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World Fantasy 2013 - Brighton, UK - Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, 2013 by Convention Report by Brian Jacob
Convention Report  
Date: 29 November 2013

Links: World Fantasy 2013 / Show Official Info /

Reflections on the 2013 World Fantasy Conference
by Brian Jacob

Brighton, England in November is, in a word, blustery. This kept many of the attendees inside the Brighton Hilton Metropole, the site of the 2013 World Fantasy Conference. The hotel, overlooking the ocean, turned out to be a maze of stairs and corridors which befuddled a great number of guests. Accessibility issues aside, learning the layout of the conference center provided a monumental challenge. Another flight of stairs seemed to be around every corner. The grand old hotel showed its age, but as a shelter from the wind and rain, it sufficed.

One noteworthy absence, at least from the perspective of the Americans in attendance, was the lack of a hospitality suite. Moderately priced food and beverages were available just down the stairs and around another corner from the registration area, but more often than not, the hotel staff outnumbered conference-goers. The preference must have been for the hotel restaurants or places outside such as the nice little fish and chips shop next door.

The panel discussions were a mixed bag, as they are always dependent on the participants.

Trudi Canavan and Robin Hobb provided noteworthy contributions on the panel "Broads with Swords", a discussion of women fantasy writers past and present. The women on the panel highlighted a few of their influence as well as current female authors they enjoy reading.

Tad Williams livened up the session "Elvish Has Left the Building", arguing traditional fantasy still has places to explore as long as writers bring new ideas to the genre.

On the topic, "The Best of All Possible Worlds", Patrick Rothfuss provided a glimpse at the immense level of detail he considers when creating a fantasy world.

Three panels devoted to cover art, editing, and agents suffered from one-sided perspectives. All featured experts in the field—artists, editors, and agents--but each would have benefited by the inclusion of at least one author.

One particularly good session focused on creating memorable characters. The participants stressed the importance of interweaving the characters with the story. They also encouraged using point of view to explain characters and recommended differentiating characters by their choice of words and the way they speak. Robin Hobb suggested a writer should "listen to your characters". As her stories develop, the characters often take her in a direction she had not initially considered.

While some panels fell flat, the variety of topics covered over the weekend ensured something for almost everyone.

As expected, the majority of participants came from the host country, but that neither added nor detracted from the content. The conference rooms provided adequate space and all sessions kept to their allotted fifty minutes. Sir Terry Pratchett drew a substantial audience as did the interview session with Brian Aldiss.

Neil Gaiman did a first-rate job as a last-minute replacement as the Master of Ceremonies.

Audience turnout for the discussions of the works of Arthur Manchen suggested that too much programming had been devoted the topic.

The mass signing event proved troublesome as the area was cramped and not set up well, which created bottlenecks all over the place. There appeared to be some confusion caused by the convention staff and several authors chose to avoid the chaos. Even so, those in attendance seemed to enjoy the event.

One of the smoothest aspects of the conference turned out to be registration. The staff had everything organized and the process proved efficient. Sadly, the bags and books provided did not meet the standards achieved by the last few conferences. For those traveling by air the limited selection of promotional books available may have been a blessing in disguise. Shipping or packing a large quantity of books could have been costly, but with only a few choice titles, the problem was largely avoided.

The conference, though marred by a few cancellations of high-profile guests, achieved modest success, primarily because the staff kept things running according to schedule. The biggest difficulty turned out to be the conference hotel. As previously mentioned the lack of accessibility and confusing layout were major detractors. The dismal weather along the southern English coast did little to improve the ambiance.

One advantage of holding the World Fantasy Conference outside the United States is that more writers and fans from the U.K. and Europe were able to attend. Hopefully, some will decide to make the trip to Washington, D.C. for the 2014 World Fantasy Conference.

From the point of view of an American, holding the conference overseas provided a ready-made excuse to see London and southern England. Even if just visiting Brighton for the weekend, attendees would have found plenty to do. Though not exactly close, the Brighton Pier was visible, day or night, from the front of the convention hotel. The Royal Pavilion could be reached by a short taxi ride, and a major shopping mall sat just a few blocks away up the hill from the ocean. Pubs and restaurants filled the streets nearby, however the weather may have kept the majority of attendees from discovering much of what Brighton had to offer.

With the increasing number of Australians in attendance over the past few years, holding the conference down under some time in the future would be particularly appealing especially since November is already late Spring in the southern hemisphere. After two years outside of the U.S. (in Canada and England), the World Fantasy Conference returns to the States for at least the next couple years. The British hosts did an admirable job with this year's conference, but several of the obstacles encountered may make a return engagement unlikely in the near future.

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