The Speech I Should Never Have Made

Observatory

awardwinners

I’m seen here having won two awards. I can’t remember what they were for, because moments after this photo was taken the plaques attached to them fell off and I couldn’t glue them back on. I don’t respect awards very much; as a juror on many panels, I know they’re at best arbitrary and at worst political.

Some festival organisers take themselves very, very seriously. The British Fantasy Society once had organisers who were adorable; shambolic, relaxed, expansive. In fact the whole thing was once a rather lovely organisation catering to society’s literary and artistic misfits, a professional body that welcomed genre outsiders and industry professionals alike, with huge events in London hotels and local chapter events around the country. Anyone who worked in SF, horror, fantasy or any other category that fell outside of the strict ‘fiction’ label came along.

Like all such organisations it eventually became riven with factional fighting, not helped by a disastrous awards scandal that made made the national papers. Support fell away, membership staled, but it rebounded for a while with a number of high-profile gatherings before slinking back to the Midlands. During its more disastrous years (when awards were handed out to the same handful of tired faces over and over) I gave a number of speeches. One year I had great success with my speech on creativity, and two publishers actually fought over the rights to it.

At some point after that the BFS made me lose the will to live, and I started to hate going there just to watch people arguing over Dr Who and whether or not people who wrote about dragons deserved their own society. On one of those occasions I made a jokey, irritated speech that went down like a cup of cold sick with the hatchet-faced hardliners. The speech has, as they say, been edited for content. But mainly for libel. I should have never made it.

‘Welcome to this, the seven hundred thousandth annual FantasyCon, an event which has been going on since before the birth of Christ, or if you’re a Creationist, since children first played with dinosaurs. Many of you, of course, were here at that very first FantasyCon, just in different life forms. Since then we’ve radically evolved – or not, if you’re a Creationist – evolved to cope with massive changes in the publishing industry, in reading habits, and the horror that was Salford last year.

Newcomers will find that we are not as other conventions. I’ve always said that FantasyCon is somewhere between a beer festival, a pagan ritual and a fight in a barn. The last one I attended was in a hotel much like this, with horse prints bolted to the walls, the kind of place where old salesmen come to die bitter, lonely deaths, but my misgivings always melt away within minutes of arrival, to be replaced by much deeper fears.

I well remember the convention of 1908, when the booksellers room was overrun with elves, and the occasion when Alistair Crowley turned down his small press award by placing death curses on the first born of the judges. I remember a time in the hedonistic 1980s when chopping out a couple of lines actually referred to book editing.

But we survive. The friendliness of the BFS crowd is the slashfiction of legend. The people who attend come here not because their agents feel they should be seen to be promoting something, but because simply, they have nowhere else to go. Or possibly they’re on the run and need a place to hide. And you don’t have to be on your best behaviour. You can be as rude as NAME WITHELD or as UNFORTUNATE JOKE MADE HERE, AFTER WHICH MANY ATTENDEES BECAME ACTIVELY HOSTILE and nobody will mind so long as you occasionally extract your hand from your pocket with a twenty pound note and APPALLINGLY INSENSITIVE JOKE MADE HERE ABOUT ABYSMAL STATE OF HOTEL.

My own fantasy is to MC a BFS in London, one of the world’s key cities, because nobody gives a fuck what happens here in Nottingham. We’d attract newcomers, gain status, and everyone would benefit from the prestige. I’ll be explaining how this could work and offering cash bribes to the management later on.

A lot of mainstream writers have never attended a BFS convention. Is it because they think they’ll be pigeonholed by publishers? Do they have preconceptions about the type of people they’ll meet? Or is it that they simply can’t be arsed? Well, new blood is our lifeblood. The BFS awards are supposed to be won by the most deserving, and not by REMOVED BECAUSE AWARDS WERE SUBSEQUENTLY HANDED BACK but we need to be constantly challenged by newcomers. And frankly there aren’t any in this room.

Meanwhile, lets be thankful for all the hard, unpaid work carried out by some of the dedicated organisers who drag us kicking and screaming to these hellholes year after year, and remember that membership carries a level of responsibility, and a dream of world domination. Our plan is to show that we can be literate and benign, exciting and filled with wonderment, but in a sinister, controlling way. To spread the word around the nation like an STD, and bring new members in to our clinic of the fantastic, to taint them with dreams of the impossible. Everyone else can watch Dr Who.

So remember the benefits of BFS membership – 1. Eternal life. 2. The eerie power to cloud minds. 3. Incredible sexual magnetism. 4. The thrill of seeing your name in print, even if it’s just a note from the hotel saying they’ve lost your reservation, or in a badly printed and poorly distributed volume half-heartedly vanity-published by NAME OF ATTENDING PUBLISHER REMOVED.

So come, enjoy, learn, take a chance on an author you’ve never read, and if you buy a great many books from the BFS we may one day be the world’s leading fantasy and horror event at a convention held in a town people have heard of, although I for one will miss the Corby trouser press and those little packets of biscuits they leave in the strange-smelling rooms upstairs which presumably lie empty for the other 51 weeks of the year.

            Finally I’ve been told to announce the republication of William Hope Hodgson’s ‘House On The Borderland’, which remains as disturbing as it was when I first read it in 1908. It makes Cthulu look like Sonic the Hedgehog. Indeed, the unreadable American idea-thief HP Lovecraft acknowledges ripping it off, that is, homaging it in his own work. HISSING AND BOOING FROM LOVECRAFT FACTION NOW DROWNS ME OUT. This being Nottingham, I’m going to shoot a member of staff for each copy of this book that goes unsold. BEATS HASTY RETREAT FROM STAGE AND CHECKS OUT BEFORE LYNCHING CAN BE ORGANISED.

16 comments on “The Speech I Should Never Have Made”

  1. snowy says:

    Well I laughed.

  2. Bob Low says:

    This is a hoot. The great writer and editor Thomas F Monteleone used to write an abrasive and witty column in Cemetery Dance magazine, where he regularly had a go at the American Horror Writers Association, or AWA, which he rechristened the American Hardly Writing Association. Threats of ,and possibly actual proceedings for, libel seem to have been flying about among American genre writers in the nineties. I think I can spot Ramsay Campbell second from the left in the picture?

  3. Bob Low says:

    Sorry, that should be AHWA! I think I’m wearing the wrong glasses today.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I’m laughing, but I’m also bemused. All the British events I’ve heard about contain burning complaints about the hotels. Is it really completely out of the realm of possibility to have a venue where the plumbing works, feral cats don’t attack garbage bins and each other under your window, and all promised amenities are actually available? Does the event always end up as another weekend where no writing was done and you only meet the small group of people who actively dislike your writing and can scarcely wait to tell you so?

  5. Ness says:

    Just remember the bad British hotel inspired Fawlty Towers. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m enduring a cold drip of a shower after a bad night’s sleep listening to the aftermath of the over 40s disco.

  6. Fiona says:

    Off topic – Saw a really good science fiction film in preview the other day – Ex-Machina – written and directed by Alex Garland. I’d recommend seeing it and I’d be interested to know other people’s take on it. I think it comes out in January.

  7. Helen, they have no more and very little taste. As a consequence they end up booking hellhole hotels on the outskirts of Midland towns.

    I’ll be checking out Ex Machina…

  8. Helen, they have no money and very little taste. As a consequence they end up booking hellhole hotels on the outskirts of Midland towns.

    I’ll be checking out Ex Machina…

  9. Jo W says:

    Glad I saved that to read when I had the house to myself. I did laugh out loud,on my own,and wished I could have been a fly on the wall. But if the hotel was that bad,goodness knows what I would’ve been stepping in!😛😛

  10. snowy says:

    There are clues in the text, but they have either been changed to protect the guitly innocent or the memory is so traumatic that Admin’s brain is trying to erase the details. But there are recordings of at least two years of speechs available if you follow the breadcrumbs.

    [I haven’t waded through all 3 hours worth of footage, so it may be out there or may not. They say diligence is it’s own reward.]

  11. Wayne Mook says:

    I was actually there, I think your being a little harsh on Nottingham, they had a sheriff and forest, it even appeared in films with Americans or Antipodeans giving the British sheriff a jolly good what for. They never did go to Corby as threatened, I was intrigued, I asked several people if there was a trouser press museum. Either there was the puzzled look of the youngsters who had never heard of the famous trouser press or looks of open hostility for even thinking it could be funny. (I know the famed trouser press does not come from Corby.)

    I remember the one the held in Walsall (actually it was Bentley which lies just outside the great metropolis of Walsall.) I joked to my partner that she’ll be able to tell as we get near the Midlands when you see men with moustaches. We actually get lost and had to ask someone the way, as he turned round he had the bouffant hair and ‘tache, he looked just like Swiss Tony, even the same suit, as stood outside a used car salesroom. It was just like going back in time to the seventies (I know that was a different thread.) as he spoke to us in a thick midlands accent.

    The picture is of Pete Crowther (of PS publishing, lovely books but see admins past comments about the commercial push in previous posts.) as you noted Bob, Ramsey Campbell, then Gary Couzens (who was BFS Chair and accepting a prize on behalf of Lord of the Rings.) Admin (The statues were for Full Dark House, I remember you being glad a number of the horror readers had really enjoyed the book, I had too look up the other prize, it was for the short story American Waitress.) then artist Les Edwards (who did Admins City Jitters cover and also works as Edward Miller.) and finally Steve Jones editor (he of the Mammoth Books of Best New Horror.)

    I thought the speech was funny and received some hard stares for laughing out loud. I think the Lovecraft mob had their tentacles out for you but are now more concerned with the Lovecraft racist row in the States. Oddly enough I’m currently reading Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson.

    The later conventions went to Brighton, the last one was in York and the next one, wait for it….

    is in Nottingham, to be fair it is in a new hotel only built a couple of years ago.

    Wayne.

  12. Matthew Davis says:

    One to read along Harlan Ellison’s kiss-off speech to the Science Fiction Writers of America because of its institutionalized amateurism: “”How You Stupidly Blew Fifteen Million Dollars a Week, Avoided Having an Adenoid-Shaped Swimming Pool in Your Backyard, Missed the
    Opportunity to Have a Mutually Destructive Love Affair with Clint Eastwood and/or Raquel Welch, and Otherwise Pissed Me Off” .

    On a related note, when Ellison visited London in the late ‘70s to promote his books from a short-lived UK publisher, there was a VERY long interview in one the UK Sf mags by a Chris Fowler. Would that have been our host?

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Hmmm. Life is different behind the scenes. The Brighton affair was —- interesting, I heard, as was the Nottingham one. I can sort of imagine the events after attending a convention here, but it is a shame since it could be so much fun and a boost for the authors/publishers attending. Ours had steampunk costuming, Dr. Who knitted scarves (tells you which series),and celtic style jewelry for sale as well as a couple of people in Ghost Buster costumes. I really think that last has had its time, although those particular individuals were quite amusing. (and you should see my royal blue and silver corset! ) I’m either going to have to learn to close my parentheses or stop using them.

  14. Mark says:

    I blame Ramsey Campbell.

  15. Brendan Boyole says:

    I enjoyed the redacted transcript of your speech as I have enjoyed all of the B&M works. I hope our Christopher Guest and his troupe are watching these Cons and your take on them. A film based on them could be as big as “Best in Show!”
    Brendan

  16. admin says:

    My God you lot have long memories!
    Sadly it wasn’t me who interviewed Harlan but a gentleman known as ‘the other Chris Fowler’, a curse he has to live with. Harlan and I did become friends after he first called me to complain about a perceived slight, then very kindly send me a beautiful signed book.

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