World Fantasy Con 2013 Review
This last weekend (31st Oct – 3rd Nov) was World Fantasy Con 2013. This year it was being held in Brighton – only the third time it’s been hosted in the UK! I was very excited to be able to attend for the whole weekend from Thursday to Sunday. From the panels, readings and events, to meeting so many wonderful people in the bar, I had a fantastic time.
I’ve been attending conventions for a little over a year now, and I’ve enjoyed each one. All are very different in feeling. Small cons offer a more friendly, cosy atmosphere, with the larger cons offering a bustling event, packed with things to do, signings, and parties, and they tend to pull a greater number of ‘big names’. World Fantasy Con was by far the biggest event I’ve gone to, and it was fantastic to see so many enthusiastic fantasy fans in one building (and one very over-filled bar!). A shout-out needs to go straight away to the redcoat volunteers, Alasdair Stuart, Nazia Khatun, Ewa Scibor-Rylska, Michaela Gray, Andrew Reid, Jennifer Williams and Lou Morgan, who really made this event what it was, and whose hard work made our fun weekend possible!
Of the panels I attended, I particularly enjoyed some of the additional ‘fantasycon track’ discussions which were put on in Hall 4, addressing the business and technical side of writing. One of my favourites included a panel of agents (Joshua Bilmes, Ian Drury, Barry Goldblatt, John Jarrold and Juliet Mushens) explaining their roles and experience, moderated expertly by agent Meg Davis, who kept the discussion moving from interesting point to useful fact, one after another. In the same room, a publishers panel (Jo Fletcher, Gordon Van Gelder, Lee Harris, Bella Pagan, Gillian Redfearn, Simon Taylor) and a discussion of spec scripts for TV and films (Peter Atkins, Paul Finch, Ellen Gallagher, Richard Christian Matheson, Debbie Lynn Smith, Stephen Volk), were also bursting with useful facts and ideas. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between writing and submitting for these different mediums. The number one tip to take away from both is: Always Read Submission Guidelines!
I had a lot of fun at one of the YA panels – How Far Should You Go in Young Adult Fiction? – thanks to the excellent and very funny Sarah Rees Brennan (moderator) and her wonderful panellists (Holly Black, Frances Hardinge, Garth Nix, Chris Priestly and Chris Wooding – an exciting bunch of authors with some fantastic books that I’ve loved), who universally agreed that the answer is ‘as far as the story takes you.’ Sarah Rees Brennan kept things light and playful by acting as devil’s advocate and announcing the entire room a hive of sinners, but there were also some very good, important points made.
There were perhaps some issues with a few of the panels arranged for the con, with many presented with antagonistic or even slightly insulting titles. I’m sure these were meant to inspire debate, but in some cases were more likely to provoke bad feeling. There were also some panels that felt a little irrelevant or ‘101’ – much discussion has already been engaged in very publicly on blogs and forums and other places online for these topics. Some people I spoke to felt that panels are not always very useful for them beyond their first con, finding that the same opinions tend to be repeated, and acknowledging that this is a problem that other cons face too.
One reason I enjoyed the talks despite this is that I felt that a lot of the panellists did an extremely good job at trying to move old subjects into new areas, with the ‘how far should YA go’ panel actually addressing this issue head on. Why are the same questions asked over and over about certain sub-genres and topics, when other, more pertinent matters would be better addressed? I think that’s a question worth considering.
Other talks I found really entertaining and useful was one on historical fantasy, moderated by the British Fantasy Award winning (announced on Sunday afternoon at the con!) Helen Marshall, joined by Aidan Harte, Sophia McDougall, Mark Charon Newton, Tim Powers and Kari Sperring, who discussed the facts and feelings of history, and how popular perceptions of the past can diverge so dramatically from the truth; and a panel on how to write interesting characters for series, in which Stephen Gallagher, Robin Hobb, Jasper Kent, Fiona McIntosh, Suzanne Mcleod and Thomas F. Monteleone helped us to see different perspectives on character creation and how to drive a story. Panellists disagreed on whether to throw everything into a main character in the first book or to leave some aspects mysterious, but agreed on how important character can be to draw the reader into a story. They also had some great tips for getting into a character’s head.
On Friday afternoon I experienced one of my highlights of the convention. I packed myself into a large room full of excited fans as the Terry Pratchett In Conversation panel began. Sir Terry answered a few questions, Rob Wilkins read from Raising Steam, and several squeeworthy announcements were made: another Tiffany Aching book, and a Tiffany Aching film (Wee Free Men) in the works, with Rhianna Pratchett working on the script!
Panels weren’t the only attraction at the convention. There were book launches and publisher parties, of which I especially loved the Titan ‘funfair’ themed event, where popcorn was given out and stalls were set up with games to win prizes. I failed utterly at throwing hoops, but nailed the crossbow shooting, winning myself an awesome X-Men mug! There were also signings, book clubs, kaffeeklatsches and readings – my reading highlight was Mary Robinette Kowal, who is the host of one of my favourite podcasts, Writing Excuses. She read from her Glamourist Histories series and followed up with a puppet show for us! Amazing.
There was so much to do and see, including a treasure trove of a dealer’s room and art show, that I was glad I had the whole weekend to do it in. Still, the event seemed to exist in some kind of strange time warp, passing so quickly and yet feeling like I’d been there for a month. Brighton is a wonderful, labyrinthine and quirky place, and I wished that I could have had time to explore it more too – I will have to go back, preferably at some point when the wind isn’t quite strong enough to blow people off their feet!
Although the original line-up of Guests of Honour and Master of Ceremonies was forced to change quite a bit at the last minute, the organisers did a good job of finding plenty of interesting and influential people to make special appearances: Joanne Harris, Joe Hill, Richard Christian Matheson, Brian W. Aldiss, Tessa Farmer, and M.R. James (Robert Lloyd Parry), with Susan Cooper and Tanith Lee receiving Life Achievement Awards, a special appearance by Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman taking over as Master of Ceremonies.
In addition to this, the con was full of exciting authors, publishers, editors and more, with Robin Hobb, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Scott Lynch and many others eliciting quite a few squees. It’s lovely to chat with favourite and popular authors, and to find out that they are as friendly and down to earth as you hoped they would be. I laughed as Laura Lam challenged Wesley Chu to a flexibility competition and then dropped into splits in the hotel lobby, and smiled as Juliet McKenna fixed my broken con badge for me. I nodded and internally fist-bumped Scott Lynch every time he spoke my exact thoughts on a panel, and giggled as Patrick Rothfuss posed coquettishly with Emma Newman’s fan. But for me, the best part was meeting so many wonderful new people from every stage and area of publishing and fandom, and meeting up with old friends from around the world. It was particularly nice to see so many guests from overseas. The bar is always the hub of any con, and sitting and chatting with others is as satisfying and rewarding as any panel.
So the event finally wrapped up with an awards ceremony, in which Fantasy-Faction themselves were nominated in the Non-Fiction category! I waited on the balcony with a crowd of watchers and bated breath as the winner was announced. Huge congrats to PornoQuiche (okay okay, Pornokitsch) who did win the Non-Fiction category (very much deserved!), and to all the winners in the British Fantasy, World Fantasy, and Gemmel awards.
Then it was a brief visit to the Dead Dog Party, then to my train, which (of course, this was Sunday after all) was delayed, causing me to miss a connecting train. Over an hour later I caught the next train home, and was astonished to be given a free magic show for an hour by a magician on the way home from his show. I can’t really think of a more appropriate end to World Fantasy Con than that. Bring on the next con!
Big thanks to everyone involved in organising World Fantasy Con 2013. I can’t even imagine what it takes to organise an event of this scale. And again, big thanks to all the volunteers for their hard work and friendly attitude throughout. They deserve an award of their own.