FantasyCon 2021 – 24th-26th September 2021 (convention review).

Conventions are back!

FantasyCon 2021 is the first full face-to-face convention in the UK since the start of the pandemic. Other conventions have either been entirely on-line or a hybrid.

Although there was a reduced attendance, the committee had arranged an ambitious programme. We were all encouraged to take lateral flow tests before we arrived and to wear masks. The latter was intermittent and most of us ended up taking them off in the convention areas.

It was held at The Jury Inn in Birmingham. The convention occupied the whole of the first floor where all the convention rooms were. The hotel staff were helpful and obliging but… the hotel itself had issues. This is well inside Birmingham’s new Clean Air Zone and ‘polluting’ cars have to pay a steep fee to enter it. On top of that, parking is even steeper and part of the street directly outside is currently closed to traffic. Travelling by train was a much better prospect even though dragging luggage the mile from the station was arduous.

The sixteen floor hotel as full Friday and Saturday nights, not because of the convention but because Saturday was also the date for Birmingham Pride. Our room had issues as well. The TV was stuck on Channel 7 (Judge Judy), the telephone did not work, the toilet had on overflow problem and twice our key cards failed to work (we weren’t the only ones). But the biggest problem was the bar. There was only a small one and the only place hot food could be bought in the daytime. It was in a public area so anyone could queue up. It wasn’t open when regular convention attendees wanted it and it ran out of gin!

Not an ideal hotel for a convention but there were a lot of good eating places close by, notably Piccolino and Bistro Pierre where we had good meals.

The dealers’ room was a decent size but, as with many conventions in recent years, most of the stands were selling small press or independently published books. There were a couple of stalls with other items such as jewellery but no second-hand books which used to be the mainstay of any dealers room. The programme was effectively run in five strands and as a result the footfall in the dealers’ room was very sparse at times.

Any convention these days has more than one Guest of Honour. Jen Williams is a writer of epic fantasy. Marcus Gipps is an editor working at Gollancz. The third Guest of Honour, author and publisher Ian Whates was unfortunately unable to attend.

The Main Room was used for the guest of honour talks, the banquet and an almost continuous stream of book launches including Alchemy Presses Book of Horror organised by the various publishers scattered throughout the dealers’ room. There was a strand of people reading from their own work in the ‘Reading Room’.

Three rooms were reserved for panels and many of these considered various aspects of writing.

I personally attended very few of the programme items but for me the highlight was the poetry session on the Friday night co-ordinated by Allen Ashley.

Of the three panels I did see, one did not deliver with one panellist in particular only talking about her own book instead of discussing the broader theme of the subject. The others, on the subjects of art on fantasy and time travel, were characterised by at least one panellist who knew what they were talking about and could generate a discussion.

After the awards ceremony, it was announced that the next Fantasycon will be 16th–18th September 2022 at the Park Inn, Heathrow with guests including Liz Williams and Rivers Solomon.

Whatever the shortcomings of any convention, the main pleasure is meeting and chatting to friends. This year is was particularly important as nothing can beat a face-to face encounter.

Pauline Morgan

October 2021

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