First Time at FantasyCon, Brighton 2011

view of sunny Brighton from the Pier

Blazing hot Brighton

Have just got back from FantasyCon, the annual British Fantasy Society convention. I enjoyed myself so much that now only liberal amounts of ice-cream and wine are preventing me from rocking, lonely in a corner, muttering ‘Aldiss’, ‘Abercrombie’ and ‘air conditioning’  like an incantation.

I was nervous. I wanted to go to a Con, cos all the cool kids in America are always raving about what fun they have at Comic Con and how GRR Martin coughed on them once in an elevator and they’ve never been the same since. So when I found out that the next FantasyCon was in Brighton – where I actually live, and everything – I knew I had to go. But I also had to ignore the nerves, and the terror, and the surety that all of the Real, Funny, Important people would pick on me. The surety that I’d somehow have a terrible time, despite all the books and the beer and the beach.

I didn’t need to be nervous. As well as meeting lovely people like Lou Morgan who went out of their way to be friendly, it was easy to relax in a crowd where I could chat about all things genre and be certain that every other huddle in the bar was having similar conversations. Thanks go to Chris Limb who listened to my detailed exploration of which series of Buffy was best and whether Amy Pond is shit or not (as well as figuring out that I was referring to Farscape and The Time Tunnel based only on my vague, gesture-laden descriptions of half-remembered shows). We had hoped to meet other new people at the Newbies Corner part of the bar, but when Chris went to check it out the corner was occupied instead by Robert Rankin, deep in conversation with a friend. What a swizz 😉

Being surrounded all weekend by people who knew what I was talking about, who read the same books and bitched about the same things, was brilliant. My local friends don’t read or watch the same things I do, so I’m more used to having those conversations online than face-to-face. This was like the internet, but in real life. Woah.

In the same way, instead of reading the blogs and twitter feeds of people who matter in the industry, I was eavesdropping on them in person, heh. Same conversations, different situation. With seagulls, and fish ‘n chips, and crowds of tourists and parties in the background outside the hotel. As I commented on Christopher Fowler’s blog, I’m sure the screaming from the pier rides and Strange Bungee Thing made the horror writers feel at home. One stag weekend that passed along the promenade was twelve guys in Storm Trooper outfits and one in full Darth gear. They should have joined the Con.



There was a fab programme of panels, readings, book launches and films, running from Friday to Sunday, as well as a Quiz, Raffle and Disco. Yes, with capitals. The panels covered a wide range of subjects, including Trends in Fantasy, YA fiction, Genre Movies (Best and Worst) and How to Scare Your Readers. Every panel I attended ended up talking about being online and whether ebooks were evil or not. Me, I’m firmly in the ‘ebooks are the best thing ever’ camp, and my reading (and book buying) rate has tripled since I got my Kindle, so I was surprised at how much ill-feeling there seemed to be towards them. Think I’ll save that for another post…

Brian Aldiss, by Joel Meadows Photography

Brian Aldiss, by Joel Meadows Photography

The main things I got from the panels were ‘Carrie was not a YA novel’, ‘No, we don’t know why women aren’t writing SF’ and ‘Write a Great Book. Don’t be a Wanker’. My favourite bit of wisdom was this from Brian Aldiss –  “remember just two words…’fuck ’em!'”. Aldiss was the con’s Special Guest of Honour and was interviewed in a very hot, very full room on the Saturday afternoon. It was surprising to hear how much of his fiction, which is so conceptual and far flung, started from incidents and issues in his real life. He talked about how certain events – rejection from his mother, army life, the loss of his children – were explored and worked through in his stories, though he wasn’t always aware of that while writing them. I was inspired and daunted by how much he’s experienced, how prolific a writer he is, and how funny he can be. I don’t think the interviews or panels were recorded, which is a shame as I’d definitely listen to his interview again.

I didn’t attend much of the programming for the other Guests of Honour, illustrious though they were (Gwyneth Jones, Peter Atkins, Joe Abercrombie, Christopher Paolini), but I did stand next to John Ajvide Lindqvist and was pretty spooked. He looks like he could have starred in Let The Right One in, not only write it, though apparently he used to be a stand-up comedian.  I should have stalked him more to get a better measure of him. Or maybe he was a really spooky stand up as well?

One of James Hannah's illustrations from 'One for the Road'

One of James Hannah's illustrations from 'One for the Road'

I won A Prize at the Raffle, w00t! Bitching loudly about how Graeme Reynolds kept winning while I was empty-handed eventually paid off, and I came home with a slip-cased limited edition of Stephen King’s ‘One for The Road’ from PS Publishing, signed by the illustrator. It is very gorgeous, and you’re right to be jealous. I added it to my bag of swag, and my boyfriend was delighted to see me bring even more books into the house.  Honest. Other swag included skull-shaped chocolates and Hammer Horror cupcakes (thanks to Jan Edwards & Peter Coleburn), as well as a stack of free novels, samplers and a notebook from Jo Fletcher Books. Solaris gave away books at their event, and the basement was full of dealers peddling piles more paperbacks.

I missed the disco, though I hear that ‘Paperback Writer’ went down a storm, as well as ‘Amadeus’. Wish I’d had the stamina to stay and boogie but I was flagging in the heat. What a lightweight. I hear that dancing was compulsory and went on past 4am. I hope they played ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Let me Be Your Fantasy’ and ‘Monster Mash’ too (but not ‘Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel’, given the drubbing that the angel genre got from the panels).

I’m definitely going to go to more conventions now, even ones that aren’t 15 minutes from my house, and if you’re tempted to try one but scared, let me push you into trying it anyway. By the end of the weekend I was so used to friendly strangers, so comfortable chatting to the people next to me, that I forgot to stop when I left the convention and started chatting to people in the supermarket on the way home. Which is a pretty cool frame of mind to end the weekend with, don’t you think?

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