Monday, 10 October 2011

The British Fantasy Society

The British Fantasy Society is going through a rough patch at the moment, which has prompted me to get out this piece I wrote for the FantasyCon 2010 souvenir booklet; perhaps it might encourage people to get involved with the society. The publications and people have changed, as has my own level of involvement, but my feelings about the society haven't. 

Thanks for coming to FantasyCon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society. If you’re not a member of the Society, no worries, you’re more than welcome – like Radio 4, we judge ourselves by our reach as much as our ratings! But if this weekend you enjoy the camaraderie of FantasyCon, note that being a member of the Society means you get that happy feeling all year round – or at least in four quarterly mailings.

We’re a really ambitious little society. For our size we really try to do a little too much at times: ten or so publications a year, fourteen awards, a three-day annual conference, a short story competition that’s doubled in size two years running, and other events through the year and around the country, not to mention a website and forum. This past year we’ve been stretched quite thin, but I hope you’ll agree that this convention was worth a few hiccups in other areas.

For our promotional postcard for the World Horror Convention this year I picked out a quote from Stephen Jones, from our anniversary book, The British Fantasy Society: a Celebration. “Whenever a fledgling horror or fantasy writer comes up to me, at a convention or somewhere else,” he wrote, “and asks me how they can get their work published, I invariably advise them that their first step should be to join the British Fantasy Society.”

Joining the BFS isn’t enough on its own to make you a great writer, of course (at least it hasn’t worked for me!), or to get you published, but that isn’t what he means. What it will do is give you the opportunity to talk (or at least listen, which is perhaps the better option at first) to experienced writers, editors, publishers and artists, and learn from them. People like Jo Fletcher, Peter Crowther, Les Edwards, and our glorious President-for-Life Ramsey Campbell.

And those are the professionals: the BFS is also rich with people doing all the same things for fun in their spare time. You couldn’t spill a pint of beer at FantasyCon or a BFS Open Night without drenching someone who’s up to something creative! Writers, actors, jewellers, sculptors: the BFS is a social network – a creative network – that began to bring interesting people together thirty years before Facebook opened for business.

One other great thing about the BFS: it’s a really easy society to get involved with. I’d been a member for just a year before being offered the editorship of Dark Horizons in March 2008, and a member less than three years when I became chair (albeit temporarily), after Guy Adams stepped down to concentrate on this year’s convention. It’s a cliché that working on a committee like this is thankless, but that’s not been my experience at all: there’s the odd complaint here and there, many of them perfectly justified, but I’ve had bucketfuls of gratitude as well.

(And when the complaints you get are from people like Robert Silverberg (he was chasing up a book), bring them on! Though perhaps that’s a bad example: he could have been emailing to insult my children and I’d still have been delighted.)

And if all of that sounds far too much like hard work, just sit back and appreciate the results of our hard work: we’ll send you a bundle of varied reading materials every three months. Prism contains dozens of reviews every issue, often of unusual books and films that don’t attract the attention of other magazines. Dark Horizons and New Horizons leapfrog through the year, the former bringing poetry, fiction, articles and art across all the fantastic genres, the latter focusing on slipstream, new writers and new approaches. And once or twice a year we produce special publications to stop things getting too routine. Recent years have brought chapbooks, calendars, literary criticism, original fiction, and all sorts of unusual, collectable items.

But that’s what we do, rather than what we’re about. Ours is a society built very much on love. Stop laughing. It is. It may seem like we argue quite a lot for people in love (though as Brian Keene recently observed, we argue very politely!) but that’s because we’re all in love with slightly different things, and have very strong ideas about them. Science fantasy like Moorcock and Vance, weird fantasy like Machen or Lovecraft, heroic or high fantasy like Howard or Tolkien: this is a society that was founded to celebrate all of them. Even more, it’s here to help people discover new books and new writers in a similar vein.

In the age of the internet, is there a need for a fantasy society – can we not just congregate on websites? Well, we can, and we do, but a society feels so much grander! Once upon a time, Conan and Cthulhu appeared in the same magazine, Weird Tales. As bookshops and publishers push us apart, slotting authors and books into ever-narrower, more easily marketable categories, the BFS is needed more than ever, to bring us back together again, to celebrate the fantastic genres as a whole, and, sometimes, to celebrate those writers who don’t fit neatly into boxes.

Stephen Theaker
September 2010

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