SF Conventions and How to Survive Them

I have just returned from FantasyCon in Chester. Run by the British Fantasy Society, this is an annual event and is the most writerly of British SF conventions. The panels are generally writing oriented and the dealers’ room is mostly full of independent small presses. It’s a weekend con, with events starting on Friday afternoon and continuing to Sunday early afternoon, with the awards dinner beginning at lunchtime and the awards happening through Sunday afternoon. To be honest, since I don’t have a horse in the awards race, and since I like to get home reasonably promptly, I usually leave mid-afternoon.

Chester Rows

I arrived on Thursday because I wanted to see something of Chester, a city that I’ve always managed to miss visiting in the past. So this time I got to see the Roman amphitheatre and the Rows, with their two-level medieval shops. The venue was the Chester Queen Hotel, right opposite the station. It’s an excellent venue for a convention. The rooms are good and the convention facilities excellent. Added to that the staff were all extremely friendly and helpful.

My first ever convention was 2007, so I’m relatively new to fandom. I started attending cons regularly, and volunteering for panels from 2012. My first ever panel was the history/fantasy panel at the Heathrow (London) Eastercon with George RR Martin. I’m not saying I wasn’t overawed, but George is an old hand at conventions and he’s a lovely man who doesn’t make you feel like a raw newbie (even if you are). At that point I’d got my first three book deal with DAW, but my first book hadn’t yet been published.

Now I have five books published and my sixth is coming out in December. In the intervening years I’ve done a lot more panels.

Eastercons are lovely and I tend to treat them as social occasions, catching up with writer-friends I haven’t seen (probably) since last Eastercon. Fantasycons, however, are all about the business. Yes, we make it social, but the panels are practical and interesting. This year I went to one about blogging for writers, a panel about the publishing industry, a workshop on plot pacing, and several more. I sat on panels about writers’ groups and about plot generating. The latter was a strictly fun panel – the last one of the convention – where a panel of writers had to take random plot bunnies shouted out by the audience and make them into… well I’m not quite sure what we made them into, but there was a lot of laughter, especially when we ended up with a (fictional) sentient dildo in a murder-mystery scenario.

Plot panel

The plot panel on Sunday afternoon.

There were writer-friends there, of course, many of them who had some connection with Milford, so we ate together and drank together (mostly coffee to be honest), and managed some social time as well as panel time. I’d taken a stand for Milford, which I set up in the Dealers’ Room with leaflets and a pull-up stand, but since I wasn’t selling anything I didn’t need to be there with it all the time.

If it hadn’t been for The Train Line selling me tickets for a train that didn’t exist on the way home, causing me to spend an hour on the freezing cold platform of Newton Le Willows station while trying to get back on track for my journey, it would have been perfect.

Next weekend I’m going all the way down to Bristol (by train again) for the one-day Bristolcon, held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Bristol city centre. I’ve been several times before. It’s a small convention with an excellent atmosphere and – yes – there are quite a few writer-friends in attendance, mostly a different bunch than the ones who were at Fantasycon.

Though it’s a one-day con, because my train journey is close to four hours, I have to go down on the Friday and return on the Sunday, so for me it’s still a weekend convention. It will mostly be a social convention for me, but I am signed up to do one panel:
Saturday 27th October, 3.00 How to Become a Published Author
With Jasper Fforde, Anna Stephens, Jacey Bedford, Simon Kewin, Cavan Scott (M)
Blurb: It’s not easy. But with a manuscript under your belt you’ve done the hard part. Our panel of professionals from the writing and publishing worlds will offer hints and tips based on their own experiences and careers to date.

I’m looking forward to it.

Surviving two consecutive conventions might be tricky. I’ll need to catch up on sleep this week. I room-shared with Tina A at Chester and I’m room-sharing with Terry J at Bristolcon. Because we don’t see each other all that often we do tend to talk well into the night, and then, of course, have to get up for hotel breakfast the following morning. Being from Yorkshire, if I’ve paid for it, I’m going to eat it, so come hell or high water I will not miss breakfast! (Though I often skip lunch.)

So advice on surviving conventions:

  • Take the easiest, most hassle-free form of travel you can manage.
  • Stay in the convention hotel, even if it’s a few pounds more per night.
  • Arrive early if you can.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Don’t imbibe too much alcohol. (Hangovers are not fun and people don’t like you snoring through panels.)
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Don’t buy more books than you can carry home.

Enjoy yourself.

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration department licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship).
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12 Responses to SF Conventions and How to Survive Them

  1. sjhigbee says:

    Urg… don’t buy more books than you can carry – we always come away from Fantasycon laden like ill-used donkeys! I’ll look out for you tomorrow, Jacey – it was your wonderful talk on getting real about submitting that got me my Grimbold contract and an agent interested in another of my books…

  2. freds64 says:

    I always end up with an empty wallet and more books than I planned.

    • Jacey Bedford says:

      I read a lot on kindle, these days because i can make the print bigger, but I like to browse books at cons and note down likely titles so I can order them. There’s a music organisation in the USA that sells download cards for specific CDs for musicians to sell at gigs. I would buy download cards from independednt booksellers at the cons – if they were available. That would make sure they caught the impulse buyers who read electronically.

  3. Shouldn’t that be “Buy more books than you can carry home, because there’s always the post”?

    • Jacey Bedford says:

      The only problem is that you can’t get to a post office on Saturday afternoons or Sundays in the UK, so unless you’re staying over to depart the convention on Monday, you don’t have access to a post office at the right time. I used to do that in Canada, before the days when Amazon would send an American publications to the UK. My first visit to Bakka in Toronto resulted in a box of books being shipped and a suitcase qualifying for excess baggage to the tune of $100.

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