated, and an absolute must buy for all nineteenth century adventurers. If you like Leagues of Adventure and my Great Game campaign for that august publication, you will want to procure a copy of this gorgeous tome from your bookbinders forthwith.

At the same table I also had the very good fortune to meet Michael Rowley, editorial director for science fiction and fantasy at Ebury Press’ new Del Rey imprint – very exciting! Michael showed me some of the gorgeous covers for his imprint’s upcoming books, a lavish schedule of titles for the next twelve months and beyond, including Mark Hodder’s “A Red Sun Also Rises”, Liesel Schwarz’s “The Chronicles of Light and Shadow”, and others. Michael also had the most gorgeous iPad cover – just like a Moleskine notebook – which as a stationery fetishist I couldn’t help pawing and cooing over.

Nice to meet all of you, gents!

Dinner followed, which turned out to be the venue for a Very Important Event. Yes, gentle reader, I’m talking about JonCon 1. In the same way that the very first GenCon was inaugurated in Gary Gygax’s basement, Friday 28th September saw the very first convention written, performed, and starring our very own Jonathan Green, and a small coterie of hooded conspirators darkly muttering the mantra incantation “hashtag-JonCon” with every utterance. It was at once numenous, ominous, and incredulous. I shall draw a discrete veil over the Cthulhoid climax to the events, only to stop and pause to cry: “Ia! Ia! JonCon the beast in the woods with a thousand young!”

Friday ended in an insomniac haze, with mad discussions of dissolution and identity in the “top bar” at the Royal Albion (the bit that looks like the prow of the Titanic) with Paco, Colum, and the wonderful Gio Clairval, as we drifted into a stupor matched only by the antediluvian shush of the waves on the beach outside.

So, Saturday. 6 hours sleep, running total since 7am Wednesday: 16 hours. Kick off was the “Fantasy Fiction: Keeping it Real” panel, where Jasper Kent, Juliet E. McKenna, Benedict Jacka, Brent Weeks, and Adrian Tchaikovsky talked about the marriage of magic and realism in fantasy writing. A good discussion, focussing very much on the impact of magic upon character and plot, and the nightmarish plot holes a powerful magic system can effortlessly tear in even the best-crafted worlds. One thing the panel didn’t touch on was the social impact of magic – something very dear to my transhuman sensibilities – and something I feel I’ll be writing about soon. FantasyCon provokes all kinds of inspiring thoughts!

I attended two readings Saturday morning, an except from Merchant of Dreams, Anne Lyle’s follow-on to Alchemist of Souls, which was intriguing enough to impel me to head out immediately and grab a copy of the first book (a much overdue purchase on my part), and a deliciously grotesque short story by Solaris editor and author Jonathan Oliver, the name of which escapes me. I’m developing a real penchant for Jon’s short fiction: he effortlessly melds a darkly humorous and indulgently grotesque depiction of human failings with a very keen and compassionate portrayal of character, sort of sweet and sour with a strong dash of emetic to catch out those who prefer their literary soup thin. I’ve read several of what I’d call his more literary tales now, and am very much enjoying the sensation of watching over Jon’s shoulder as he peers closely at his characters and tries to work out what makes them tick. I hope these make it into print at some point!

***

Part Two of my FantasyCon 2012 writeup appears here.

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