Fantasycon – 19th-21st October
The Queen Hotel Chester
I was not too sure what I was going to get with Fantasycon. I did hear rumours that it could be a tad insular but more recently I’ve been hearing it was a great time. I decided as it was fortunately on my doorstep in Chester I would find out for myself (so nice to be able to drive home after every day) and I can confirm it was a positive experience even when recovering from a bad cold! I thought it showed that the main face of fantasy is evolving and definitely for the better.
So rather than a panel by panel review I’m going to focus more the highlights. I was a bit wiped out from the cold (as some noticed by my voice) so I was more interested in having a wander and sometimes opted for quieter panels than I probably would normally opt for – taking on board lots of ideas was not always top of my list. So, Friday felt more like a giant catch up session with people from Twitter or that I last saw at Edge Lit. There is a lot to be said for social media as it does help break the ice when people sort of already know you (even if as always people are disappoint ted I am not an actual womble) - so plenty of true geeky discussions such as television shows and books to catch up on and what exactly happens if Dracula bit Frankenstein. At times like this you know you are with your people.
Panel wise was an interesting look at how writers got into the business with I Don’t Know What I Am Doing – this was really a good discussion and even though I’ve no desire to ever write a book I am intrigued at how words in someone’s head become the gorgeous precious things in my hands. Advice on how to get feedback, the importance of an agent and the sheer number of ways people can enter publishing these days from online groups to classic slush pile reads reminded you that each book goes on a long journey even after it is written. The evening slot though was a good chance for people to relax with two D&D panels hosted by Dave Moore and Nate Crowley. A variety of guests then became characters and through the audience’s extremely serious suggestions had to take on killer bees, killer sheep and various assorted spells and dangers. An extremely good laugh and a hint that this is SF that doesn’t take itself too seriously anymore.
Saturday saw me attend some reading sessions where published and non-published authors had a chance to perform pieces of their work. Highlights here for me where Shona Kinsella’s reading her novella Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae; Stephen Poore giving us an early glimpse of his next work and I finally got to see RJ Parker give a eye catching performance from his Blood of Assassins; all three showed different approaches to story-telling and it was great to look at a few stories I knew well but in audio form. It was also a good opportunity for the authors to be given questions about writing and all the authors seemed happy to share their own hints and tips.
I got to sit in and listen to two recordings of one of my favourite podcasts – Breaking the Glass Slipper where Clare North and RJ Barker discussed mystery writing in fantasy as well as the beauty of tight plotting (even if neither actually used tight plotting themselves). Later, I heard Starburst’s Brave New Words (returning to podcast feeds soon) with a very valiant attempt to get through Book News and this time succeeded even if there were many many tangents. Both are well worth a listen when you can catch them.
There was a great large panel on the Kitschies awards involving previous and current judges, organisers and nominees and winners. The Kitschies is a progressive and unusual jury award that I think has a much more flexible attitude to SF than some would apply to items such as the Clarke or Hugos. It was great to hear about the debates in judges and was fascinating to hear Tade Thompson talk about it raised his profile appearing next day in the Guardian. Really big news is that it was announced that this time the Kitschies will actually have a few weeks grace between announcing the shortlist and the winners. So, if I can get my act together that should allow me time to review some of the award nominees!
One other panel I enjoyed was Writing Warfare which talked about the reasons why we may enjoy the grisly battles of a war on an emotional connection and the links between historical tactics and the way to get a reader to understand a battel sequence both at the personal level of a individual fight scene to the grand scale explanation of tactics and the chaos of battle. One thing I did note because it was not even mentioned as a surprise was that three of the four guest writers (Anna Stephens, Anna Smith Spark, Danie Ware and Peter Maclean) were women. It was just four experts in their field having a great discussion on a subject they loved. No fuss or drama just treating people as equals.
The night then relaxed into karaoke and what happens in the karaoke room stays there…it was fun, and I did not sing!
Sunday is a more built around a banquet meal ahead of the British Fantasy Awards. I decided against the banquet and instead tried a few panels. Highlights for me was another interesting writers’ panel where four authors just in the process of a debut talked about the ways they started and The Fantasy Box of Plot Ideas where four authors tried to use audience suggestions to make a story. This got dafter and ruder as it went on and I think a lot of people let their hair down in it
The Hotel was really well suited for a con with large rooms and good facilities (prices were expensive for North but cheap for those from the south though). The Dealers room had plenty for a bookworm and I was well and truly tempted! In addition, several Publishers such as Tor, Titan, Unsung Stories and Jo Fletcher Books (to name a few) did small launch events and author signings. Suiting the time of year, I think I looked for horror in the main so stay tuned for a few reviews in this area next month. Two key highlights Adrian Tchaikovsky and Clare North being Guests of Honour and watching them get interviewed about their careers. Both ongoing sources of great tales and a view of where the genre is going
The BFA awards was a nicely performed ceremony and full list of award winners are below. The categories I thought all demonstrated a very healthy genre and with winners such as Get Out, Monstress, The Changing, Under the Pendulum Sun and most notably for Best Fantasy Novel Jen William’s The Ninth Rain I got the sense of a forward thinking set of juries looking for where fantasy is going rather than looking at the past. Huge thanks to the organisers and the red cloaks who keep things on track behind the scenes this con felt well thought out and welcoming. As a newbie I would say it’s far more book centred than say Nineworlds and probably one more suited for those with an interest in publishing, reviewing or writing but it was absolutely welcoming I met people who were from parts of the fandom and it felt inclusive and respectful of new entrants (caveated that I am viewing this from my perspective as a white male). It felt that while clearly still a lot of work to do to make publishing more diverse the conversation and accepting that things need to change is now underway. I came away with that lovely feeling of recharged geek batteries and a desire to once again get talking about stories and trying to get you to read them all. Just what I needed – so it looks like I will be going to Glasgow in 2019 then!