Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mr Theaker's Quarterly Fiction Goes to FantasyCon

I spent the weekend with my very dear friend Mrs Theaker's Quarterly Fiction at my third FantasyCon, and it was generally fab. We were both on the organising committee, but with volunteers like Jenny Barber, Pat Barber and Debbie Bennett doing the things we might have done, we had very little to do at times except enjoy ourselves. Our most onerous duty over the weekend was to arrange the name badges in alphabetical order.

On the Friday night we took part in the FantasyCon quiz, and while an attachment containing the answers may have swished through my inbox at one point, I promise it was never opened. Since I don't think I contributed a single correct answer, it's an easy claim to believe!

I was however inordinately proud of being able to half-answer the question, "What is the name of the main character in William Shatner's TekWar?" From the depths I dredged up the name Jake, but couldn't quite remember the surname. With the help of a clue, I guessed at Jake Trousers, but it was in fact Jake Cardigan. And I was wearing a cardigan, so I was really kicking myself over that one...

Tekwar - TeklordsI can't remember what we did next, but it probably involved either food or drink, and then we returned to the main hall to see Joel Lane, Simon Bestwick, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Lisa Tuttle, Stephen Volk and Allen Ashley discussing how their fiction approaches or engages real world issues.

On Saturday morning I think we spent some time on the registration desk, which turns out to be the perfect place to talk to new people. They have a reason to come up and chat, but also the perfect excuse to leave when it's time to move on: no one wants to spend the whole convention talking to the convention staff!

At some point in the day I met Douglas Thompson, a frequent contributor to BFS magazines and TQF, and I also had an interesting chat with Allen Ashley, another Eibonvale author.

Saturday evening was the banquet, and as a committee member I was fortunate enough to share a table with Garry Kilworth, Lisa Tuttle and Bryan Talbot, who were charming company, and not at all put out to be seated with the help. I very much enjoyed the food this year, and going to collect it from a buffet in such celebrated company was great fun.

The banquet was followed by the awards, and at this point I have video footage to share, because I announced the first prize of the night.

There I am, announcing the winner of the BFS Short Story Competition 2010. I did a much better job this year, though I should really apologise to Robin for failing to sell his jokes! Lesson learned: next time (if there is one, after this shoddy performance): learn the lines and look at the audience. Plus: wear paper bag over head! And drink less wine!

I was also the administrator of the British Fantasy Awards themselves this year (although Guy Adams organised the brilliant ceremony), and so watching them be announced was a weirdly emotional experience. In a silly, wine-filled way, it felt as if the awards were my personal gift, bestowed upon these lovely writers, artists, publishers and film-makers at my personal lordly whim. To be even more silly about it, it felt as if I had in some way been the conduit through which all the love in that room had travelled on its way to the award recipents.

David Howe, award in hand
But I wasn't the only one with a tear or two. The British Fantasy Awards mean a great deal to the recipients, and David Howe of Telos, who has been a long-term friend of the British Fantasy Society and FantasyCon, was utterly overwhelmed to receive the Best Small Press Award.

Another rather lovely moment for me was watching Robert Shearman joke about keeping the award for Doctor Who, but knowing that he would later get an award of his own.

The full list of winners was as follows:
  • Best Novel: the August Derleth Fantasy Award: ONE, Conrad Williams (Virgin Horror)
  • Best Novella: THE LANGUAGE OF DYING, Sarah Pinborough (PS Publishing)
  • Best Short Fiction: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE NIGHT, Michael Marshall Smith (Nightjar)
  • Best Anthology: THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR 20, edited by Stephen Jones (Constable and Robinson)
  • Best Collection: LOVE SONGS FOR THE SHY AND CYNICAL, Robert Shearman (Big Finish)
  • The PS Publishing Best Small Press Award: TELOS PUBLISHING, David Howe
  • Best Comic/Graphic Novel: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER?, Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert (DC Comics/Titan Books)
  • Best Artist: VINCENT CHONG, for work including covers for The Witnesses Are Gone (PS Publishing) and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20 (Constable & Robinson)
  • Best Non-Fiction: ANSIBLE, David Langford
  • Best Magazine/Periodical: MURKY DEPTHS, edited and published by Terry Martin
  • Best Television: DOCTOR WHO, head writer: Russell T Davies (BBC Wales)
  • Best Film: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, directed by Tomas Alfredson (EFTI)
  • Best Newcomer – the Sydney J. Bounds Award: KARI SPERRING for LIVING WITH GHOSTS (DAW)
  • The British Fantasy Society Special Award: the Karl Edward Wagner Award: ROBERT HOLDSTOCK
The awards over, and successfully concealing my disappointment at not winning the award for Best Magazine, I decided for some reason to get stupidly drunk, and I'm sure I failed to impress people I met that night with any of my usual wit. Among those suffering my ridiculousness were Steve Upham of Screaming Dreams, David Tallerman, and Johnny Mains, who probably didn't appreciate me celebrating the late start to his Pan Book of Horror Stories event with a high five for being angry. Did I really do that? I choose to believe not.

On Sunday morning I suffered a remarkably polite little hangover that left me ready to face breakfast and my third Annual General Meeting of the British Fantasy Society.

In 2008, as the newbie on the committee, I had sat quietly and listened to people row – really row – about the mysterious and mischievous type who had put exactly the same proposal to the AGM two years running but wouldn't own up to it. It turned out to have been a mistake – the proposal had been accidentally copied across from the previous year's agenda…

In 2009 I had run out of water too soon and found myself unable to speak with any confidence, so this time I was well prepared with multiple drinks.

I expected this year's AGM to be more stressful, as for the first (and probably only) time I was running it as chair. But I had prepared fairly well, with nice paragraphs prepared on each of my duties, and we had an overstuffed agenda that left little time for anything but moving on to the next item. It helped also to know that whatever happened, I was stepping down and it would be the new chair's job to fix it! On my way to the lift I actually found myself whistling!

It all went very well, and even a controversial proposal I expected to fail – to allow the BFS to offer ebook only memberships at a reduced rate, should the committee decide it was ready to offer them – went through, possibly because everyone knew that in a matter of minutes I would no longer be in a position to put such mad schemes into practice. And so the burden of leadership was lifted from my head, and transferred to that of the aforementioned Mr David Howe.

The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse!The last event we attended in full was the FantasyCon raffle, raising money (£390, in the end) for the Never Again charities. No longer the unwanted stepchild, hosted by debonair FantasyCon chair Guy Adams with his usual wit and showmanship, the raffle this year brought everyone back together to close out the convention in an astonishing shower of prizes, and some of them fell on me, to the discontent of those who had earlier heard me say at the AGM that I was unlikely to buy many more paper books...

Here are the freebies I brought home this year...
    The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror
  • The Best of Best New Horror, ed. Stephen Jones, picking out the best from the long-running and BFA-hoovering anthology
  • Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts
  • Zombie Apocalypse, created by Stephen Jones, a World War Z type book by many hands that's sure to be a huge hit.
  • The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions, by Robert Rankin
  • The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher
  • New Writings in the Fantastic, edited by John Grant
  • The Poison Throne, Celine Kiernan
  • The Judging Eye, R. Scott Bakker
  • Bartimaeus: The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathan Stroud
  • Shenanigans, Noel K. Hannan
  • Blind Swimmers: an Anthology of Eibonvale Press Writers (raffle prize)
  • Nightmare Touch, Lafcadio Hearn (raffle prize)
  • The Dragons of Ordinary Farm, Tad Williams and Deborah Beale
  • Best New Horror 21, edited by Stephen Jones
My work on Dark Horizons gets a mention on pp. 52–53 of that last book, one article being described as "fascinating", so that was nice.

I also won House of Canted Steps by Gary Fry in the raffle, but one of my fellow committee members looked at it with such covetousness that I just had to hand it over. He'd earned it ten times over – but fingers crossed that it comes through for review, because I really was looking forward to it myself.

Selected Stories by Fritz LeiberBelieve it or not, I even bought two old-fashioned paper books, though one was with someone else's money:
  • Never Again, edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane. Because I want to trick people into thinking I'm a good person.
  • Selected Stories, by Fritz Leiber. The lovely Caroline Callaghan of Pantechnicon insisted upon buying me a treat for helping to get their last issue out, and to be honest I didn't resist much because I love treats.
And after a glass of wine with the committee to celebrate the successful end of the event – pictured below – it was time to return home, and we caught our train on time, and we got home on time, and overall it felt like the entire weekend had been a very lucky one. Everything that could have gone wrong, didn't. And of course part of the reason for that is the hard work of the hotel staff. In particular I'd like to thank Mary Morris of the Britannia Hotel, who put up with some very poor paperwork from me at first as we found our feet on registrations.

The FantasyCon committee. Photograph by David Riley (see davidandrewriley.blogspot.com).

The best part of the event? Reading the blogs, forum posts and tweets where people said what a good time they had. Here are just a few:
It broke my heart to see on Twitter that a couple of people had a bad time. If I'm ever involved again, I guarantee we'll set up a "bad time" emergency hotline and whenever necessary send Guy Adams around to entertain you with his cheeky ways.

The 2011 convention will be in Brighton: www.fantasycon2011.org.


  1. Hi Stephen,

    Do reviews copies come through from PS regularly?

    Gary Fry

  2. Hi Gary,

    Paul Raven circulates an email to reviewers linking to the pdfs every month or two - I think one's probably due fairly soon. There wasn't one last month but I'd guess that's because they were holding everything back for the big launch.

    It sounds terrible to say to an author that I gave your book away, but you should have seen Martin's eyes light up...

  3. No worries. Let me know if you can't get hold of a review copy and I'll sort it out.