Fantasycon 2014: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Another Fantasycon draws the a close, and I find myself sitting in my hotel, waiting for the inevitable hangover to hit, and reflecting on what was something of a mixed bag of a convention for me.
Well, in some respects this was one of my favourite conventions to date. York is a beautiful city that has a bewildering array of craft beer and real ale pubs, including one very reasonably priced one right outside of the convention hotel. I did my first ever panel – on How To Get Noticed – and despite bricking it before hand, not only was able to contribute to the discussion, but had people coming up to me for the rest of the convention telling me how valuable they found my contribution to the discussion. Which was nice. Chris Barnes, who narrates the High Moor audiobooks did a joint reading with me from High Moor 3 (video on the book facebook page) and it went down a storm. I met Chris and Jim Mcleod from Gingernuts of Horror for the first time and got on like a house on fire with them both. This was by far the most social convention I have attended to date, because I got to spend most of it down the pub with old friends and new.
Yes. Down the pub. Not in the convention. Which brings me on to the bad.
Where to start with the bad… Well, I would not exactly say that this convention was overburdened with organisation. The whole thing was slap dash, half arsed, badly implemented and clearly rushed through at the last minute. Reading slots were crammed into 20 minutes and then ended early instead of running into the night. There was no early arrivers meeting or early registration. No “dead dog” party at the end. The programming was basically of no interest to me for the most part because it was fantasy oriented and even then, mostly obscure and seemingly a bit pointless – there were two panels I was vaguely interested in going to, and one clashed with my reading, and the other with the panel I was on. So I didn’t go to anything apart from the very successful launch of the Spectral Book of Horror (for which I am so happy for Simon Marshall Jones and Mark Morris) and the launch of Gary McMahon’s new book “The End”, which he was kind enough to scrawl abuse into. There was no raffle, or much in the way of entertainment apart from the disco on Saturday and karaoke on the Friday night. The schedule was not included in the programme, so was basically just a sheet of A4 stuffed in the bag. The dealers room was tiny, with very little that interested me, which may have been due to limited space of the excessive cost of the dealer tables. Most damning, however, was the fact that apparently the banquet table for the volunteers, which they get every year as a thank you for all their hard work, was removed at the last minute because a few extra “paying” members wanted to attend. Which is shocking. Piss your volunteers off at your peril, boys and girls, because next time they might decide not to bother!
To be fair, it was the organisers first crack at it, so most of the above can be forgiven. They would have done better to look at a programme from Fcon2012 and see what was expected, but none of these are things that can’t be sorted out for next year. And none of them were enough to spoil the convention, even if it was a little disappointing at times.
However, there was one thing that really stood out as so fucking awful that it deserves its own heading.
By which I mean the convention hotel.
Now, The Royal York is a very conveniently placed hotel, right beside the train station. However to say that it was pricey was putting it mildly. The convention rate on rooms was about £150 a night. So an awful lot of people ended up having to stay away in B&B’s. To be fair, this is par for the course to an extent. Lots of people don’t stay at the convention hotels, even when they are relatively cheap dumps like the Albion in Brighton. No, the big problems and the thing that almost killed the convention was the cost of food and drink, along with the attitude of some of the staff.
A tiny cup of acrid coffee £3.95. £8 for a glass of wine. £4.40 for a pint of lager. These prices are not cheap at all, especially when you consider that the pub right outside had some gorgeous craft beers for £3 a pint. To add insult to injury, while the convention had negotiated a 10% bar price cut on certain things, the hotel seemed to take this with very bad grace and did their level best to charge full price for everything. One little tosser in particular would lie through his teeth and cop a massive attitude when you pointed out that yet again he had not applied the discount to the bar bill. Sometimes you would get the money back. Sometimes he would flat out refuse.
What this meant was that a lot of people spent a lot of time away from the convention hotel, in some of the many excellent pubs and restaurants nearby. Which meant that the convention had no focal point and it was not always easy to catch up with the people you wanted to see.
So, while I have really enjoyed this weekend, what it has been is three days of chat and sustained alcohol abuse with my friends in a beautiful city. The convention side of things was almost irrelevant.