Fantasycon 2014: A guest post from Sophia McDougall

We’re delighted to host a guest blog piece from the author and convention organiser Sophia McDougall today, talking about conventions. Are they the life-blood of the genre, or are they something for Other People? Have you been to one? . . . and are you thinking about coming to FantasyCon 2014? Over to Sophia!

I’m co-chairing FantasyCon 2014. The convention will run 5th–7th September, in the Royal York Hotel, situated, perhaps unsurprisingly, in York. Our guests of honour are Kate Elliott, Larry Rostant, Toby Whithouse, and Charlaine Harris.

I’m in charge of programming. I’ve got an amazing team of splendid people on the case with me. Our plans include: Fantasy Fashion shows. Vikings. Combat to the death not actually to the death. (Stupid health and safety.) Newbie mingling sessions. Screenwriting workshops. Comics writing workshops. Agent speed-dating. And games!  We hope it’ll all be awesome.

But we’re going to need more help – your help.

It’s funny to find myself in charge of anything to do with an SFF convention, seeing as I was fully thirty and had been writing, reading and watching SFF for most of my life before it remotely occurred to me I had any place at one. I did not see myself as oppressed or excluded by this. I just, insofar as I thought about cons at all, assumed they were for other people.

And yes, because there’s an elephant in the room here – insofar as I thought about those other people at all, I assumed those other people were very largely straight white men. And not without reason. I didn’t know what those SWMs were getting out of it but I assumed it was something very specialised and it didn’t occur to me it might be anything I would also want.

That remained true until I was, I think at a Gollancz party and someone said to me “the SFX Weekender – you’re coming, right?”

And I said okay, and I went. It is a matter of public record that I had some issues with what I found there.

But on the whole, there and at subsequent cons, I had a brilliant and worthwhile time.

I met publishers for whom I’ve since written short stories.

I met fellow writers with whom I discussed ideas. Ideas for collaborations – actually pretty much the first thing that happened was that Tom Pollock (on whom I had never set eyes before) began talking about a comic concept – Tom, I still think we should write that thing someday. Ideas about where the fiction we were immersed in was going, where it was going wrong, how we could fix it. Pieces I’ve written like The Rape of James Bond and I Hate Strong Female Characters have their roots in those discussions.

I danced with Giant David Bowie (I really wish there were pics.)

I made friends. Friends whose cats I’ve petted. Friends who’ve floors I’ve slept on.

I now think conventions have real power. They’re crucibles in which publishers, writers, and fans are all mixed into a reactive solution out of which, perhaps, new things might come. I’d like to see them become more diverse and, as I’d never have gone to one if someone hadn’t asked me  I’m very much in favour of not just waiting for people to turn up, but asking them to come.

Now, whether you’ve been to one or not, you  may have heard some things about the darker side of the convention circuit. Cons that don’t seem to welcome women or minorities, cons who’ve handled the issue of harassment horribly, cons that aren’t interested in discussing anything but the same old topics.  I wish I could tell you all of this wasn’t real, but I can’t. I can tell you about what we’re going to try to so about it.

First of all, we’re going for gender parity across the convention. For reasons Lizzie Barrett ably outlines here, we don’t intend to feature a “Women in…” panel. This is not to say that we want to silence discussion of gender issues! But we would like such discussions to be starting from a somewhat more advanced position than just boggling over the fact that female writers and female characters exist, and we want female panellists to be involved in other topics too. For similar reasons our starting position is not to have a “LGBT people in…” or “People of colour in…” unless people from those groups tell us they want to see/be on such a panel, in which case that’s what we’ll have.

We’ll be donating £1 from every membership to the World SF Travel Fund, a charity devoted to helping international members of the sf, fantasy, and horror community travel to major genre events. We urge other conrunners to consider doing this.

Our harassment policy is here and we’re discussing ways to make sure it’s implemented effectively with professionals in the field.

We welcome ideas – ideas for panels, ideas for outreach, ideas for making Fantasycon its best self. Sign up and tell us about them here. It’s true that we can’t promise everyone will be on a panel or that all ideas will work out, but we will always try to work with your contributions where possible. You don’t necessarily have to be an industry insider to be involved. Are you a blogger? An academic? A prolific fanficcer? A jeweller who enjoys casting magical rings? Get in touch!

I’ll also be hunting talented people down. This would be much easier if, as I could if I were, for example, editing an anthology, offer to pay everyone. But I’ll be using all means at my disposal. (I will not actually kidnap anyone.)

We’ll be running a series of blog posts by interesting people about what con-going means to them.

This is, I hope, at least a start. Change the convention, change the genre – change the genre, change the industry – change the industry, change the world!

Well, maybe. But at least, I’d really like it if this year, our con was able to welcome people who perhaps haven’t gone to one before. I’d like it even more if talented people who’ve  felt on the wrong side of any barrier holding them back from claiming a place as a recognised writer, artist or other part of this community, felt some of those barriers fall away. This is entirely selfish. I’d like that because we need those people. Our convention needs them – our literature needs them. We need you.

It took someone asking me to come to get me. So I’m asking you. Fantasycon 2014 – you’re coming, right?