Just back from Fantasycon 2017 in Peterborough. But what have I taken away with me, apart from too many books and a mild hangover? I took away five things.

#1 – You always learn something new at Fantasycon

On the Saturday night, I was moderating the Mythology and Folklore panel (Brilliant panel! Packed room!) when an audience member asked the panel what their favourite myth or piece of folklore was. It was one of those questions that I had wanted to ask the panel but one they had vetoed in the pre-panel e-mail discussion because they didn’t want the whole thing to descend into a “my god’s bigger than your god” fight.
But the question was asked and Eliza Chan replied, “Does everyone know about the Tanuki?” We didn’t. They are, to quote Eliza, “Japanese raccoon dogs with huge hairy testicles.” And they are. And Eliza gave us a whistle-stop tour of myths and legend and how these scrotally-enhanced magical beings are still relevant to Japanese culture today. Read about them here.
That nugget was almost topped by something I learned from Jacey Bedford on the Writing Research panel on Sunday afternoon. On the question, of things we’ve researched that seem too incredible to use in writing, Jacey gave us a potted history of the Polish Winged Cavalry. It’s not just a name. They had wings! Want to know more? Go research it!


#2 – Every panel is about the audience

Possibly my favourite panel of the weekend was the Collaborative Writing panel late on Saturday night. I was one of four panellists, discussing some very different approaches to working with others. It became very clear that this panel needed to be about answering the audience’s questions and offering some practical advice.
The entire audience asked questions and we did our best to answer them without appearing off-putting about the challenges of collaborative writing. We then insisted on taking the audience to the hotel bar and buying the audience a drink before taking the audience to the karaoke session where we all enjoyed the sight of panellist Dean M Drinkel reinterpreting the works of REM.
I think the audience enjoyed it. Thanks for coming, Natasha.


#3 – Fantasycon is worth the journey, no matter how far

Some people always have a long journey to get to Fantasycon and there are some friends from far afield who had to do more than pootle down the A14 to get to Peterborough. I was delighted to finally meet Justin Lee Anderson at Fantasycon this year. I’ve known Justin through social media, contributions to anthologies and his brilliant debut novel Carpet Diem but it took Fantasycon to bring us together. At the thought-provoking world-building workshop on Sunday morning, Vic James awarded copies of her novels, Gilded Cage and Tarnished City, to the person who had travelled the furthest to attend. Justin will be taking those back with him to Edinburgh. People have come from further afield to this con and previous ones and I hope to meet some of them again at Fantasycon 2018 in Chester.


#4 – Fantasycon is open to everyone

Fantasycon is a very welcoming convention. The organisers have made every effort to accommodate all people and make sure no one feels excluded. I think that’s why you see people coming back year after year. Even so, there is the occasional individual whose disturbing appearance, abnormal behaviour and general freakishness are so off-putting that one must question how tolerant we should be.
I am, of course, talking about Baby.
Not for the first time, my co-writer Heide brought the world’s most unpleasant doll to Fantasycon. What had started out as a promotional tool for a novel – over eighteen months ago! – has turned into a some sort of carnival show of plastic hideousness. I’m sure that many con attendees see it all as ‘a bit of fun’ and not the cry for help that it clearly is.

If you see Baby, please do not approach. You are not joining in with the fun. You are an enabler.
We have the photographic evidence. I don’t want to see it happen again.


#5 – It’s the people, not the place that makes Fantasycon what it is

I had my doubts about Peterborough. Last year, when I asked my wife if she wanted to attend Fantasycon by the Sea in Scarborough, she jumped at the opportunity to go on an all-expenses paid trip to the coast. This year, when I asked my wife if she wanted to come to Peterborough for the weekend, she gave me a look of horror tinged with pity.
Actually, Peterborough was perfectly lovely and the convention hotel was definitely on the good side of adequate (although there were more cursed mirrors and haunted paintings in that place than I usually like).
But, as always, it was the people who made it a great weekend: the organisers, the redcloaks, the dealers, the panellists, the moderators, the workshop facilitators and the other attendees. I thought I was going to get a quiet hour or two to myself on Sunday to finish writing a difficult chapter but there was always a friend or social media acquaintance to catch up with in the bar and that chapter is still unfinished. And I’m not complaining.