FantasyCon 2011 – recollections by Allen Ashley

It seems a long time since that hot weekend in Brighton. So now, with the days growing shorter and colder, here’s a reminder of FantasyCon 2011, courtesy of Allen Ashley. Further recollections of FantasyCon will follow in the next issue of the BFS Journal …

The morning of Saturday 1st October – unseasonably sunny and warm – finds me and the wife on Brighton Pier when we should be at FantasyCon. Well, actually we are but having reaped the benefit of a seafront view – i.e. cars and clubbers frolicking noisily outside the window all night – a little break and a lungful of fish and chips flavoured seaside air is called for.  But what’s this? A ghost train ride suitably entitled “Horror Hotel” and only £3 a go. Sarah dutifully screams and I reflect that the next time someone tells me that they don’t know what to write about, I’ll suggest that they borrow some characters from this switchback selection. It’s fun.

But not as much fun as the Saturday night double bill from Teatro Proberto. John Probert and the versatile Lady Probert offer up a delightful, pantomime inflected take on a couple of 1960s horror films. With several knowing winks to the rapt audience, the performers demonstrate a mastery of comic timing. Highlights include a savaging by a canine glove puppet, rapid costume changes, unconvincing wigs, cheap props and deliberate overacting. Someone should have filmed this show and put it up on You Tube.

Blood on Satan’s Claw and Corruption are followed by a quintet of burlesque dancers who begin life as characters from a Dark Horizons illustration but then take it right down to the nipple tassel. Top exotic stage names, too, like Baby Bones and Esmeralda Underwood. One of the performers is actually a man in drag. He runs into the audience and mock bites me on the shoulder. By Sunday evening I have a streaming cold. Is there a connection?

My convention is bookended by two events. On Friday night I host a poetry soiree where the standard is very high – one of the pieces is in Full Fathom Forty and another is up for an Aurora award. My last major contribution to the weekend is to present the British Fantasy Award for Best Magazine. A few things have been written about the awards since then and I don’t wish to become embroiled. I’ll only repeat what I said at the time: Many of us owe a lot to magazines so I was thrilled to give a little bit back.

For many people, the big draw to FantasyCon is the quality of the guests of honour. With all due respect to the other luminaries, for me the most exciting visitor to FantasyCon was Brian Aldiss. Witness the spontaneous standing ovation this genre great received after his speech of thanks at the banquet. On the Saturday afternoon, Brian was interviewed by Christopher Priest in the Russell Room – a venue so stifling that the missus had to leave before the show started. The loquacious and loveable Brian is not your standard interviewee – feed him a starter and he’ll regale you with a selection of entertaining anecdotes without further prompting. The tale concerning Agatha Christie is the one that I shall remember always.

Later, I turn the tables somewhat on Chris Priest as we sit opposite each other in a Brighton curry house and I gently quiz him about his early books. He tells me that he edited an anthology back in the 1970s. Really? That had slipped my mind. When he reveals that it was called Anticipations, however, I instantly remember buying the paperback edition. I used to find time to read everything in those younger days.

FantasyCon is, of course, all about the people and with this year’s attendance put at 539, it’s no wonder that I spent much of my weekend saying hello and catching up with people in corridors and on the stairs. These locations were partly determined by that fact that the hotels’ tiny lift broke down at least twice in 24 hours. Must be all those five volume trilogies in hardback that folks are carting up to their rooms.

One moment it’s Friday afternoon and I’m in a massive queue to register, with Ian Whates and Simon Clark ahead of me and Nina Allan, Sam Stone and Frazer Hines behind me; the next moment it’s late afternoon on Sunday and I’m wondering when the turquoise and white taxi will eventually turn up to whisk us off to the railway station. Sensibly, I’ve spent the last of my cash in registering for next year’s FantasyCon.

Sarah and I arrive at Brighton terminus and guess what? Yep, it’s Sunday so there are engineering works and a replacement bus service. I picture us back on the pier. “Sorry, mate, no ghost train today just a replacement bus service…!”

Until next time.
-    Allen

Allen Ashley is an award winning editor and writer as well as a keen BFS member. Allen’s next book will be as editor of Where Are We Going? a themed anthology of SF/Fantasy/Horror/Slipstream stories with the uniting feature of “journeys”. This is due from Eibonvale Press (UK) within the next 6 months.

1 Comment on FantasyCon 2011 – recollections by Allen Ashley

  1. I remember that anthology—still got it!

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