So I’m back from World Fantasy Con in Brighton. I’m exhausted and distinctly under the weather, though I’m feeling a bit better now. It was my first and only convention of the year, I believe, and overall I had a wonderful, amazing time, though I do have one complaint, which I’ll get to after the excited squeeing.
This was my first con since Pantomime came out. It was so cool/bizarre/amazing to have a few people come up to me and say how much they enjoyed Pantomime, both some people I knew and even a few strangers! Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to tell me that. I even met Ellie (@patchworkbunny) who had just started Shadowplay. Thank you to Mieneke (@Pallekenl) for bringing me stroopwaffels
The main highlight for me was being able to meet two of my favourite authors, and find out they’re both really nice people. I met Robin Hobb for the first time, and she gave me a big hug (I managed not to cry, but I came close). She’s been my favourite author since I was 15 and is a big influence, plus I also met my husband through her books. I even brought my husband’s battered childhood copy of Assassin’s Apprentice down to show her (much to his acute embarrassment). I also met Scott Lynch, another of my favourite authors, and got a hug from him too, as well as meeting the amazing Elizabeth Bear, whose books I must go hunt down now. In the photo below, Scott Lynch is wearing my glasses and making a sad face.
It’s strange, meeting authors whose work you admire for the first time. You don’t know them, not really, but you’ve spent so much time in their imaginations. It’s a funny little disconnect.
I wasn’t on any panels, but I managed to sneak on and do a ninja reading with Amy McCulloch, which was fun. Amy’s reading was fantastic, so I felt a bit nervous following on after her. I loved the giant Alice in Wonderland thrones they had in the readings. It was funny going back and reading from Pantomime, since I hadn’t read the start of chapter two in a while. I had to resist the urge to go back and edit ;-).
Photo credit @Girl___Friday
I went to a few of the programming events: the conversation with Terry Pratchett, which was sweet and a little melancholy. The “how far is too far” in YA panel, and the “are all the best books in genre now YA?” The first I found amusing as many of the authors were basically like “we have to discuss this so many times. When will we give the magical answer so that they stop making this panel at every convention?” Which, you know, is a fair point. I particularly enjoyed Francis Hardinge’s responses, and remember her saying something along lines of: “Books are comforting. Books are kind. Books are there when no one else is,” which stuck with me (though not enough for me to quote it verbatim with any certainty). The other YA panel was a veritable panel of YA royalty with Susan Cooper, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Will Hill, and Holly Black. It was a good panel, though it seemed to sidetrack more into “what is YA?” rather than exploring what about YA makes them some of the most exciting works in genre, such as the blending of subgenres, et cetera.
Sir Terry Pratchett
On Saturday evening, I went out for dinner with my agent and the 11 or so of her authors that were in attendance! It was really great to meet some of them I only knew online and joke around with several more. There were a LOT of in-jokes spawned. To the left is a photo of Andrew Reid, Stephen Aryan, Tad Williams in the background, and a langoustine. That about sums up the tone of the night.
Mostly, what I came away from this con with was that so many people in genre are kind and welcoming, and it’s nice to geek out and see old faces and meet new ones. It’s fun to blend the lines between author, professional, and fan.
There was a bit of a dark spot on the con, unfortunately, and I did want to discuss it, as the con wasn’t as smooth for others as it was for me. There were complaints before the con about the lack of panel parity and the almost belligerent tone of official correspondence. Additionally, several people mentioned that there was no harassment policy, and this was an answer to the harassment policy FAQ:
“World Fantasy Convention 2013, as with any other predominantly adult gathering, will have a number of rules and regulations for the safety of attendees. These will be clearly stated in our Programme Guide, which will be given to each attendee when they register. In the meantime, we refer you to the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act 1997” (Source).
However, it was later changed to: “World Fantasy Convention 2013 will not tolerate any form of verbal or racial abuse, sexual harassment, aggression, violence or lewd behaviour towards any attendees or members of staff. If reported to our professional Security and Stewards or to a staff member—and substantiated by the event organisers—then any person deemed to have committed such an act will be immediately ejected from the convention without refund and may even be reported to the police under the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act (1997)” (Source).
Even though that’s much better, that’s not a specific, separate harassment policy, which many other conventions have. For example, here’s one for Nine Worlds, which covers what harassment is, what someone should do, also includes an anti-racism statement, and clearly states what will happen if they violate these conditions.
Two of my friends were harassed by a drunk man on Saturday night, making them feel incredibly uncomfortable. They compared notes and realized they should report it, and I helped them find someone to speak to. The organisers responded very well and quickly by taking down the information, but then the person in question was not, as far as they know, removed (though that FAQ answer up above says they would be), nor have they as of now been contacted for a follow up. There was one tweet that they were investigating a sexual harassment claim; however, they weren’t even sure if it was related to their experience, as there was evidently an author who was harassing women as well (though I’m not sure if anyone officially reported about the other person). I’m not mentioning names as I was not directly involved. I do know that these two names have been noted down for Bristolcon, and that they won’t be allowed to attend.
While obviously sexual harassment is protected by law, it would be nice if all cons, no matter how big or small, how professional of fan-oriented, put a harassment policy in place. Sometimes, people are lecherous and deeply unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean that the men or women harassed want to go through legal means and get them arrested. But if there is a policy in place, people who have been made to feel uncomfortable can know who they should contact (my friends couldn’t find any redcoats, as it was pretty late), and it would also make it clear what would happen should someone harass someone else. Ideally, this policy would never have to be enforced, but sadly, harassment is still all-too-common in conventions. By putting a harassment policy on the convention’s website, it’s at the very least a gesture that says to all attendees that the con itself cares about the safety and comfort of their attendees.
EDITED TO ADD: I’ve been informed that the incident was passed to the chairs of the convention at 8 am on Sunday and that the person who reported the incident has been followed up with today I also want to clarify that I’m not attacking WFC, but mainly wished to stress the importance of clear anti-harassment policies for future conventions.
So, aside from that unpleasantness, it was a good con and I enjoyed myself. I’d do a huge name drop of all the wonderful people I saw again and met for the first time, but then we’d be here all day and I’d invariably forget someone. Often I come back after a con drained, but this time as Kim Curran and I took the train back from Brighton, we smiled happily, still buzzing from who we met and what we learned. Until the next con!