World Fantasy Convention – 2013
Ian Hunter reports on the 2013 World Fantasy Convention
In all my years, I have never, ever, been stopped at check in and been told that my suitcase was over the weight limit. Not when going on holiday or flying down south to attend another convention (more likely, the British Fantasy Society’s Fantasycon), but this time I was told to lose 22 kilos, or pay for the additional weight. So there I was down on my knees in Glasgow airport, suitcase open, squeezing books into my hand luggage. The reason for all these books? Well, it was the World Fantasy Convention, and when I was likely to run across the likes of Richard Christian Matheson, Susan Cooper, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, James Blaylock et al on British soil? Probably never.
This was my third World Fantasy Convention in the UK, the previous two being in London and one of those was way back in 1988. The 2013 bash was in Brighton, not entirely unfamiliar to me, as the previous two Fantasycons had been in Brighton and also the 2010 World Horror Convention run by the same people who had run them and various other conventions, perhaps that is why it had a Fantasycon feel, and one of the things about recent Fantasycons is that you can attend that convention and only go to the book launches, such are their prevalence and not have time for the readings, the panels and anything else that might be happening.
I arrived on Thursday the 31st of October, Halloween, of course, and have to say that a lot of places in Brighton had adopted the spirit of that day, and you do not often see a zombie walking around smoking a fag. I was pitched straight into a reading for Alchemy Press, reading an extract from a story I had in one of their anthologies, and later that day I had my own readings slot, reading a selection of poems and stories. Reading slots were a lot like gold dust, so I was chuffed to get one.
There were two major themes of the convention: 'The Next Generation', in recognition, perhaps, that the genre of the fantastic had lost some of its major stars – Richard Matheson (who was the honorary guest of honour), James Herbert, Iain Banks, to name a few; but perhaps also to recognise that those who were still around were getting on a bit. The other major theme was 'Arthur Machen@150'.
Registration was pretty quiet when I arrived and apart from collecting your name badge – mine said 'Ian Hunter ENGLAND' for Pete's sake, and several other bits of essential kit like the pocket programme and some bags to collect the various goodies that were on display ranging from art books, to novels and short story collections to the wonderful programme tome. It was interesting passing through the registration zone in the next few days to see what other 'stuff' had gathered there, usually a whole myriad o promotional bumph.
The guests of honour were Joanne Harris, Joe Hill and Richard Christian Matheson and Alan Lee was the Artist Guest of Honour who never made it as he was stuck in New Zealand working on the next Hobbit movie. Another no-show was China Mieville who was supposed to be master of ceremonies, but fortunately they got some guy called Neil Gaiman to do that instead. Lifetime achievement awards went to Susan Cooper and Tanith Lee and there was a special appearance by Sir Tel (Pratchett that is, not Wogan).
The programme was jam-packed and multi-streamed, from rooms dedicated to various panels to a room dedicated to readings to a series of events under the heading 'The Book Club' where attendees could meet the author and discuss one of their particular books, like Joanne Harris talking about Chocolat or Kim Newman talking about Anno Dracula or Tim Powers talking about The Anubis Gates. There were also Kaffeeklatsches where attendees could have a coffee with their favourite writer. Added to this were book launches and publisher parties and a signing alley (I took part in two signing sessions) and a special poetry event on the Saturday night which I also read at. On the previous night there was a mass-signing event with Neil Gaiman attracted the biggest of queue of folk wanting something signed, and let’s not forget the art show.
The last day saw the awards banquet, followed by the awards ceremonies for the British Fantasy Awards and World Fantasy Awards. Biggest cheer going to Graham Joyce, who has been poorly, as Iain Banks might have said, when he picked up the British Fantasy Award for best novel.
I could list a whole lot of high spots and among them would be meeting Jonathan Aycliffe who wrote one of the all-time ghost story, chiller novels in Naomi’s Room (which I’ve also got on cassette and used to play in the car on the way home on dark nights, and was convinced there was something behind me). So I had to take down that book, that cassette and five other books and buy his new one and get them all signed. He was a gent, like so many of the writers who attended, even the ladies were gents if you know what I mean.
Hats off to the organisers, although since then there have been gripes about the programme, gender imbalance, disabled access, harassment and anything and everything that people want to gripe about, but I had a brilliant time, and sadly, said farewell to Brighton my convention home for the last four years, but I did find the best pub in town.