Thursday, 11 September 2014

FantasyCon 2014

Last weekend saw the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society, FantasyCon, in York. I was pretty excited as I hadn't been to York for a long while, was looking forward to catching up with my writer friends, and as my partner had been away for a couple of weeks it was going to be cool seeing her again too.

We arrived in York around 1pm on the Friday after an easy, sun-filled drive. We were staying at a hotel ten minutes walk from the convention at a fraction of the cost. The very friendly landlady broke all data protection rules by telling us the names of her guests who were also going to the convention: Gary Couzens, Trevor Denyer, Gavin Williams, and Charles Black (plus the names of other guests who it turned out weren't convention-goers). Quite amusing.

It was a quick stroll through some 1970s council housing replete with washing lines towards Platform 1 of the train station and then into the Royal York convention hotel which was directly by the station. We registered and then headed to the dealer's room, dropping some copies of my novel and our Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine on the TTA Press table as arranged with the amiable Roy Gray. Then, as usual, some time was spent saying quick hellos to old friends such as Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle (who were excited about their poetry collection being launched that weekend - the cover is sublime), David Rix (from Eibonvale Press who is publishing my collection, "Human Maps", next year and who has some great preliminary cover ideas), Chris Teague, Alex Davis, Alison Littlewood (always great to hear about her recent successes), and Simon Bestwick (whose novel, "The Faceless", I read earlier this year and loved).

Checking the programme we decided to pop into York for a bit. It looked beautiful. The old city wall was impressive, as was the general ambiance. We had a delicious ice-cream and then wandered back to the convention where we chatted outside with Trevor Denyer on the terrace.

First item on our agenda was the tribute to Joel Lane. Stood in a particularly noisy bar area, with a game show on the other side of the partition, writers including Mark Morris, Conrad Williams, Jonathan Oliver, Simon Bestwick, Peter Coleburn and Ramsey Campbell read excerpts from his work and provided anecdotes. It was a strange event, neither a wake nor overly sentimental; but of importance to remember Joel whose absence at FantasyCon was always apparent and who is sorely missed.

After this we caught readings with Simon Bestwick and Rosanne Rabinowitz before heading down to the poetry event hosted by Allen Ashley. My partner, Sophie, read two of her surreal erotic poems, and was her usual nervous self (which, for me, adds to her performance). We also enjoyed the other readings - a great mixture of genre and non-genre pieces.

Tired and hungry we headed out around 9:30 for some food, weaving our way through idiots dressed as traffic cones, and eventually seating ourselves in Nandos as a safe option. By the time we were out of there it was after 11 and - tempted as we were to head back to the convention - decided an early night was best. It would have been earlier if after walking back through the station and car park the cycle gates were unlocked, but nevermind, the circular walk did us good.

After a full breakfast Saturday we wandered around York in a wet drizzle before getting to the convention mid-morning. It was becoming apparent that some people I had hoped to see and catch up with weren't attending: Neil Williamson, Nina Allen, Douglas Thompson, and Graham Joyce which was a shame. We hung in the dealers room for a bit and had a long chat with Cat Sparks and her partner Rob Hood who were over from Australia before going to Gary Couzens' reading, followed by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle's joint poetry reading. As with yesterday's readings, it's always great to hear stories come alive from writers I respect. And then came my own reading scheduled for 2pm.

I had intended to read from the crime novel, "The Immortalists", but decided that morning to read a new short story, "The Day My Heart Stood Still", after timing myself and realising I could run through it in the 16 minutes allowed (it was also 'fantasy', after all). I had a reasonably sized crowd and the story was well-received. I do like public readings as it's always great to get a reaction which otherwise you wouldn't receive. I was particularly pleased to chat to Jason Gould after the event, a writer I've 'known' since the mid-nineties but who I had never met.

From there we popped back to our hotel to catch up on some sleep before returning early evening and meeting up with Gary Couzens, Trevor Denyer and Rosanne Rabinowitz for a tasty Italian and good conversation at Strada. From there we headed back to the hotel and decided to go to the disco where it turned out Gollancz had put a tab of five grand behind the bar (we only managed to get a couple of freebies it went so quick). Spoke briefly to Linda Rucker about her Black Static column, then Helen Whates invited us over to their table where we chatted - over the music - to Ian Whates, Steve Mosby, Donna Scott and Neil Bond (with his Sultans of Ping FC t-shirt), and Mark West. Eventually we danced to Blondie's "Heart of Glass" - the first and probably only time we will ever dance in public!

The following day we spent a couple of hours in the dealer's room, having sold some of my novel and our magazine. There was an unpleasant incident which marred the day, but I won't document this as we are resolving it separately with the committee and it's under discussion (it involves no one we knew personally). I did have a brief and interesting chat with screenwriter, Stephen Volk about the difficulties getting anything made. After the dealer's room closed we had more ice-cream in York and lunch at Nando's, before returning to the hotel. Chatted to Adam Nevill about his novels and future projects (always intelligent and thoughtful conversations), and then to John Travis about freelancing, Terry Grimwood, and Victoria Leslie (about writer retreats), before waiting for the awards. Had hoped for "Rustblind and Silverbright" to win best anthology as my story, "Tetsudo Fan", opens the book, but it was not to be. A list of the winners is here. I always like waiting for the awards, regardless of whether I'm up for anything, because it affords a proper conclusion to the event. But as soon as they were done we had to get out of the door. Apologies for missing anyone I didn't get the chance to speak to, and also apologies for missing anyone off this report who I did speak to.

It wouldn't be a convention without returning with an armful of books. This year I bought "Where Furnaces Burn" by Joel Lane, "Drive" by Mark West, "The Rhymer" by Douglas Thompson, and "The Violent Century" by Lavie Tidhar. I also picked up freebies of "Shadowplay" by Laura Lam, "Exquisite Corpse" by Poppy Z Brite, and "Havana Noir" edited by Achy Obejas.

The five hour journey home was eventful when our headlights failed, but we got home ok.

Overall, it was a great event. The weather on the Friday and Sunday was beautiful, we got the chance to explore York, and to chat to old friends and make new ones alike. It's always wonderful being in a creative environment when everyone you speak to gets what you do! We can't wait til Nottingham next year.

Unfortunately, FantasyCon was also tinged with sadness: Graham Joyce had been due to host the event, but had to withdraw due to illness. It is with great sadness that I heard Tuesday night that he died. Graham was a much-loved human being, a great writer, and a champion of good causes. On occasion he was very supportive of my own writing and also of Elastic Press when I was in publishing. His death is a great loss and my condolences are with his family and friends. Our world is lessened with his absence.

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