Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fantasycon 2008: some observations

The British Fantasy Society's annual convention took place over the weekend 19-21 September, at the Britannia Hotel, Nottingham.

If a Fantasycon is seen to run seamlessly for the attendees, it’s almost inevitable that the organisers had few moments to relax (I know; been there; done that). Personally, Fantasycon did run smoothly; and so a big thanks to the Fantasycon committee.

Fantasycon was fully multi-streamed, which is a nice touch, but perhaps not practical for a smallish convention. It meant that many audiences in the conference halls were sparse. Sad, really. It also meant that I wasn’t able to take photos of panels running simultaneously – at least, not without killing myself by racing up and down the stairs between two floors.

We (Debbie, Jan and I) arrived Friday afternoon, in plenty of time to unload the car and set up our dealer’s tables. Then it was off to Nottingham city centre to buy some food. And then back to the hotel, to register and open up our table to sell a selection of paperbacks and hard covers, most from 2007, and mostly American. We sold quite a lot of stock over the weekend but, to be honest, I was surprised by how many US books we didn’t sell. Don’t UK fans buy US books anymore?

The dealers’ room was full of folk trying to sell their products. But ultimately, for me, it was a disappointment. Besides our table, only The Talking Dead had a large selection of inexpensive books for sale (they were also selling the entire catalogue of PS titles). Almost all the other dealers were small presses, mostly only selling a small range of titles from their own presses. Of course, it is vital for small presses to sell their stock; but I would love to see a dealers’ room full of booksellers hawking products from rare, and expensive, hard covers to inexpensive paperbacks and magazines. Fantasycons of the past also attracted dealers selling jewellery and other similar products. Unfortunately, not this year.

The dealers’ room also housed the art show. Despite some massive Dave McKean originals, plus Vincent Chong prints and paintings, the art show was disappointing. The art show should have its own room, assuming the hotel has the space, and should be full of gorgeous artwork. Actually, Jan and I exhibited some of our ceramic sculptures; we even sold a few pieces.

Master of Ceremonies Christopher Fowler opened the convention on Friday evening. Then the next event was the Fantastique Quiz, hosted by David Howe. It is difficult to organise a quiz with a decent range of questions, so congrats to David for getting it sorted. It’s a pity, then, that few people entered the quiz. Mind you, when I popped in, the first thing question I heard left me stumped. So it was back to the bar for me. The quiz is intended to help break the ice for new comers. I hope it worked.

The rest of the evening was filled with several panels, readings and a book launch. I didn’t get to any of these. Once you’ve attended conventions for many years, missing panels becomes inevitable (although I recall in my youth religiously sitting through all the panels and interviews and talks). For many, Fantasycon has become a meeting place, somewhere to catch up with conversations left incomplete twelve months previously.

Saturday started quite early. The hotel breakfast wasn’t too bad, if you don’t mind greasy bacon (bet it wasn’t free range bacon, either). Then it was off to our table to sell more books. Actually, I rather left that to Jan whilst I toted a camera around, trying to take that elusive shot that defined Fantasycon. Not sure if I managed that, but I did take quite a few (thank the gods for digital photography). So, what did Saturday have to offer?

There were panels on movies, Dr Who, fantastic worlds, taboos, scripting, publishing… I felt that rather too many panels were aimed at the aspiring writer, and not enough were solely celebrating the fantasy genre. There were also the guest of honour interviews: James Barclay, Christopher Golden and Dave McKean. And interspersed throughout the day were several book launches, including a mega launch of several PS titles plus that of Best New Horror volume 19, edited by Stephen Jones. Many of the anthology’s contributors were on hand to sign copies of the book, which sold out pretty quickly.

For a change, the banquet was moved from Sunday to Saturday evening. The room was wonderfully decorated by Jen and Pat Barber, with balloons, candles, and miniature gargoyles. Alas, the food wasn’t brilliant, and the wine was awful – I was informed (you see, Jan and I popped out for a Chinese meal instead). But we made it back for the speeches and the announcement of the British Fantasy Awards . And after that? The “Fabulous Fantasycon Raffle”, executed with panache (and maybe too much haste due to time limits) by Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of panic that evening. Some bastard stole the DVD projector, which delayed the two movie events, a homage to Ray Harryhausen and a selection of Dave McKean shorts. Fortunately, thefts are uncommon at these events. Alas, we live in a world which includes criminals and conmen, and occasionally they find their way into our conventions…

The main event on Sunday morning, for BFS members, is the annual AGM. This year there was a changing of the guards, with the departure of Marie O’Regan and Vicky Cooke and some others. The new Chair of the society is now Guy Adams, and Helen Hopley was elected secretary. Once again, the AGM managed to discuss the British Fantasy Awards. Maybe, one day, everyone will be content with the rules surrounding these. Then there was a bit of argy bargy about submitting resolution. Very animated. Good fun.

After lunch, I moderated a panel discussion to an audience of maybe ten, on “How to Run a Literary Event”. Actually, this was quite apposite because I lumbered myself the task of co-Chairing, with Guy Adams, Fantasycon 2009. My fellow panellists were Alex Davies, Amanda Foubister, David Howe and Ian Whates. Then the convention slowly imploded with the “Monster Small Press Launch” and the “Dead Dog Party”. To be honest, it was a rather flat way for Fantasycon to end, as many people had already left, to trek back home to the mundane world.

So if you missed Fantasycon 2008, who didn’t you get to chat to? In alphabetical order: James Barclay, Chaz Brenchley, Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clarke, Peter Crowther, Christopher Fowler, Christopher Golden, Simon Green, Stephen Jones, Graham Joyce, Tim Lebbon, Dave McKean, Mark Morris, Reggie Oliver, Sarah Pinborough, Tony Richards, Ian Watson, and many, many others.

All in all, a good, enjoyable and entertaining weekend. I’ll be back next year (well, I have to, don’t I?) And if you’ve never attended a fantasy/SF convention and are worried about coming along, maybe alone, don’t fret and come to Fantasycon 2009. This convention tries hard to make everyone welcomed. And you never know, you may find yourself running one, one day.

(c) Peter Coleborn


Sam Stone said...

Hi Peter,
A great blog!! It was a super convention wasn't it?
Any chance of seeing some more of those pictures you took?
Sam x

Peter Coleborn said...

Hi Sam. I aim to post more photos on this site, when time allows. I also hope that some will appear on the BFS website, too.
Peter x

Sam Stone said...

Thanks - I'll look out for them!!