This year’s FantasyCon has had a difficult life. The event was originally planned to be run by a group headed by Lee Harris. However, back in July, facing a substantial shortfall in expected revenue, Harris decided to pull out. Given the ongoing issues with COVID, and the expected major financial crisis in the UK over the winter, it is perhaps not surprising that far fewer people were prepared to attend the con than had been hoped.
Initially the con was cancelled, but the British Fantasy Society scrambled to get a replacement in place. The new event, chaired by Shona Kinsella, would use the same venue, but would be much reduced in scope. There would be no dealers’ room or art show; just panels, readings and the awards banquet.
In the circumstances, Shona and her team did an amazing job. There were multiple tracks of programming, and some really excellent panels. I was particularly impressed with how Shona put together a variety of voices for each panel. For example, I was surprised to be on a panel about collaborative writing. I was there to talk about sensitivity reading. Farah Mendlesohn talked about co-writing academic books, mostly with her husband, Edward James. El Lam and Gary Couzens talked about novels and short fiction respectively.
Another panel I was on was about editing. I mainly edit non-fiction. Other panelists did proof reading and more involved fiction editing, and there was a self-published author who talked about hiring editorial services. You can do panels like this in smaller conventions where the programming team knows a lot of the potential panelists. It is harder in something like Worldcon where you have far more programme to fill, and many more panelists. But I thought Shona did a great job.
The downside of programming was timekeeping. On several occasions I saw panels still running when the next one was due to start. In one case a moderator asked the audience for more questions when time had more than run out. There were reasons why this happened. The con did not have enough staff to put programme ops people in every room, and some of the rooms had doors that could not be opened from the outside. But moderators should know that they have a duty to stop and clear out in sufficient time for the next panel to move in.
I had a number of interests in the British Fantasy Awards. Wizard’s Tower Press was up for Best Independent Press. Worlds Apart, the worldbuilding book that I contributed to from Luna Press Publishing, was up for Best non-Fiction. And Lucy Holland’s SisterSong, for which I did a sensitivity read, was up for Best Novel. None of them won. I didn’t expect to win the publisher award, given that we were up against Luna Press Publishing who very deservedly won. I’m relaxed about the non-fiction award given that we won the BSFA Award for the book at Eastercon. With all due respect to Shelley Parker-Chan, whose book I very much enjoyed, Lucy was robbed. A full list of winners is available at Locus.
Having scouted out the location at Eastercon, which was held in the same hotel, I opted to stay in the Ibis just across the road from the con venue. It was cheaper, and it was next door to a petrol station that sold sandwiches and the like. Many con attendees had complaints about the Radisson Red. The issues with the new booking/checkin software that plagued Eastercon have not yet been sorted (they lost the booking of the Guest of Honour, Liz Williams), and food service was much more limited than it had been at Eastercon.
That hotel has been used for a number of conventions over the years (kudos to Flis for wearing her Ytterbium Eastercon t-shirt from 2019 when the hotel was a Park Inn). I think it will be a while before it gets used again. Though I should note that the banquet food was edible, which is not always the case for such things.
Overall, this was a great little convention, with the added bonus that I did not have to spend the entire weekend behind a dealer table. It was especially impressive given the short time that the ConCom had to put it together.
Next year FantasyCon is going back to the Jury’s Inn in Birmingham. Hopefully the roadworks will be finished by then. Early bird memberships are available here.