Brighton’s an interesting place in terms of contrast: it’s where many retire to in their twilight years, and it’s a seaside resort attracting thousands of tourists every year; it is also incredibly bohemian in disposition and atmosphere, plus it’s the gay capital of the UK. It’s full of fascinating examples of architecture from the last couple of hundred years (including the Prince Regent’s [later King George IV] Royal Pavilion, built between 1787 and 1823 and rendered in a then extremely fashionable Oriental style, with minarets and domes aplenty) but it’s also full of tourist tackiness and hyperactive nightclub life. Lastly, it’s a place where a dignified and genteel decay rubs shoulders with garish neon modernism and concrete.
This city on the south coast of the UK, then, was the perfect venue for this year’s FantasyCon, the official convention of the British Fantasy Society and the largest gathering of authors, editors, publishers and punters in these fair isles. Once again, like last year, it was held in the Royal Albion Hotel on the seafront, within easy reach of the city centre as well as numerous watering holes and restaurants in the surrounding environs (curry houses are an essential requisite when you have such a body of writers, editors and publishers in town). The event itself spanned the weekend of 28 and 30 September, during which time it was packed with panels, book launches, masterclasses and sundry other entertainments.
My wife and I pulled up into Brighton on the Thursday afternoon, mainly because we wanted to a) be completely refreshed for the official start the next day and b) savour the full range of social activities the event inspires. That evening the pair of us enjoyed a wonderful Italian meal in the equally wonderful company of Mark Morris, Rio Youers, Sarah Pinborough, Tim Lebbon, Gary & Emily McMahon and Gardner Goldsmith. The food was absolutely superb, amongst the best Italian I’ve had in a long time.
And so to the event proper: the Friday was mostly spent catching up with old friends and meeting new, plus, in Spectral’s case, preparing for the official launch of John Llewellyn Probert’s novella The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine. The hardback edition had sold out months earlier, so we had had to get some paperbacks printed to avoid disappointed customers. The evening was an unqualified success, with eager punters lining up to grab a copy and get it signed by the man himself (who, incidentally, had regaled us all with a bombastic and enthusiastically-delivered intro). All of us were kept on our toes for the full hour – even mainman Stephen Jones came along to see what was going on.
I have to admit, both the wife and I were a bit shell-shocked afterwards. That level of success hadn’t been anticipated and we were both thoroughly bushed by the end of it. Our only recourse was to stagger wearily back to the flat a good friend of ours had kindly said we could stay at for the weekend. Before our heads had even hit those pillows, we were asleep.
Inevitably, we had a bit of a late start the following morning, but once we’d had a full English breakfast, sitting outside a 1930s cafe not far from the convention hotel, we were feeling much more with it. Our subsequent morning was a quiet one, taking things easy, but that afternoon involved getting away for a few hours whilst we were taken on a Belgian beer tour of Brighton by the gracious host whose accommodation we had commandeered. As some of you may be aware, Belgian beer is a particular favourite of mine, so this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. I ended up trying a couple of examples I hadn’t yet sampled (Westmalle Tripel and Troubadour Obscura), which more than helped to while away a few hours of Saturday afternoon.
Later that evening, I hosted a Spectral at the Movies reading, featuring two extremely talented writers, Stephen Volk and the abovementioned John L. Probert. Stephen read from his forthcoming Spectral Visions novella Whitstable, which is due to be published next year on the centenary of Peter Cushing’s birthday. The book is a heartfelt tribute to the late, great actor. After that came John’s reading, from his The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine, which ended up being another theatrical performance – his readings are always worth attending, because you don’t just get the story, you also get the actions and the voices.
As is now traditional, there followed the FCon disco, this year hosted by the bad boys themselves, Rio Youers and Guy Adams. We missed it, mainly because neither of us are anywhere near being spring chickens anymore and more than likely we would only end up doing ourselves some serious mischief. So, party-poopers that we were, headed off to bed.
Sunday morning turned out to be very blurry – I felt slightly rough and very tired, but I had to moderate a panel at 10am that morning. Wonder of wonders, I managed it without incident, said some useful things (apparently) along with my fellow panellists Peter Mark May, Charles Christian, and Trevor Denyer. The hour passed very swiftly, ending at just the point where it needed to in terms of new things to say, and the attendees appeared to appreciate the points we’d made collectively.
The whole glorious weekend was rounded off by the banquet (we elected to stay in the bar) which always takes place before the Awards ceremony. Spectral had nominations in two categories – Paul Finch’s King Death was up for the Short Fiction category, and Spectral Press in the PS Publishing Independent Press award. Although we didn’t win in either, those who did thoroughly deserved their wins (The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter by Angela Slatter [who will be published by Spectral in December next year] and Chomu Press, who produce some absolutely first-class material – well done guys!). After the controversy of last year, the Awards ran smoothly (although certain bits of technology were mildly recalcitrant and did their best to interrupt progress), finishing off what I consider to be the best FantasyCon I’ve been to. In fact, the whole event was testament to the sheer hard work of all the organisers, whom I would like to thank for every minute of the immensely fun weekend that Liz and I had, along with all the wonderful people we met or caught up with.
The Spectral staffers returned home buzzing after such a great time – there are far too many people we would like to say hi to, but suffice it to say that it is the people who make conventions like this what they are. Like I said above, this was undoubtedly the best FCon yet and the organisers will have to pull out all the stops to better this one. Having said that, there’s no FantasyCon next year, but in its place is something equally stupendous: World Fantasy Convention 2013, again held in Brighton but held at the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel instead. We’ve already booked our places, plus there may be a surprise or two in store from Spectral, so it’s set to be a fantastic weekend all told. Hopefully we will see some of you there!