FantasyCon 2000: an Organiser Writes

David Howe, organiser of FantasyCon 2000, on how it was for him...

“Can you write something about this year’s FantasyCon?” pleads our illustrious Newsletter editor. And as she asked so nicely, how can I refuse. The only problem is that as the event organiser I tend to have a slightly different perspective on things, not least because I think I only actually attended one of the scheduled panels!

So let’s see…

FantasyCon has been running annually since the early seventies and has a reputation for being one of the friendliest conventions going. There are as many professional attendees as fans, and most activity tends to centre around the bars …

I took over organising the event for the first time last year, and this year was my second go at it. A vain attempt perhaps to prove to myself that the first time was not a fluke.

For me, the convention actually started around July 1999, when we booked the hotel and started seeing who might be available to attend as Guests of Honour. For most of the attendees however, the fun started at 3.00 pm on Friday, September 8, with a champagne reception for said GoHs at Waterstone’s, a large and impressive bookstore just across the road from the convention venue in central Birmingham. Present were GoHs and fantasy writers Stephen Lawhead and Stan Nicholls, as well as Doug Bradley (who played Pinhead in the Hellraiser films), attending to present his acclaimed “Man in the Mask” lecture on Saturday morning. Our other guests: fantasy writer Storm Constantine, horror veteran David Case and Steve Matthews and Tom de Ville, creators of Urban Gothic, an excellent new horror anthology series which aired this year in the UK on Channel 5, were due to arrive later on.

Reception over and champagne drunk and it was back to the hotel for registration in the Dealer room: at this time strangely sparse as only one of the scheduled dealers had managed to navigate Birmingham’s interesting one way system to actually get to the hotel. Then the first of the panels: meet the GoHs; followed by discussions about Fantasy Online and Transglobal Fantasy. This latter panel was scheduled to include visiting writers Mark McLaughlin (from the USA) and Sean McMullen (from Australia), Mark had arrived safely but Sean was delayed coming up from London by about four hours due to traffic and by a further hour by Birmingham’s eccentric one-way system and missed the panel entirely, eventually arriving with his family, tired and fed up at about midnight!

After a break for a meal, Steve Matthews and Tom de Ville took to the microphones to talk about Urban Gothic, television horror, and how a small UK production house managed to get a 13 part horror anthology series, written by a previously unknown writer (Tom), onto terrestrial TV in the first place. This talk was capped with the news that the British Fantasy Society, in association with Telos Publishing, has obtained the rights to a range of part-novelisation, part-original anthologies based on the TV series and its concepts. Writers lined up for the first volume include Christopher Fowler, Simon Clark, Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis, and Paul Finch. It’s a very exciting development for the BFS, and one which we hope will reap many rewards.

Finally, the Quiz Night reared its head with questions ranging from …

What film was seen on TV during the film Halloween?


Put the following actors in date of birth order, oldest first: Christopher Lee; Peter Cushing; Peter Lorre; Vincent Price.

The Quiz Night is scheduled for the Friday night to give all the attendees, both veteran and first-timers, a chance to get to meet some other folk, and hopefully to not feel left out by the events of the rest of the weekend. Many commented that this was a great evening, and I hope that the combination of alcohol and hard questions, not to mention champagne for the winners, managed to forge a few new friendships.

On into Saturday and in the morning Doug Bradley presented a superb and comprehensive illustrated talk on the history of horror and fantasy make-up. We also discussed female fantasy, chatted to Stephen Lawhead about Celtic fantasy, horror anthologist Stephen Jones talked with author David Case about his life and career, and then looked at non-fiction writing, a panel which apparently became quite heated. The afternoon was capped with a Small Press party promoting ten or so titles (including the BFS’s own publications The Spiral Garden – a Louise Cooper collection – and F20 – a dark fantasy/horror collection) with a deceptively lethal punch whipped up by Tim Lebbon (contents involved tins of peaches, peach schnapps, white wine and vodka).

Transworld Publishers bought the drinks later on to celebrate publication of Deadhouse Gates, the second volume in Steven Erikson’s popular fantasy series, and this was followed by the Fabulous FantasyCon Raffle in which literally hundreds of donated items were raffled off by myself and Debbie Bennett, raising over five hundred pounds for the convention charity (which will result in over one thousand pounds being donated as my company matches pound for pound my efforts for the charity, which is the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death – the Cot Death charity). The evening was to have been capped by a special film showing of Pitch Black (still unreleased in the UK) but despite initial agreement from the distributor, four days before the convention, they got in touch to say that we couldn’t show it due to new arrangements with a glossy magazine over a film festival. Very disappointing, and I’m still unclear how 80 people seeing it in Birmingham could possibly affect a national magazine’s plans.

Onto Sunday, which eased quietly into gear with a “How Do I…?” panel in which a bleary-eyed and hung-over group of authors gamely discussed how to write their way into and out of various situations – mainly revolving around sex.

Then, over to Waterstones again for a mass signing of twenty or so attending authors, as well as the welcome sight of free tea and coffee. Lots of chat, lots of books signed, lots of happy people, despite the relatively early hour.

Storm Constantine was next up on the stage, and talked about her work, followed by a signing in the dealer room of her and Mike Moorcock’s new novel Silverheart – not published until November, the publishers had arranged for early copies to be available especially.

Following this was the popular Banquet. This year we decided on a dragon-themed affair, and every attendee received a free dragon statue, a dragon book (by Harry Turtledove donated by Earthlight publishers) and a dragon-themed menu which featured a signed and numbered original short story by Graham Edwards (whose dragon books are doing very well for HarperCollins in the UK). The food was truly excellent, and with free wine on top, as well as dragon beer donated by Mark Chadbourn’s World’s End website, everyone had a great time.

Then, onto more serious matters, as the 2000 British Fantasy Awards were announced. Graham Joyce was astonished to pick up best novel for Indigo, best short fiction was won by a startled Tim Lebbon for his popular novella White (appearing soon in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and Stephen Jones’ Best New Horror 11 anthologies). Best Anthology was for Stephen Jones’ Best New Horror 10, and best Collection went to Peter Crowther for Lonesome Roads. Best Artist was Les Edwards and Best Small Press went to Razorblade Press, publishers of the Pete Crowther collection.

Finally, the Karl Edward Wagner Award was presented to a delighted Anne McCaffrey, a surprise final guest who had flown in from Ireland especially. She then treated us to a discussion of her life and work, and showed just why the BFS had decided to present her with this award for a lifetime’s achievement in the genre.

As well as the scheduled events, attendees could drop into the Eidos computer room to put Lara Croft through her paces, or to try their hand at Thief 2 or Final Fantasy VIII (one sad aspect of the convention was that by the end of the weekend every game we were presenting had its media stolen, two of them within two hours of the room opening – not something I expected and very disappointing) and the dealer room was, by Saturday, packed with dealers selling books new and old, jewellery, artwork and small press publications. The bars, with their concessionary rates for the convention, were open pretty much 24 hours (when one closed, another could be found elsewhere in the hotel), and some people I’m sure didn’t get much sleep over the weekend.

Because I was the organiser, people would ask me how it was going, and the only reply I could give was not to ask me, but to ask the people who were there. From my perspective we had no major problems, and everyone I spoke to seemed happy and pleased with what they saw and heard. As it’s all literally just finished, feedback is starting to trickle through, and overall it seems to have been a success. I’ll let some of those who were there speak for themselves: some random quotes from emails received since the con:

“Just thought I’d drop you a note to say thanks for organising an excellent convention at FantasyCon 2000. A good range of panels and events plus a relaxed and friendly atmosphere added up to a thoroughly enjoyable event.” James Barclay (Fantasy Author)

“I just want to say thank you very much for FantasyCon. I thought you put on an excellent event … The convention book was first class, I spent far too much money in the dealers’ room, and you had a good selection of attendees. All the talks and panels I attended were interesting. The Banquet was excellent – both the food (and wine) and the table gifts. Anne McCaffrey was a real scoop, and winning the Anthology Award was by that time just icing on the cake!” Stephen Jones (Anthologist and British Fantasy Award winner)

“From my wife and I, a big, hearty Thank You for making the FantasyCon weekend a great pleasure. We were both impressed (and relieved) by your seemingly effortless attention to arrangements and details. Well done.” Stephen Lawhead (Fantasy Author & Convention GoH)

PS: The answers to those quiz questions: The film seen on TV in Halloween was The Thing from Another World and the order and years of birth for those distinguished actors were Peter Lorre (1904); Vincent Price (1911); Peter Cushing (1913); Christopher Lee (1933)

This article originally appeared in Prism (or the BFS Newsletter as it was probably known then).

About Stephen Theaker (306 Articles)
Stephen Theaker's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal. Among other work for the BFS, he has been awards administrator, short story competition administrator, Dark Horizons editor, FantasyCon secretary and treasurer, and (briefly) chair.