Last year, I had every intention of spending a day at Fantasycon. It was only when a friend emailed me on (what I thought was) the Monday before, and asked me how it had gone… I’d got the weekend wrong, and missed the con. This year, I made certain I had the right date. And so, early on the morning of 22 September, I made my way to the railway station to catch a train to Nottingham…
The last time I caught the train to spend the day in a Midlands city was alt.fiction in Derby. My bank ruined that day for me by cancelling my debit card for no good reason (see here). This time it was Central Trains. My train was supposed to arrive in Nottingham at 10:45. It didn’t get in until 12:15. Signals apparently failed just outside Chesterfield, necessitating a wait of 90 minutes until the problem “resolved itself”.
So I wasn’t in too good a mood when I eventually entered the Britannia Hotel. This was the first time I’d attended Fantasycon, but not the first time I’d attended a convention in the Britannia Hotel. That had been nearly 20 years earlier – in 1989, when the hotel was called the Albany. Mexicon 3, my first ever convention. I was living near Nottingham at the time, and so I drove in each day to see what a sf convention was like. I enjoyed it enough that I kept on going to them.
The journey to Nottingham pretty much set the tone for the day. I rarely attend programme items at cons, and hadn’t planned to do so at Fantasycon. I was there to meet up with friends. Unfortunately, none of them were in evidence when I arrived. I had a wander round the dealers’ room, but it was on the small side and consisted almost entirely of small presses. So my book haul was a bit light – Eric Brown’s new novella from PS Publishing, Starship Summer; The Lost Art by Simon Morden; Postscripts issue 10, a thick hardback-book special issue of the magazine; and The Human Abstract by George Mann, published by Telos. Both Simon Morden and George Mann were at the con, so I got them to sign their books for me – well, George’s was already signed, so he just dedicated it.
I chatted with the Solaris gang, who admitted that British cons were now spoiled for them since they’d recently returned from Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Attendance 40,000! Around mid-afternoon, Neil Williamson and Hal Duncan appeared. I spoke to Jetse de Vries of Interzone, although mostly about music – I recommended he give Blind Ego a listen, a band I’d see play live several weekends before and thought he might like. I also had an interesting conversation with Stephane of French publishers Bragelonne.
And that was about it – a couple of wanders about the dealers’ room, a series of conversations in the bar. For lunch, I went into the city centre. There was a farmer’s market on, so I bought something to eat from a stall.
I left the con just after seven o’clock. When I reached the railway station, I discovered there were no trains running back home. A coach was laid on instead. So I spent a couple of hours on a coach, which of course avoided the most direct route, as far as Chesterfield. There, I changed to a double-decker bus because it was leaving twenty minutes before the coach. Oh, and I learnt that it’s difficult to use the toilets on those coaches. Perhaps it’s easier when on a motorway, but on B roads you get thrown about a bit.
Arriving back home, I rang friends who were out in town. They were in a new pub called The Old House. I jumped in a taxi and met them there. The bouncer stopped me as I was entering the pub, and asked me what was in the bag I was carrying. Books, I told him. He gave me a strange look, but let me in.
I didn’t go home until about midnight. It had been a long, and not entirely happy, day. Fantasycon had been a bust for me – not worth the hassle of getting to Nottingham. Perhaps it would have been if Central Trains hadn’t so thoroughly screwed up a simple journey there and back. But there were also less people I knew at the con than I’d expected, and the dealers’ room had been disappointing. I doubt I’ll bother going next year.