BristolCon 2019

My final convention of the year was my local event, BristolCon. This year marked the 10th anniversary of something that I helped to start, and which has gone from strength to strength over the years. It is now a regular fixture on the UK convention circuit; and is attracting visitors from well outside the local area.

One of the things that makes BristolCon work is that it has a clear sense of its own limitations. There have been regular suggestions that it should grow to be a weekend event, as tends to be traditional for such things. However, the committee has consistently resisted the temptation, insisting that they are only going to do what they have the capacity to do, and not get over ambitious.

Part of that means not having to worry overmuch about hotel rooms. Quite a few people do now stay over on the Friday before the convention. Some stay Saturday night as well. But Bristol is superbly connected by rail (thank you, Mr. Brunel) and it is perfectly possible to do the convention as a day trip from places as far away as Birmingham, London, Southampton, Plymouth and Swansea. There are also good air links to Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Another element is the capacity of the venue. BristolCon has been at the DoubleTree for most of its life. The hotel is very convenient for Temple Meads station. There are a number of other hotels not that far away, but this one has good function space, an excellent bar, a good restaurant, and staff that seem to be happy to work with us weirdos.

In the middle years the con seemed quite cramped as attendance had climbed rapidly and appeared to be stretching the ability of the venue to cope. However, the hotel has added more function space recently and that has eased a lot of the pressure. If you remember the con from the days when there seemed to be no room to move in the main foyer, you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you make a return visit.

A downside is that the fact that the new space is on a different floor. Registration, Programme Room 2, and the free tea & coffee service (one of the con’s best features) are now downstairs. I spent most of the day in the Dealers’ Room and didn’t see as many people as I expected. From the few programme items that I was on, I got the impression that the downstairs programme room was busier than the upstairs one, and that if people weren’t attending programme they were either drinking coffee or in the bar. I can’t complain, however. I sold a lot of books.

The main reason for that is that we were launching Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II. The convention kindly allowed us to be the main book launch event and provided space and time for a few speeches and signing. They event supplied a lovely cake in the shape of the SS Great Britain, and helped pay for the wine. They did us proud, for which Jo, Roz and I are very grateful.

During the day I got wind of a small amount of frantic paddling beneath the smooth surface of the event, but another advantage of the small size of the convention is that it is hard for anything to go too badly wrong. There is a temptation, with a long-running event, to assume that everything will be OK because it was all OK last year, and that can lead to people forgetting to be paranoid about checking arrangements, but the committee know what they are doing and can recover from most slip-ups.

The only thing that didn’t really go according to plan was the Open Mic on the Friday evening. It looked like the tech crew had been told to run the thing while they were doing tech set-up in the main programme room, and they didn’t really know how it worked. Guys, you could have just asked me. You knew I would be there.

Plans for next year’s convention are already underway. The Author Guests of Honour will be Anna Smith Spark and Adrian Tchaikovsky. I’m assuming that an Artist guest will be announced in due course. The date is a week later than usual: October 31st. In the past the convention has avoided Halloween weekend because some authors wanted to be free to attend World Fantasy. However, that is now less of an issue than publishers insisting that authors go to the MCM ComicCon in London rather than to BristolCon. A later date will hopefully avoid a clash, and might also encourage more costuming. I might stay over on Saturday night for that. I’m certainly sad to have missed this year’s Saturday evening programming which appears to have been quite spectacular.

Of course it does mean that I’m likely to miss 2021, because I do miss my North American friends and I’m always up for a trip to Montréal, but that’s sufficiently far in the future in our crazy current timeline that anything could of happened by them.

What I will say is that I won’t be doing a book launch at BristolCon next year. If I do one it will be at the Eurocon in Croatia. But I do expect to be at BristolCon, and I hope to see some of you there.

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