Given that around 1,500 folks were expected, I was a bit worried that the cosy feel of FantasyCon I’ve come to expect would be missing. However I was delighted to find that everyone was still very friendly and enthusiastic – and that a lot of people I’ve met at previous Cons were here, making it a wonderful place to get together and catch up with writing friends I don’t see anywhere else.
Anyone who has read my previous reports will know that I’m something of a Panel junkie. The best panel was Style or Substance in Fiction? Not sure if it wasn’t the best panel – ever… Moderated by the great Geoff Ryman, with Ellen Kushner, Jack Dann and Lisa Tuttle, these authors knew and liked each other – and it showed. The panel settled down to an in-depth discussion on the writing process with plenty of humour – as well as digging into how each one of them constructed their prose. I came away from that session buzzing.
Other notable panels I attended that deserve a mention for the excellence of the discourse and general usefulness – Broads with Swords was entertaining and completely laid to rest the myth that successful women Fantasy writers are thin on the ground. As ever, the wonderful Juliet McKenna was amusing and articulate – and I melted into a fangirl mess at actually seeing one of my major literary heroes on the stage – Robin Hobb. What Else Have You Got? was an enjoyable discussion on what publishers are sick of seeing – very ably moderated by Lee Harris. Creating Memorable Characters was also very good, with the authors on the stage discussing how they approached the creative process. There was a fascinating gender divide; the men – Stephen Gallagher, Thomas Monteleone and Jasper Kent tended to plan far more than the women – Robin Hobb, Suzanne McLeod and Fiona McIntosh, who took a more organic approach to their writing.
Overall I was impressed with the quality and range of the panels on offer and felt that most of the panellists were well prepared and articulate – a credit to everyone who took part. The big disappointment was We’re All Bloggers Now. It was so poor that people walked out in the middle of the lacklustre discussion which constantly circled around a couple of panellists’ opinions that back in the ‘good old days’ writers could earn a decent living working as critics for newspapers. Thanks to the flabby moderating, no one else on the panel got a chance to take the subject somewhere else. A shame, as blogging is a vibrant part of the current book review scene – for both good and ill – and deserved far better coverage.
I also attended all the publishing Kaffeeklatsches, aware that I knew very little about how they operated. It was a fascinating insight. The first thing I realised, was that four 50-minute sessions in a row was probably a tad too long. (When will I learn the art of moderation?) The next revelation was just what different animals they were. Peter Crowther of PS Publishing had a very different view of the process, compared with Jennifer Brehl from HarperCollins, USA, for instance. While no one was as inventively abusive about Amazon as Alain Nevant of Bragelonne from France. It was both inspiring and depressing to realise that other countries in the world actually value having book shops in their towns and villages… What they all shared, was a real passion for books – epitomised by Bella Pagan’s (Tor, UK) bubbling enthusiasm.
Given that I needed time to eat, drink and sleep, I didn’t attend many readings – but those that stood out as being excellent were Patrick Rothfuss, who could have easily made a living as a classical actor with that wonderful deep voice; Gareth Powell, whose lively rendition of his new book Hive Monkey inspired Himself to rush off and buy the series; and Ellen Kushner, whose beautiful reading ended far too soon. I could have listened to her all day… She was also on THE panel of awesomeness (Style over Substance) and I met her at the Mass Signing and she proved to be charming, funny and approachable, which was something of a feat at an event where many of the authors were looking a bit jangled – other than Neil Gaiman, who wasn’t looking anything. Too busy madly signing books for a never-ending queue that snaked through the very large hall.
Other events I enjoyed – the Open Mic Poetry Evening on Saturday night was one of my personal highlights. It’s not every day you get to stand up and perform at the same event as Joe Haldeman… who writes a nifty poem, by the way. The overall standard was exceptional and there was also a wonderful range of work – a testament to Allen Ashley’s sterling efforts to ensure poetry still got a look-in, although the muddle with the programming meant some folks had to leave halfway through, which was unfortunate. The highlights for me were Tina Rath, whose performance of her sly, disturbing work is superb and Megan Kerr’s stunning prose poem. It was a memorable evening, with plenty of excellent offerings. I’d dragged Himself along as support. He brought his Kindle, convinced he would be nodding off, otherwise – and ended up completely involved in the proceedings.
My pal Mhairi Simpson has been busy editing an anthology that came out of a late-night drinking session several Cons ago – and the launch and signing of Tales of Eve, published by Fox Spirit was the culmination of that discussion. I went along to support her on Sunday morning – to find Signing Alley packed with a crowd, all waiting to get their copies signed from the row of authors that included Juliet McKenna, who contributed her first ever science fiction short story, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Suzanne McLeod along with less well-known authors, such as Rob Haines and Ren Warom. It was lovely to see such interest in the slim volume – and once I got it back to my hotel room, I felt smugly gratified. It is an excellent anthology with a range of fascinating, humorous and disturbing stories.
Any niggles? A couple. I was frankly disgusted at the prices in the café off the main lobby and felt that signage to the lounge down in the bowls of the hotel, offering food and drink at affordable prices should have been far more prominent. The other grizzle was that the Programme Grid could – and should – have included far more events, such as the main launches and parties. It would also have been a big help if they had included the names of panellists.
Of course, I’d like to be able to report that Himself and I were soberly restrained in the knowledge that the house is already overflowing with books. That we looked at all those tempting piles and gently shook our heads, resolving to finish reading all the stuff we already own… But we didn’t. Showing the restraint of chocolate-fuelled toddlers on Easter morning, we swooped on the book-piles during Registration and spent next month’s housekeeping budget in the Dealer Room. Getting back home on the train, staggering under own weight in bound paper proved to be something of a challenge…
What is worth it? Oh yes. It was a great Con.