Friday 29 December 2023

FantasyCon 2023 | report from Stephen Theaker

This report originally appeared in TQF75 in November 2023.

FantasyCon 2023 took place from 15 to 17 September 2023, at the Leonardo Royal Hotel Birmingham. The same hotel (then called Jurys Inn) was the location for FantasyCon 2021, and I was glad it was back there. The suite of smaller rooms is perfect for hosting several strands of events, the bar is downstairs out of the way so no need to wade through boozy blokes to get to anything, and best of all it’s in Birmingham so we (Mrs Theaker and I) can get home in a taxi at the end of the night.

Friday | Imaginative Audio | World Mythologies | Awards Recognition | Poetry Corner

Saturday | Shortcraft | Detective Fiction in the GenreMulti-culturalism in SFF – How to get it rightFantasy ReadingWriting 21st Century HorrorFeminism in FantasySelf-Publishing Journeys | The Tropes BinThe British Fantasy Awards

Sunday | British Fantasy Society AGMBFS anthology launch | The raffle | Overall


At 4 pm there was a New to FantasyCon session to welcome first-time attendees, but the first event we attended was Imaginative Audio at 5 pm. Moderator Sasha Sienna led the panellists in an interesting discussion, although they could perhaps have taken our interest in audio as read and moved on to more specific topics. Nick Wells of Flame Tree Press pointed out the risks in cutting corners when producing audio content, but also noted that the prices of performers sometimes reflect their availability as much as their talent. Devin Martin of Podcastle gave practical advice such as reading in a room with soft furnishings and keeping your microphone well away from your laptop’s fan. George Penney said that there was no great tradition of radio drama in Australia, it mostly being bought in from the BBC, but that brilliant work was now being done there in podcasts, especially in horror.

The World Mythologies panel was at 6 pm, and well-attended, well-informed and well-moderated. Charlotte Bond’s first question to the panel was about the difference between myth and religion. Guest of honour Tasha Suri (much funnier in person than her serious first novel led me to expect) suggested that it’s religion when people still claim it’s true. With that in mind, she draws on Hindu mythology for her books, but not the actual gods, given that they are still actively worshipped. Joanne Harris noted that organised religions often contain bubbles of myth that no one still seriously believes. A.Y. Chao talked about writing “bureaucratic fantasy” in a hellish version of Shanghai, and explained that many Chinese deities were actual people elevated to godhood because of their achievements in life. Alexander Glass was interested in the kind of self-mythologising one might get from artificial intelligences.

It was quite surprising to learn that the first time some authors draw a map is when the publisher requests one!

We missed the Welcome to FantasyCon event (7 pm), which is a shame since I always enjoy convention chair Allen Stroud’s warm-hearted speeches, and we somehow went on to miss all the events featuring the other two guests of honour, Alastair Reynolds and Ian Whates. I didn’t see any events involving bonus guest Tad Williams either, despite owning virtually all his books, but that’s probably for the best since he subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.

Instead we attended the Awards Recognition panel (7 pm), moderated ably by Hugo-winner Adri Joy, who asked why we have awards, how things get nominated, and why we don’t have local awards in the UK (e.g. the British Fantasy Awards are open to and frequently given to American authors). Adrian Tchaikovsky talked about awards that come from “a concentration of readers”, each of which has its own tastes, and told us how sales of his most successful novel, Children of Time, had snowballed after it won the Clarke Award. Simon Kurt Unsworth talked about what a World Fantasy Award nomination had meant to him, and how useful he had found shortlists as a bookseller, for inspiring displays and drawing attention to new books. (Mrs Theaker nodded at this, having done the same thing many times as a librarian.) He also told us how Robert Shearman once got a World Fantasy Award nomination thanks to an author reading his book on the loo while visiting someone’s house, and then telling the publisher to submit it.

Francesca T. Barbini, Luna Press publisher, talked about her highly organised approach to putting their books forward for awards, which certainly seems to bear fruit at the BFAs, with multiple nominations every year. Nice to hear that she appreciates the BFA suggestions form I set up, many years ago, and continued by the current awards administrator. She also talked about how much joy awards can bring to the authors, how much they help sell the books, and how cost considerations, which she said could range from £100 to £10,000 depending on the award, can present a significant barrier to small publishers.

I asked a question at this panel, about something that has always puzzled me. It’s surprisingly common for BFA-nominated works to have no fantasy in them whatsoever, to be thrillers, detective novels, things like that. One recent nominee was just about a scientist’s everyday life. So I asked, why don’t the authors of such books withdraw their works? Adrian Tchaikovsky explained that authors understand how each award has such quirks, for example that the BFAs also nominate much more small press horror than you might expect. Simon Kurt Unsworth said that as an author, “you let it ride”. There’s plenty to gain, and nothing to lose. Made sense to me.

The Poetry Corner (8 pm) compered by Allen Ashley was once again a highlight of the convention. Poets reading included Sarah Doyle, Ian Hunter, Pauline Morgan, Chris Morgan, Susan York, Liz Tuckwell, Susie Williamson, Roy Gray, Pauline Kirk, Alan Gillot, Ruth Aylett, Eliza Mood, Tina Rath and Allen himself, who also read a poem by the late Clint Wastling to remember him by. Topics included school, dragons, gardens, statues coming to life, a woman who I think was also a tree, Avalon-on-Sea, a ghastly version of the street outside the hotel, vampires, fairies, robots, time travel, the effect of ageing on the female body, the life of a World War II refugee, time travel and much more. Forms ranged from haiku to long narrative poems, and there was a wide range of performance styles, from the wistful and sing-song to the bold and declamatory. Some were hilarious, some were heart-breaking. It was a warm, convivial and superbly supportive event, full of camaraderie. I loved it, not least because I do enjoy clapping.


We arrived a bit late for the busy Shortcraft panel (9.30 am), but still picked up a lot of useful information. Moderator Pete Sutton (editor of BFS Horizons) asked questions about fitting the story to the word count, which books on writing the panel would recommend, and whether short story writers should only target paying markets. He also talked about the importance of reading guidelines, how it makes sense for the protagonist to be the person with most at stake, and how a short story can get away with being like a wild west town in the movies: all frontage, nothing behind. Tina Rath said not to expect to make money out of writing short stories, and said she dislikes arbitrary writing rules (e.g. no adverbs) and writes for fun.

Devin Martin said he looks for stories that make him feel something physically, and said that while pay may not be an issue, authors shouldn’t give stories for free to venues making a profit out of them. Rachel Grosvenor told writers to keep their chins up, and said that pay is not always an issue if she gets something else out of it. She recommended Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. Richard Clive recommended Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and warned writers against posting their rejections or complaints about editors on social media, and said that in short stories he is looking for cohesion and a satisfying conclusion, a story that builds to a crucial moment. He disagreed with Tina Rath as to writing being fun: he finds it hard work, something he is compelled to do.

An audience member asked if writers should give up on a venue if they have been rejected five times: the panel were unanimous in saying no. (I’d agree with that, but if you’ve been rejected five times, be sure to write something new before submitting again, bearing in mind any feedback you’ve received from that venue.)

Detective Fiction in the Genre (10.30 am) was moderated by Sandra Unerman, who asked the panel what a detective is, and whether the idea that the detective’s job is to restore order holds true in fantasy, science fiction and horror. She made the interesting point that the shadow of the death penalty hung over British detective stories until its abolition, and talked about how the apparently supernatural elements of something like The Hound of the Baskervilles can stick in the imagination long after the detective debunks them. Alice James distinguished between different types of detectives: professionals, amateurs and reluctant sleuths (such as Martha Wells's Murderbot), and pointed out a big difference in fantasy/sf detective stories: the investigator is more likely to be able to kill, and a wider range of options are possible when it comes to delivering justice.

Tim Major had written three Sherlock Holmes novels and I think had a Jekyll and Hyde as detectives novel in the works. He was interested in how the rules of the world are established – a detective story can’t be arbitrary, even in fantasy – and suggested that fantasy/sf detectives are more likely than traditional sleuths to challenge the law, rather than simply uphold it. He finds Doctor Watson characters less useful when writing sf/fantasy, because if the world is strange it helps if the detective is not too strange as well.

Dave Brzeski, editor of Occult Detective Magazine, made the point that any present-day detective novel would seem like science fiction to the readers of the 1920s, and that “investigators” might often be a better word than “detectives”, since people like Carnacki are not generally investigating crimes. Simon Clark, editor of Sherlock Holmes anthologies, said he likes an impersonal detective, and talked about how he likes to make Holmes squirm by having him come up against supernatural elements.

A fiery panel on Multi-culturalism in SFF – How to get it right followed at 11.30 am. One panellist, a chap who has blogged about his anger issues, tried to turn a flamethrower on the others, but his rather dogmatic sloganeering was solidly rebuffed by the other panelists, not least the well-informed Polish fantasy writer Gabriela Houston. A great panel followed. The moderator was Omar Kooheji, who asked why everyone was on the panel, how it was relevant to their work, how to achieve authenticity, how to avoid giving offence, and whether they felt a sense of responsibility.

Houston talked about how the conversation had been flattened to a ridiculous extent, giving the example of someone who had decided to slam her for cultural appropriation until they realised she was originally from Poland and Houston was her married name. (The moderator later criticised another author, rather unfairly I thought, for using her married name for her books, as if she had been dishonestly using it as a shield.) Houston was in favour of more intercultural conversations, and wholly unimpressed by another panellist’s suggestion that writers should recuse themselves from certain subjects. She also talked about how the USA has a tendency to impose its own cultural taboos on others, pointing out for example that her own grandparents had been enslaved. The moderator interjected to suggest the problem was that slavery was a more recent issue in the USA. (More recent than World War II?) Houston also said she doesn’t like when a novel feels like the author is afraid of Twitter.

Anna Stephens talked about writing novels based on meso-America, and how she does worry about cultural appropriation, and is careful not to use live religions to avoid giving offence. She explained how much care she takes with her research, spending up to six months on it before writing a word of fiction, and told us how it felt to then be accused of lying about consulting experts. She felt fantasy fiction needs to reflect the fact that colonialism has a permanent effect, that after the invading army has been despatched, things never go back to being quite the same.

João Silva, of Portuguese origin but writing in English, talked interestingly about how he blends tiny elements from many cultures rather than focusing on one, and how he chooses to create worlds without colonialism and misogyny. For him that’s the benefit of writing fantasy: you don’t need to replicate the flaws of contemporary society or be restricted to writing about your own culture.

Another male panellist, the angry chap mentioned above, complained about writers “taking up space”, and then while apologising for talking over a woman proceeded to do just that. It was interesting to see that kind of angry bloke writer, so common on Twitter, in action up close. But even he had something useful to say: for each book he has a spreadsheet of characters, each column an attribute relevant to the book, and as he creates each character he fills in the spreadsheet, so that they are all well-rounded from the off.

A very enjoyable panel. Just a shame that after everyone had agreed that making Polishness a punchline was a bad and lazy habit of American television shows, it ended with a lazy crack about Indian food…

At 2 pm we attended a Fantasy Reading, with Susie Williamson reading from The Warder, and Elijah Kinch Spector, a dapper best newcomer nominee all the way from New York, reading from Kalyna the Soothsayer. Gabriela Houston didn’t make it, but I picked up a signed copy of her novel The Second Bell later.

The panel on Writing 21st Century Horror (3 pm) began well but later wandered off the subject a bit, to discuss other interesting issues. Ramsey Campbell alluded to a recent online flap in which he was criticised on specious grounds (and then roundly defended by all sides), but unfortunately there wasn’t time for the panel to return to what could have been fertile ground. (That is, how do you write horror in the midst of a literary culture that sees books that inadvertently upset the reader as harmful, never mind books that deliberately set out to cause upset?)

Moderator Kat Day, who was well-prepared and did a great job of bringing everyone into the conversation, asked the panel whether they thought of 21st century horror as set in the 21st century or written in it, what was still to come, and about the panellists’ own work. Phil Sloman thought that extreme horror was on the rise, and stories about technology. He recommended doing drabbles as an exercise in learning which words to leave out, and to practise writing endings. Raven Dane talked, rather ironically I thought, about bad behaviour online. Ramsey Campbell talked about the internet as the library of Babel, the sum of all human knowledge, but also the sum of its ignorance, a place where the monsters within us can be released, often without comeback – witchhunts, the mob, etc. He had grappled with the question of whether to include the pandemic in his novels, and decided to follow the example of writers of the 1920s who didn’t write about the Spanish flu, but found the grief and loss coming through in his stories anyway.

Phillip Fracassi said that he loves writing in period, because the mythical feel it creates can make for a more convincing story world. He talked about the horror of the approaching singularity, and losing one’s grip on humanity, and how horror, with its array of familiar monsters, can in fact be comforting, and offer an escape from real horrors.

Feminism in Fantasy (4 pm) was one of the best panels we attended. Scheduled, aptly, versus the panel on gender, it was unapologetically focused on issues concerning female people, which was refreshing given how often people seem to think a feminist’s job is to play mother to the rest of us.

The moderator was Charlotte Bond, from the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast, who asked about ways in which fantasy fiction got women wrong in the past, about rape being used as a motivator, how the panellists redress the imbalances in their own writing, the difference between YA and grown-up portrayals of female characters, whether women’s issues are addressed in fantasy books, and whether movies and tv are any different to books in these regards. She also talked about how she reads male authors on holiday to switch off (her podcast focusing on women) and how she wants to see more “kick-ass mothers”.

Kate Dylan, author of Mindwalker, talked about how strong female characters have often been portrayed as strong in the ways that male characters are strong, but female strength comes in different forms. She said that in YA prettiness counts for a lot, and that she avoids that in her books. Any issues can be addressed in YA, she said, it just has to be done in an age-appropriate way. M.H. Ayinde talked about wanting to portray older women in her fiction, and that for her having a child isn’t the end of a woman’s story, but the beginning of one. She was impressed by the moon cup scene in The Last of Us. She suggested that female representation is often better in film and television, but not necessarily for good reasons – it’s to provide eye candy for male viewers.

Samantha Shannon disliked the “expectation” of misogyny and sexual violence in fantasy, that arises from its relationship with history, and said it doesn’t have to be that way. She removed examples of misogyny from her first book, deciding it didn’t make sense for her female deity to create a misogynistic world. Although she didn’t want to have children herself, she wanted to celebrate in her work both motherhood and the choice not to be a mother.

Susie Williamson talked about the historical dominance of male authors, so poor representations of women weren’t too surprising: even powerful characters like Arwen in The Lord of the Rings lacked agency. She liked complex women characters, not just strong ones. Her books, she said, include eco-feminism, and her characters are up against patriarchal systems. She felt that knowing what women look like is much less important than knowing what they want to do. As for film and television, upon analysing a list of forthcoming films being adapted from novels, she had found that 80% of them were based on books by male novelists.

(Though I did wonder how much of that 80% would have been Stephen King books alone!)

A really great panel, of well-informed women talking about issues they really cared about.

The panel on Self-Publishing Journeys (6.30pm) was also excellent. Moderator David Cartwright asked the panellists why they decided to self-publish, about the pitfalls of self-publishing, about dealing with the public and reviews and comments. He also talked about how you have to love your own work and then communicate that enthusiasm to potential readers. Kevin Elliott talked about sending his novel to a book doctor, and then deciding to self-publish after making the suggested fixes. He advised getting to grips with how advertising works before pouring money into it. Dave Watkins told us how a horrific car accident led to his deciding to take writing seriously. His wife read it and loved it (Mrs Theaker smiled at this, having not read any of my novels this century), and after years sending it out he decided to do it himself. He loves the freedom and control of self-publishing, but also said that just because you can self-publish doesn’t mean you should. He said that conventions can be a good place to meet artists to work with. He thought advertising was probably a waste of money without at least three books out, and in fact his best sales period came at a time when he had given up on marketing his books altogether.

Michael R. Miller talked about being a full-time self-publisher. He needed to write a book and knowing he could self-publish encouraged him to do so. (I nodded heartily at this. I don’t care if anyone reads my novels, but I do need to write them.) He loves the flexibility of self-publishing, that you can react in days, not months or years. He advised authors not to spend money they couldn’t afford, and warned them that they probably wouldn’t get into bookshops, and that marketing is not enough: you need a good book. He said that the most effective means of marketing can change – at present he finds Discord useful, because it lets readers connect with each other, talk about things other than his books, and build a personal engagement with his fiction.

Ryan Cahill, an Irish writer living in New Zealand, fired out nuggets of useful information like he’d loaded them into a machine gun. He decided to self-publish because he wanted to be in control of his own success or failure. (He’s now six books in.) Self-publishing means he can put more effort in when things are going wrong and fix them. He pointed out how the money is better at lower sales figures – that without any middlemen involved an author can make a living from selling 10,000 books a year, and that the money comes in steadily and predictably, the same day every month, rather than once a year. Authors need to consider whether they want to make a living – easier when self-publishing, he said – or fulfill a wish. He said authors need to consider their goals and understand their weaknesses, and be willing to learn skills they don’t currently have. Your book, he said, must look no different to the other books in the category, or readers will dismiss it. He recommended printing out the covers of the bestselling books in your genre and putting your book cover beside them – if your cover could be picked out of the line-up that was a problem. He said to never respond to adverse comments: nothing good ever comes of it. He also said not to be too precious about price, that building a readership was more important, and that one reader who really loves your books is more valuable than any review.

I thought it was an excellent, practical, useful panel, just the kind of thing I like to see at FantasyCon.

The Tropes Bin at 7.30pm was not quite as educational. The panellists seemed much less sure of their ground and tended to discuss types of stories that were old-hat (e.g. the Chosen One), rather than more practical matters, such as the tropes authors should avoid if they don’t want to get savaged on Goodreads: women in refrigerators, disfigured and disabled villains, white saviours, things like that.

Moderator Robin C.M. Duncan asked the panellists which tropes they were sick of, how to inject life into old tropes and turn them on their heads, and if there were new tropes emerging. The two he talked about were the ragtag crew of misfits and the end of the world. Fantasy author Lucy McLaren was tired of love triangles and chosen ones in YA fantasy, especially white, male chosen ones, and talked about the importance of not letting the trope write the story for you. Kevin Elliott disliked the lazy, cliched trope of nature being good, artifice being bad, and suggested that when subverting a trope, authors should consider whether it will be a nice surprise for the reader or just annoying. Sandra Unerman wasn’t keen on the reluctant hero. Mark Morris thought stories about militaristic humans versus spiritual aliens were rather played out. The horror genre is full of tropes, he pointed out, and it’s all about how you use them: Stranger Things, he said, is nothing but tropes, but still beloved.

The British Fantasy Awards followed the banquet (of which I know nothing except that Ramsey Campbell’s prawns were remarkably small). These went smoothly, or at least they seemed to from our position behind an immense pillar. At one point the host was shouted at for using the word “she” to describe a female author, but he amended his language with good grace.

The awards themselves were mostly very creditable, so far as one can tell without actually reading all the nominees. One exception was the winner of best short story, which wasn’t the best story of the anthology it appeared in, let alone the entire year. I was on the jury for the best newcomer award, which went to Leech by Hiron Ennes, and that was indeed my favourite of the nominated works. Several winners were in attendance (James Bennett, E.M. Faulds, Luna Press, Interzone, Rhiannon A. Grist), many weren’t (Hiron Ennes, Vince Haig, Jonathan Strahan, Sarah Gailey, Simon Jiminez), and a couple, tragically, were at FantasyCon but left before the ceremony (Eugen Bacon, C.K. McDonnell).

BFA juries can add one or two egregious omissions to their shortlists. I found it interesting that four of the five winners who were at the ceremony were in categories where the juries had added no egregious omissions, while all five winners who weren’t at the convention were in categories where the juries had added egregious omissions. When a BFA category has only four nominees, that means one of two things: they are already the four best possible nominees, or the jury hasn’t done its job properly. And adding no egregious omissions makes it much more likely that the awards will go to winners from the BFS/FantasyCon scene, because that’s who votes for the first four nominees.

It was a bit peculiar to end the ceremony with a random award from another organisation. Best I think to get things like that out of the way first, and then end with a British Fantasy Award given to someone who is actually in the room. I was annoyed, as I am every year, to see Ginger Nuts of Horror nominated for best magazine/periodical: it’s neither a magazine nor a periodical, it’s a website. I also winced when one winner said to the presenter, “You’ve always been there for me”, given that the presenter’s husband was on the jury that decided the award. Surely he should have recused himself?

On the other hand, I was very pleased to see long-time TTA Press representative Roy Gray win the non-BFA Legends of FantasyCon award, and Interzone win best magazine. Clearly the trick to winning after a ten-year drought was to go a year without publishing anything by me.


The British Fantasy Society AGM began at 10 am and lasted all the way up to 12 noon. What I dread about our AGMs is that I might feel obliged to volunteer for something if things are going wrong. Not at all the case this year. Membership is astonishingly high and things seem to be going well. In past years the society saw a huge drop-off in membership levels when it went a long period without sending out any print publications. (Why would you keep paying for something you didn’t receive?) Not so this year. The society hasn’t sent anything out since October 2022 (a combination of editing, typesetting and printing issues, we were told), but membership has still gone up – a lot. Perhaps that’s because over half of members now have digital memberships, so they don’t expect anything in the post, making our membership levels more resilient. But the committee also cited the effect of their online events, with people joining in order to participate. (I wonder if the opportunity to vote in the awards also made a difference – there were people this year who explicitly campaigned for their nominations.)

So much of what I heard at the meeting was manna from heaven for me. Regular committee meetings, AGM agendas and minutes and reports sent out to members well in advance. Unfortunately, two of the key figures stood down from their roles, citing time pressures, and as ever with the BFS the question will be whether the new people who come in are able to keep things going at the same level. The pre-limited company version of the BFS was ramshackle, but when people didn’t do their jobs (which in my experience happened with about 50% of volunteers), it didn’t lead to HMRC fines and regulatory issues, it just annoyed our members.

There was perhaps a sense from the AGM that the BFS is now more about putting money in the hands of writers, rather than putting as much interesting stuff as it can in the hands of its members: writers for the publications are now paid (albeit not reviewers), the society paid for a member to go on an expensive writer’s retreat, and they pay writers for taking part in online events. But membership levels would suggest it’s a strategy that works. There is one predictable downside: we heard that offering payments for BFS Horizons contributions has led to a massive increase in the number of stories submitted, and thus of the work involved in running the magazine, and the stories tend to be of lower quality to boot. That wasn’t the case with poetry, though: Ian Hunter, the poetry editor, reported on eminent poets submitting work to him for the first time.

There was some discussion about the best time to hold the awards ceremony. Although I didn’t feel strongly enough to speak up, I’m definitely a fan of having the awards ceremony on a Saturday night. It’s when the greatest number of people are in attendance, it makes for a big end to the biggest day, and it doesn’t put anyone in the difficult position of having to get ready for the banquet and then ready to travel home again after the check-out time for their room at the hotel. Plus, as was pointed out at the AGM, it lets publishers with winning books sell the heck out of them on Sunday.

Overall, my favourite AGM ever. Loved what I heard, especially that the BFS Journal now has an editor, since I was probably going to volunteer! I am still annoyed that they deleted over a decade’s worth of content from the website. So much work, all gone. But it’s not the first time the BFS has done that, and it won’t be the last.

The last event we attended was a BFS anthology launch at 12 noon: Portraits of Patriarchs, a pdf-only book for members edited by the society’s chair, Shona Kinsella, with a POD version to follow. It collects stories by eleven writers who attended a BFS writers’ retreat in 2022. Four gave readings – Halla Williams, T.H. Dray, Sian O’Hara and Jen Williams – while Teika Marija Smits showed us the moves relating to the karate terms used in her story. (Teika’s own report is on the BFS website.) All good fun, except that apparently someone was giving me deadeyes for looking at my phone – I was of course reading along! Free pains chocolats for attendees made up for it.

We headed home after that, but on our way out discovered we had won a fancy book in the raffle: The Broken Binding’s signed and numbered edition of Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward. Sorry to anyone who had their eye on it!

It was a remarkably jam-packed convention, frequently with six programming streams on at once, and it seemed to run extremely smoothly, a testament to the organisational skills of the FantasyCon committee – Allen Stroud, Karen Fishwick and Stuart Maher, from HWS Events – and their team of quietly efficient Red Cloaks: Amy Brennan, Babs Nienhuis, C.A. Yates, Christopher Jarvis, Dion Winton-Polak, Elliot Craggs, Marlene Welbergen, Pat Maher, Paul Yates, Russell A. Smith and Sarah Deeming.

I noted that the panels whose moderators had supplied the questions beforehand tended to have more interesting and relevant things to say, but I don’t think any of the conversations were ready to end when the time was up. That was actually the most stressful element of the weekend for me: how often panels would continue to take questions after having been asked to wind up, with a horde of people waiting at the door!

Something that always surprises me about FantasyCon is that when I see the people who bug me online in person, they are often much more likeable than I expect. Author who wrote pseudonymous recommendations of her own books on Amazon? Nice to see someone I recognised! Author whose response to authors receiving death threats was utterly crass? Had interesting things to say! Author who posts libellous claptrap about feminists on Twitter? Rather adorable in person with his neat little beard! Coming to these events once in a while reminds me that there are people behind the screen, and it makes me want to be slightly less judgmental, rather more indulgent, maybe even a bit nicer to them. No one is all bad.

So if you are considering whether to attend FantasyCon in future (2024 will be in Chester, 2025 will probably be in Brighton, combined with the World Fantasy Convention), here’s something to consider: if someone as unsociable and antagonistic as me, with next to no interest in meeting famous writers, drinking at the bar or getting books signed, can still have an excellent time at FantasyCon, just imagine how brilliant it could be for someone as friendly and sociable and likeable as you…

Stephen Theaker’s reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism, Dark Horizons and the BFS Journal. His story “The Reader-Queens of Tranck” appeared in the BFS anthology Emerging Horizons, edited by Allen Ashley. He has written many novels, none of them well-regarded. The full range of his enthusiastic literary endeavours may be viewed on his ISFDB summary bibliography:

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