So, last weekend was the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, UK. My second, following the San Diego WFC in 2011. Once again, I had an excellent time, my activities largely divided between the official program and socialising, er, networking, in the bar. New friends were made and insights obtained… All very satisfying and definitely inspirational.
I’ve been asked more than once what’s so good about WFC to warrant travelling halfway across the world to attend it. (Aside from justifying a two and a half week jaunt around regions of interest, that is – heh.)
One of the main reasons is undoubtedly the presence of global publishing industry professionals. It’s not all that common for agents, editors and the like to attend Australian speculative fiction conventions — partly because the events are often run by non-publishing ‘fans’, and partly because the Australian market (and also the conventions themselves) is small, compared with the UK and USA.
At WFC, which prides itself on being a professional convention, it’s more than half likely that a random stranger in the con bar will turn out to be an agent or an editor — not that I’m advocating stalker-like behaviour or forcing manuscripts onto unwilling recipients; but you can’t deny that if the stars align, such serendipitous meetings could change the course of a struggling writer’s future.
All roads lead to the bar
WFC is primarily a networking convention. There are no formal pitch sessions (that I’m aware of), but there are many open parties and opportunities to get to know people. And if I learnt anything at Conflux earlier this year, it’s that people actually want to hear about your work.
(Of course, networking in the guise of socialising can be hard work, and that’s where a little liquid lubrication can help… The key is not to get so lubricated one can’t talk coherently about one’s current project.)
It’s also fantastic to meet and chat with other writers from all over the world. The Australian speculative fiction community is tight-knit and somewhat insular. WFC provides insights into other writing communities — US, UK, Europe and even Africa.
The two WFCs I’ve visited have made me aware of how many pre-published counterparts I have in all parts of the world. Not to mention the vast numbers of published authors I’ve never previously heard of. Unsurprisingly, most attendees in San Diego were from the USA; while the Brighton event featured an enormous number of British authors.
A bunch of Australians attended WFC Brighton too. Many more than San Diego. And I also met European authors, some writing in their first language, seeking representation and contracts with English-language publishers. I talked to authors meeting their agents in the flesh for the first time, and agents meeting authors they’d signed and communicated with via email and phone. WFC is the meeting place. The hub.
Guests of Honour
Unluckily for the Brighton WFC, they lost three of their Guests of Honour in the lead up to the convention. Poor old Richard Matheson (I am Legend) died of old age, China Mieville (who was Toastmaster) had something unavoidable come up, and Alan Lee (artist GOH) couldn’t leave the set of The Hobbit in NZ. But they still had the incomparable Tanith Lee and Susan Cooper to receive life achievement awards and the charismatic and entertaining Neil Gaiman to effortlessly step in for China M.
I generally like attending GOH conversations. I enjoy hearing personal anecdotes and gaining insight into admired writers by listening to their (often funny) stories. Joe Hill was another entertaining GOH in Brighton.
In the end, I attended seven or eight panels across Friday and Saturday. In addition to the GOH conversations, it was good to hear from some other prominent fantasy authors on topics of general interest — such as ‘is classical fantasy dead?’ and the controversially titled ‘broads with swords’.
On the whole, though, I don’t attend WFC for the program. I fly halfway across the world to hang out with other authors and publishing industry professionals who are ‘my people’. I’ve come away with a host of new contacts and renewed enthusiasm for finishing my current WIP. Every time I front up to one of these events, I feel as though I’m getting another step closer to the end goal.
Addendum 9 Nov: I’ve been reminded that one of the best panels I’ve ever attended at a convention involved Neil Gaiman in conversation with Connie Willis two years ago at WFC in San Diego. If you’re interested, check out my post here, which summarises my key take-aways and also features an embedded YouTube clip of the conversation. Enjoy!