Final Update from Acting Chair Graham Joyce

This will be my last update before handing over to Lee Harris in the Chair’s job.  I want to summarise where we’ve got and also to report some general impressions.

Membership numbers have shot up.  We were at about 330 before the last Convention and I believe we’re up above 400.  A lot of this is due to pledges of support and re-subscription but it’s great to see many new members.  Hit rates for the website are remarkable and a tribute to the work of Del Lakin Smith and his team.  The website is our public interface and I hope the new committee will give it the support and resources it deserves.  Promises of support-in-kind from our top-rank writers is in place too and James Barclay is kicking off what will be a new series of Masterclass articles published by the BFS.

Just to remind you where we were ten weeks ago.  The Society was an international laughing stock over what happened with the awards.  There were other problems to do with the failure to present Accounts and Minutes of decisions taken.  Plus there were accusations of cronysism.  A group of over 30 “significant names” (by which I mean members of many years standing, authors and publishers who have supported this Society through thick and thin) got together and, abiding by the constitution, petitioned the President with their concerns and desire for change.  I and others were convinced that there is a strong Society underneath these problems, and even though many of those names wanted to quit, everyone agreed to roll up their sleeves and work for their Society to make change happen.  So in that context I agreed to be Acting Chair.

I made four pledges:

1)    To repopulate a committee where previously the jobs of Chair, Secretary, Awards Administrator, Treasurer and Journal Production Manager were held by one person

2)    To arrange for proper recording of Minutes and formal Accounts

3)    To overhaul the Awards system

4)    To begin a programme of re-enfranchising Fantasy enthusiasts in a Horror dominated society.

The first of these has been done.  All places on the committee are settled for the forthcoming year and the line up – a mix of “brand new” and “relatively new” faces – is sparkling.  I also aimed to address the gender issue and I’m pleased to say the matter settled itself with several highly accomplished and well qualified candidates.  This committee will be ratified at the EGM.

The second of these has also been done.  Proper minutes of the Brighton AGM will be available before the December 9th EGM.  More importantly we have as Treasurer a professional accountant to oversee the Accounts and to introduce strict procedures into financial matters.  A formal statement of accounts will be issued for the AGM.  I want to thank previous Chairperson David Howe for his full co-operation in handing over the accounts information.

The overhaul of the Awards has been complicated and controversial but I don’t think you’ll find a more democratic process anywhere.  We conducted a survey of preferences; used that survey to construct Resolutions and Guidelines; appointed a 5-person Working party of “wise persons” to review the proposed Resolutions; we posted the Resolutions and have accepted amendments; now it’s up to the membership to vote.  I must say that I didn’t quite get what I wanted in the process, and I expect there are bits of it we could all quibble with, but I do think the resolution reflects “the majority of what the majority want”.  Amendments arising from Forum discussions have been incorporated.  There was no call to take the proposals in parts so there will be three votes: on Resolution 1, Resolution 2 and on the set of Recommendations entire.

The fourth pledge is ongoing.  We are trying to feature Fantasy writers more in our publications and as guests at events without taking anything away from those with darker tastes.  The outcome of the move to offer a Fantasy award is uncertain but I hope members will vote in favour of making a broader base to our Society and will vote for Resolution 2.  If the base of the membership changes positively, these things can always be revised again at a later date.

I won’t pretend it has been plain sailing.  I’ve had some difficult conversations with people, some of whom I’ve known for a long time and who are very dear to me.   I apologise unreservedly for any volatility on my part.  But where there have been differences, it has been with people whose love of this genre is unquestionable.  One of the things I would ask is that the Old Guard (and I’m in that category) please give the new committee a chance to do things their way.

One of the things Lee will be asking in his new job is what members get in return for their membership.  I won’t pre-empt him on this but I will say what I get and what I have always got.  When I joined 20 years ago as a newly published author there was suddenly available to me a network of authors, publishers, reviewers and highly knowledgeable fans.  It was both inspirational it was motivational.  The conversations were what it was all about.  The conversations.  I could get advice from more experienced authors.  I got insight into publishing.  I could get hints about what obscure author I might like to read. I began to get a sense of all the antecedents in the genre. I got feedback on my writing and I made a million discoveries which I could never have made on my own: gem-like flames of conversation, handed round the membership.  Plus I made wonderful friendships.  As the years went by newer authors sometimes asked my advice or about what they might read and I liked to think that I was passing on some of those gem-like flames.  By the way, I still ask more experienced authors about the vagaries of publishing and I still get great advice.  What do I get from membership?  I get amazing people in my life.

That’s why we decided this Society is worth protecting and worth fighting for.  Those who don’t approve of the changes can cast their votes accordingly.  For those very many people who have sent messages of support, hearty thanks.  Please continue to support Lee and the new team in remaking the British Fantasy Society.

Graham Joyce