As a novice to the convention circuit, you study the schedule, make careful plans as to what panels and events you most want to attend, and then you spend all your time dashing around, assiduously writing notes, sweating, and occasionally weeping in the corner. It’s damned hard work. You wonder why people do this to themselves year on year and (looking around in despair and frustration) why everyone else seems to be just…hanging around in the bar.
The more of these events you go to, the more apparent it becomes that you got it all wrong. It’s not about the programme; that just serves as a framework to hang it all from. The panels provide a handy entry point for industry newcomers, shine light on subjects you might not be familiar with, and (when sitting on them) can be used as a platform from which to become better known. When all is said and done though, it’s the people who make a convention.
The interactions, the building of friendships and business networks, the hints and tips of mutual and moral support— this stuff can happen anywhere. You just need to bring people together. I think that became something of a theme this year, due to the lateness of the brochures but (counter-intuitively) it might just have made FantasyCon better. I love fantasy and science fiction but my avenue into editing was through the genre of horror. As such, I’ve gotten to know more of the people from that tribe than any of the others so far. While sometimes belittled by cultural snobbery, I can proudly state that the publishers and writers of horror form one of the warmest, most generous, and mutually supportive groups I’ve ever met.
For a case in point, rewind back to early afternoon – just after the Hersham Horror launch. There was a little ceremony at the back of the Jubilee room, unofficial like. Lisa Childs had arranged a special birthday present for her brother, who runs Dark Minds Press. It was a collection of short-stories, under the modest title ‘Ross Warren: I am Legend,’ written by some of his favourite authors. Many had come up with original stories specifically for this collection, some had altered existing stories to personalise them with Ross-specific details. This was no small thing. None of the authors charged for their talents and only one copy will ever be printed. It’s love, pure and simple.
None of which is to say that panels hold no value. I haven’t mentioned it before but I did catch one more before my night out on Saturday, in support of my buddies. Phil Sloman has started to make a bit of a name for himself with his quietly witty, darkly psychological stories. He’s one of my dearest friends and I’ve been following his career with pride and envy for the past few years. He sat on the HWA panel alongside Marie O’Regan (co-chair of the HWA, UK chapter), the ubiquitous C.C. Adams, and Ramsey Campbell (genre legend and renowned toilet singer). They were moderated by the Maura McHugh, who is shrewd, funny, and fabulous. Together they explored the deep value of unions in the creative arts, beginning with the fundamentally lonely position of the writer, moving on to the difficulties and complexities they can face in getting their work out into the world, and then demonstrating the strength that can be forged by pulling together as a tribe. It was powerful and inspiring stuff.
The crowning glory for me though was the night without end.
I left the hotel, fresh from my nap and ready to raise hell at karaoke. Sure, I might not have much experience at it, I still felt a little woozy, and right now I couldn’t think of a decent song, but I was sure that something would come to me. I entered through the con bar and glanced around. One or two familiar faces, but just on nodding terms. I figured my crowd were already hogging the mic. Let’s just say the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I poked my head into the lounge area and spotted some of my pals looking all cosy in the big leather armchairs. Aaaaaaaaand that was me set for the night. I mean, who’d want to be anywhere else?
I plonked down with the sinister Trace Elements, Wee Jimmy Ginger, Freudenstein, Duncan Doughnuts, and the Right Reverend Justin-case. Drinks were bought and consumed, though not to excess. I don’t really need it. Those who know me well can vouch for the depths of my depravity and the kinds of outrageous verbal ejaculations I’m prone to with naught but the tiniest application of oil. The night was still young but I think it’s fair to say I managed to surprise a few people. I seemed to go down well, anyway. Wait, let me rephrase that.
We were soon joined in dribs and drabs by a multitude of friends and an air of general celebration arose. I snagged a brief chat with Eliza Chan, Tim Major, and James Everington at the bar, trying to reconcile much-loved tales with their dubious authors. Not for the first time, I found myself wishing I could be in two places at once. They’re all interesting and intelligent people, and I’d love to have spent more time with them. I had a round of drinks to dole out though, back in the lounge.
Shortly after my return, Steve Shaw eased himself down in the comfy chair opposite, and we struck up an animated conversation. He was involved in my first two editing projects before I went freelance. I consider him a solid friend. Sad to say, we hadn’t seen much of each other over the past two years, but we darned well made up for it that night. Three hours solid, I’m sure, talking about everything and nothing at all.
The time went and so, eventually, did many of our group until only a Sinister core remained. We were joined by James Bennett, David Tallerman and James T. Harding – last men standing from another tribe. We sat in pleasant comfort, sipping Kit’s whisky and talking the rest of night away. I trotted off to bed around 7.30 in the morning, then got up an hour later to join Jim, Tim, James, and Phil for breakfast. Had the pleasure of meeting John Linwood Grant, too. A fine fella.
I may have been a little giddy with exhaustion. Certainly drew one or two puzzled looks from folk as I blathered on.
My final memories of the convention were grabbing my raffle prize (a wooden book/box filled with mysterious potions) and then heading down to the Unsung Stories launch. I’ve read a few of their books now and even worked on one of them: ‘You Will Grow Into Them,’ by Malcolm Devlin. Stunning publisher. They well deserved their BFS award this year.
The anthology being launched was called This Dreaming Isle, a collection of the uncanny. It was edited by Dan Coxon and featuring a panoply of talent, including Stephen Volk, Alison Littlewood, Rob Shearman, Aliya Whiteley, Ramsey Campbell, Jeannette Ng, Tim Lebbon, Catriona Ward, and Gary Budden – each of whom were on-hand to sign our copies. It was a huge gathering and brought together people from every speculative and fantastical sub-genre. I saw representatives from large publishers chatting with the independent presses. I heard conversations pushing for greater social and cultural inclusivity, both behind the scenes and between the book covers. It was heartening and it was humbling to behold, and I can think of no broader example of our unity to end this post on.
Here’s to Allen and Karen, the organisers; here’s to the Alasdair, Marguerite, and the rest of the redcloaks who helped out; here’s to all the publishers, the writers, and the editors who attended; here’s to the staff of the Queen Hotel; here’s to Chester; and here’s to everyone who’s been reading these posts. I love you all.