As most of you know, I don’t come from a scifi or fantasy publishing world; my previous role was in publicity for Irish non-fiction titles as well as crime fiction, and that oft-controversial term, literary fiction. I wasn’t utterly new to the terms SF / F / WTF (maybe I was to WTF!) as through my own personal reading, I’ve read – and loved – Scott Lynch, Philip Pullman, and Eoin Colfer, and had the usual childhood favourites such as Narnia and Harry Potter. I love True Blood, Buffy, and Star Trek, amongst others but can’t quote you lines or tell you what happened in every episode. Ever. I joined the queues to see The Hunger Games, Snow White & the Huntsman, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Spiderman, Stardust, and a host of other movies, but because I really enjoyed them, not because they were genre specific.
But, since joining the Angry Robot team early this year, words like utopian, dystopian, steampunk, epic fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, xenobiology, are now the norm, and it has been an exciting, occasionally-overwhelming, world to discover. I’ve been flung in all sorts of reading directions, mainly by Strange Chemistry’s reading guru Amanda, and was addicted to George R.R. Martin within about 3 pages; fell in love with John Green’s phenomenal YA story The Fault In Our Stars; am currently reading Kushiel’s Dart, and have read – and had varying reactions to – dozens of our Angry Robot and Strange Chemistry titles. I’ve learned that fantasy is more my own personal thing than scifi, although Wesley Chu‘s The Lives of Tao (Vote for him at Goodreads Choice Awards here!) and Ramez Naam‘s Nexus became some of my all-time favourite books, and that Chuck Wendig‘s books suit my crime-fiction-grotesque-scenes-loving-self.
However, not any of the above made me feel fully qualified to attend last weekend’s World Fantasy Con in Brighton. I admit I had major preconceptions. I have met some terrific people over the course of the last six months, but also have discovered that genre world inhabitants can be, and I hasten to point out can be – not are, protective of their world. Sometimes, rightly so. One of the panels over the weekend discussed the issue of “The Mainstream and Us”, showing that the positioning of “genre fiction” is still an issue. I did fear that conversations would be way over my beginners-level head, and wondered that if many of the attendees knew each other from various cons, how open would they be to a newbie? I should never have worried. It was a great weekend, and I wanted to tell you a little about what it was like for a newbie:
Before heading to Brighton, I had been told that this was a very “bar-friendly” convention. I was unsure as to the actual meaning of this – were people going to be sitting, drinking, at 11am? If so, I should have been into this world a long time ago. She jests. Kinda. But that does actually sum up the convivial nature of this convention: from any time of the day, people would gather in the lobby bars and drink coffee – at least, in the early stages of the day – and meet those faces they knew, but also those they did not. Hats off to the organisers for the “newbie” area of the bar, where those who didn’t know too many could congregate and meet fellow newcomers.
A lot of the talk I heard was about the size of the crowd – approx 1400 attendees – and how this allowed for a more open, warm, atmosphere. When I asked Lee for some reference point on this, he said WorldCon is akin to the London Book Fair; I see now that I had a nice, gentle, first convention experience! The layout of the hotel and the event halls was easy to navigate and all close together. This made for easy access if one was running from one panel to the next, or wanted to get to the dealers’ room to stock up before meeting an author. Any time I wandered from one room to the next, I saw friendly faces, and the “red coats” were ever-present ensuring that people know where they were going and were OK. Huge congratulations to them!
I had a couple of aims for the weekend: to meet our attending authors – and some for the first time!, to meet as many people from my online world as possible, to try and not fangirl if I saw Scott Lynch, to attend panels, and to generally get a better sense of the fantasy world. What I didn’t expect was to have so much fun whilst doing all of it!
Better Than I Ever Thought It Would Be
From the minute I arrived at the Hilton hotel and bumped into Lizzie and Claire from the Big Green Bookshop reading and writing groups, the weekend was one big friendly affair. I met old and new faces, chatted to strangers and made new friends; sat in on interesting panels that were open and encouraging; mingled at the mass signing; enjoyed the parties of Tor and Voyager; had long lunches with our authors – inventing futures for Mike Shevdon’s family members!; was made cry by Mike with a synopsis of the most haunting story he’s writing; laughed with Jonathan L. Howard over a pizza dinner; queued at the wrong hall with Wesley Chu before his own ninja reading; and of course, hung out with my colleagues outside the office.
As for me and conventions? Sign me right up. My advice: leave any preconceptions at the door, and throw yourself into this wonderful – and wacky – world. I’m not sure any other genre of writing could be so open and welcoming. To all the lovely bloggers and online friends that I met: Mieneke, Ellie, Vicky, Charlie Jane, Annalee; to our authors: James, Adam, Kim, Anne, Mike, Jonathan, Laura, Wes, Joseph, Emma, and all those that I didn’t get to meet; to Darren & Jo; to Lizzie & Claire; to the new friends, agents, and readers alike, that I met, thank you all so much for a fantastic first con, and I look forward to seeing you all again!
Now to get myself to the shop and buy up all the books I discovered, or else knew about and am now urged to buy their books because of their brilliant panels: Holly Black, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Garth Nix, Tanith Lee, Hal Duncan, Adrian Stone, Tad Williams, and many, many more, await!
PS: I completely fangirled when I met Scott Lynch. Oh well!
PPS: Sorry if there’s anyone I forgot to mention…