I'm just back from attending FantasyCon 2011 in Brighton over the weekend of September 30th—October 2nd.
I have to say right off that I was part of the team helping Marie O'Regan, Paul Kane and Alex Davis put the event together and, because Alex was unable to attend the event because his wife was expecting their first child, my involvement over the weekend became somewhat more prominent than I had initially anticipated.
A record-breaking 500-plus attendees sweltered in record-breaking temperatures.
I thought it was the best FantasyCon ever.
It was definitely the best FantasyCon weather ever!
But I'll leave it to others to post their comments on the convention.
For me, despite all the hard work, it was a fun weekend. But the fun stopped when, following the Sunday afternoon Banquet, the time came to announce this year's British Fantasy Awards.
I have been attending FantasyCon for thirty-five years, and during that period I have been fortunate enough to win quite a few British Fantasy Awards myself. I've also lost quite a few as well, but that didn't matter because I felt the voting process to always be fair and democratic. Well, at least I did up until Sunday afternoon.
I guess the "fix" was in months ago. The preliminary ballot was posted on the Society's website before most of the membership had any idea that they actually could start nominating, and it was arbitrarily decreed by the present Committee—without any discussion with the membership—that for the first time ever only electronic ballots would be accepted and that any postal votes would be ignored.
Early on, current BFS Chairman David Howe made it clear that he would take the awards ceremony away from the convention and run it himself (not all that surprising since the awards are actually presented by the Society, although they are voted on by members of both the BFS and FantasyCon).
David and the convention's Mistress of Ceremonies, Sarah Pinborough, co-hosted the presentation, which featured cringe-worthy descriptions of the presenters, award categories and nominees written in a smarmy style more usually reserved for the Oscars or Emmy Award ceremonies. Most of the presenters were drawn from either the convention's Guests of Honour or the small press arena (at least one of who had actively campaigned repeatedly for the privilege over the past year).
The first award to be announced was actually for Best Novella because the recipient was leaving early. It didn't matter because Simon Clark had already gone when it was announced that he had won it for Humpty's Bones from small press imprint Telos (remember that name, it will be cropping up again soon).
At this point David Howe waspishly berated Sarah Pinborough when she lost her place in his script as a result of this unexpected change to the presentation order. Sarah took it very well, although this caused the publishing people at my table—who were attending FantasyCon for the first time—to raise their eyebrows at this frankly embarrassing public altercation.
Next came a trio of media awards which I have always considered a waste of time and BFS resources since they were reintroduced in 2009 in a pathetic attempt to make the awards seem more "prestigious". Christopher Nolan's Inception won for Best Film, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' Sherlock won for Best Television and the Best Comic/Graphic Novel award went to Ian Culbard's The Mountains of Madness from independent comics publisher SelfMadeHero.
None of the winners actually turned up, but they all sent some nice notes instead.
The presenters during this section included David's old friend, British comics writer Tony Lee, and ageing Doctor Who companion Frazer Hinds who, despite not actually attending the convention was actually quite entertaining. He even plugged his own book—a revised autobiography edited by Sam Stone and published by Telos in 2009.
To be honest, I actually expected Murky Depths—last year's recipient—to win again for Best Magazine/Periodical, but refreshingly the award went to Andy Cox's Black Static. Perhaps publisher Terry Martin had had a falling out with some of his contributors? Of course, there were no professional titles on the shortlist.
Vincent Chong picked up the Best Artist award for the fifth year in a row. As always, he was gracious in his acceptance.
Peter and Nicky Crowther of PS Publishing presented a cheque for £250 to the winner of the Best Small Press award which, for the second year running, went to Telos. Stephen James Walker was brought up on stage to accept the award—perhaps so that it wasn't too obvious that his partner in the publishing imprint is . . . David Howe.
By now there were some ominous mutterings from amongst the audience.
Guest of Honour Peter Atkins went hilariously off-script as he announced the Best Non-Fiction category, as well as teasing David for getting his biographical introductions off Wikipedia.
However, I'm sure he soon cheered up again when Pete announced that the winner was Altered Visions: The Art of Vincent Chong, published by . . . yes, you guessed it—Telos!
Next, Raven Dane—another friend of David and Sam's—got up on stage and read out the list of nominees for Best Anthology. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say here that I edited two of the five titles nominated. It didn't help that they got the name of my publisher wrong and the microphone kept cutting out when my nominations were announced. However, I honestly don't suspect that any kind of conspiracy was involved!
The winner was my old friend Johnny Mains for his self-published tribute to The Pan Book of Horror Stories. It was difficult to tell if Johnny was more surprised than the audience. With a class touch that had been missing from many of the previous recipients, he kept his acceptance speech short and dedicated his win to our old friend John Burke, who had died a couple of weeks earlier.
In one of only two wins for a professional publisher, the Best Collection award went to Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars from Hodder & Stoughton—possibly because there were no Telos titles nominated in that category. Steve wasn't there to collect it.
The Sydney J. Bounds award for Best Newcomer went to Robert Jackson Bennett for his novel Mr. Shivers and came with a cheque for £100.
By now it was obvious that the awards were not being presented in their normal—or published—order. I'm sure that those conspiracy theorists amongst the audience must have wondered if this was to prevent a pattern from emerging . . .
The Best Short Story award went to Sam Stone. She cried a lot, thanked her partner—David Howe—and told us what a surprise it was to win. Presumably, David had not told her over the washing-up, nor had she sneaked a peek at the plaques he had brought down to stick on the award statuettes.
The August Derleth Award for Best Novel also went to Sam for the third book in her vampire trilogy published by Terry Martin's small press imprint, The House of Murky Depths. Sam heroically didn't cry. I suspect that the other nominees—Adam L. Nevill, Tom Fletcher, Gary McMahon and Graham Joyce—probably did.
Reportedly there was a bit of booing from some uncouth audience members at the back of the hall, although I didn't hear it myself.
Voted for by members of the BFS and FantasyCon Committees, the Karl Edward Wagner Special Award was created for "services to the genre" in memory of Karl's support of FantasyCon and the British Fantasy Society. The inaugural award went to Jo Fletcher, and other recipients have included Ellen Datlow, Robert Holdstock and even myself.
In recent years the BFS Committee has decided to also use it as a Life Achievement award and this year they gave it to Terry Pratchett. Predictably, Terry wasn't there and so his publisher accepted it on his behalf. Another nice note was read out.
It is perhaps worth pointing out here that the entire FantasyCon Committee had actually voted for someone else in this category. Someone who, in our opinion, had done much more of a service to the BFS and the genre as a whole. David Howe was not happy and asked us to rethink our choice. Marie O'Regan told him that we had all discussed it and that we were sticking with our first, unanimous selection. A little while later he informed her that the BFS Committee had voted for Terry by one more vote than that of the convention group.
It's also worth mentioning that Robert Rankin—a writer not nearly as funny or entertaining as he thinks he is—spent most of the weekend in the hotel's public bar because he was too cheap to buy a membership. No worry though—next year he's Guest of Honour (despite having already been one in 1999) at the FantasyCon being run by David and Sam's friends in Corby (a place which is apparently almost impossible to get to directly by public transport, except from London).
The organisers of this year's Brighton event were never even invited to pitch for next year, and the BFS Committee additionally decided that FantasyCon would be run as a separate event from the Brighton World Fantasy Convention in 2013. This came as something of a surprise to many members who attended the AGM.
Of course, the members of the BFS and FantasyCon are absolutely entitled to vote for whomsoever they want to. Although I suspect it helps if, say, you restrict the voting process and possibly urge all your friends to vote for you and each other. That's what happened to the HWA Bram Stoker Awards until they became such a laughing stock in the field that the nomination process has had to undergo a major overhaul.
To put it bluntly, this year's results made a mockery of the British Fantasy Award and everything it has always stood for. Even if you ignore the embarrassing ceremony and clichéd platitudes, few of these awards actually reflected genuine quality or what is happening in mainstream genre publishing today.
Maybe that also reflects the tastes of the BFS membership? Perhaps the majority do not read outside the small press anymore? Maybe they no longer have good taste or any critical acumen?
In which case, if I were a professional author or publisher, I would think seriously about leaving the Society and its convention to their increasingly self-congratulatory awards. But if the BFS really wants to be taken seriously, then it must start taking the awards process seriously as well. In my opinion, this year it was simply a joke.
Of course, if I were a small press publisher, or his partner, or their friends, I would no doubt consider that the whole event had gone swimmingly. However, I'm not so sure that many other people saw it that way.
Without any proof, I'm not accusing anybody of doing anything underhand. But there is certainly a strong case for the BFS Chairman to have removed himself from the entire process once it became apparent how many of his own titles and those of his partner were on the initial nomination list. This shows a serious lack of judgement by someone in such an important position.
At Sunday's AGM meeting David Howe explained how he had been too busy to prepare any financial accounts for the year. However, he wasn't so busy that he didn't use the Society's funds to put his name on a BFS 40th anniversary anthology (he apparently couldn't find anybody else in the Society to edit it, not that he seems to have asked anyone). Amongst its contributors the book includes, yes—you guessed it, the ubiquitous Sam Stone and Raven Dane.
I have no doubt that it will be nominated for a British Fantasy Award next year. And who knows? At this point, there's probably a very good chance that it might actually win as well.
Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that I will be there to see it . . .
October 4th, 2011.