FantasyCon 2011: the report


Here I sit, nearly a whole week after setting off for Brighton with my wife Liz, to join hundreds of like-minded people for a weekend of great conversation, good food, good drink, literary larks and, most importantly, books (oh, and a pantomine – more on that later). After having experienced something of a wash-out of a summer, we were promised a mini-heatwave for the con, and indeed attendees were rewarded with one of the most glorious of weekends weatherwise. Indeed, even though this was only the second FCon I’ve attended (and my wife’s first) I came away thinking it was the best convention I’d ever been to (despite it being overshadowed a little by later events – again, more on that later).

I’d hardly had time to put my bags down before I had to whisk myself away to the Fitzherbert Room of the Royal Albion Hotel for the very first panel of the con – and I was one of the panellists.  Along with moderator Adrian Chamberlin and fellow panellists Elizabeth and Deidre Counihan (Trevor Denyer, also scheduled to appear, unfortunately had to miss the discussion due to unforeseen circumstances), I was there to discuss ‘Small Press Markets’. I have to say that it was very well attended, a sea of eager faces looking back at me and, more to the point, I enjoyed myself immensely. Also, judging by the comments made to me afterwards by various people, the audience enjoyed it too. This is definitely something I would like to do more of in future.

Then, it was upstairs to the bar, to meet all the wonderful friends I’ve made over the past couple of years, as well as make new ones. It would take me far too long to enumerate them all, so suffice it to say that it made the weekend even sweeter than it already was. More to the point, Liz was made to feel extremely welcome and included in everything, thus allaying her initial apprehensions about what kind of event it was going to be.

Later that same day, at 10:30pm to be precise, I hosted the Spectral Press showcase reading, along with Messrs McMahon and Unsworth. Gary McMahon read from a novel that he’s currently working on, The Quiet Room, which, as some of you may be able to figure out, is actually a reworking into novel length of his Spectral chapbook, What They Hear in the Dark. Gary knows how to build tension and atmosphere right from the very first word, and this new treatment of the theme of his chapbook promises to be even more unsettling and disturbing. Simon Kurt Unsworth then (with a little help from Emily McMahon) regaled us with Borough Station, a tale bound to make you think twice about Underground stations and lifts – not for the faint-hearted! If you want to read that story, then you’ll be glad to know that it’s due to be included in SKU’s forthcoming Spectral Signature Edition collection, due in early 2013.

And thus was the pattern set for the weekend – a panel or two, readings here and there and much time spent in the bar area, for drinks and conversation. I was also stopped on more than a few occasions by people asking about Spectral or to elaborate on what I’d said on the panel. From a personal perspective, this was a small triumph, as this consolidated all the hard work I’ve been putting in ever since I conceived the idea of the Spectral imprint (and it may interest you to know that, in terms of actually coming up with the idea for it, it would be around this time last year that the seed was sown). It’s extremely gratifying to know that there are people out there who enjoy and appreciate what I am attempting to do with Spectral.

Saturday night, however, was a highlight for me, as it was for quite a lot of people. Teatro Proberto, composed of John Llewellyn Probert and his lovely wife Kate, brought us a thoroughly entertaining pantomime re-enactment of one of the oddest of 70s horror movies, The Blood on Satan’s Claw. There was much audience participation (just like any good pantomime should have) and John and Kate acted all parts with gusto and, dare I say it, not a little inspired insanity. It has to be said that this made my entire weekend – and, judging from the reactions of members of the audience, it made a lot of others’ weekends too.

Following on, there was a Burlesque followed by yet another Teatro Proberto production, Corruption – unfortunately Liz and I missed this as we were both very tired and had decided to turn in for the night. Other, younger and lither things, went on to strut some seriously funky stuff at a disco hosted by superstar DJ Sarah P – photos of that particular event are currently being plastered across social networking sites globally; producers from Strictly Come Dancing are even now taking notes on likely candidates for next year.

Naturally, it being an event mostly concerned with books, there was a dealer’s room. I already own a sizeable collection and inevitably I added a few more volumes to it, to wit: Dark Companions (Ramsey Campbell), Sparrowhawk (a Victorian ghost story by Paul Finch), UK 1st hardback edition of Clive Barker’s Cabal (courtesy of Johnny Mains, for which gratitude), Night Shivers: the Ghost Stories of JH Riddell and Tales of Mystery & Imagination by EA Poe (both in the Wordsworth Tales of Mysery & the Supernatural series) and one of the latest in Nightjar Press’ chapbook series, Remains by GA Pickin. I would have bought more, but money’s a bit tight this year, but I was content with my haul (and my wife was pleased that I’d come away with so few…). Plus, of course, there were more than a few freebies in the goodie bag as well…. =)

The other event of the weekend was the Awards Ceremony, which unfortunately was somewhat overshadowed by controversy. Like I’ve said elsewhere, this wasn’t about the choice of winners (and neither is any blame to be attached to them), it was more to do with the voting system. I am not privy to the inner workings of the Awards Committee and, judging by the strength and number of complaints levelled at it, neither would I want to be. It appears that said system needs to be overhauled, but, having said that, I can offer no alternative suggestions as to how it should be done. Needless to say, there were murmurings of discontent both during and after the ceremony. There were some who expressed their feelings via the virtual medium a few days later, and some of those opinions were very strong indeed. However the lay of the land was, and however innocent certain people were in the events that transpired, the impression that people left with was that there was something distasteful at the core of everything.

The fallout has been considerable – indeed Sam Stone, recipient of the August Derleth Award for Best Novel, has decided to hand her statuette back due to the pressure and the comments ensuing from this situation. This has even made the pages of the Guardian newspaper, an unwelcome development to say the least. I sincerely hope that all the issues raised will be addressed by the time FantasyCon2012 comes around.

(The only low point of the event for me personally was provided by a know-it-all ex-bookshop owner who sat with us in the bar on Sunday afternoon. Essentially, upon hearing that I was a small-press publisher and that I was doing very well, said “Well, it won’t last, you know”. My initial thought was Fuck you, mateyyou may have been in the trade, but you can’t prognosticate the future. Spectral may indeed fall by the wayside at some point; conversely, it may succeed beyond my hopes and ambitions. I fully intend to build the imprint into something worthwhile and long-lasting, in spite of such gloom-mongers.)

But let’s not forget that people did enjoy a fabulous weekend and that, when all is said and done, it was a great convention. I do believe that we will, as a group of like-minded readers, writers, editors and publishers, weather the storm and emerge even stronger than before. And in that spirit I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks to Paul Kane, Marie O’Regan, Alex Davis and Stephen Jones for helping to organise the event, to the small army of red-shirts who made sure that everything ran smoothly the whole weekend, and most of all to Mike Powell for putting us up for the duration. Also, thanks to all the friends, both old and new, I met over the weekend – all I have left to say is ROLL ON NEXT YEAR’S EVENT!!!

(Sorry for lack of event photos – we forgot to pack the camera…. d’ohhhh!)

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