Not The Fox News: The World Fantasycon Problem


Right now, World Fantasy Con is busy faceplanting yet again. I was part of the volunteer team for WFC ’13 and it was, despite the magnificent people I worked with, a profoundly miserable experience. Rightly or wrongly, from our point of view it was a con defined by arrogance, hubris and a refusal to acknowledge anyone outside the tiny social circle that was choking the British genre fiction industry at that point.

To be clear, I made some of the closest friends in my life that weekend partially because of that adversity and I’d work with any of them again in a heartbeat. But not the con chairs and certainly not the WFS committee who existed that weekend as a whispered collection of ghosts, always there, always disapproving but never actually communicating.

A big part of the problem that year was the convention’s almost belligerent pride in not having a full harassment policy. It was a pride I saw articulated at a different event a year later, with some of the same people. It seemed that ‘we’ didn’t need a harassment policy. That any time something had happened in the past it had been dealt with in house. ‘we’, a group it was made abundantly clear was very small, were ‘above that sort of thing’.

Note I was told absolutely none of this to my face and neither, once again, was any other volunteer or con staff member. A Facebook echo chamber was a completely acceptable place to have this discussion though.

The one time I did see this bubble to the surface was in passing. I overhead a conversation complaining about the extensive nature of the harassment policy for the event. I pointed out to the people talking that the event they were at was a field leader and surely by those lights it made sense to over legislate as an example to others and went on my way. I had things to do. When you’re con staff you always do.

That’s why a very small part of me can see their point. The British genre scene is vanishingly tiny and a sizable portion of it shows up for this event every year. It’s easy to just assume you and your chums will comport yourself in a manner that befits you all.

But it’s not about you. It’s not about your chums. It’s not even about what usually happens.

It’s about what might happen. And how you’ll handle it when it does.

In the last two years I’ve been part of a team asked to deal with a single incident. I saw my colleagues treat the individual who had been harassed with compassion, patience and respect. I saw them be given the space they needed to collect themselves and make decisions rather than be pressured into a choice they might later regret. I have rarely been prouder of the teams of volunteers I’ve worked with over the last few years than I was on that day.

And that’s why the mealy mouthed legal tapdance WFC’15 was throwing up wasn’t just bullshit, it was and still is actively harmful. This event, that proudly lays claim to being the definitive convention for industry professionals, was not bothering to do something that events with a tenth its status and a hundredth its reach have baked into their procedures. The obvious defense here is of course the tiny size of the community and ‘we’ choosing to deal with it ‘in house’.

That’s not even in the same time zone as ‘good enough’.

No one on Earth WANTS to have a harassment policy. Even in building one you’re forced to imagine the absolute worst of the people around you, and in doing so, work out how to minimize the damage they may cause. These people have to, by definition, include your friends and colleagues. It’s an inherently cautious, inherently cynical piece of work that codifies the worst potential human behaviour and how to deal with it. No one wants that, least of all members of a community that likes to pay lip service to inclusion and diversity. But we all need it precisely because of that inclusion and diversity.


As of this morning, the WFC 15 website features this language:

New York State has strict legal requirements regarding harassment. We are developing a policy in concert with the Saratoga County District Attorney and the Saratoga Springs Police Department. It will be posted here and given separately to every member at registration. World Fantasy is a social event. Members are expected, as a matter of civility, to observe generally accepted social conventions. No means no. All members are expected to respect other convention members.

It’s an acknowledgement that harassment policies are necessary, and a massive error of judgment and tone has been noticed and is being acted upon. It is, in no way, a solution or an apology and that’s going to get them in a lot of justifiable trouble with a lot of justifiably angry people.

Since I first wrote this piece they’ve also released a statement via their Facebook page that they realize this isn’t sufficient and will roll out the harassment policy from last year, combined with the policy they already had. After the language is ‘reviewed for comprehensiveness’.

So to be clear; after not understanding how libel law works in their own State, or the incredibly complex and gentle procedures needed to deal with any harassment incident with the compassion required, they’ve decided to bolt what seems to be a serviceable policy onto their own nonsense after chopshopping the two together.


We’re saved.

It’s not just this nonsense that makes me angry. It’s the fact that it’s 2015, and, somehow this is still a conversation that keeps happening. Worse still, it’s a conversation that keeps happening around an event that has faceplanted on this issue again and and again. The history of WFC’s catastrophic attitude to harassment is a matter of public record and it’s as ridiculous as it is embarrassing because IT KEEPS HAPPENING. And I know, like most conventions, it gets passed to different groups every year. I also know those groups have members who are alive, have internet access and should have been paying attention.

A convention needs a harassment policy like it needs a venue. That’s how necessary it is and that’s how incompetent any convention that tries to skirt around this issue is being. And that’s why WFC ’15’s failure and increasingly desperate flailing makes me so angry. Because this is an opportunity for the self-proclaimed leaders of the industry to do just that; lead. And yet, again, they’re running to catch up.


This article wouldn’t have been possible without the sterling work done by Natalie Luhrs . Click on her name to go to her blog.

(Not The) Fox News: The Convention TwoStep

Conventions are one of those things, a little like dental work, that everyone is just expected to do. However, the best case scenario tends to be a lot higher than ‘No cavities!’ or ‘Mum, he only used the crowbar once!’. Conventions are safe spaces, the places where we can go to let our hair down, be ourselves, network, schmooze, drink, do bad karaoke, sign the odd deal and argue in Klingon over whether Peter Parker should have organic or mechanical webshooters.

That’s a tall order. And here’s the thing; it sets conventions up as the peak of the geek calendar and in doing so, all they’re set up to do is let you down. I’ll never forget attending my first FantasyCon, stepping through the door of what one of my best friends had described as one of the most welcoming conventions in the country and…being confronted by 300 people who clearly knew one another, chatting away and getting drunk together.There was no welcome booth, there was no one on duty to ease newbies in. There was just me and a bunch of already mostly drunk authors. It looked, and felt, like every ghastly clichéd high school lunch hall dream given form.

I didn’t turn and run, much as part of me wanted to.  I persevered, enjoyed a good deal of it and talked to almost no one. I attended another couple of times and, gradually, found myself moving in the same orbits as people who are now some of my closest friends. One of them is Adele, our feral leader here at Fox Spirit Towers. She had a similar track to me through the UK convention circuit, moving from member to guest to sleepless podcast tech goddess to leader of the pack in a little under three years. She was also completely rebooting her life as this was going on which, to my mind, is probably the only plausible reason why it took that long.

So, largely left to our own devices, people like Adele, myself, the Cheesecakes, Sam, Andrew, Lisa, Vick, Vicky and the others all slowly began to form our own social circles. It took a while and by a while I mean years, but I can now walk into any convention in the UK and, chances are, have a friend or two already there. It feels nice. It feels earned because believe me, it was. There are very few lonelier places than the bar at a FantasyCon when everyone’s talking to everyone but you.

Here’s the truth; no convention, on Earth, is going to answer every single one of your geek prayers because nothing ever does and nothing ever will. Make no mistake, you’ll have fun but the sky will not shower book contracts and meaningful discussion down upon you.  At least not without you rigging some bizarre publishing/weather dominator hybrid.

Yeah, Destro. You BETTER run.


For someone who doesn’t like or ‘do’ conventions, it turns out I’m going to a couple of big ones in the closing stages of 2013. In November I’m off to Leeds for Thought Bubble, which is always a very rewarding and immensely strange experience. Thought Bubble, or ThoBubs as its affectionately known, was founded by the comic store I worked for straight out of University. That’s the same comic store that made me redundant some years later and catapulted me into a period of sustained, constant change and near unbearable psychological stress. That period of my life meant that when I went to Thought Bubble for the first time, back in 2011, it’s fair to say I was not in the best of frames of mind. It’s a very weird experience spending time inside something that was so nearly built with your help. It simultaneously makes you proud and desperately sad. You get glimpses of the next life over, the one that was almost yours. You don’t regret it, certainly, but you do find yourself wishing it wasn’t in your eye line quite so much.

That being said, Thought Bubble is a desperately friendly show and, because I’m working for the company’s website (Freelancer tip: Never burn bridges. Ever. You never know when you’ll be able to cross back over them) I’m on the guest list. So, two days of wandering around Leeds Armouries, chatting to small press and big press alike and coming home with a metric kilo of review copies looks set to be on the cards.

Before all that though, I’m off to World FantasyCon.

This year FantasyCon has combined, Voltron like, with WorldCon to create a colossal robot that will stomp across Brighton and…

Sorry, I seem to have turned over multiple pages there.

This year, FantasyCon has combined with World FantasyCon and the end result has been a complaint storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Doctor Who fans discovered the internet, keyboards and Twitter. There’s been, on average, one ‘thing’ about WFC 2013 every five or six days. I’m not going to repeat any of the well documented issues a lot of people have with the convention set up here, firstly because I don’t have the word count and secondly I really don’t want to. Make no mistake there are absolutely legitimate problems with some aspects of the con that have been expressed forcefully and eloquently by some of the best writers in the field. Them, I don’t have a problem with.

The internet hordes crowding around them yelling ‘FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!’? They’re the problem.

At this point, WFC 2013 could transform the entire hotel into gold, provide everyone with unlimited chocolate and alcohol, premiere all the missing Doctor Who episodes still left and odds are someone would still sniff and go ‘Huh. Well apparently all the rooms smelt of wee.’

I saw people complaining about the free book policy earlier today.

How do you do that?

How do you express serious concerns about the giveaway policy at a con? It’s free books! You’ll be allowed a set amount, odds are you can swap them around maybe and maybe even read some before you pick up even more at the next convention! Like usual!

There’s such an accretion disk of negativity around the con that at times the real issues some people have and the efforts to address those issues by the organizers are being obscured by the stampede of people struggling to be the first on the soapbox and the first to lead the next charge. That’s awful for two reasons; firstly because the real issues people have with aspects of the programming are being obscured. On a more personal level, honestly, I’m slightly nervous going.

I’m attending as a redshirt (Although apparently we’ll get jackets which sounds dapper and AWESOME) and part of me is sincerely apprehensive. I’m going to be part of the Con’s face (FaceCons! That combine to form…I am on an ‘80s cartoon kick this month aren’t I?) and a lot of people seem eager to explain exactly why the con sucks, possibly to its face, that I am part of.


Oh and just for giggles, I’m also at my first ever book launch as an author! Which I may also be red jacketing at! Which may mean I’m technically cosplaying as either postmodernism or the entire industry… Anyway Fox Spirit’s Tales of Eve anthology has an officially official launch on Sunday at 10am.  The launches are being held in the space between the art show and Hall 8 and this should be really fun. Tales of Eve is a great book, Mhairi Simpson did a kick ass job as editor and a bunch of Fox Spirit authors will all be there to sign the book and launch it out into the world.


So, let’s review; I’m going to be a volunteer at a convention where a measurable proportion of the attendees aren’t especially happy and I’m also going to be attending my first ever book launch as an author.

No pressure then.

Now, take my basic apprehension and apply it to people attending a con for the first time. The needle’s buried in the red.

Or it would be, because on this one the convention has a plan. Full details are here:

Go, read, and go say hi. It’s a great idea and exactly the sort of thing I wish someone had thought of during my first couple of FantasyCons. It would have saved me a fortune in J20 and crippling social anxiety.


As for me, well, I have a plan too. The redjackets have all been asked what events they’d especially like to attend and wherever possible we’ll be scheduled to either work those events or be free for them. The book launch aside, I’ve asked for a range of diverse events and also said if I get none of them? That’s fine. If I go where I’m needed, rather than where I think I should be, I’m bound to see and hear new and interesting viewpoints.  I’ll be challenged. I’ll learn new things. I’ll engage, and in doing so be too busy to get nervous.

So why don’t you try the same thing?  Also, feel free to say hi if you see me. You can’t miss me, I’m the guy who looks exactly like the photo of me on this website. Let’s chat for a bit, assuming I’m not wrapping a panel up or helping disappear the flocks of taxidermied and yet somehow living ravens that always seem to apport into existence if Ramsey Campbell stays in one place too long. Because, underneath the groupthink, the communications failures on both sides and the vast helpings of schadenfreude people seem to be relishing, we’re all fans. This aspect of popular culture makes us all happy, hits us all right in the feels, and that sense of unity? That’s the one place every convention lives up to our expectations. Sounds like fun. Hopefully I’ll see you there.