This weekend was the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton - a celebration of fantasy, sf, horror and weird fiction, which only visits the UK once in a blue moon. Thursday 31st October Mine and Jay's WFC started on Thursday with a morning roadtrip from Leicester to Brighton with fellow Speculators (our local writing group) Lucy and Phil. Lucy had prepared a usb mixtape which provided a soundtrack of 80/90s/showtunes for our drive down. There was simultaneous singing/jigging to certain tunes by Lucy and I (with the occasional synchronised sneering from Jay and Phil!). The only minor mishap was coming out of the M25 services to realise we were heading back the way we'd come. We arrived around 1pm and registered for the con - this included being loaded down with massive bags of free books (warning: WFC can cause backache). These were quickly deposited in the car and we went in search of tea.
Me, Phil & Lucy
Jay, Phil & Lucy
After booking into the seafront Travelodge around the corner from the Metropole con hotel, and bumping into fellow con-goers, we made a beeline for the comics panel. We were hanging around the toilets like reprobates waiting for the panel to start (in our defence, it was because there were chairs there) when we managed to drag two of the panel members: Mike Carey and Mike Chinn over for a catch-up.
It was a fantastic line-up for a panel - Maura McHugh, Mike Carey, Mike Chinn, Christopher Golden, Joe Hill & Neil Gaiman (plus a squashed dead fly which fascinated Joe and Neil). The main message to come out of the panel was that there's lots of fantastic stuff going on in comics at the moment, with a resurgence of a wide range of genres coming back to the fore, after being cut off at the knees by Fredric Wertham's vendetta against the comics medium in the 1950s. It's never been easier to find an audience for your comics, with a multitude of small indie publishers and using the world wide web. Joe Hill taught us all the lesson that everyone gets excited when sitting next to Neil Gaiman - as the frothing gush of his sparkling water bottle proved, just as Neil sat next to him.
Jay was organised enough to book a table at The Chilli Pickle that night, as we'd failed to get in there the year before. The Speculator posse were joined by various Terror scribes and friends from past cons. In true FantasyCon (the British con event that happens when WFC is not in the uK, but this time was subsumed into the bigger global event) tradition we got lost - though this year it was on the way back from curry, rather than in search of the restaurant. Food and company was fab. We followed this by chatting in the bar and a relatively early night - disturbed by the wailing wind on the 7th floor of the Travelodge.
Sue Moorcroft & Mark West
Friday 1st November
Friday turned into mega-talks day. We had already planned to go to the Joanne Harris and Joe Hill interviews, but thought we'd get a hour off in between, but no, they wedged Neil Gaiman in... so we spent an enjoyable, if slightly dehydrated three hours listening to inspirational authors. Muriel Gray did a great job of injecting early morning enthusiasm and posing interesting questions to Joanne Harris in her Guest of Honour interview. Joanne always has interesting things to say about her past, influences, and interest in mythology. We loved her tale of Miss Potter, the local librarian who censored her reading habits as a child - leading, of course, to her seeking out all the most interesting things to read in the library, as she couldn't take them out. Joanne and Muriel had fun being rebels together.
Neil Gaiman and Jo Fletcher took a tour through Neil's career and involvement with FantasyCons and World Fantasy Cons from the past thirty year. Including his slight sideways step into writing a book about Duran Duran and the importance of the genre community for their support, critiques and advice.
Gillian Redfearn, in her capacity as Joe Hill's British publisher, stepped in at the last minute to interview Joe Hill, as Sarah Pinborough had to withdraw due to ill health. Joe talked about the importance of knowing what people really thought of his writing (rather than getting published because of his father's reputation), of thinking of himself as primarily a comic book writer (as that was his first big break) and how he was glad he didn't stick to trying to write gritty realism. He made the point that he felt free to write whatever he wanted/was passionate about once he realised that all writing is fantasy - all fiction is a particular author's view of the world, whether that view is trying to depict kitchen sink drama or magical keys or savage children.
After three Guest of Honour interviews back to back, we made a quick pit-stop to the Viscount Suite for tea, more tea and a slightly undercooked jacket potato - despite the food not being brilliant, it was very welcome that the con organisers had made sure there was somewhere within the hotel to get cheap food/drink (tea there was £1.50, whereas in the bar it was an extortionate £3.90!) and have a sit down.
Kathy & Jay
The 'Have Vampires lost their bite?' panel didn't really do much for me despite some good speakers. I think they were stymied by the panel topic, though Kim Newman did his best to inject some liveliness. Next up, the main hall was packed for Sir Terry Pratchett. There were some initial problems with sound leading to us wondering who we were clapping as various people appeared - it turned out someone was presenting a European fantasy award to Terry. His assistant Rob did a great job of flagging up various Tv projects that were in the works (but for the most part, they could not be talked about in any detail) and an amusing reading from Terry's forthcoming book 'Raising Steam'. Terry answered a few questions, mostly in his usual, slightly acerbic way. I was lucky enough to see Sir Terry many times during my stint in alt.fan.pratchett fandom, so there was a melancholy seeing him slightly reduced from the vision of him in full flow in my memory. After five hours of programming we retreated to the dealers room, where Titan books relieved us of a large portion of our money. No wonder that the photograph of us that popped up online, taken by a Titan staffer shows Jay and I looking extremely serious!
A group of us went in search of food - the chance to chat over food is always one of my favourite parts of conventions. We'd remembered a fine steak restaurant we'd eaten at the previous year, but this time we were thwarted by a wait of an hour before they could seat us, so we retreated to an Ask Italian restaurant, hidden in The Lanes. The recipe of good food and fine companions made up for the longer walk. After we'd been fed, we headed back for the mass signing. Unfortunately, two days of intense stuff took its toll and my ME/CFS flared-up in a slightly disturbing way, and my legs started to give way beneath me. I left Jay to chat while I went in search of a chair. Luckily, I found one next to Dave Brzeski and Jilly Paddock and we had a good chat about comics and sundry other things. Then Jay and I headed back for another early night.
Calzone for pudding??
Saturday 2nd November
Unsurprisingly, Saturday morning found me feeling extremely fatigued and in pain, so I immediately cut down on the number of panels I had been planning to attend. Jay and I felt we couldn't visit Brighton without popping into The American Diner so we headed off for a breakfast of massive pancakes, bacon and maple syrup (and in Jay's case, more meat and a vanilla malt). I couldn't even finish one pancake and it kept me running until dinner! Jay did better with his breakfast, but even he couldn't eat both pancakes, and was alarmed to find when he was struggling through the plateful of food that he still had another two-thirds of a cup of the malt that he had forgotten all about.
Panels and trips to the dealers room were alternated with many cups of tea and sit downs in an effort not exacerbate my disability anymore. One of the only issues with the con hotel for me was that several levels only seemed to be accessible via stairs. I'm a fan of Holly Black's writing so wanted to make sure we saw at least one panel she was on, which ended-up being the "Are all the best genre books YA now?' panel with Delia Sherman, Susan Cooper, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Will Hill and Holly Black.
There was a lot of discussion about how there used to be children's books and then you would graduate on to trying various adult books until you found authors/genres you liked. Now there is YA - which always existed but may have been classed under adult or sometimes children's fiction in the past. The new categorisation was mainly attributed to librarians, bookshops and marketing people wanting to appeal to teens, and to take advantage of the break-out books like Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games, etc. Most of the authors felt they didn't set out to write YA - they set out to write the stories that appealed to them and then their publishers told them it was YA. Gaiman said it was great for him, as when he started writing Coraline, his agent/publisher said it was the best thing he'd written but they couldn't sell/publish it, but by the time he finished it, the market had grown up around it, and Coraline did well as a YA book, as it came out just in time to hit the boom.
All the panelists had interesting things to say, and I concluded that I really, really must read some Susan Cooper!
The rest of saturday was Fae/Fairytale themed with 'When the Fairies Come Out to Play' and 'Nifty Shades of Fae'. The first panel consisted of Alison Littlewood, Tessa Farmer, Jana Oliver, Rosanne Rabinowitz & Emma Newman. The panel was part of the Machen stream of programming, so there was some discussion of his depiction of fairies, but otherwise a variety of fairy-related ideas were discussed. Some of the reasons for our fascination with fairies included those moments where we see things from the corner of our eyes, the way they have been used to explain disappearances and disturbing moments, that they're human but without the moral code and they often have a primal/unexplainable nature - much like nature itself. A very enjoyable discussion.
I was intrigued to hear about Tessa Farmer's work as an art installation artist who creates tiny skeletal fairies using natural materials and is heavily inspired by insects. The second panel consisted of Lisa L. Hannett, Joanne Harris, James Barclay, Tanith Lee, Graham Joyce and Angela Slatter. This one focused more on the use of fairy tales in fiction, especially as the updating of fairy tales seems to be in vogue at the moment. The panel all referred to Angela Carter as being a major influence in helping to re-invigorate the use of fairy tale tropes in modern fiction. It was felt that fairy tales were coded tales that historically helped communities talk about issues in an oral storytelling manner - the monster you might be forced to marry, realising your parents might be your worst enemy or not live up to your expectations, etc. They deal with Freudian or Jungian ideas in pre-psychology societies. Now we are post-Freudian they still appeal to us, but we would be more likely to analyse them and use the components in a new way, but it still retains that cross-cultural resonance. Several of the panel members cited fairy tales from a variety of cultures that mirror those in Western societies.
After hearing some of the panelists mentioned, we finally went in search of the art exhibition, where there was some stunning work, including Tessa's insect/fairy hanging installation with magnifying glasses provided. We also sought out Lisa and Angela's work from the Australian presses table.
Then it was more tea and some fun at the Titan Books Carnival party for drinks, popcorn, Titan Rock candy and the chance to win prizes at their crossbow and hoopla stalls. Jay won a cute Cyberman toy with his crossbow prowess, and I won a book at the hoopla. Finally, we headed into the last panel of the day (which ended up being the last panel of the con for us): the Mainstream and Us panel with Graham Joyce, Joanne Harris, Roz Kaveney, Muriel Gray and Amish Tripathi.
Again, the panel contained some interesting people but I think they were derailed by the topic, as this topic does tend to dwell on a Them versus Us mentality. Though many of the panelists thought that the issue was eroding as genre starts winning awards and is recognised for its strengths (plot, story) in the literary world and with more literary authors moving into genre type writing. It's all a construct of the industry and what matters is trying and accepting good writing wherever you find it. I did think Amish made some good comments on how the publishing industry works in India to give some context to what tended to be an otherwise Anglo-centric discussion. Amish's book series using Hindu mythology and centring on Shiva sounded very intriguing.
Then it was the by now familiar search for food with friends (better than average pub grub, this time) and back to the con for the Del Rey UK and Jo Fletcher parties. We only made it into the Del Rey one as I found a seat and would not be moved from it! I did pick up Guy Adams' latest novel: The Clown Service at the launch and started reading it while others were gassing standing up at the bar. Luckily, I was soon joined by Sue Moorcroft, Mark West, Stephen Bacon and others. The last night of the con came to an end too soon.
Specualtors Posse at the Del Rey UK party - Jim Worrad, Selina Lock, Phil Irving & Lucy Wade
Sunday 3rd November
Sunday saw us checking out of the hotel, trying to find a way to fit all the books in the car and still have room for the humans! Then it was a last minute rush around the dealers room, seeing people we'd missed the rest of the weekend and bumping into Joanne Harris in Costa for a lovely little chat and an impromptu signing session.
While the banquet was taking place, Jay, Lucy, Kathy and I headed for a very blustery walk along the sea front and the pier and some fish and chips.
We grabbed seats in the balcony for the awards presentation and were:
- Moved by Graham Joyce's speech about the support the community has given since announcing his illness, when he was accepting the BFS Award for Best Fantasy Novel (well-deserved).
- Amused by John Llewellyn Probert's energetic BFS Award for Best Novella speech, conjuring the spirit of Vincent Price.
- Happy that many people we know or are fans of won awards.
Then it was a final round of goodbyes before heading back up the M25/M1 (rather slowly), while subjecting Jay, Lucy & Phil to my taste in music.
Kathryn Sullivan & Me
Personal favourite moments:
- Meeting and spending time with Kathryn Sullivan for the first time in person since we met online via rec.arts.drwho many years ago.
- Getting to see Lucy and Phil enjoy their first big con and have Lucy's enthusiasm rub off on us jaded convention hacks.
- Bonding with strangers over day of the dead jewellery and owl bags.
- My subconscious working over things said at the con and coming up with a story idea in the shower.
- The theme of the show, echoed by many of the writers I heard speak was summed up by Neil Gaiman - "Do whatever the f*** you want to do!"
- Seeing friends - though not as many as I normally would as I went to soooo many of the talks... Perhaps at FantasyCon in York next year!
Book swag - think it will take us a year to make a dint in reading all this!!