This is the first conference I’ve attended in the past two years. But I was determined not to miss this year’s Bristolcon for the simple reason is that it’s my favourite. It’s known as The Friendly Con and with good reason – the first year I came along on my own, I was invited to join one of the groups sitting in the bar by the lovely Jaine Fenn.
This year I wasn’t on my own – my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson stayed over on Friday night, so on Saturday morning we could catch a 6-something train to Fareham, where we changed for Bristol. While the GWR train was flipping cold, at least everything was running on time and we arrived at Temple Meads station just after 10, all set to consume Second Breakfast at our favourite pasty shop before braving the bitterly cold wind for the walk to the conference hotel.
We hadn’t even got sufficiently organised to decide which panels to attend, so naturally we needed to swing by the bar to sit down and sort this out. I was delighted to see Juliet McKenna and congratulate her on the wonderfulness that is The Green Man’s Heir. I’m thrilled to report there is another book in this series being written – if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this is one of my favourite books of the year. I was also able to catch up with Sarah Ash, another wonderful author whose writing I love.
Sarah was taking part in one of the excellent panels I attended Here Be Dragons. And Yokai. And Tokoloshe. And Kupua… which discussed the pros and cons of using spirits and mythology from other cultures – when does that become cultural appropriation? Sarah’s expertise lies in Japanese mythology, including anime and manga, while Zoe Burgess-Foreman is very knowledgeable about other Asian mythological creatures in addition to also being expert in Japanese culture. The other members of the panel included Nick Hembury and Steve McHugh, while the discussion was ably moderated by Jessica Rydill. The consensus was that whenever using ancient gods or spirits, ensure you are respectful of the context and any cultural issues – Steve aptly summed it up with the phrase, ‘Don’t be a dick about it.’
The second panel I attended was also great fun – Ben Jeapes moderated a discussion about the panellists’ most hated cliché in SFF writing, which would be then voted on by the audience and consigned to Room 101 – another cliché, perhaps? The cliché that overwhelmingly got voted into Room 101 was Jo Hall’s distaste for beautiful protagonists and ugly baddies. The beautification of Hester in the upcoming film Mortal Engines was cited as an example of this insidious trend, given that her face is horrifically scarred in the books.
The final panel I saw was Writing the Non-Human which brought together Su Haddrell, who moderated, Cheryl Morgan, Gareth L. Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith and Dev Agarwal to discuss what approaches they used when writing from other species’ viewpoints. It was fascinating to see the widely differing methods these experienced and capable authors adopted when working on their non-human characters. Everyone agreed, though, that you need to have a good grasp of the environment from which they originate and a clear idea of the character and how it responds to the unfolding situation within your story.
The closing ceremony was typically warm and celebratory where the Guests of Honour Jo Hall, Dave Hutchinson and Andrew Skilleter were applauded, along with the date for next year’s special 10th Anniversary Bristolcon.
As for books – I was very restrained, only purchasing Joel Cornah’s The Sky Slayer over and above the two books in my goody bag, partly because I truly am trying to be more sensible about my out-of-control book buying habit and partly because I had a long train journey ahead of me and books are heavy… The other two I acquired were K.M. Alford’s Atlantic and the Game of Time and Tracing the Shadow by Sarah Ash.
During the afternoon in the bar, I had a long chat with Mags L. Halliday on the necessity of evolving a con-clone for the next conference. We discussed the feasibility of a device that splits you into at least one other copy, though I personally think two would be ideal – just after you pick up your goody bag and then re-absorbs your cloned copies before you reel home. I was also thrilled to see the wonderful Sophie Tallis, someone else who warmly welcomed me to my first Bristolcon, – as well as Jo Hall, who I haven’t spoken to for far too long. And it was also great to be able to have a word with Gaie Sebold and Janet Edwards.
But as Mhairi and I trudged back to our hotel when we finally called it a night, I was aware that if only I had my clone alongside, I could also have managed to meet up with Sammy Smith, Jessica Rydill and Rosie Oliver among others – as well as attend those panels I missed, such as The City As Protagonist and Spaceship Top Trumps as well as Sophie’s silk painting workshop. Maybe a cloning device will be available next year – the need is surely great at all Cons, but particularly at Bristolcon – the Friendly Con.