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It’s an epic journey to York – five hours from here with stops for coffee and comfort, and I travelled up with Peter and Emma Newman and a huge amount of Tea and Jeopardy STUFF. But not the chickens. The chickens had to stay behind for reasons of both space, and for other reasons that became apparent later on. It was a weekend of epic epicness, drunken hilarity, mild peril of various kinds, and discussions that I like to pretend passed for networking, but were really more just about chilling with some of the loveliest people.

Me, Pete and Emma (decidedly not at the Top Table!) - Photo by the lovely Annie Catling

Me, Pete and Emma (decidedly not at the Top Table!) – Photo by the lovely Annie Catling

Arriving on Thursday, I lay down for a ten minute nap, and woke up an hour-and-a-half later all confused and disoriented and disheveled, just before dinner with K R Green and Sorcha O’Dowd. Sammy Smith, my errant con-baby, wasn’t arriving until Thursday lunchtime, so being at a loose end I ambled down to the hotel and gave Lee Harris and Head Redcoat Alasdair Stuart a hand loading up the free book table. Pro tip – if you ever have a couple of hours to spare at a con, particularly around setting up, please consider offering to give a hand. There’s always so much to do and Concoms and their teams of wonderful volunteers put an awful lot of work in. Even helping to unpack a few boxes or shift a few tables around is really helpful, and we really do appreciate it.

My good deed done, and the free books nosed through, I picked up Sammy from the station. There was only a small amount of programme on the first day, but I made sure I went to Pete Newman’s reading as he was on first, reading from his SF/Fantasy mashup debut The Vagrant, which is due to be published by Harper Voyager in May 2015. The reading was a lot of fun, and Pete and Emma are both going to come and read at the BristolCon Fringe in January, which will be an awesome event.

I also attended the Rejectamentalist Manifesto Panel, which from the description sounded like it was going to be a panel about building anthologies, but ended up being a “How Not To Get Rejected” panel (read the guidelines, STICK to the guidelines, don’t be an arse, don’t give up), which is not quite what I was looking for but was hopefully useful to lots of people who were attending it.

We were going to go to the Karaoke but there were no seats in the Joel Lane bar and by this time all our feet were aching so Sorcha, Katy, Sammy and I, together with the FantasyCon Pointless Champions Steven Poore (fantasy author) and Alex Bardy (heroic provider of tea and cake) crashed in the closest pub for a Cards Against Humanity marathon (Sammy and Steven proved to be most evil) followed by greasy kebabbery chips.

Saturday was a busy day for me, with a panel hot on the heels of a reading in the

Juliet McKenna

Juliet McKenna

afternoon, but in the morning I attended the panel on The Pen vs The Sword, in which Juliet McKenna ably disarmed both Adrian Tchaikovsky and Fran Terminiello using the simple mantra of “swords have a safe end and a dangerous end. Get to the safe end.” There was a lot of discussion about how writing battle scenes differs from writing duels, how you have to be able to move in armour, and how shields can be used as weapons. All really useful and informative, and fun, and no-one lost a limb or an eye for which we can all be grateful.

I would have liked to attend both the Beyond Grimdark panel, and the one entitled She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister (about female relationships in Fantasy) but they clashed with my own reading and panel – always the way! I read the wire-walking scene from Spark and Carousel and it seemed to go down well, but as I had to scuttle off for my panel I only really did half a reading and let Jonathan L Howard have the second half, which by all accounts was very enjoyable.

Tom Pollock - orbs not pictured...

Tom Pollock – orbs not pictured…

My panel was on The Chosen One, and I was panelling alongside Tom Pollock, Frances Hardinge and James Oswald, moderated by the lovely Gillian Redfearn. We discussed our favourite chosen ones and why we liked them – Tom and I both plumped for Belgarion, but for slightly different reasons, Gillian picked Buzz Lightyear, which, when she revealed her reasons, turned out to be an excellent choice. We also discussed how using a chosen one narrative could shut down options for the author, why the idea of a chosen one was still appealing to YA readers, how the idea could be subverted in dark fantasy, and how chosen ones were basically sperm all going after a magic orb (I think that was Tom 😉 ) It was great fun and a few people came up to me afterwards and said how much they’d enjoyed it (the word “stonking” was bandied about, which was nice to hear.) I really enjoy doing panels, if any con-organisers are reading? 😉

At 7pm there was tea, cake and mild peril at the live debut of Tea and Jeopardy, Pete and Emma’s Hugo Award nominated podcast in which every episode places an author in mild danger and then revives them with tea and buns. This episode’s willing interviewee / victim was Toby Whithouse of Being Human fame. Emma is hoping that the sound quality will be good enough to podcast so I won’t give too much away, but I will say that a room full of people pretending to be chickens singing the theme from Doctor Who while crying with laughter has to be heard to be believed…

There were no singing chickens at the Gollancz-sponsored FantasyCon Disco. At least, not that I noticed.

Sunday was the quiet day after the night before, and we sat in the bar nursing tender heads and drinking tea before the very tasty banquet and the British Fantasy Awards (including the Random Ramsey Campbell Award Apparently for Being Ramsey Campbell – no idea what that was about!), ably hosted despite technical glitches by Paul Cornell, who was as lovely as ever. Can anyone halt the unstoppable global domination of Ancillary Justice? Not this time, it appears – Ann Leckie has now won everything in sight including Washing Machine Repairer of the Year and the Random Ramsey Campbell Award Apparently for Being Ramsey Campbell, and I predict a clean sweep at the Oscars next year.

 

It was a great con with just one sad note – Graham Joyce who was due to be Master of Ceremonies was unable to attend the convention due to his continuing poor health, and the news came through from Gollancz that he had passed away after a long fight with cancer just this afternoon. RIP Graham, you will be missed very much.

Graham Joyce portrait

The Redcoats, as always, did a magnificent job and they deserve All The Praise for their work in making the con run smoothly, as do the committee. The mark of a good convention is that even when it’s falling apart behind the scenes, no one notices because they’re all having such a good time. I know there were various issues and problems that went on in the background, and the ConCom did an excellent job in keeping things going with only minor disruption – if you see them they deserve a pint!

It was also interesting, and this was noted by more than one person, that FantasyCon 2014 had a different atmosphere to previous FantasyCons. The membership was younger (or younger-feeling!), the programme was far less focussed on Horror and Dark Fantasy than it has been in the past, and this led to more varied and interesting panels, and the mood was more vibrant and interested, more enthusiastic. There was definitely a sense of the sweeping away of the Old Guard who had been running things for a long time, and of a diverse new generation with fresh ideas stepping up and handling things admirably. Certainly this years FantasyCon felt more welcoming and inclusive, and long may that continue!

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