This year’s FantasyCon is less than a month away and that has set me reminiscing. Out with the abacas (actually, I checked in Silver Rhapsody) and – ye gods – this will be my fortieth British Fantasy Convention. Yup, my first was FantasyCon 2 back in 1976! And you know what: I have, for my sins, attended everyone since over these past forty years, even the one-day events in Champagne Charlie in London. Is this a record? Can anyone else match this claim to fame (or is it infamy)?
It’s silly regretting not attending the first FantasyCon. It was a one-day event held in Birmingham and the travel up from Portsmouth, where I was then living, seemed a bit excessive just to meet some people I had only encountered in name through the pages of Dark Horizons and the BFS Bulletin. There was no internet, no online social media back then.
I did attend FantasyCon 2 in 1976, also in Birmingham, also in the New Imperial Hotel; and I did meet in person for the first time some of the BFS’s big shots: David and Sandra Sutton, Adrian Cole, Gordon Larkin, Jon Harvey, Mike Chinn… I also got to meet other folk who had until then, like me, kept their heads below the radar.
Over the next couple of years I managed to simply pay my attendance, go to the convention, chill out, have a few drinks, and have some fun. Yet I also found myself sitting behind the BFS table, helping to sell memberships, books and magazines (and fanzines and semi-prozines, words not heard much nowadays). This is when I first meet and became friends with chaps such as George Budge, John Aitken, Mike and Di Wathen…
By 1979 I had been persuaded by Jon Harvey (over drinks in a Nottingham pub a month or so after a convention) to become the society’s treasurer because no one had stood for this post at the AGM. Very quickly I became BFS secretary/treasurer (which for many years it became a joint post) and a part of the FantasyCon team. Eventually I even chaired both the BFS and FantasyCon (working with more great folk such as Stephen Jones, Jo Fletcher, Sylvia Starshine, Jim Pitts, Mike Chinn, Debbie Bennett, Jenny Barber … and Jan Edwards). Was there no end to this writer’s gullibility? Maybe not. I will say this: despite some difficult and lean years for the BFS and FantasyCon, it was a wonderful experience. I met and befriended so many lovely people because of the community that was created by the society and its convention. I even married one of them – one of the people, not the BFS or FantasyCon although, at times, it felt a bit like a marriage.
In these 40 years, looking back, I find it hard to recall the details. In my mind the conventions merge together, events become conflated. Of course I remember certain events but buggered if I can tell you when and where such and such happened. Mostly, it’s all a big happy blur.
FantasyCon has changed. It was mostly a readers’ event in those early days. Gradually, over 40 years more and more attendees were also producers of the work we were celebrating. In fact, an often heard criticism of FantasyCon was: it’s a professional convention, not one for the fans. This struck me as odd – after all, writers, artists and editors are also fans. And anyway, I felt that FantasyCon always catered for the consumer in equal measure – and long may it do so.
As I mentioned a few brief lines ago, the BFS and FantasyCon introduced me to many new writers and artists, friends and colleagues. It would be a massive list to mention everyone by name. So instead, on this, my fortieth British Fantasy Convention, I shall remember with sadness some of my friends and acquaintances now departed: Ken Bulmer, Louise Cooper, Basil Copper, Ken Cowley, Charlie Grant, Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, Robert Holdstock, Graham Joyce, Joel Lane, Dave McFarren, Di Reynolds (nee Wathen), John Stewart, Tanith Lee, Karl Edward Wagner… If I’ve missed anyone it’s not deliberate.
Forty years! That’s an age. Surely it’s not time to call it a day. I look forward to the next forty.
(All photos (c) Peter Coleborn. From the top and left to right: R Chetwynd-Hayes & Karl Edward Wagner; Ken Bulmer; Charles L Grant; Rober Holdstock; Tanith Lee; Graham Joyce; Joel Lane. In the earlier days I didn’t have a camera; when I did it was a film SLR which meant I took few photos. Now you’ll often see me hanging around with a digital camera.)