Fantasycon and Bristolcon marked the final conventions of my debut year, and they were both a blast.
Fantasycon ran on 30 September and 1 October in Peterborough. I’d told the event organisers that I couldn’t be there until mid-afternoon as I was flying in from Gothenburg Book Fair, so I had a reading at 5pm, then panels in the evening of the Saturday. And then, somehow, my reading was showing up at 4pm, not 5pm. My train was due in at 3.15pm and I needed to find my hotel, check in, get showered and changed and back to the con hotel, The Bull, all in 45 minutes.
That’s … not what happened.
I jumped into a taxi and headed for my B&B. There was no one on reception, just a note saying to call a mobile phone. So I did. To be told that the proprietor was at the car wash and would be back in 20 minutes. I only had 25 minutes until my reading.
I told her I’d have to come back later and she very kindly said no, she was on her way so I could check in and that she’d book me a taxi for the 5 minute drive to The Bull. By this point I was seriously considering getting changed in reception – I did swap my shoes and do my makeup while I waited for her.
She arrived, gave me my key and I threw myself upstairs and into my room, got changed faster than Superman in a telephone box, spritzed on a lot of perfume, and ran downstairs and into my waiting taxi. For my 5 minute drive.
That took 15 minutes.
I belted into The Bull yelling “Hi, Anna Stephens, just arrived, supposed to be doing a reading three minutes ago, where do I go, where do I go??” and the lovely, lovely redcloaks threw my lanyard at me and escorted me to the reading room. I snuck in at the back while another reading was going on – phew! – and waited for it to finish before scurrying shamefacedly to the front and apologising profusely for interrupting proceedings.
I was already exhausted, but the reading itself went really well.
I managed to catch up with some friends in the interim before my first panel, What is and isn’t Grimdark? at 6pm, and then hit the bar for food and well-deserved beer. Who am I kidding? I took a beer into the 6pm panel… I’d like to say I was suffering with jetlag, but that wasn’t the case as there’s only a one hour time difference between Sweden and the UK, but I was flagging fast. Gothenburg had been incredibly busy and I’d had problems with my trains from Heathrow to Peterborough that really stressed me out, so after my 6pm panel I just really wanted to relax, chat, have fun and then go to bed.
But I had another panel. At 9.30pm. One thing I will say for Fantasycon – they cram as much into the days as possible. The 9.30 panel was entitled Good versus Evil, and on the panel with me was a certain RJ Barker, author of Age of Assassins. By this point I was practically seeing double, I was so tired (no, it wasn’t the beer. Trust me on this) and RJ of course thought this was hilarious. He was very proud of the fact that for the first time on a panel together, he was making more sense than I was.
And he did. I apologised to the audience up front about being tired and not making sense, and then pretty much proceeded to dribble through the panel. I may have made sense once or twice, but that’s about it. What I remember of it, though, was very funny and slightly ridiculous but also entertaining. I hope.
I went to the karaoke for about half an hour to catch up with some friends and then retreated to my hotel for a well-earned sleep.
Sunday I had two panels – 11am was about being a member of a writing group, and 1.30 was all about disposable bad guys – what makes them bad, what makes them compelling, and how to make their inevitable deaths meaningful and impactful.
Both very enjoyable.
After that I hung around for a while and met Natasha, my editor, for the editorial chat of doom about Darksoul edits. Cried a bit. Sulked. Went home.
It was a great con, and I really enjoyed all the panels and catching up with lots of people, though of course I was immediately ill afterwards from the late nights and sheer busyness of that week.
Totally worth it, though.
This was my first Bristolcon, a fantastic one-day convention held at the Hilton, Bristol.
Some of us began the convention by doing a panel the night before at Waterstones – me, Jen William, Lucy Hounsom, Joanne Hall and Anna Smith Spark. Natasha’s editorial assistant, Jack, led the questions.
It was great to get five women with different publishing experiences and at different points in their careers on a panel together to discuss writing and gender inequality in creative industry. We all had various stories to tell of our experiences and it was really refreshing – though mostly very depressing – to know that we weren’t isolated cases and that others experience the same things we do and that we’re not alone.
I hope we managed to highlight some of the issues that we all face, from ‘traditional’ fantasy readers refusing to read books by women, or reading them and then dismissing them, to online trolling, Gamergate and the profound issue that is War for the Planet of the Apes and the fact that not a single woman in that film has a speaking role. In 2017.
After the panel, we managed to get lost trying to locate the restaurant we’d booked, and then discovered that it was tapas and none of us actually liked sharing tapas, so we just bought our own tapas and gorged on it in group solitude.
After that, I made the dubious decision to go back to the convention hotel for a nightcap. Many nightcaps later, many discussions about martial arts and knife defence and the eating of pizza and being entertained by the night manager and drinking contraband booze, I finally got my taxi back to my hotel, the Ibis. It was 3am.
My room did not have air-conditioning. It had “air filtration”. This meant that it pumped baking hot air around and around the room without it ever getting cooler. I was advised to open the window instead. Outside was a construction site. They started work at 8am… colour me unimpressed.
So I was feeling a little … icky on the Saturday morning, but in my great enthusiasm for the convention I’d signed up to be on every possible panel, so I had three plus a reading, as well as a mass signing at 2pm:
I also got to see the lovely, lovely Sophie Tallis again, who was doing her first art exhibit in many years. She had printed off a fabulous A3 version of the map she drew for Godblind, and I was thrilled to receive it. I’m getting it framed for Christmas!
Sophie also ran my first panel, Mapping SF&F, at 3pm, which was a blast.
As well as the map panel, I had one on the Internet of Things and another on H&S in space (or spec fic) – hand rails on the Death Star, anyone? Vitamin D deficiency in mine-dwelling dwarves? Two ostensibly scifi panels for a fantasy author. But you know what? They were hilarious, really great fun and, the IoT one in particular, truly terrifying.
Post-panels, the shenanigans really kicked off. All round good dude Mike had to leave the convention early, but he’d booked to stay at the Hilton that night and couldn’t get a refund. Knowing I was staying in the fifth circle of hell at the volcano-hot Ibis, he transferred the room into my name so I didn’t need to worry about going back to the Ibis on the evening. Lovely man.
Of course, that meant I didn’t have an excuse to leave the bar early.
The bar stops serving at 1am, I think. Or 3am. Only the night manager – the same one as the Friday night – pretty much knew he could make a killing by continuing to serve. So he did. The naughty, wonderful human being.
It meant that my 3am finish of the night before was a mere warm-up. 5am, people. I went to bed at 5am. I haven’t done that since I was in my twenties.
Breakfast was a torrid affair and I spent most of it realising I was (a) still drunk and (b) about to throw up my breakfast at any given second. The mood in the bar – where 99% of us were on water or coffee – was muted, to say the least. An air of weary delight, satisfied exhaustion, prevailed.
Second all-round nice guy Kareem then offered me a lift home, as in my infinite wisdom I’d booked a train for later in the day. We also squeezed Dyrk Ashton in with us for the journey back.
I now understand why people like Bristolcon so much. It’s because after the convention – and before, let’s be honest – people congregate in enormous numbers to geek out, eat, drink, have fun, and generally immerse themselves in the SFF community we all love so much.
I cannot wait for Bristolcon next year. I’ll definitely be booking to stay at the Hilton this time, and I’ll also be dragging my husband along for the ride – mostly so he can exercise some restraint and ensure I get some sleep this time around…