Fantasycon 2014, and why you should come

Happy New Year!

It’s about time I made a proper announcement that I’m co-chairing this year’s FantasyCon. You may already have seen as much on Twitter. FantasyCon 2014 will run 5th-7th September, in the Royal York Hotel, situated, perhaps unsurprisingly, in York. Our guests of honour are Kate Elliott, Larry Rostant, Toby Whithouse, and Charlaine Harris.

I’m in charge of programming. I’ve got an amazing team of splendid people on the case with me. Our plans include: Fantasy Fashion shows. Vikings. Combat to the death not actually to the death. (Stupid health and safety.) Newbie mingling sessions. Screenwriting workshops. Comics writing workshops. Agent speed-dating. And games!  We hope it’ll all be awesome.

But we’re going to need more help — your help.

It’s funny to find myself in charge of anything to do with an SFF convention, seeing as I was fully thirty and had been writing, reading and watching SFF for most of my life before it remotely occurred to me I had any place at one. I did not see myself as oppressed or excluded by this. I just, insofar as I thought about cons at all assumed they were for other people.

And yes, because there’s an elephant in the room here — insofar as I thought about those other people at all, I assumed those other people were very largely straight white men. And not without reason. I didn’t know what those SWMs were getting out of it but I assumed it was something very specialised and it didn’t occur to me it might be anything I would also want.

That remained true until I was, I think at a Gollancz party and someone said to me “the SFX Weekender – you’re coming, right?”

And I said okay, and I went. It is a matter of public record that I had some issues with what I found there.

But on the whole, there and at subsequent cons, I had a brilliant and worthwhile time.

I met publishers for whom I’ve since written short stories.

I met fellow writers with whom I discussed ideas. Ideas for collaborations – actually pretty much the first thing that happened was that Tom Pollock (on whom I had never set eyes before) began talking about a comic concept — Tom, I still think we should write that thing some day. Ideas about where the fiction we were immersed in was going, where it was going wrong, how we could fix it. Pieces I’ve written like The Rape of James Bond and I Hate Strong Female Characters have their roots in those discussions.

I danced with Giant David Bowie (I really wish there were pics.)

I made friends. Friends whose cats I’ve petted. Friends who’ve floors I’ve slept on.

I now think conventions have real power. They’re crucibles in which publishers, writers, and fans are all mixed into a reactive solution out of which, perhaps, new things might come. I’d like to see them become more diverse and, as I’d never have gone to one if someone hadn’t asked me  I’m very much in favour of not just waiting for people to turn up, but asking them to come.

Now, whether you’ve been to one or not, you  may have heard some things about the darker side of the convention circuit. Cons that don’t seem to welcome women or minorities, cons who’ve handled the issue of harassment horribly, cons that aren’t interested in discussing anything but the same old topics.  I wish I could tell you all of this wasn’t real, but I can’t. I can tell you about what we’re going to try to so about it.

First of all, we’re going for gender parity across the convention. For reasons Lizzie Barrett ably outlines here, we don’t intend to feature a “Women in…” panel. This is not to say that we want to silence discussion of gender issues! But we would like such discussions to be starting from a somewhat more advanced position than just boggling over the fact that female writers and female characters exist, and we want female panellists to be involved in other topics too. For similar reasons our starting position is not to have a “LGBT people in…” or “People of colour in…” unless people from those groups tell us they want to see/be on such a panel, in which case that’s what we’ll have.

We’ll be donating £1 from every membership to the World SF Travel Fund, a charity devoted to helping international members of the sf, fantasy, and horror community travel to major genre events. We urge other conrunners to consider doing this.

Our harassment policy is here and we’re discussing ways to make sure it’s implemented effectively with professionals in the field.

We welcome ideas – ideas for panels, ideas for outreach, ideas for making Fantasycon its best self. Sign up and tell us about them here. It’s true that we can’t promise everyone will be on a panel or that all ideas will work out, but we will always try to work with your contributions where possible. You don’t necessarily have to be an industry insider to be involved. Are you a blogger? An academic? A prolific fanficcer? A jeweller who enjoys casting magical rings? Get in touch!

I’ll also be hunting talented people down. This would be much easier if, as I could if I were, for example, editing an anthology, offer to pay everyone. But I’ll be using all means at my disposal. (I will not actually kidnap anyone).

We’ll be running a series of blog posts by interesting people about what con-going means to them.

This is, I hope, at least a start. Change the convention, change the genre — change the genre, change the industry – change the industry, change the world!

Well, maybe. But at least, I’d really like it if this year, our con was able to welcome people who perhaps haven’t gone to one before. I’d like it even more if talented people who’ve  felt on the wrong side of any barrier holding them back from claiming a place as a recognised writer, artist or other part of this community, felt some of those barriers fall away. This is entirely selfish. I’d like that because we need those people. Our convention needs them – our literature needs them. We need you.

It took someone asking me to come to get me. So I’m asking you. Fantasycon 2014 – you’re coming, right?

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4 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Have been to Fantasycons in 2011 and 2012, and the WFC in 2013, but I won’t be coming to York this year. The hotel rates at the con hotel are ridiculously high – substantially more than the Hilton in Brighton for the WFC. All the local hotels are overpriced, even the budget ones. As I’m booked for Loncon3 in August, I can’t justify the extra expense in September.

  2. Peter Coleborn
    Posted January 19, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I know that new organisers like to make their mark but please do not forget the legacy of 30+ years of FantasyCon. It’s not been an event for fancy dressing and so on, and that such things are likely to damage the con’s reputation. It’s not clear from your post but it is important that FantasyCon covers the whole spectrum, from horror to heroic fantasy, not just SFF (I agree that maybe this balance hadn’t always been achieved that well in the past despite our best ambitions to get that balance). Also, your comments on welcoming newcomers is a bit of a slight for Area 51 and Di Lewis, who has been doing just that on behalf of the committee.

    • Posted January 19, 2014 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      I tend to use SFF to include the whole spectrum. There will certainly be panels on horror and heroic fantasy (surely the latter’s included within the “F” of SFF?)

      There’s very little in the post about fancy dress, except that we plan to include a fashion show (we intend this to be attached to a panel on accuracy in writing/designing historical costumes). However everyone is very welcome to wear whatever they like throughout the con and that includes costumes. I disagree that this will damage the con’s reputation, on the contrary, I think banning or discouraging costumes would give a much more damaging impression of joylessness. A lot of people put a great deal of creativity and skill into costuming and I consider those people to be an asset to the event rather than a liability. I also believe the mix of backgrounds and interests at a con is potentially beneficial and inspiring for all concerned; today’s nerd in a Daenerys Tagaryen costume might be tomorrow’s star author or editor, I’d rather she felt welcome than took her talents elsewhere. But no one who doesn’t want to wear a costume will have to wear one, the great majority of events will not be focused on costumes and I don’t believe that in practice other members’ clothing choices will dominate anyone’s experience of the con.

      I don’t mean to dismiss anyone’s prior work in terms of outreach or welcoming and am sorry if I gave that impression. However, I feel there remains work to be done; not just by Fantasycon or the BFS but by the whole genre community. This post is primarily for people who have *not* so far been reached.

  3. Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    We’re coming for sure.

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