Fantasycon is a strange beast. It was my first literary con some years back and despite everyone being very nice and friendly, I felt largely invisible as a newbie. The dichotomy extended to the programming where despite being a Fantasycon, due to the tastes of people who attended, was mostly focused on horror. Yet despite that, and despite the dodgy hotel in Nottingham, I kept going back, and enjoying myself.
Twitter changed a lot of things for me. I found myself a group of likeminded friends and suddenly cons were no longer a lonely experience but one as part of an ever-growing inclusive posse. Yet Fantasycon still remained this odd little con that’s mere mention would cause others to raise eyebrows and mutter “more like horrorcon”.
2011 saw Fantasycon move away from Nottingham and the addition of some major Fantasy guests. I mean, whether you like Christopher Paolini or not, he has sold an awful lot of fantasy books. Joe Abercrombie is always good value for money, entertaining and a big name in his own right. Yes, there was still a lot of Horror content and guests, but I don’t think even Fantasycon’s biggest critics ever wanted to get rid of the horror element.
As a result, what we ended up with was probably one of the best cons I’ve ever been to. It was slick, it was organised (to the extent that the organising committee were going round at a ridiculous hour in the morning to inform people the hotel bar would be closing shortly and to get their drinks in now) and it seems like everyone had a great time whether they were veterans or virgins.

I’d left it late to book – mainly due to finances – but with a novel I’m currently trying to get an agent for and then hopefully sell, I felt I needed to be there. However, I made the decision that I would not be active in pimping the book. I’ve seen cons where people work a floor, business cards like shuriken, ready to strike anyone who ‘might be useful’, those deemed not, quickly discarded. That’s not my style of networking, I never want to be one of those people. I’ll happily talk about my novel to anyone that asks, but I’m not going to ruin a perfectly good evening by turning casual conversation into a pitching session.
One constant bit of advice I’ve received from friends is that agents will ‘check you out’, will read your blog, check your twitter feed, etc. to get a feel of you. ‘If you go to cons’ I was warned, ‘be careful with the alcohol’. It’s very easy when the stakes feel so massive, to make yourself paranoid, to double check your every move. But the truth is, whilst I am capable of an internet meltdown as much as the next man, I have no secret neo-nazi past, I do not drown kittens in my spare time, and I’m pretty easy-going and self-deprecating. I take what I do very seriously, I just don’t take myself too seriously.
Even so, with Brighton experiencing some ridiculously hot weather for the time of year, I did lay off the alcohol in case I started knocking them back. Not that I’m a bad drunk, but I’d just like to remember my weekend.
I did get the details of one agent, so from the business end it was mission completed. I also bumped into Robert Harkness from my old Orbiter writing group (although we’d never met in person). It’s so nice and reaffirming when someone not only remembers the bit of your novel you submitted for criticism some eighteen months back but also speaks so fondly of it. He seems to be doing really well for himself with a number of short stories in publication and it was great to chat with him and his wife.
Last year, Fantasycon was all about hanging out in the bar together. This year it was all about supporting those who’ve now got book deals. It’s great that we could turn out and add to the already decent number of people attending. I ended up going to readings by Adam Christopher, Tom Pollock, Lou Morgan and Anne Lyle, as well as Mike Shevdon and MD Lachlan. Despite many of their initial fears, all came across very professionally and their readings were enjoyed.
I also attended the raffle and persuaded Will Hill, Lou Morgan and the Solaris posse that it was worth it.
“There’s loads of prizes,” I said. “At the last one I walked away with 5 prizes.”
Needless to say that despite a valiant attempt by Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough, the raffle was an ordeal, and one not helped by our table never seeming to win. Lou almost made it all the way to the end, only to then win the top prize the moment she left the room. Unfortunately, she returned before the rest of us had chance to ebay her prize.
That was the thing about this year’s Fantasycon. It was all good natured and fun. Alex Bell’s leaping cactus caused tears of amusement – and you know when someone uses Sam Sykes as a character witness they are fighting a losing battle (who then said via twitter she was wrong). Needless to say I await Alex’s evidence with mirth (and the upcoming cameo in Stephen Deas’ novel does not count).
But I think the best thing about Fantasycon overall was the fact that the newbies seemed to be having a brilliant time. It may have been people such as Laura Lam and Harry Markov’s first Fantasycon but their experience was a millions miles away from mine. They were mixing and mingling like they’d been coming to the event for years and that genuinely pleased me. Whilst there is no doubt things that could improve, that alone showed me that Fantasycon has made a massive improvement. Well done to everyone who helped make it happen.