FantasyCon 2019

October is a busy time for conventions. There’s Octocon in Dublin, FantasyCon, BristolCon and World Fantasy to contend with. But that’s not all. Publishers will be off to Frankfurt for the book fair, and with FantasyCon in Scotland many English and Welsh fans chose instead to head for GollanczFest in London. There’s also the MGM ComicCon at the Excel in London which is now drawing high profile authors away from Bristol. It’s great that the scene is so vibrant, but we aren’t at a con a week yet so it would be nice to have less actual competition.

FantasyCon was in Glasgow, or at least that’s what the advertising said. Dalmuir, where the hotel was located, is “in Glasgow” in much the same way as Heathrow is “in London”. You can get there by public transport, but having arrived you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and are stuck there for the duration.

Having said that, the hotel was mostly lovely. It was large and spacious. I had a lovely room. The restaurant served great food at prices so reasonable as to make us southerners weep in despair. There was a large, comfy and very reasonably priced bar. The only real issue was the wifi, which was dreadful. Even that would not have mattered had Three, my mobile phone provider, not chosen that weekend to have a major national outage. Thankfully I wasn’t relying on the internet for transaction processing.

With Kevin’s article in mind I should note that the badges failed in most respects. The lanyards were single-point attached, although the badge holders allowed for the more sensible double-point. The badges were easily copied, and there was no art at all so very little memorabilia value. Thankfully the names were big enough to read. Several people seemed to be using badges from other conventions.

The main reason I was at the convention was to support Juliet McKenna, whose The Green Man’s Heir, was a finalist for Best Fantasy Novel in the awards. That meant taking dealer space. Fortunately for me, the lovely people at Luna Press allowed me to rent part of their space, and looked after my books while I was away doing panels or watching rugby.

Yes, there was a small matter of religious observances. I spent two hours on Sunday watching Wales do just enough to beat France and advance to the semi-finals of the World Cup. It was a masterpiece of keeping calm in adversity and doing just enough to win. Profuse apologies to all my French friends. Your boys did pretty well for most of the game.

Because I was in the Dealers’ Room much of the time, I didn’t see much programming beyond my own panels. These were sparsely attended, but both good fun to do. Special thanks to Jeannette Ng for live-tweeting the Fantasy in Translation panel. The non-fiction panel was also fun, and gave me the opportunity to talk about all sorts of things from Dave Langford’s sometimes brutally funny reviews to fan studies and reception studies.

In addition I ran a workshop on Writing Queer Characters from History. This seemed to go down quite well, so apparently I’m now a creative writing teacher, at least in my own little area of expertise. If anyone wants me to do that for their convention, I’d be delighted to run it again.

Overall the programme went very well considering the circumstances. When you hear nothing for ages and then get programme emails from the Chair of the British Fantasy Society you know that something has gone badly wrong. I tried to be as reasonable and accommodating as possible so as not to add to the problems. My congratulations to Helen Armfield for the rescue job.

The Dealers’ Room was well populated. There were the usual suspect such as PS Publishing, good friends from down south such as Handheld Books, and a bunch of people I didn’t know. Chief among those was Lee from The Portal Bookshop in York. The store specialises in queer and feminist SF&F. It has been operating online for a while, but has since opened a physical store. It proved an ideal place to offload most of the remaining Twelfth Planet Press books that I had been looking after since Worldcon. If you happen to be in York, please pop in any buy something.

Another discovery in the Dealers’ Room was Jenni Gudgeon. She’s an artist who makes pictures of the hidden world by etching photographs. It is an ingenious technique that allows her to create pictures of fairies and the like in a natural setting so that they appear to have been photographed. She explains the technique on her website. Check out her book, Folkland Fables, which I think would make a marvellous holiday season gift for a young relative.

There were several book launches through the weekend, and thus quite a bit of free wine. The one that caught my eye was Handheld Books promoting a re-issue of Vonda McIntyre’s The Exile Waiting. This was her debut novel, and it is set in the same world as the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winning Dreamsnake. Kate Macdonald tells me that she is currently negotiating the rights to Vonda’s unpublished final novel, which is set in Minoan Crete. I am very much looking forward to that.

For me one of the interesting aspects of the weekend was getting to connect with Scottish fandom. Things are going very well up there. They have their own magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, whose owners also run the very successful Event Horizon readings series. They have their own podcast, Speculative Spaces, and of course Luna Press as a local publisher. They have the long-running Glasgow convention, Satellite, which next year has Aliette de Bodard as Guest of Honour (sadly I will be in Mariehamn that weekend), and they now have Cymera in Edinburgh as well. All of this stands them in very good stead for welcoming back Worldcon in 2024.

I caught a brief glimpse of the dear old Starship Armadillo on my way out on the train. She looks like she’s still in good shape and I hope to see her fly again with a new, younger crew. Maybe Kevin can finally retire his captain’s uniform. But there has been a lot happening in and around Spaceport Glasgow since 2005. It is now a much better site, with more function space and hotel rooms. There are probably more restaurants too. I’ll try to make a trip up there at some point to report, but I think you’d have to be a bit mad to run against them.

The award ceremony went well. Lee Harris had run off to Canada, so we ended up with Muriel Grey as the MC. She did struggle a bit with the running order, but otherwise she did a fine job as one might expect from a hotshot TV presenter. Juliet didn’t win, but we hadn’t really expected that she would. As it turned out the South West did pretty well. Lucy Hounsom won as part of the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast team, and GV Anderson took the Short Story prize with “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” in the face of stiff opposition. I was delighted for Tasha Shuri and Priya Sharma, both of whom turned out to be lovely people, and of course for Aliette. And yes, all the fiction writing award winners were women, though the winning anthology was edited by men. A full list of the award winners can be found here.

And that was it for another year. Next year FantasyCon will be in Sheffield, which is much more accessible from down here. I will probably go again, though for 2021 I have my eyes on World Fantasy in Montréal.