First up, I have to confess that I attended very few actual panels, no readings, and I avoided the karaoke bar like the very-literal plague. Well, here’s the Dion’s-eye view, anyway…
The first day of FantasyCon was a wobbly affair, full of awkward moments and anxiety, calibrating and recalibrating as we came together for the first time in almost 2 years. There is a special horror for me that comes from wanting to be in multiple places at once, talking properly to every familiar face. Economists talk of opportunity cost, but I think of it more like being a dumb dog chasing cars. If I want that quality experience, I’ve found I have to be focused and accept the fact that there will be some people that I miss. Consequently, I made some actual plans this year, determined to reconnect properly with key people.
First up were my Alien rpg pals, hosted online through lockdown, but meeting all together for the first time in the flesh at FCon. Myk Pilgrim and Pippa Bailey have been incredibly supportive of me personally, helping to pull me through some dark times, so it was crazy to think we hadn’t hugged before. I’d met Kelly White at the Ghost Stories Festival, and we’ve bonded over time. I’ve known Nick Parkinson for years, and was happy to drag him into this mess as a chance to spend some real time with him. Joe McMahon has been out GM throughout, and the silly sod near brought me to tears with a thoughtful character-related gift. These were the people, the core group I spent time with between all the other shenanigans.
Friday evening was the ‘Crusty Exterior’ CurryCon. It turns out you should never ask the question, ‘So what’s happening with CurryCon, then?’ That counts as volunteering to organise it. (There were only seven of us in the end, so not too big a job.) We settled on a pub called The Keg and Grill, just a few short minutes from the hotel. Instead of vying for space in a busy restaurant like everyone else, we found ourselves seated in a pleasant, traditional-looking pub, run by a lovely family of Indian descent. The food was gorgeous, varied, and – controversially for us – within an entirely reasonable amount of time. Good beer, too!
Saturday morning for me was all about the Escape Room. I joined Justin Park, Simon and Penny Jones, Andrew Freudenberg and Steve Shaw down Digbeth way, and had a good chuckle at the sign: Escape Now! Well, the area did seem a bit dodgy… To cap it off, we began the adventure blind-folded and handcuffed to the wall! Along the way, we were menaced by a serial killer on the television, discovered a secret room with some creepy dolls and paintings in, shrieked at the exploding box, and managed to escape with the help of a ouija-board ghost. Much fun was had. I wish I’d been able to spend more time with them. In the end I toddled off to the Audio panel, featuring E.M. Faulds, Pippa Bailey, Pauline Kirk and Charlotte Bond. Thoroughly interesting, given my recent preoccupation.
I got my next social fix at Pizza Express that evening, along with a whole bunch of other people. The noise level and table set-up was such that we couldn’t get in-depth about anything, but I had the chance to catch up with the loved-up Linda Nagle and Steve Harris at least. Lin will be republishing one of my stories in a gorgeous anthology she’s putting together off her own bat, and I can’t wait to see how it comes out. I had to dash early to get to a panel, supporting my good friend Angeline Trevena, after which came the hilarious mess known as (drunk) Dungeons and Disorderly. Stewart Hotston did a great job hosting. Anna Stephens, Mike Brooks, Russell Smith, Emily Inkpen, and Anna Smith Spark were ridiculous, hilarious, imaginative and utterly incompetent in the most entertaining way imaginable. Absolute highlight.
Sunday morning was the editors’ breakfast, and I was sad to miss out on a proper chat with Charlotte Bond. She’s been a real pal, However, I did finally get the chance to meet Pete Sutton, who is taking over as Editor of the BFS Horizons magazine. He seems to be a lovely fella, and was no doubt bemused by my erratic behaviour—by this time I was desperately short on sleep, hopped up on coffee, and twitchy about the time. Why twitchy?
I’d cocked up and double-booked the slot for a big game of Blood Bowl with Justin once more, Duncan Bradshaw and Ben Jones. Some last-minute schedule shifts sadly left us with half a game before we lost Ben and Dunk, but Joe and Nick tagged in to take their places. We were also joined by Kelly Rickard, which made my day – though on reflection she really should have been doing a cheerleader dance on the sidelines. Ho hum. Kelly has been really supportive of me over the past few months, very engaged on social media, and very kind to boot. It was smashing to meet her at last.
The further the day got along, the more people dropped out and headed home until we got down to a quite cosy little group of mismatched people. I finally got a bit of time to sit down and catch up with Kit Power, who was still buzzing over his BFS nomination for A Song for the End. Props to Charlotte Bond, while I’m thinking about awards. She got Best Collection for The Watcher in the Woods. Anyway, by this point my brain was starting to shut down again and, when Kit and Myk started having an excitable conversation around films, I found myself withdrawing.
I ended up wandering over to Karen Fishwick’s table. I wanted to thank her for pulling the Con together, and I also wanted the chance just to chat, as we’ve not really interacted much before. Shona Kinsella, by contrast, was somebody I’d spoken to a bunch on social media, but again, we’d never met in the flesh, so it was fab to get some quality time together as we all unwound. It was also lovely to meet Beth (E.M.) Faulds, who is wonderfully direct. I found the conversation with the three of them fascinating, informative, and heart-warming. It turns out Shona is taking over as the Chair of the BFS and Karen will be handling Membership. From all I could gather, the future of the BFS is in good hands. I look forward to seeing where they take us.
A final note.
I have nothing but respect for those people who chose not to attend this year for health and safety reasons—whether for their own sakes or on behalf of vulnerable loved ones. In fact, I am deeply grateful to them. The reduced numbers made for far less congestion in the corridors and lifts, greater space in the panel rooms and bars, and just…generally made it all feel more manageable for anxiety-ridden sods like me. It was not an easy decision for me to attend, but one I’m glad I made. I needed this weekend. Before I went, I don’t think I realised just how much I needed that sense of reconnection to my community.
So, to those people who held back, to those people who came, and of course to all of those people who organised and ran the event from behind the scenes, I just want to say THANK YOU. Huge virtual hugs to you all.
I hope to see you all again next year.