Adventures in FantasyCon 2014

It’s been a bit of a weekend.

This is the first time I’ve been to FantasyCon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society, held this year in the historic walled city of York. Usually I’ve stuck to the one-day events like EdgeLit and AltFiction, but this year I decided to jump in with both feet.

An epic (could it be described any other way?) concoction of panels, vodka, author readings, book launches and sales, strange and wonderful games, intense networking and vodka, it has certainly lived up to expectations. Even just thinking about writing it up has given me a headache. Though that might actually just be the vodka. Yes, it’s probably the vodka.

The Royal Hotel in York, slap bang next to the railway station, is a massive, imposing building, perfectly suited to conference-style shenanigans. Marbled and mosaic-floored toilets, vaulted corridors, great big event hall, a maze of rooms on several floors, lethal back stairs… you know the sort of thing. With the wonderful Emma and Pete Newman in residence for a live Tea & Jeopardy, the entire convention was ready to be transported back in time to a far more refined era.

(Which, given the state of York’s city centre on both Friday and Saturday night, was a very very good thing. Seriously, people, you don’t need to do that. Put it the fuck away – we’re supposed to be civilised, y’know?)

My weekend started in the Tap, a small pub squeezed into the space between the hotel and the station. Nothing like a Jaipur to set you up for the day. I opted to drive to York rather than take the train, and that decision was immediately validated by the convention’s goodie bag. So many books. So many books.

Friday’s highlight of course was FantasyCon Pointless, hosted by Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox (and apologies again to Caroline for my inexcusable inability to correctly identify her as the author of The Council of Nicaea – I blame nerves). The BSFA’s Alex Bardy and myself made up one of the teams, and we were pitted against Alex Davis (Boo Books/EdgeLit) and his wife Emma; Sorcha O’Dowd and Katie Green; and Nicola and Andrew from Jo Fletcher Books. Despite a severe bout of rash over-confidence, Alex and I made it through to face off in the final against Alex Davis – and we won! Undefeated champions! Cha cha cha!

So – we won more books. Half of which I promptly gave away. So many books. So many books…

Saturday was packed. Absolutely packed. The real meat of the convention: panels about economics in fantasy, the logic of The Chosen One, discussions about what lies beyond Grimdark, KT Davies’ book launch, readings by Joanne Hall and Jonathan L Howard, loads of talk, playtesting Mhairi Simpson’s card game, Tea & Jeopardy, even more talk, sekrit talks, and DISCO. And vodka. Oh boy, vodka.

Kate Elliott and Tom Pollock and Kari Spelling all talked great amounts of sense about economics. Discussion about The Chosen One trope was slightly less fascinating, though Tom stopped the room by comparing farmboy-king heroes to successful sperm. Mhairi Simpson’s hand-crafted card game, intended to spur imaginative thinking in people with lower literacy skills, is still in an alpha-testing stage, but it has massive potential. Mhairi brought the game to FantasyCon to get feedback and ideas for rules, and I hope the help we’ve given her enables her to take it to the next stage. I’ll be letting you all know about it when she goes for launch.

Tea & Jeopardy was very special. Guest Toby Whithouse was game for a laugh, the room was packed to the rafters, and we all got to be chickens. No, really. Look for the recording on iTunes soon.

Sunday morning. Sunshine. Wincing. When geeks party, they party with £1000 from Gollancz behind the bar and bottles in their pockets. And Southern Comfort on the wall outside the Events Centre. It beats paying hotel bar prices. (Although actually, we didn’t pay proper bar prices either, but that’s another story entirely…)

I’ve never been to an awards ceremony before. Probably not the best time to decide to live-tweet the winners, especially while using a sullenly unresponsive Samsung rather than a nice full-size keyboard. I was rooting for Fox Spirit, but all of the award wins were much deserved, and I have a vastly larger want-list as a result.

Big con shouts to: Alex, Caroline & Paul, Alex & Emma, Sammy Smith, Joanne Hall, Mhairi, Ian Sales, Sorcha, Katie, Adele, Fran, David Tallerman, Ruth Booth, Alasdair Stuart and all of the Redshirts who did a massively wonderful job all through the weekend. And I’ve probably forgotten people too…

The convention’s only low – and it was a terrible one – was the absence of Master of Ceremonies Graham Joyce for reasons of ill health. The announcement of his passing only a couple of days made the convention a bitter-sweet affair.

Next year’s FantasyCon will be in Nottingham. I’ll be there. 2015, y’see, is shaping up to be a very interesting year…. 😉


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Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist.

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