My Fantasycon 2014 Experience

I’m back from my first Fantasycon in York which started out on Friday with some Austin Powers style car parking. I was staying at a very central Bed and Breakfast, which was lovely, and the owners kindly gave me a parking permit for the weekend. Brilliant, I thought. I could leave my car all weekend, and not have to worry about trying to move it or pay for parking. The only problem was the space was on the main road, squeezed between a car, a tree and a conveniently placed post. So while dodging traffic and waiting for the lights to change and the road to be clear, I tried several times to get into the space. Finally, I managed to reverse in, nearly ran someone over on the pavement and then preceded to reverse back and forth about twenty times until I wasn’t on the road and no wheels were touching the pavement section. I’ve seen people get tickets for less in the past from enthusiastic traffic wardens.

Thankfully the weekend picked up after that as I met up at the pub for lunch with a fairly healthy contingent of TeamMushens, fellow authors who also have the same agent as me, Juliet Mushens. The posse included Niel Bushnell, Andrew Reid, Peter Newman, Den Patrick, Jen Williams, Richard Kellum and the Grand Dame herself was also there. Being a writer can be a fairly lonely job, as it usually involves a lot of sitting quietly in a room by yourself, staring at a screen and listening to the voices in your head. Getting to meet up with fellow writers who understand all of the challenges, the angst, the editing, the self-loathing, the rewrites, is actually a very rewarding experience. Meeting up with fellow TeamMushens people is a privilege as they’re all remarkable and very talented people. All of us write in the the SFF genre space, but despite common interests and hobbies we couldn’t be more different, which I find fascinating.

Finding and connecting with your tribe is much easier now than it was in my youth, thanks mostly to the internet, but it is still not the same as meeting up in person. Unfortunately I don’t get to see this group of friends more than once or twice a year as we’re all spread out across the UK, so it’s always a genuine pleasure to see them and spend time together.

The rest of Friday was taken up with running from one panel to the next, including one about Awards and their value to a writer. I also sat on a panel about podcasting which seemed to go fairly well. After that I went to one of the bars in the hotel where karaoke had been set up. Niel and I grabbed a quick fast food dinner on the hoof, then raced back to watch some of our fellow writers own the microphone. Andrew’s duet with Juliet was a highlight as well as her solo later on. Sadly I’d wandered off to the other bar so didn’t see Pete Newman fulfil his side of a bet, but I hear it went very well. After a few more drinks and some Cards Against Humanity where Jen Williams won, I called it a night.

Saturday began with a panel about Page to Screen where people including one of the Guests of Honour, Toby Whithouse, spoke about pitching, adaptations, working in TV and film. One interesting thing Toby mentioned was that he used to be an actor and now whenever he writes anything, he always give every character a full name, first and last. This is to avoid what often happens such as Policeman3 or Thug2. It also ties in nicely to something I mentioned on the podcast panel. One question from the audience was to name our favourite podcast, and mine is The Tobolowsky Files (also on iTunes), where character actor Stephen Tobolowsky talks about life, love and the entertainment business and he has a theory that you can tell the value of a part by the name of the character. A  job title is low on the totem pole, like Judge, then you get titles and numbers Doctor3, then it goes up to just a single name and right up to a part with both names. The name convention indicates the number of lines and how important the part will be. Toby was very aware of this having been an actor for years, so he wanted to ensure that every actor who had a part in any of his shows would have two names so it looked better on their CV. He also tried to ensure that if they had even one line that it was a joke, so that it mattered.

The panel that followed, The Reign of the Geek, was very interesting and as with many situations, it’s while I’m thinking about it later that it affects me. It was something Joanne Harris said about being an outsider that really struck a chord with me, and I’ll come back to it in another post soon once I’ve found the right words.

Jen Williams and I then attended a panel with Charlaine Harris in conversation and it was fantastic. She’s a fascinating woman and had a lot of wisdom to share about her experiences with writing novels and seeing her work adapted for television.

I find going to several panels in a row can be exhausting, so after that I took a bit of a break and left the hotel, had some lunch in a quiet place, then came back for a panel on Grimdark, and how it has evolved from a joke to an actual label people have started using for a particular type of fantasy novel.

After more panels I found time to sit and chat to some old friends who had come to their first Fantasycon. Then there was the brilliant and funny live edition of Tea and Jeopardy, with Emma Newman and Pete Newman in costume as her surly and dodgy butler, Latimer. He stayed in character throughout and was very funny indeed!

After a quick curry with Niel and James Oswald I  caught up with some other people from TeamMushens including Laura Lam, Syd Moore and lots of other friends I don’t get to see very often. I went to the very well attended Super Relaxed Fantasy Club where there were four readings and James Barclay interviewed Simon Spanton.

I must mention that the army of volunteer redcoats did a great job of coordinating everything at the convention and it wouldn’t have run as smoothly without them giving up their time.

By the time I got down to the party on Saturday night it was in full swing and it had been a long day. Somehow I managed to stay awake and was sat chatting to people when they closed the bar and turned on the lights indicating that the party was officially over.

I had to head back home first thing on Sunday morning so I said goodbye to everyone that night and I felt quite sad at the thought of not seeing them again until next year. We’ll talk online via social media and email each other, but it’s not the same. So I’ve found myself looking ahead to conventions next year already and wondering when I’ll run into them.

Fantasycon2014 was a lot of fun, for the social side as much as the panels. It was also exhausting but thankfully I didn’t have too far to travel compared to some. York is a fantastic city and for those who had time to spare they explored some of the remarkable sites, went on a Ghost Walk, popped into the famous Betty’s tea room, explored the cathedral and wandered around the Shambles.

So for now, it’s back to the writing and the editing on book 2, and I’m looking forward to attending at least a couple of conventions next year and the build up to the launch of book 1, Battlemage.