Fantasy Con 2011

Last weekend I attended my first ever Fantasy Con….I felt like an interloper, a science fiction writer sneaking into the land of dragons and  men with beards and big swords.

Sadly, no dragons; but I think this was my favourite ever con.  It was a small event, with only one panel at a time rather than the complex agendas you get in Eastercon with multiple panels at opposite ends of the hotel.  But the intimacy helped.  I met a lot of established friends and made some new ones.  And, greatest joy of all, this con was in a beautiful location – Brighton with its glorious Regency architecture and adorably naff pier amusement arcades.  The first Eastercon I went to was in that big hotel in Heathrow, in a row of big hotels where airline staff stay; and despite the energy of the conference goers there’s a strange vibe in a place like that. Even worse in terms of ambience was the hotel on a roundabout just outside Bradford that hosted my next Eastercon  (not IN Bradford, a beautiful city).  And earlier this year I went to Eastercon in Birmingham, near the NEC; there was a lake outside the hotel with ducks but it was all utterly false and soulless; an artefect created by designers anxious to make the area feel ‘real’. It’s not – the National Exhibition Centre buildings have all the atmosphere of Heathrow at three in the morning.  And being there felt like being an extra in The Truman Show.

So as I say, this was a con set in the ‘real’ world.  And for me, it wasn’t a business trip – I wasn’t there to network or sell books.  I just wanted to go, in order to enjoy myself . A liberating feeling.

I’ve been looking at bloggers describing their own experience of the con, which featured a  lively disco and the ribald burlesque in which apart from scantily clad ladies brandishing tentacles there was a man who ripped apart a toy rabbit and ate its heart.  I missed both events I’m afraid.  Some, like Simon Unsworth, took a while to get into the swing of things. Others, like Floor to Ceiling Books, challenged aspects of the content.   Most of us, like Rob Spalding, spent rather too long in the bar.  And I enjoyed Danie Ware’s beautifully illustrated blog a great pic  of everyone’s hero Brian Aldiss – Most Special of the Special Guests of Honour – book signing.

I met some fellow SF authors like Ian Whates and Jaine Fenn; failed to meet some friends like Jon Courtenay Grimwood who I saw in the bar when I arrived but who had gone by the time I emerged from a long discussion with my pal Archie Tait.  I re-encountered Graham Joyce, nominated for a British Fantasy Award, who in my view is one of the finest authors working in the fantasy genre; though if you quiz him, he admits that what he does is not REALLY fantasy.  And I had the great delight of attending a panel of screenwriters bitching gloriously about their industry, and mine: Stephen Gallagher, Stephen Volk, Pete Atkins and Peter Finch. I’d never met any of them before but I share mutual friends with both Volk and Gallagher.  And Stephen Gallagher and I also shared a panel on the best and worst films of 2011, with Anne Billson and Kim Newman (whose Victorian horror novels are very close to my heart – do read Anno Dracula which Titan are now publishing, but remember that The Bloody Red Baron is EVEN BETTER.)

Mike Carey was there – also nominated for a British Fantasy Award – he’s one of the nicest and most inspirational writers I know.  I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with steampunk author Stephen Hunt and the Angry Robot himself, Lee Harris. Maura McHugh, the witty and wise  comic book writer and screenwriter from Ireland, shared a table with me at the banquet.  Meg Davies the agent was on a number of panels; and Jo Fletcher launched her new imprint Jo Fletcher Books at this con, which means I have a FREE BAG with her company’s name on it.  Freebies matter!

Why did I enjoy it so much?  Partly I suspect because I didn’t treat it as ‘work’, which is what often happens when writers go to conventions.  We hustle to be on panels, we do book signings, we hope to sell books.  Well this was a fantasy convention and I’m an SF writer so I didn’t worry about any of that. And so I just enjoyed myself, drank moderately but without cessation, and touched base with the fantasy and SF community in the most creative of ways.  I came back fired up, with a list of books I need to read and an even longer list of books I want to write.

Thanks to the organisers…and look forward to the next one.


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