This year’s annual British Fantasy Society FantasyCon took place over the last weekend of September, featuring three packed days of panel discussions, guests of honour, masterclasses, book launches, and awards ceremonies. Attendees of all stripes – from forty-year veterans to wide-eyed debutants – converged on Scarborough, North Yorkshire, for a long weekend dedicated to celebrating and debating all things SFF.
Overlooking the rugged North Sea coastline, the Grand Hotel is a rickety bastion of faded seaside glamour, riddled with ghosts and likely a few Old Ones lurking in its dungeons. As such, it was a fitting base for this year’s FantasyCon, which saw a strong turnout from the horror community. Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) and Adam Nevill (No One Gets Out Alive) provided entertaining and intriguing insights into their writing practice. Joe Hill was alternatingly dark and hilarious, sharing several highly amusing anecdotes including some of the King household’s bedtime stories. Panels throughout the weekend included a discussion on the interplay between rural and urban horror, a consideration of whether there are any monsters left to be afraid of, and asked – somewhat troublingly – if reality was in fact the new horror.
Fantasy, of course, was well represented. Friday saw Lucy Hounsom (Starborn) lead a panel featuring Peter Newman (The Vagrant) and Peter McLean (Drake), which discussed the diverse uses of magic in fiction. On the main stage, guest of honour Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora) spoke frankly and openly on how he handles depression, how D&D gave him a grounding in structuring stories, and assured eager readers that, yes, The Thorn of Emberlain was still his number-one priority. Meanwhile, historical/fantasy author, ex-US military veteran, and all-round font of knowledge Miles Cameron (The Dread Wyrm) gave an illuminating masterclass on the complex nature of warfare, and how it can be mined for believable, not to mention grimdark, story material.
It wasn’t all authors, with plenty of representatives from the business side of books more than willing to talk shop. Small-sized Q&A sessions allowed attendees the chance to quiz agents and editors on the ponderous, semi-mythical beast commonly known as the publishing industry. With big names such as Angry Robot founder Marc Gascoigne, industry veteran Jo Fletcher, and horror aficionado Steven Jones offering insight, aspiring authors were in envious company. Panels included discussions on the writer’s important first steps, and how to get (and stay) published. If one thing became apparent, it was that not all publishers necessarily agree on the best way to do this. Good news. Or bad, depending on how you look at it.
On Saturday night, the Gemmell Awards for 2016 brought in the crowds. An overjoyed Peter Newman received the Morningstar Award (best debut author) with The Vagrant, for which he confessed: “I really, really, really wanted this.” Meanwhile the unstoppable author-illustrator team of Mark Lawrence and Jason Chan went on to win yet another Legend Award (book of the year) and Ravenheart Award (best cover art), this time for The Liar’s Key. Sadly, the Legend trophy itself – a gleaming replica of Snaga from Gemmell’s iconic series – was delayed in traffic, although attendees were warmly invited to a post-ceremony drinks reception “whilst we wait for that bloody axe…”
On Sunday night it was the turn of the British Fantasy Awards to make a lot of people very happy, including Naomi Novik, who won Best Fantasy Novel for Uprooted; Zen Cho, who won Best Newcomer for Sorcerer to the Crown; and the aforementioned Angry Robot Books, who won Best Independent Press. All of this barely touches on what else the convention had on offer, including appearances from Mike Carey (The Girl with All the Gifts), Elizabeth Bear (Karen Memory), James Smythe (Way Down Dark), and Derek Landy (Skulduggery Pleasant), not to mention Costa Book of the Year winner and serial hat-wearer Frances Hardinge (The Lie Tree). It was one of those events where having three of four versions of yourself would have been the ideal superpower (never mind “summon steak”, Peter Newman – I’m looking at you).
More than anything, FantasyCon 2016 showed just how friendly the SFF crowd is, and how a mutual love of the magical, the macabre, and the weird, brings out a hugely welcoming membership. It’s this shared passion that’s at the heart of finding success within the industry. A young Kim Newman met a just-as-young Neil Gaiman at a BFS meet-up in 1983, the result being a collaboration on what would be the anthology that helped kickstart their careers as writers of speculative fiction. Perhaps tomorrow’s bestselling authors will look back on this year’s FantasyCon and remember it for the brief chat at the bar or an impressing idea from a panel that ultimately led on to greater things. It may well be about fiction of a kind that can only exist in the imagination, but it is these intersections of people and passion that can turn dreams into a reality.
The annual British Fantasy Society FantasyCon was at Scarborough, North Yorkshire, September 23-25 2016.