Hey everyone! I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted here, but I’ve been on holiday! It was very much a holiday of two halves – the first was spent at World Fantasy Con in Brighton, the latter spent parading around the South East of England visiting friends and relations.
Today I’m going to post my thoughts and experiences of WFC – partly this is intended for me personally, but I will be making some points that I hope everyone finds interesting! Normally when I do a con report, I go through each panel I attended and add some thoughts, or at least pick out highlights from each day. Not this time! I’m simply going to go through the good and the bad.
Firstly – what is WFC? It’s a convention for writers and professionals in the field of written fantasy and horror to meet up, participate in panels (a group of 4 – 6 people talk about an issue), give readings and socialise. It is not meant for fans (which I didn’t know when our memberships were bought, it may come as no surprise that I’m neither a writer or professional anything), but supposedly we either pant around after our favourite authors and tremble in their presence or enjoy what programming our feeble, non-pro minds can handle. (Am I bitter about the “We’re so PRO!” attitude of WFC communications? Nooooo, of course not!) It also has a (juried) art show and a dealers room.
The con was held in the Brighton Hilton Metropole website and went from 2pm on Thursday 31st October to 1pm on Sunday 3rd November (unless you include the awards banquet, in which case it ended at 5pm on Sunday). The website is here.
Spoilers: The people were lovely, the con was a disappointment.
- There were plenty of people in attendance, from a variety of different industry professionals, to authors, to fans. This meant that if you wanted to meet people you only know from Twitter, it was likely you’d find them in the crowd. This would have been wonderful for me (a chance to meet Rochita Loenen-Ruiz! Emma Newman! Anne Lyle! and I only managed to pluck up the courage to say hi to Rochita! And that was after I made sure to attend a panel she was on) except I lost ALL CONTROL of my social skills and was ENTIRELY AWKWARD to everyone except my family members. STILL, the con had lots of wonderful people there and I got to see some old friends.
- The con had a few problems with GOH dying or being unable to attend – so they went ahead and got Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett to come along! The quality of the guests was very high, and even though I know too many authors to be impressed just because someone is an author, I still ended up pinching myself because Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Susan Cooper, Holly Black and Joanne Harris were within touching distance. Not to mention seeing people like Joe Abercrombie (the king of grimdark fiction!) or Scott Lynch (the most luscious hair I’ve seen in a while!) or Joe Hill (astoundingly funny!) on panels and hanging around.
- I imagine if you were the kind of person looking to network with industry types, this was exactly the kind of con to go to – although I don’t know how easy it would be.
- Most of the programming was pretty bad, but the panel on comics and how they’re doing, where they’re going was really good! I mean, come on, it had Maura McHugh, Mike Carey, Mike Chinn, Christopher Golden, Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman on it – how bad could it have been? It was certainly a good panel – a good spread of involvement within the industry and different perspectives from each panellist meant that the discussion rolled along well and the points we heard were relevant.
- The dealers’ room was large and had a fairly wide variety of books available. It also included one t-shirt table, one jewellery table, one memorabilia table and I think a LARPing table? It was a great place to find books by authors you’d just heard speak on panels or in readings, so that was neat! I bought rather a lot of books (expect some reviews to come!), oops?
- Tessa Farmer’s art installation in the art show was just incredible. It was so creepy, detailed and otherworldly – the kind of quality you expect to find in a gallery, not a convention! Her website is here – although do note that if you don’t like bugs, bones, decomposed animal bodies or parasitic creaturses , her art may not be for you, and when I say scary I really mean it!
- The readings track (there were two rooms, each author had half an hour to read an excerpt of their work) was good and was a great way to sample authors and find new ones! I wish I’d gone to more than I had – but I had a chance to see Mary Robinette Kowal‘s reading with bonus puppet show, and it was fantastic! There was also a one hour slot where I think 8 or so authors read smaller pieces from their children’s fiction, all of them were great!
- The amount of books given away when you registered was very generous! I didn’t pick up any (gasp! I didn’t even pick up a programme!), because I figured with three other members of my family also attending, it would be pointless lugging around too many books – especially if we ended up doubling up some titles! Two book bags were provided for each person by Jo Fletcher Books.
- I have to end on the volunteers for the convention – those people who organised WFC, and especially the redcoats – the people standing around directing people, helping them, taking the flack (I saw one woman quite angrily point out to one volunteer that her colleague had been completely wrong and there WAS a way for her to get somewhere, harrumph. Er, lady, these people volunteer? Don’t speak to them like that! However the volunteer acted with far more aplomb than I’d have managed!). They were all of them pleasant, friendly and eager to help. Nothing but high praise for them!
- Firstly and most importantly – if you MUST have your convention in a hotel that is not entirely accessible for those with mobility issues, then don’t have registration in an area which is not wheelchair accessible??? Like, is that not obvious?? It’s incredibly ill thought out, and incredibly insulting! People pay a lot of money to attend WFC and are then casually informed that they can’t register with everyone else and if they need to use an elevator, they have to use the staff one (due to the layout of the hotel). I am still flabbergasted that in this day and age, people choose to hold cons in places they KNOW to be problematic, access-wise. Ugh.
- The con did not have a panel parity policy (basically, that there should be roughly an equal representation of genders on panels, e.g. 3 men, 3 women, or 2 men, 3 women, 1 woman and 2 men, etc. or if that’s not possible, a broadly equal representation over the whole of the programming). This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that it ended up with around only 30% of panellists being women, the rest men. And POC representation was even worse – WFC is a really white con, but still, only 11 POC on programme? Yikes. Tom Pollock did a great pre-con post on this issue here. Personally, I felt that having mostly male voices didn’t really help the quality of the panels!
- Speaking of the quality of the panels – well. I am absolutely not trying to suggest that the people on the panels don’t have interesting, exciting, relevant or novel thoughts to share. In fact, as I am familiar with many of them through their work or from seeing them at places like Eastercon, I am very well aware that many of the people on the panels can engage in and create fascinating talks that are insightful, exciting and up-to-date. But no one managed much of that at WFC. I really don’t want to come off as too harsh (I may have already failed!), because I’m aware that no one intends to go on a panel and not give their best, but the level of discussion was pretty basic and rarely managed to produce anything I hadn’t heard before (it was often as if the con had travelled back in time by at least five years). In many cases, the programming felt sluggish and uninspired, like the people on the panels weren’t sure what to say, how far to go or what the panel was aiming to achieve. A real shame for a con which had so proudly declared it was sourcing the best panellists, all of whom are professionals!!!!!one!.
- It turns out WFC didn’t have a green room (an area where panellists can meet up before their panel to have a bit of a chat and not have to start a panel with no idea where everyone else is coming from). I suspect had there been a chance for most panellists to have met and had a discussion PRIOR to the panel, the quality would have improved – a little thought about what people want to discuss, what initial views people hold, which way the moderator wants to take the topic and I’m sure the panels would have turned out better.
- Again an issue with the programming – I don’t know who wrote or titled the panels and descriptions, but oh my god, could you be any more condescending?? Paranormal romance, young adult fiction, blogging, eBooks – you could practically see the twisted, unimpressed expression of whoever was tasked with writing the programme. I will not belabour this point, but to me it seemed as if the things which caught the most flack were the places you are most likely to come across views other than cis-het-white-dude – not a comment on the attitude of the people running WFC (although seriously, you guys might be sexist if you legitimately think ‘broads with swords’ is an appropriate panel title and discussion), but it certainly rankled that anything not “traditional” (male) fantasy was looked down upon in official communication.
- WFC also has a really strict no costumes policy (it was relaxed on Halloween), which is really odd for a modern convention. Seriously, even if you don’t encourage it, what kind of con actively bans it??? I’d say that’s a totally old-fashioned view, bearing in mind the popularity of cosplay, but actually costuming is a strong part of fannish history and it makes no sense to me that a con would be so po-faced as to actually ban it?? Incomprehensible!
- This is a really specific issue but – why the hell isn’t the con hotel’s post code on the website? Do WFC members not use sat nav? Even my glowing fairy wand needs a post code to give me accurate directions.
- These last two points are entirely personal, so feel free to skip: I don’t know what happened over the weekend, but my social skills seemed to evaporate?? Normally I’m good at small talk, if nothing else, but when trying to talk to people at the con I just fumbled around and was really awkward, which was embarrassing as fuck and a shame as well – so many people I wanted to talk to, so little ability to do it with!
- Oh, er, also, I made a bit of a tit out of myself by losing my purse in the dealers room (and having so filled my massive handbag with books, notebooks and illicit non-hotel drinks, I didn’t even notice). Luckily, the inimitable James Bacon came to my rescue and walked me all the way to the dealers room to get it back again! In one way – lovely to catch up with James, in another, what kind of adult needs to be led back to her purse? On a positive note, my wonderful spiky shoulders (in black) did at least make me an easy purse-loser to find.
Overall, my expectations of World Fantasy Con were pretty low, prior to the con I felt their communications were quite hostile, their attitude didn’t make me feel welcome, they seemed to view a difficult-to-access hotel as something to take note of rather than apologise for and they made some decisions I found baffling. As far as programming went, it lived down to those expectations. As a place to meet people and buy books, it worked pretty well. I know many people found the con enjoyable – certainly my family did, I think perhaps part of the problem is I’ve been to some very good cons in the past so I may need to stop holding every con to those high standards.
Rather than end this on a depressing note, I will instead link you to three enjoyable things related to WFC!
Runemarks by Joanne Harris (who was one of the GOH) – This is a book I bought at the con and one that I enjoyed reading a great deal! It’s a really cool story set 500 years after Ragnarok, centring around a girl called Maddy Smith, who has a few unusual powers. If you like strong characters, intriguing plots and Norse mythology, I think you’ll love this book!
Chie and Weng Read Books – a blog by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and her sister, Weng (Rochita attended AND was on a panel discussing how blogging has affected the art of criticism. Or at least, it was meant to. It didn’t.) If you want to talk about blogging opening up criticism to include voices from the under-represented (which of course you do), you could do worse than listen to two Filipino ladies talking about SFF – and SFF from a diverse variety of sources. It’s a lovely blog filled with good reviews and author-interviews, I highly recommend it!
Loncon 3, the 2014 Worldcon – Worldcon is similar to WFC in that it is a globe-trotting convention dealing with genre stuff. It is different in that it is definitely meant for fans, it’s HUGE, it covers a massive range of topics (science! sci-fi! fantasy! steampunk! comics! anime! free wifi!) and there really will be something for everyone. The last Worldcon I attended was in Glasgow, it was my second convention and it set the bar incredibly high – it was interesting, thought-provoking, fun, inclusive and remains the best con I’ve been to. If you’ve never been to a con before, then Worldcon would be a brilliant start! I urge you to check it out!
Did you go? What did you think? Have you been to any other cons recently?