Thursday, 29 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015

My first thought about this year's FantasyCon is that it was a whole 'nother experience going with friends - and, I've got to say, a wholly better one.  Last year at FantasyCon I met Andy Knighton and Charlotte Bond for the first time and this time around we all went together, and if nothing else I say here conveys a useful sense of what makes this particular convention stand out then that alone should do it: one year I made new friends, the next they were good enough friends that we were all comfortable with the idea of hanging out together for large portions of a weekend.  FantasyCon is a hit and miss affair, there's no doubt about that, but at its best, its somewhat smaller scale and more intimate vibe achieve great things that the bigger conventions frequently lack.
Me, John Connolly, Matthew Blakstad, A K Benedict, Guy Haley, Debbie Bennett

2015, it's fair to say, was FantasyCon at its best.  Not the perfect venue, by any means - the horror stories regarding food and drink were almost Nine Worlds-worthy! - but other than that, it's hard to pick on anything that wasn't either good or very good or really kind of marvelous.  And before I go any further, a shout-out to Richard Webb who did ninja work putting this stuff together well in advance.  And also, while I'm thinking, to those redcoats folks, who never once responded to my befuddled queries with "why the holy hell are you asking where room X is when you're standing right outside of room X and there's a big sign that says room X?"*

Soooooo ... even though we were there pretty much from the start, I only made the one panel on the Friday, and then it was mostly because I had friends on it, but Fae-Fi, Folk-Fum: Faerie & Folktale turned out to be an hour well spent, with a broad range of opinions bringing some new perspective to a rather well-worn subject.  (This, by the way, sums up all the panels I attended nicely: no mind-blowingly original topics, but an interesting range of panelists and some productive debates.  In my ideal world, panels would be a lot more like Tarantino movies, but I realise that's not likely to happen any time soon.)

With the remainder of Friday largely taken up by being lazy and hanging out with friends and listening to karoake - no, that wasn't me singing along to Let it Go, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar - I managed to get to bed at an only slightly stupid time.  Saturday was the closest I had to a work day, which as it turned out, wasn't that close at all.  I'd been quite chilled about my panel Is It Legit? Crime in Fantasy, Horror and SF until I realised that I was moderating in the largest (by quite a margin) of the three rooms and that THERE WAS NO COFFEE TO BE HAD ANYWHERE IN THE CONFERENCE CENTRE.  There wasn't much anyone could do about the former, but at least I was saved on the latter front by the magnificent Peter Newman, who basically made it his mission to save my coffee-starved life.  (He must never know that immediately afterwards I discovered that there was free coffee in the green room, and that it was much better than the slush the hotel were selling for ohsomuch money.)  Anyway, once I was suitably caffeinated, my panel seemed to go well enough.  And by the end I was particularly grateful to superstar guest of honour John Connolly, who can talk the legs off any quadruped mammal you could possibly throw his way but is also polite enough to let other people have their say, which from a moderating point of view basically makes him the perfect panelist.  (Though everyone, it has to be said, did sterling work.)

Having spent a large part of the remainder of the day loitering in the bar recovering from the very mild trauma of persuading authors to talk about author-stuff, I braved some more panels in the afternoon - YA: Why, eh? and Robots, Beasts & Humanimals: Writing Non-Human Characters, in close succession.  They were both solid, but two panels in a row turned out to be my limit for sitting in a room listening to people who aren't me talking, so I took a fresh air break, which frustratingly meant missing Tea and Jeopardy for about the thousand time running.  (One day I will experience Tea and Jeopardy.  This I swear upon the bones of someone or other's ancestors!)  Instead I ducked out to hunt up some food that wasn't microwaved by apathetic bar staff and then wandered back in time for my reading - which nearly no one turned up for, despite my copious hinting.  (Needless to say, thanks to the little circle who did.)  From there I moved on to the Undertow Publications book launch to celebrate the launch of Skein and Bone, the debut collection by V H Leslie, who I'd met over breakfast that morning.  This turned out to be an unexpected highlight, since not only was everyone involved really nice, there was free sangria.  That done, I drank an unwise amount and hung out with many more tremendous people, some of whom I knew and some I didn't, and finally staggered off bedwards.

Sunday morning saw me torn between Andy Knighton on the Chained to the Desk? The Writer’s Life Under the Microscope panel and Ian Sales on The Future of the Future, and in the end I opted for the former because it was Andy's first F'Con panel.  Then I decided to ask the question I'd prepped for Ian on Andy's panel, despite how it wouldn't have made a damn bit of sense.  Then I wimped out and asked a sensible question instead - well, one about juggling, at any rate.  Still, it was a good discussion, and no one mentioned going to work in a dressing gown, so perhaps we're progressing as a society.

And that was about the end of it.  If I were to grumble about one thing, and this is me so of course I am, it's that Sunday at a FantasyCon always feels like a bit of a wash-out.  It occurred to me for the first time that there's something slightly horrid and divisive about the notion of ending a conference with a banquet that half the attendees can't afford to go to, and I live in hope that that whole thing will die a death in the not too distant future.  But in this case it was a small deal indeed, because we wanted to get off early and the fact that the programming had finished and almost no one was around by one in the afternoon made that inordinately easy.  Which in turn meant getting back at a sensible time, which in turn seems to have alleviated the usual Con' lag and left me - after two days of considerably too much alcohol, too little proper food and definitely too little sleep - with much more energy than I had before.  Weird but true.

Meanwhile, next year brings FantasyCon back to the hallowed fields of Yorkshire, in the shape of FantasyCon by the Sea, and this of course is an immeasurably good thing.  I'll hope to see you there.

* There wasn't actually a room X.  I would have forgiven the venue everything, even their weird notions of what to put on pizza, if there had been.

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