The Speech I Should Never Have Made
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.