My first experience of the BFS was in Peterborough, where Fantasycon 2017 was being held. I set out early Saturday morning by car, the backseat piled high with boxes of books for my dealer’s table, and butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t know anyone there. All I had was a clutch of small press publishers’ names from social media. An introvert through and through, I wondered what on earth was I doing? Still, I comforted myself with the knowledge that I was simply there for work reasons and reminded myself of my goals: to do some book selling; to spread the word about the SFF and fairy tale titles my press, Mother’s Milk Books, had published; and to sell some books on behalf of Adele Wearing of Fox Spirit Books (who, at the time, worked fairly locally to me). If I did sell some books and make the acquaintance of a few people I’d be happy.
But something happened that I didn’t expect – I came away buzzing. Let me explain…
Since I was pretty much tied to the dealers’ room for the whole day, I struck up conversations with some of the other publishers. There’d be lulls between panels or book launches when the dealers’ room would suddenly empty itself of convention-goers, and we’d ask each other how it was going. The clutch of names from social media turned into real people with friendly faces and stories to share about their small press – why they founded it, who their authors were, their struggles and successes. In particular, I have clear memories of talking to George Sandison of Unsung Stories, David Stokes of Guardsbridge Books, Rose Drew of Stairwell Books, Noel Chidwick of Shoreline of Infinity, Francesca T Barbini of Luna Press Books and Ian Whates of Newcon Press. I also had a quick look at the Interzone table and chatted with the lovely Roy Gray who was, as usual, doing the magazine selling.
I can still vividly remember talking to George of Unsung about the pros and cons of running a limited company (as well as weird fiction!); of talking about steampunk stories in translation with Francesca, and the lovely moment when Noel Chidwick told me he’d read a recent blog post I’d written about feeling invisible. He said he could really relate to it, and at that moment I felt as though my heart was full… as though I was truly seen.
Later on, I introduced myself to Ian Whates and asked him his opinion on whether it’s better to publish a collection of stories in only the one genre – SF or fantasy – or could a writer successfully produce a collection that included stories of both genres. Unfortunately, I’d picked a bad time to ask the question as Ian had to get to a panel, so I never got to learn his opinion. And by the way, Ian, I’m still waiting for your answer… 😉
Since that Fantasycon I’ve been in regular contact with pretty much all of those lovely people, and even got to work with a few of them with my writer’s hat on. And just the other day, Noel announced that I’ll be the guest editor for the SF fairy tales special edition of Shoreline of Infinity, in which we’d be publishing stories that happily and wantonly mashed together these two genres. (Do check out the call for submissions if you’re interested.) But most of all, I’m thankful for the fact that going to Fantasycon and becoming a member of the BFS has been a way for me to make good friends in the science fiction, fantasy and horror community. Indeed, during lockdown, I really treasured chatting to Noel and Francesca via Zoom/Skype. Their friendship was a real beacon of light in those grey days. And being invited by Ian Whates to become a member of the Northants SFF crit group, as well as taking part in readings with Allen Ashley’s “cosy gang”, have been other real highlights.
So a huge thank you to the BFS and organizers of Fantasycon for those happy memories, and for providing a space for such a wonderful community to grow and thrive. Happy 50th anniversary!