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I used to spend a lot of time in Nottingham when I was at University in Derby (and if you’ve ever been to Derby you’ll know why that was) but I hadn’t been back for many many years, and I didn’t really go back this time, as the convention centre was located somewhere to the north of the middle of nowhere and of Nottingham I saw pretty-much nothing. But I did have Chris with me this time, in a rare-outside-of-Bristol dual convention hitting foray. Yes, instead of spending our anniversary at BristolCon as usually happens, we decided to make a radical change and…errr… spend our anniversary at FantasyCon instead. Luckily Chris is a supremely tolerant human being….

We arrived on Thursday along with most of the rest of Team Grimbold, who were out in almost full strength this weekend. That’d be, for the most part, Sophie Tallis, Steven Poore, Steven Guscott, Kate Coe, Frances Kay and Joel Cornah, who were all staying at the Travellodge. Also in attendance were Queen of Grimmie Sammy HK Smith (with John and Logan in tow), Ellen Croshain with her mum and her baby, and Jo Thomas who became an honarary Grimmie for the weekend.

Friday I dropped into the Opening Ceremony, which was nice and short 😉 I also had a good catch-up with Anne Lyle, and attended her panel on “Stealing from the Past : Fantasy in History”, which also featured Jacey Bedford expounding on the fun of writing about pirates, and Juliet McKenna talking about how historical sources should be viewed taking into account the mores of the time in which they were written (Juliet is full of The Smart, and as she was doing tannoy announcements in her role as MC was quickly promoted by Sophie to “Juliet, the Voice of God”)

Sammy at the Grimbold stall – all pictures on this page by Sophie Tallis unless otherwise credited

I was on one panel over the course of the weekend, and luckily it was on the Friday night. The panel was titled “Diversity in SFF : Are We Still Too Male, Pale and Stale?” and was moderated by Laurel Sills from Holdfast Magazine – sorry, BFS Award-winning Holdfast Magazine, as it turned out by the end of the weekend – congrats Laurel and Lucy! Also appearing on the panel was Joel (Grimbold Represent!), Anna Smith-Spark, wearer of phenomenal shoes, who I hope is going to come and read from her queer existentialist grimdark at the Fringe, Naomi Foyle and Isabel Yap. Joel made the point that if you’re not writing to your own agenda, you’re writing to someone elses, and how that may not be an agenda you agree with. Isabel brought up the point that people of diversity (for want of a better phrase) would like to be on more panels that aren’t about diversity, while I was rude about Meg Rosoff, stuck up for little gay black boys who want to see themselves in books, and swore a bit. Are you not entertained? Do you not want me on LOTS of future panels? (I really enjoy doing panels 🙂 )

Then we collapsed in the Atrium Bar for a bit of Karaoke, where Sophie lost her karaoke virginity to Debbie Harry and Joel channeled the spirit of Morrissey in a slightly unnerving way. Also we ate crisps. This will become significant later. (If video emerges of the karaoke I may link to it… )

On Saturday I spent some time helping out on the Grimbold stand in the dealer room, which was doing a roaring trade, especially in the capable hands of Steven G and Kate. I missed the panel on editing, but I did take part in a glorious t-shirt reveal and group photo in honour of Steve P’s The Heir to the North, which was launching officially on Sunday.

The North Will Rise Again - photo by Joel Cornah

The North Will Rise Again – photo by Joel Cornah

So now Team Grimbold were all feeling like a proper gang, apart from Adam Dalton – there were threats to photoshop a t-shirt onto him in post production. The t-shirts garnered a lot of interest and possibly some sales 🙂

I had a reading at 1.20, which was well attended – there was a lunch break in the programme so it didn’t clash with any panels. I read from Spark and Carousel – a different extract from the one I read last year!- and held a brief Q&A.

Doing the reading thing - please excuse strange bouffty hair...

Doing the reading thing – please excuse strange bouffty hair…

There were a few more panels I wanted to see that day – “Here Be Dragons : How Can Epic Fantasy Reinvent Itself?” which featured Jen Williams and GOH Brandon Sanderson. I felt it was a bit too broad a topic for one panel, I’d like to see more narrowly focused panels with regard to broad subjects like Epic Fantasy – Kate suggested The Element of Surprise in SFF, which might end up being proposed for a future BristolCon. I watched the panel on Writing Non-Human Characters which featured Gareth L Powell (but not the monkey – I suspect the monkey was in the bar), Adrian Tchaikovsky talking about insect communication, and Ren Warom who had interesting things to say about the nature of relationships between humans and AI. Unfortunately the panel was hindered by slightly muffly sound and it wasn’t always easy to make out what the panelists were saying, which marred an otherwise very interesting and thought-provoking panel.

We then nipped over to the Conference Theatre, which had on the first day been renamed the Holy Shit Nope (Not even if I was as big as Brandon Sanderson) Theatre due to the amount of people taking a glance into its cavernous interiors and muttering “Holy Shit!”. Yeah, t’was a big room… Anyway, we shot over there for Live Tea and Jeopardy with Brandon Sanderson but sadly no chickens. It was Chris’s first experience of T&J and he later declared it the highlight of his weekend. It might have been videoed, so no spoilers from me!

We hung around in the atrium bar for a bit after that, chatting with people but it became clear fairly quickly that there was absolutely no food available, not even crisps. Team Grimbold were hungry, but we were waiting around because one of our own, Frances, in fact, was reading at eight, followed by Sarah Higbee at 8.20 reading from her forthcoming SF novel. Then we went back to the bar, but there was still no food, not even crisps, so we buggered off to Pizza Hut and spend an enjoyable evening chatting.

Frances Kay doing the reading thing with better hair than me...

Frances Kay doing the reading thing with better hair than me…

Sunday is usually a quiet day at cons, but this Sunday Team Grimbold were launching Steven P’s The Heir to The North at 11am so it was an early start. I was sorting out the music which was all a bit last-minute, and Chris was delighted to be woken up on the morning of our anniversary by an unexpectedly loud blast of Mark E Smith as I fiddled around with the sound levels on my laptop – sorry lovey! The launch was a little less bombastic than the previous Grimbold launch (mine!) but there were tunes and cake and wine and Steve read a dramatic fight scene and answered questions about the rising of the North – we agreed we should try to sell the book in Scotland! The stall was still doing good trade, and we ended up keeping it open till 12.30, then heading up to the bar in the hotel for lunch, accompanied by Ruth Booth, Anna Smith-Spark, Will Macmillan-Jones, Jo Thomas and the irrepressible Alex Bardy, who roped me into a wee game of guess the award winners at the BFS Awards. Which I lost 5-2 so now I owe him a pint.

The North Rising on Sunday morning

The North Rising on Sunday morning

I was delighted that Emma Newman picked up the BFS award for Best Short Story after a lousy year last year, that Fox Spirit won Best Independent Press, and that Juliet McKenna was honoured with the Karl Wagner Award for her tireless work representing indie writers and presses and sorting out the indescribable mess that is VATMOSS – go Juliet!

The Redcloaks did a stupendous job, as they always do, and the ConCom deserve praise for finding such a lovely, if slightly remote, venue and keeping everything running so smoothly, especially in the face of a lot of people who had been expecting food and weren’t getting any – all praise to them! No praise, however, for the staff in the Atrium Bar who were rude and unhelpful throughout, not just in their refusal to sell crisps for most of the time they were open, and added a slightly sour note to what was otherwise a magnificent convention

If you like the sound of this and want to go to FantasyCon next year, the event will be in Scarborough and rejoices in the lovely Twitter handle of FantasyCon By t’ Sea – @fconbythesea – go follow them and get involved!