FantasyCon 2019

I’ve had a week to catch up on sleep, so it must be time to talk about FantasyCon.

The first thing to say is that I had a great time. I always do at cons. The people are lovely, the panels provide entertainment, and it’s great to browse the books of the indie presses that don’t make it into mainstream stores.

The highlights for me this year were about fun rather than learning new things. Breaking The Glass Slipper live and the Dungeons and Disorderly panel were both very entertaining, playing around with familiar characters and tropes. BTGS had panellists explain how their chosen sf+f character would deal with a difficult scenario, with the audience voting on their favourites. D&D was a ridiculous, improvised 45-minute roleplay game featuring the underdork, conspiring cows, and seven kobolds disguised as a dragon.

My panel seemed to go fine, though it’s hard to judge when you’re on the inside. I certainly got more insight into how franchise writing works, and now have some thoughts on what I can do to hunt out more work. But for me this was mostly a relaxing con, with a lot of bar chat.

Inevitably, I bought a couple of books. Luna Press are doing great work and I’ve already enjoyed dipping into their latest essay collection, as well as Gareth Powell’s new writing guide.

Going to Glasgow, or more accurately the edge of Glasgow, seemed to reduce the number of attendees, which was a shame. FantasyCon is a great event even when, like this year, it has a few organisational problems, and it should go as far north as Scotland once in a while. Multiple conventions close together also seem to have cannibalised membership, and hopefully con runners will consider that next year.

It’s a shame more people didn’t make it, but then that’s always going to be true. If you live in Britain and you enjoy fantasy then this is one of the most rewarding events of the year, especially for writers. I’m really glad I went.

Fantasycon 2018

Writing can be a pretty lonely business, so when there’s an opportunity to meet up with likeminded people, I’ll leap on it. And last weekend was one of the best of those meetups – Fantasycon.

Fantasycon 2018 took place in Chester. As always, it was run by a team of hardworking and helpful volunteers – if any of you are reading this, thank you so much! And as always, it was full of cool fantasy fans and writers from across the UK and beyond.

I love Fantasycon. I know enough people in the community now I can always find someone to chat with. It’s great catching up with people in the bar, where I spend most of the weekend. And that leads to meeting even more great people to chat with next year.

Spending a weekend with people who share your passions is great. You know that you can always find things to talk about. If the person you’re talking with doesn’t share your enthusiasm for a particular book or movie then they’ll at least understand it. It’s an emotionally uplifting experience, as well as one that fills me with good ideas about what and how to write.

Of course, there’s also the convention programming, a range of panels, talks, and readings. I can’t summarise everything I saw this year, but here’s what I attended:

  • Blogging in Genre Fiction – Kit Power, Alisdair Stuart, Micah Yongo, and Kate Coe talked with passion about how they blog. Turns out it’s mostly about that passion. And now I have a bunch more blogs to follow.
  • The Elderly Guard – Charlotte Bond, R B Watkinson, David Stokes, Dion Winton-Polak, and Mark Latham discussed older characters in fantasy. My main takeaway – in an apocalypse, older people have lots of useful skills, so keep them around.
  • Fairy Tales and Folk Horror – Charlotte Bond, Tom Johnstone, Teika Bellamy, and Susan Boulton talking traditional stories. Tom pointed out how dark the end of Beauty and the Beast is, with Belle marrying the man who held her prisoner, and how this could be read as about falling in love in an arranged marriage. *shudder*
  • Breaking the Glass Slipper live – One of my favourite podcasts, this time discussing mysteries in genre fiction. Excellent guest work by Claire North and RJ Barker. Look out for that in their podcast feed.
  • From Colonisation to Decolonisation – Nick Wood, Naomi Foyle, Stewart Hotston, and Allanah Hunt talking about colonial and decolonising sf+f. A difficult and important topic, it’s really good to see the fantasy community engage with this, and I’m very happy to just shut up and listen to those with direct experience.

Then there were the panels I took part in:

  • Putting the “Punk” in Fiction, with Lee Harrison, Ren Warom, and Kit Power. As somebody said, adding “punk” to a genre is really just a way of trying to say “look, it’s cool!”, but we still had a great debate about subgenres and making fiction more punk.
  • From Fanon to Canon, moderated by Cheryl Morgan, with Allanah Hunt, Chris Jarvis, and Kate Coe. I wasn’t sure I had anything to say on this, as I don’t write fan fiction, but it turned into a fascinating debate about working with existing stories and the connections between power and culture.
  • Renaissance Fantasy, with Anne Lyle, Jeanette Ng, and Den Patrick. We talked about what good and bad things fantasy writers take from the European Renaissance, what we’re missing out on, and a little bit about other renaissances.

Going to a convention always means finding more books I’d like to read, so the lure of the dealers’ room is impossible to resist. This time I was relatively restrained, only buying two non-fiction collections from Luna Press, one on gender and sexuality in sf+f, the other on African sf+f. I’ve already read the first one, which was full of insightful and fascinating articles. Having started the other this morning, it promises to be the same. Luna Press are doing some great work right now, putting out both innovative fiction and valuable commentary, and I’m pleased to have these on my shelves.

Fantasycon is a great event. If you’re a fan of fantasy or horror fiction and you live in the UK then I heartily recommend it. Next year we’re off to Glasgow – maybe I’ll see you there?

The Best Panel of FantasyCon 2017 – Economics. No, Seriously…

I attended several great panels at this year’s FantasyCon. But the best was on a subject I never expected to be so engaging – fantasy economics. Chaired by Peter McLean, the panel also featured authors Jeannette Ng, Shona Kinsella, Vic James, who’s also a political journalist, and Stewart Hotston, who’s an investment banker with a degree in economics.

Going Wrong

Peter’s first question was what economic pitfalls people found in their writing and how they got around them.

Stewart talked about how wars have to be paid for – this was something that constantly stopped Henry VIII going to war. Wars have economic consequences for hundreds of miles around, as horses are taken and farms burned.

Shona pointed out that, in a prehistoric setting like the one she writes about, everyone has to work to support the community. The value is in time, not money, and if someone doesn’t pull their weight that has consequences for everyone.

For Vic, the inspiration for her writing came from looking at the failures of an economic elite. If you have a magical aristocracy, that will shape the economy. It can lead to things like indentured servitude.

Jeannette pointed out the difference between building a plausible fantasy economy and using fantasy as allegory. The allegory doesn’t necessarily need to be economically convincing, but you have to know where it’s going.

This also led to some reflections on the reality of economics. Stewart argued that all economists are essentially fantasy writers, as they assume that people behave like rational actors to maximise economic utility.  Vic pointed out that a plausible, functional economy isn’t always a sustainable one.


Peter asked how we define an economy, given that it can be built on things other than money, like barter. One definition Stewart gave was that money is a way of storing desire and allowing access to value, and this is how an economy works.

This led to a discussion of debt and how it can work if there’s no cash. Jeannette suggested favours and Vic said labour, which raises the question of when to pay that debt – get it out of the way when young, or enjoy your youth and work later?

Jeannette discussed the case of gift giving cultures, where giving increases your status and places obligations on others. This is something that has appeared in various places around the world, including in medieval Europe. Debt, obligation, and economic dominance don’t have to work in the way we’re used to.

The Elite

Next on Peter’s question list was whether the magically powerful in a society would automatically become the super-rich.

As Stewart explained, the social elite and the most wealthy aren’t always the same in reality. Historically, merchants have tended to be a separate class from the aristocracy, who didn’t dirty their hands with trade. The wealth of the aristocracy came from debts and giving opportunities to merchants. So in a fantasy world, the powerful could channel magic where they want it to go and this would affect wealth distribution, but magic, wealth, and rank wouldn’t necessarily match.


In a question that would have got him burned at the stake five hundred years ago, Peter asked how we get to a point, as with medieval monasteries, where one of the wealthiest groups aren’t doing anything useful but are essentially a luxury. This led to a wider conversation about luxuries. Jeannette pointed out that we don’t appreciate what a luxury most clothes once were, as we get them so easily. Giving cloth had real symbolic power. Shona talked about how, in a society that doesn’t take excess resources from the earth, luxuries can take a different form – things made for each other.

This idea of the changing nature of luxury came up again as Jeannette discussed more egalitarian societies, in which anthropologists have seen people mocking the excessively successful. Stewart said that this fits a social difference between the UK and the US – in the US, people are more hierarchical and concerned with economic success, while in the UK we are more egalitarian in our outlook and celebrate heroic failures.

Vic described the aristocracy as a wealth-preserving mechanism – most early laws emerged to decide where property went.

Specialist skills are also important in directing wealth – Stewart explained how the creation of the specialist skill of double-entry book-keeping added to the wealth of book-keepers and their patrons.

Wacky Stuff

Someone in the audience asked the panel about the most out there economic ideas they’d seen.

Stewart said basic minimum income. Evidence is starting to show that it generates wealth and doesn’t create inflation, completely contradicting dominant economic theories. Its day is coming, but many economists, shaped by Hayek and American puritanism, will fight this.

Jeannette said China’s gift-giving culture, where it’s scandalous to game the gifting system for profit but this can be done.

As Vic said at the end, economics is a codification of human relationships. This was what the panel drew out – how economics ties to other relationships, how it is shaped by them, and how it can be used to build more interesting worlds.

Seriously. Best panel of the whole convention.

Histories of Violence – the FantasyCon 2017 Fighting Panel

Fighting features a lot in fantasy literature. And so it makes sense that almost every FantasyCon has a panel about writing combat. This year’s featured:

What Makes a Good Fight?

Adrian talked about how a well-written fight scene has a clear perspective. The fight should be seen from a specific point of view but the writer should also know what’s happening beyond that viewpoint. Anna said she focuses on sensations and emotions, bringing the fight to life. Stewart went more specific on this, saying that as a reader he likes to feel breathless.

Stewart also said that the fight should fuel what else is going on for the character. Related to this, Simon said that there needs to be a reason for the fight, something to care about.

The Influence of Other Media

Discussing the influence of other media on their work, Stewart said that good computer games are an influence for him, but not films, as none of them live up to his experience from HEMA.

The panellists picked out a few examples that have good lessons – the meaningful action of Sam Peckinpah, the sensory richness of costume dramas, the mess and chaos of Saving Private Ryan. But as Adrian pointed out, trying to replicate a good scene from a film wouldn’t make a good written fight – they work differently.

This led into an interesting discussion of the aesthetics of violence in fiction. Simon said that it should be simultaneously appealing and appalling. Stewart said that the tunnel vision that comes in a fight creates a sense of intimacy and even camaraderie between opponents. Anna described it as something that can be deeply mindful.

As Adrian pointed out, if the reader knows more about the fight and its consequences than the participants then this can add to its power and emotion. There is, as Anna brilliantly described it, a moment of human tragedy as you see the mistake unfolding.

Accuracy Versus Entertainment

As David pointed out, most real fights are short, ugly, and not cool. This raised a question – is accuracy not a good thing?

Stewart discussed how, in late medieval and renaissance fighting manuals, most moves have only three steps – by then you’ve won, lost, or backed off. If you don’t hit first and you don’t back off, you might get hit back. If you’re writing something grim, there’s a place for that harsh realism.

Anna said that it depends on what you want to write. This is fantasy, and there’s a place for the gorgeous romance of Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling. As Adrian said, fights with pezazz are part of what readers expect from fantasy.

Final Points

A couple of interesting points came out near the end.

Adrian discussed how there are three levels of fights, each requiring different skills from both combatants and writers – the duel, the skirmish between a few people, and the mass battle. He considers the skirmish the hardest to write, as you’ve got multiple combatants but can’t just treat them as a chaotic mass.

Stewart said that, historically, battles with melee weapons tended to have surprisingly low casualties. Victory came through intimidation and breaking the enemy’s will, not through killing.

Overall, this was an excellent panel with a lot of useful insights. There’s a reason why the fighting panel is a staple of conventions.

The Author as a Business – a FantasyCon 2017 Panel

As someone who makes a living off writing, it’s always worth paying attention to the professional side of a convention schedule. At FantasyCon 2017, that meant attending a panel on “The Author as a Business”.

The panellists were lawyer and podcaster Marguerite Kenner, agent Juliet Mushens, author Heide Goody, and publisher Francesca T. Barbini. That’s a good mix of expertise and perspectives, which is exactly what you want on a panel like this. After all, there are a lot of different ways to operate these days and understanding that is part of making writing work for you.

For me, much of this panel was a useful revision of things I’ve heard on podcasts or read in articles before. There’s a lot of information out there, it’s hard to make it all stick, and hearing an interesting discussion on it reminded me of things I’d neglected, as well as shining new light on them. But there was one over-arching theme that came up and that’s worth sharing:

Know exactly what the rules are that you’re working by.

This can mean getting a lawyer to look over your contract. It can mean sweating the details of what rights you’re giving someone to your work. When writing with a partner, it can mean setting out clear rules for how you’ll work together and how the profits will be split.

These details aren’t always exciting. They’re not always comfortable topics of conversation. But if you’re going to be a professional, they’ll affect your livelihood, and that means they’re things you need to know.

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Nothing brings out the impostor syndrome in me like a convention. There I am, sitting on panels with authors I’ve heard of, making out like I have something relevant to say. Telling people that I’m a writer when they’ll never find my books in Waterstones. Seldom do I feel so much like I’m faking it.

Or at least that was the case until last weekend and FantasyCon 2017.

Two things at this convention made me feel more like I was, on some level, the real deal.

One was seeing the successes of my friends. Two people I’ve known since university had book launches. Adrian Tchaikovsky, who I’ve got to know since moving to Leeds, won the annual best fantasy novel award for The Tiger and the Wolf. Though I’ve had moments like this before, this somehow became a tipping point, the moment when “these writers are just people like me” became a solid, emotional reality instead of something I would mutter as a mantra as I hunched over my poor battered manuscripts.

The other was people’s responses to me talking about my work. I was on panels about history, ghostwriting, and steampunk. In between, I had numerous conversations in which I talked about the writing I do for a living.  And people’s responses, the way they treated me like I knew what I was talking about, the occasional impressed reaction at how many books I’ve ghostwritten over the past few years, that made me realise that what I do isn’t a sideshow. Sure, it’s not the same as what the big name authors are doing. It’s not where I want to be eventually. But it’s providing me with experience and expertise that’s actually pretty impressive. I am a writer, even a professional one. And the fact that it’s not what people dream of when they say “I’m a writer”, the reality of it is still pretty cool.

FantasyCon 2016 by the Sea, or Why Cons are Great

The last weekend in September was FantasyCon, the British Fantasy Society’s annual shindig. And so I headed to sunny Scarborough, famed tourist lure of the Yorkshire coast, to paddle, play in the arcades, and maybe learn something about writing.

I always enjoy FantasyCon. There are lots of interesting people, the panels provide something to talk about, and there are bars. That means lots of interesting late night conversations with other people who love writing, reading, and sf+f. These days, I also know enough authors for there to be someone I know releasing a book. So I go along to hear a reading, offer my support, drink the free wine, and add more paper to my already overloaded to-read shelf.

Adrian Tchaikovsky and Keris McDonald signing The Private Life of Elder Things.
Adrian Tchaikovsky and Keris McDonald signing The Private Life of Elder Things.

I’m trying to broaden my reading, so this year I listened to panels about horror. This meant hearing new speakers, recommendations for books I hadn’t heard of, and some new perspectives on storytelling. Conventions can be great for that kind of thing.

I also talked on a panel about time travel in sf+f, which was a fun way to spend an hour. Of course I got in a small rant about inaccuracy in Braveheart, because any excuse.

And no, not freedom.

But honestly, the best part about conventions is getting to know people. I’ve come away with a load of new friends and contacts, as well as the memory of lots of interesting chats. I feel inspired and motivated by it all. I really look forward to seeing the same faces at future cons. These are the moments where a community of interest – something that exists largely online – becomes a physical community, and that’s great.

The Geekend

Getting over-excited - the essence of the geekend.
Getting over-excited – the essence of the geekend.

I picked up a new word at Fantasy Con, and it’s a word I now know I always needed. That word is geekend.

Most of my best weekends are geekends. I might be at a fantasy convention, a live roleplay game, a board gaming meet up, or just hanging out with friends playing drinking beer and talking about comics. There’s a shared atmosphere to all these occasions – a sense of enthusiasm, relaxation and geeky camaraderie. I might drift between my different nerdy hobbies, but the core pleasure remains, and that pleasure is the geekend.

Credit for this new piece of vocabulary goes to David Tallerman. I don’t know whether he can be credited with its invention – that’s the problem with writers, they’re always making stuff up. But learning the word over drinks in a convention bar, from a friend I met over drinks in a convention bar, that’s perfect.

Do you turn your weekends into geekends? Have you just got back from one? Share your particular enthusiasms below – what do you love enough to spend a whole weekend nerding out over it?

How to get noticed – a FantasyCon panel

BFS_Logo_red_SMALL‘How to get noticed’ was probably the most practical of the panels I went to at FantasyCon. As an indie author it was the one thing that looked pretty much compulsory on the schedule. Embarrassingly, it’s also the panel for which I have the worst notes on who people were. But in as far as I can cover that, the panellists were…

  • Graeme Reynolds – author and independent publisher
  • Ruth Tross – an editor I think, chairing the panel
  • Allen Ashley – author and editor
  • Sophie Calder – publicity manager for Gollancz
  • Nazia Khatun – a librarian and bookseller at Waterstones
  • Ewa S-R – OK, Ewa had a proper surname but I didn’t get it, and the internet has not helped me solve that problem – she’s a blogger and an ex-bookseller and if anyone knows who she is please tell me because I want to go read her blog [edit: I found Ewa on Twitter thanks to Carl Barker – cheers Carl – this also means I’ll now be spelling her name right].

I’ve read and listened to a lot of opinions from authors on how to get noticed. Getting the perspective of other professionals with different views on what works was fascinating, if not always surprising.

Libraries and bookshops

For Sophie, events at bookshops and libraries are key in promoting a book. Libraries are in the top six ways people discover authors, so it’s good to be present in them. Graeme said that approaching libraries hadn’t worked for him. Allen pointed out that a lot of libraries are looking for a purpose to justify their existence as people come to them for books less, and if they have some autonomy then they can be a good way of getting some publicity going.

For Graeme what’s been more useful is local bookshops, though he’s found it hard to get into big chain Waterstones. Sophie mentioned that 65-70% of booksales are still through physical bookshops, making booksellers and word of mouth very important.

Nazia and Ewa both enthused about how much they’ve enjoyed selling the books of authors they like. Pushing a book in a shop is an extension of word of mouth publicity, and pushing books others don’t know about can be very exciting.

So the main lesson from this part was to make friends with local booksellers and librarians, because they could be a big help and support.


There was general chatter about that fact that both being a fan and engaging with fans can be exciting. According to Sophie even an imprint like Gollancz has its fans. They’re often loyal to the authors and will buy both print and hardcopy versions of books. And apparently genre fans are more likely than most to visit author websites and engage on social media.

So yay, this site isn’t a waste of time! (Just kidding. I waste hours just looking at my stats.)

Social media

This got into the nitty gritty, so it’s time for bullet points:

  • You have to show respect to fans and readers – don’t ever be dismissive or rude (Graeme).
  • It’s important to cultivate your own distinct voice (Sophie).
  • Pick a platform you’re comfortable with to focus on (Sophie).
  • Promoting fellow authors, making friends with authors and bloggers, and talking with excitement about your own work can all help (Sophie).
  • Be subtle in promoting your work – everyone rebels against being told what to do (Nazia).

All of which reinforced the good practice that’s cited elsewhere, providing useful focus.

Always more

There was talk of other subjects, including book launches, promotions and the value of building relationships with reviewers. But what a lot of it boiled down to was that if you work well with others, if you’re positive and supportive and take the time to interact in a meaningful way, then that good stuff will come back to help you.

Persist, be positive and help one another – that’s right, good author marketing is about good old-fashioned hippy values, and that makes me a happy guy.


So there you go – another interesting panel and hopefully useful for some of you. As we’re talking marketing I should point out that you can find links to buy my books here, and you can find me on Twitter as @gibbondemon . Now go forth, have conversations, be positive and persistent and all that good stuff.

As Bill and Ted said, be excellent to one another.

Gentleman thieves, loveable pirates and sexy tricksters – a FantasyCon panel

If you’re writing from inside the head of someone who’s just been robbed, they’re not going to think ‘I’ve been delightfully subverted’. – Frances Hardinge

This panel’s description featured the most amusing misprint of the FantasyCon 2014 program, promising us a discussion that would cover ‘sex tricksters’. For better or for worse, the panel swiftly moved away from that dubious-sounding subject, into a fun discussion of the place of roguish characters in fantasy fiction.

One of the many disreputable figures up for discussion

This panel featured:

  • David Tallerman – author of various novels, including a trilogy about a thief
  • Joanne Harris – writer of both literary and fantasy fiction
  • Frances Hardinge – children’s author, wearer of a rather dapper hat
  • Kim Lakin-Smith – author of fantastical fiction, particularly interested in gender issues and mixing up biology
  • Libby McGugan – fantasy writer with a taste for science
  • James Barclay – fantasy author, chairman of the British Fantasy Society, has a certain charmingly roguish air himself – James was chairing the panel

Favourite roguish characters

Favourite examples was a good starting point for the panel, and one that grounded the discussion in familiar stories.

Joanne mentioned the Pied Piper, and how he appealed to her because he was a villain but one who had been wronged, the sort of character who emerges once black and white moral divisions have been used up. For her the appeal of rogues goes back to childhood and fairy tales.

David talked about his own character, Easie Damasco, who he wrote because he wanted to deliberately get away from treating thieves as sympathetic people. After all, in reality they’re criminals preying on the innocent. It was a bit of a cheeky answer to this particular question, but I’m currently reading the first Easie Damasco book and I have to say that Easie’s becoming one of my favourite rogues, so I’ll let him off this once.

Frances discussed the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. She pointed out that, much as we love Wesley, he’s presumably been killing lots of people in his pirate role.

Kim listed Pan, Puck and Robin Hood as among her favourites – mythic characters who intrigued her.

Libby picked Crowley from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, a character whose defining quality is that he is struggling with being bad.

Motivation and complexity

James asked if it was the motivation and complexity of rogues that made them appeal, leading to an interesting discussion about where that appeal comes from.

Reasons for their appeal that the panel mentioned included:

  • The fantasy of freedom, letting us safely imagine doing what these people do (Frances)
  • Respect for people breaking the system (Libby)
  • Catharsis (Joanne)
  • Realistic decision making (David)
  • We all do wrong sometimes, and it’s enjoyable to see this in others (David)
  • Being intrigued by the bad boy/girl (Kim)
  • The character showing a broader social context (Frances)
  • Corrupt systems making law-breaking acceptable (Joanne)
  • They’re more fun to write (Libby – and I suspect that’s how most of the panellists got to this point)
  • Characters determining their own moral code (Joanne)
  • Making bad girls/boys safe (Kim)
  • The distance of time making people more appealing – we love Caribbean pirates not Somali ones (Frances – and with my historian hat on this comparison made me smile – ah history, how you warp our perspective)
  • The fun of dressing up – rogues often have great outfits (Frances)

How to make them appeal

James asked a couple of questions near the end that covered how to make such dubious characters appeal – do they need the capacity for redemption, and is this appeal partly down to sleight of hand?

The general consensus seemed to be that the possibility of redemption was needed. As Libby pointed out, we need something to identify with in a character. David made the point that there’s not even tragedy without the possibility of redemption, and it’s hard to read anything without hope in it.

There was also agreement on there being some authorial trickery involved. As James pointed out, the cleverness of the rogues themselves distracts you. But as Joanne pointed out, there’s a darker side to this, as we rely on taking away the victimhood of their victims so that readers don’t think about those consequences.

Last thoughts

One of the last notes I made was another one about historical context – shock horror, the history grad paid attention to the history bits. According to Frances, it has been argued that the appeal of roguish characters is a particularly English thing, a cult of the criminal having grown up here in the 16th and 17th centuries, celebrating the innovation and courage of such people.

I don’t know enough about other cultures to make a comparison, but certainly the appeal of dangerous rogues to the English rings true. In the middle ages we were renowned across Europe as a violent and disreputable nation, and some people took pride in that. The fame of figures such as Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and even the Krays reflects a long held romanticisation of armed robbers and violent crime.

On that charming note I’ll leave you with one last question – who are your favourite rogues and why? Leave a comment, share your love of bad boys and girls who kick against the system.