Max: This weekend just gone, I went to my very first FantasyCon in the beautiful city of York. Ellen, in our media department, practically grew up there: her father is a horror writer, she an enormous fan. Of course, she was there as well.
I’m fairly new to this convention malarkey. I’m a fantasy enthusiast – I edit the British Fantasy Society’s Journal in my spare time, and read a whole bunch of it. It’s my ‘home’ genre. I’m always nervous when I go to cons, despite them being the catalyst for making some great friends. What if I don’t know anybody? What if I irritate people? Why the hell am I there if I'm just a fan? Turns out, of course, that people are generally lovely and supportive, and I shouldn't have panicked – but sometimes that’s just natural.
Getting on the wrong train to York started the weekend poorly though. A long trip means booking in advance – and paying attention to the details should be key. Alas, I got on the 8:00 instead of the 8:11 from King’s Cross on Saturday morning, and now my bank balance is £95 lighter. I stepped off the train, across the road to the hotel, and straight into an 11am panel I was moderating on ‘The Reign of the Geek.’ Donna Scott, Jacey Bedford, Alasdair Stuart, Kim Lakin-Smith and Joanne Harris chatted playground bullying, Big Bang Theory & Dr. Who, the internet and geek as an identity. I love moderating – as above, I worry that I have nothing to contribute if I’m on a panel, but I can ask questions with the best of them. It’s a pleasure when a panel kicks off, and you as the moderator can sit back and watch great minds discuss and argue and make great points.
Ellen: I always approach being on panels with the attitude ‘I have some experience and opinions to contribute, and everyone probably (hopefully) wants to hear them’. Whether or not this is true is largely irrelevant as they’re all trapped in a room with me and so are forced to listen. Also, if you get stuck, you can always tell a joke. People love jokes.
This year, I was on a panel called ‘From Page to Screen’, on the subject of the differences between books and film, and making pitches saleable. My fellow panellists were Tony Venables (moderator), Toby Whithouse, Joanne Harris, Maura McHugh and Sean Hogan. We all had a slightly different perspective to bring to the table; Maura’s experience of comics writing as well as prose and scripts alongside my own dealmaking-and-commerciality-based input, with Joanne’s recounting of the feature film adaptation of her novel ‘Chocolat’, Sean Hogan’s writer/director background and Toby Whithouse’s views as a TV showrunner – it was a heady brew!
As well as being on a panel with Toby Whithouse, I also interviewed him as the Media Guest of Honour. We covered an array of subjects, from his days as an actor treading the boards alongside Gene Wilder, to his writing for Doctor Who and creating Being Human. He’s a gregarious and fascinating man, and it was great fun chatting with him. One of our clients, Debbie O’Malley, wrote an episode of his upcoming Cold War spy thriller ‘The Game’ (which will be on BBC One later this year).
There was a broad range of topics on the panel schedule, with a good gender balance and an eclectic mix of speakers drawn from diverse industries including publishing, film, television and fandom. Click here to see the full list.
Max: Of course, the most important part of conventions is the social side. FantasyCon had Karaoke on Friday, which I’m really sad I missed, and a really, really cheesy disco on Saturday night. Before this was a special edition of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, a great initiative from authors Jen Williams and Den Patrick in creating an informal space for fantasy fans to chat and drink and listen to readings. I nearly missed this, though, after the most hilarious curry of all time. The curry house had naans so large they came with their own metal tree to hang from, glasses of wine for less than £2 and a window seat onto all Saturday night York has to offer (spoiler: drunken antics of the highest order, complete with through-window interaction), as well as a … relaxed ... attitude to supplying me with food and said cheap wine. Thanks to Jen and Lucy Hounsom for joining me in that madhouse!
Ellen: I did not miss the karaoke, which was hosted by Solaris and Abaddon: in fact, I may have deafened the room with an extremely loud rendition of ‘Highway to Hell’ . If the rumours are to be believed (link for the brave). A great time was had by all who attended, as fans, editors, publishers and writers alike took to the microphone and had a laugh together. Nothing breaks the ice like it! A highlight was Rob Shearman (writer of Doctor Who) with his excellent performance of ‘Crazy little thing called love’. Thankfully, 'The Skyscraper Throne' trilogy writer Tom Pollock’s casual threat of singing ‘The Thong Song’ went unfulfilled, although I’m sure his performance would have been nuanced and entrancing.
Other excellent entertainment included Paul Cornell’s ‘Just a Minute’ panel game, following a literary theme, with writer panellists Kate Elliott, Stephen Gallagher, Frances Hardinge and Gollancz publishing director Gillian Redfearn. In case you hadn’t guessed, one of those is my father (I’ll let you guess which). He went on to win the game by being pedantic and garrulous, thereby upholding the Gallagher tradition wonderfully.
Max: A relatively chilled Sunday started with the BFS AGM, which was interesting in an AGM kind of way, and then the British Fantasy Awards. It was lovely to watch friends win awards, and to support the genre you love. A pub dinner with friends old and new, and then a trip home – on the correct train! – completed a knackering, but really rather lovely, weekend. Here’s to next year!
Ellen: It was wonderful to participate in another excellent FantasyCon, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones. I can’t possibly name-check everyone, so I won’t begin to try. As ever, the Fantasy crowd was warm and welcoming, and included events for first-time convention attendees to help ease them into the social side of fandom. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and look forward to the next one. If you’re a Fantasy, horror or sci-fi fan (the convention caters to many genre branches where there is some fan crossover, not just fantasy), I can’t recommend it highly enough.
On a sombre note, the memorial gathering for the late author Joel Lane was touching and heartfelt, with readings from many of his closest friends and the sharing of happy memories. A much-loved man who is greatly missed. Just after the convention, we also heard of the passing of Graham Joyce, another cherished stalwart of the BFS and FantasyCon community. Our thoughts are with his family.