Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fantasycon 2011 - The Aftermath

The venue for Fantasycon 2011 ... and 2012?

Tartarus Press has always been on the periphery of the British Fantasy Society (BFS), partly because we have commitments to other societies, and partly because our literary tastes and those of the BFS membership only seem to slightly overlap. Nevertheless, I’ve attended the last few BFS Conventions (Fantasycons), and can report that this years event in Brighton was the best yet. It was very well attended, with some fascinating guests, and the weather was perfect (actually, it was too hot at times.) I launched Mrs Midnight by Reggie Oliver (which has now sold out) and had a couple of well-visited tables in the dealers room. Brighton is a great town, and I caught up with a lot of old friends both inside and outside the Convention. Congratulations to all of the organisers.

However, the main memory that most people will have of Fantasycon 2011, will be of the fall-out as the result of their annual awards ceremony. I’m not sure that anyone is able to offer an entirely objective perspective on debacle, and before I try, I should disclose that I was nominated for the Best Short Story this year in the same category as Sam Stone (who won.)

After the Mistress of Ceremonies, Sarah Pinborough, tweeted her discontent, Stephen Jones (editor of, among other titles, the annual Mammoth Book of Horror) weighed-in to the public argument. In his blog he questioned the fact that David Howe (the Awards Administrator, BFS President, Treasurer, etc, etc) was handing out awards in which his own publishing business would win Best Small Press, that books he published under that imprint would win in the Best Non-Fiction and Best Novella categories, and that his partner, Sam Stone, would win Best Novel and Best Short Story. Frankly, it did look very suspect, and Steve used his blog to attack what he perceived as David Howe’s control-freakery, the BFS committee, the membership, and the small presses. The resulting publicity in The Guardian and The Daily Express has done the reputation of BFS no favours.

For the record, I think it very unlikely that the Awards Administrator stuffed the electronic ballot box with fake votes. The trouble is that the BFS Awards are made through a popular vote, with a small electorate and a first past the post system. All it takes is for one person to undertake a charm offensive, do some networking and call in some favours, and the Awards appear to be theirs. Unless it moves to a juried system, such undue influence is always a possibility. (And, yes, a juried system has a whole new set of problems…)

David Howe’s mistake was in not insisting on stepping-down as Awards Administrator as soon as he realised how the voting had gone. It wasn’t just a case of doing the right thing, but being seen to do the right thing, and he failed.

It wasn’t helped that the Awards Ceremony was overlong, overheated, and was held at a time when many people were hoping to start on their long journey home. The stage-management of the event grated on many of the attendees. 

However, there appears to be more to the argument than just David Howe’s lapses of judgement regarding the Awards. Behind the scenes there has been a power-struggle going on between the BFS Committee and Stephen Jones. The British Fantasy Society awards the running of Fantasycon to whoever makes the best pitch for running it, and they decided (not unanimously) that Fantasycon 2012 should be held in Corby, a town that appears to have little to recommend it. (The laudable intention was apparently to make it more affordable and accessible to fans rather than professionals.) The BFS Committee also decided (again, not unanimously) not to combine Fantasycon 2013 with The World Fantasy Convention (WFC) 2013, which is an odd decision because the WFC will upstage Fantasycon big-time.

Stephen Jones, a high-profile professional who has won many British Fantasy Awards previously (assisted, possibly, by the popular vote system), has effectively dropped a grenade into the machinery of the BFS. David Howe has resigned, Sam Stone has returned one of her two awards, and a whole raft of new people are putting themselves forward for the committee. They are going to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting in December, Corby has been cancelled as a venue for 2012, and if they’ve any sense Fantasycon 2013 will be combined with The World Fantasy Convention 2013.

As a politician Stephen Jones lacks subtlety, but he seems to be getting results…. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fantasycon is back in Brighton again in 2012, and it will be just as good as this year. All Stephen Jones needs to do next is sort out the running of the Awards, and combine conventions in 2013... Stand back!

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Well, I had a comment but managed to mess it up, so let me try again.
    It's unfortunate that politics is messing with the British F&SF scene as well (as here in Japan), but I still have a whole slew of British authors and my shelves, and look for more. So please keep writing and publishing in spite of the confusion!

    Edward Lipsett
    kurodahan.com

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  3. The politics have been messy, but the results look very positive.

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  4. Fantasy (which may be construed as a mega-set containing everything from horror to science-fiction) is lucrative business, but without professionalism it may dry up (which happens with chrony-capitalism, even in the fastest growing economies). So, if all this turbulence results in making the field more professionally managed and more equitable, nothing like it!

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  5. The odd thing about WFC 2013 is that when I was on the BFS committee, and David was chair, the committee voted unanimously in favour of combining the events. They must have changed their minds in the few months after I left - the BFS Journal (Summer 2011) mentions on page 13 that they had decided to hold a separate event.

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  6. Hi Stephen. I don't know what prompted the change of heart, but combining event makes such good sense, and can only result in kudos for the BFS. Once the present row is passed, I can see the BFS coming out of the present situation much stronger.

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  7. I think that one of the things that swayed the BFS Committee to go for a separate event in 2013 was the apparent unwillingness of the WFC committee to give the BFS much of a profile at the convention. Politics again. If David Howe could be accused of control freakery (and I riled privately against some of this as editor of Prism during his chairmanship), others too are guilty on this score, including some of David's sternest critics.

    I too cannot believe there was any chicanery involved in the votes, but on seeing the results that were coming in David should have done something to distance himself from them - and perhaps withdrawn certain items to avoid the inevitable embarrassment he would otherwise have to face. No awards are worth that! Obviously Telos and Sam Stone are too popular for their own good. Sad but true in this instance. For Sam, winning Best Novel and Best Short story at the same time would have always been controversial, let alone when her partner held such pivotal positions in the organisation.

    A gross lack of judgement indeed.

    The good news is that the BFS membership in general seem to be rallying round the new acting leadership of the society and I don't think what happened will prove more than a hiccup.

    By the way, nice to get Reggie's book through the post. It's superb!

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