Once again convention season is upon us here in the UK, but the main one I particularly look forward to every year is Fantasy Con, this time being held in the Royal York Hotel, York on 5–7 September. It’s where writers, editors, publishers, and assorted industry folk, as well as readers, fans, and bloggers, get together to renew acquaintances and make new friends, meet up with people they only know through social media, to talk and shoot the breeze over a couple of drinks at the bar, make deals or network, attend panels and readings, eat copious amounts of curry, or just generally let their (sometimes metaphorical) hair down. The following article is a kind of beginner’s guide to FCon, very much tongue-in-cheek in places and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Nevertheless, this is what those who have never attended the convention should expect.
For many, this kind of gathering is the only time they ever get to meet up with their peers in twelve months – writing, for instance, is very much a solitary pursuit, and publishing (and editing) means spending cramped hours and hours in front of a computer monitor in an effort to get a document finished in time and off to the printers. And losing what remains of one’s hair. All those pesky everyday troubles can be left behind, and some much-needed rest and recreation can be indulged in.
While regulars look forward to the three days of convention hijinks, preparing for it can often be a hair-raising experience, especially if one is launching a book at the event. This year, Spectral will be releasing The Spectral Book of Horror Stories into the wild, edited by Mark Morris, and it’s been something of an exciting fairground ride to get everything organised to get it ready in time. Time has a habit of scaring the heebie-jeebies out of you, especially when you realise that the launch date is getting ever nearer and you still have a lot of work to do. Then, almost miraculously, the work’s completed, accomplished faster than you’d expected, and all is sent off in time – in the meantime you’ve discovered you’ve lost quite a bit of weight with all the worry and forgotten meals. The euphoria is only temporary, however – you spend the next few weeks afterwards in fear that something somewhere has gone wrong…
In some respects, we have the easy job – spare a thought for those organising the event itself. It takes months to put together something like this, or years in the case of 2013’s World Fantasy Con, and it’s all usually done on a voluntary basis. Many, if not all, of those volunteers have day jobs as well, so the organising is done in their spare time. And it isn’t just a case of “Ooh, I know, let’s put on a convention, shall we?” – there’s the venue and accommodation to find, an awards banquet to arrange, dealer’s room and art show to set up, panels, events, and readings to schedule, people to mollify, gun emplacements to set up in strategic places (oh wait, that’s a completely different event sorry), and book launches to slot in, plus a myriad other things. The event itself may at times appear to be completely chaotic and random, but behind the maelstrom is a team of organisers running around (sometimes like headless chickens) while heroically managing to run a tight ship. Additionally, just like any other event, there are those who work ninja-like behind the scenes, leaving the punters to enjoy as carefree a weekend as possible without even being seen…
As with anything else of this nature and effort, things can go wrong occasionally – it’s entirely natural. Thankfully though, they’re usually small things which are easily rectified. A small and dedicated team of red-shirts (because they wear, you guessed it, red shirts) are always on hand to help unruffle the ruffled, and to smooth out any furrowed brows. All earthly cares and worries, bloodfeuds, battle-axes, and small tactical nuclear weapons must strictly be left at the door. Kittens are okay, though.
As with any event, a convention is more than just panels, talks, readings, making deals, and book launches – there’s the social side of things which, in the case of writers, editors, and publishers, usually involves drink and huge amounts of curry somewhere along the line. The latter has become a firmly established favourite amongst the genre fraternity – indeed I often wonder whether there’s a correspondingly huge spike in restaurant receipts for those three days. Now there’s an idea – Spectral could publish “The Writer’s, Editor’s & Publisher’s Guidebook to the Best Curry Establishments in the UK” – it would be a bestseller I’m sure… plus genre adherents like a good pint or two, I’ve discovered, on occasion managing to drink bars dry (well, come on: if you have 300 – 500 guests all cramming into a bar at a hotel you’d best be prepared to order enough supplies in the first place…). In fact, many a meeting and book deal has been sealed over a pint of finest ale.
There are also other entertainments and distractions available within the convention – there’s usually an art show, a series of appropriate films being shown all weekend, plus the ever-popular Dealer’s room, and the occasional disco/after-hours entertainments. And that’s not to mention what’s on offer away from the convention itself, both during the day and in the evening. It would be difficult to be bored… if you are, then you must be dead (or just very hard to please).
The culmination of the Fantasy Con experience is the banquet, at the end of which the British Fantasy Awards are given out. It’s a glittering but nevertheless informal affair where guests dine in congenial surroundings whilst complaining about the food (it’s a tradition apparently, regardless of the actual quality of the victuals). People are encouraged to dress up, but it isn’t strictly necessary – then there are those like yours truly who can make the best clothing look like they’ve been fished out of a skip. As coffee and dessert is being served the awards ceremony gets underway, where winners are invited onto the stage to receive their trophies and mumble some quickly ad-libbed words in thanks to their agents, publishers, mums, dads, aunties, hamsters, bearded dragons, pet rocks, etc., etc., for the support and inspiration. After that, it’s all tearful farewells until next year, promises to keep in touch, plans to get drunk somewhere in some dodgy town, photographs, group hugs, and general winding down.
More winding down is performed at the Dead Dog Party, in essence an excuse for those who aren’t quite leaving for home yet to carry on indulging in alcohol in preparation for next year’s event. Some people just don’t want to let go, obviously. Apart from the nice pint of ale being cradled in their arms, the only thing consoling them is the fact that the same shenanigans will happen all over again at the next event.
SIMON MARSHALL JONES