Ian Hunter reports on the 2016 British Fantasy Convention
Billed as 'Fantasycon-By-the-Sea', the 2016 Fantasycon was a whole month earlier than the previous year’s event in Nottingham, and perhaps the organisers were listening as that year’s venue was in the university campus a good tram or bus ride away from the city centre and all its amenities –think pubs and curry houses. This year – as the name described – we were right beside the seaside, sharing the convention between two venues – 'uh, oh,' I’m sure some people thought, but the venues were the Grand Hotel and the Royal Hotel were actually across the road from each other, only minutes apart. Another sign that the organisers had been listening was that the cost per room in the Grand was only £55 per night, which included breakfast and dinner, so for me, there was no major curry bill, and even more money to spend on books.
Proceedings started - barely - on the Thursday with registration and a pre-launch party at the town’s Terror Tower on the seafront. I gave that a miss and did a mini pub crawl before finding a pub with a heavy metal DJ – it is not often you are walking down the street at midnight and can hear the music of prog band Porcupine Tree coming from somewhere. Proceedings got into full swing on the Friday with panels starting at 3pm, followed by a regular series of readings and book launches. Book launches are a big thing at Fantasycon and if I counted correctly there were 16 that Friday, one after another in various locations from 3pm to 9pm and Fantasycon really is the sort of event where you can just attend book launches and little else. I did manage to get out and visit the castle, the old town and the grave of Anne Bronte on my travels and return in time for the Fantasycon Prize Bingo, a poor substitute for the late, lamented Fantasycon raffle which I have fond memories of, being the winner of some major prizes and some utter dreck. I followed up a fruitless bingo session with the Mike Carey guest of honour interview. Fantasycon had a rash of GoHs this year, and someone to suit everyone, including Elizabeth Bear, Mike Carey, Frances Hardinge, Scott Lynch, Adam Nevill, James Smythe and Joe Hill (who was one of several people who ran a master-class, Hill’s not surprisingly was on comic writing given his stint writing the “Locke and Key” series among other titles).
I got into the action on the Saturday as in the previous year I had been 'volunteered' to finish off a story started by the late, great Joel Lane – author, poet, and critic – who had died in his sleep a few years earlier. Alchemy Press had gathered Joel’s notes and fragments and asked his friends to finish them off. I foolishly chose something called 'The Second Death' which unusually for Joel was a sword and sorcery tale and have to admit I struggled to write it in that style so changed it completely to a story set in the Scottish highlands. The launch event for the resulting book – Something Remains was packed, as was another signing event for NewCon Press which the Glasgow SF Writers Circle had muscled their way into to launch their 30th anniversary collection Thirty Years of Rain. If you haven’t guessed the book launches continued as did the master-classes on a whole range of topics from writing warfare and the use of weapons; politics and world building; and points of view to the general trials and tribulations of being a writer. Elsewhere there were a series of agents and editor sessions, a variety of panels on topics ranging from anti heroes, young adult writing and historical fantasy a reading strand, with 46 writers taking part at different points during the day. There was also the annual poetry reading bash and, as Poetry Editor for the British Fantasy Society, I took part to read some poems and nab some poets whose work I wanted to publish.
Sunday – the last day of the convention –continued in the same vein, with panels, and readings (I took part in a Glasgow SF Writers Circle reading), interviews with guests of honour and the British Fantasy Society AGM and events culminated in the awards banquet and presentation of the British Fantasy Awards where it was announced that next year’s convention would be in Daventry, much searching on mobile phones thus ensued with delegates noting that there wasn’t a train station in Daventry, and the convention venue was actually out of town. Since then the venue has now changed to Peterborough, an hour’s further drive for me from Scotland but at least we are in the thick of things –think pubs and curry houses.
All in all, having ventured down to Whitby the previous year it was a pleasure to follow the same road and then drive just another twenty miles down the coast to Scarborough and a twin-venue convention, my only quibble would be that the dealer’s room was not a room, but several rooms and on different floors. That, and being half board, meant I probably spent less than I normally would on books, which is no bad thing, here’s to next year and Daventry, no Peterborough, no somewhere.