sep-ship600By Paco Garcia Jaen

For me World Fantasy Con was a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a conference like it. Even though its a yearly event (I believe) I’d be very surprised – and I genuinely mean that – if it happened in the town where I am living again and if it were to have the selection of speakers and attendees again, such as Sir Terry Pratchet.

I have never attended a literary convention before and had no idea what to expect. To be honest, I was quite apprehensive and was constantly wondering “how long until I put the foot in it?”. Until I arrived, I really wasn’t expecting much. The website, first contact I had with the prospect of this convention, is not very user friendly and the newsletters were blocks of text that made me wonder if this con was both world-class and for/by writers. Sorry guys, but blocks of text with little formatting and even less visual appeal doesn’t make for good reading, specially for dyslexic people like myself.

When I arrived though, my fears were dispelled and wafted away by the most amazing organisation I have seen in a convention. My badge was found within 20 seconds and the lady at the counter even said “Ah! Yes!” when I said my name. Admittedly, very few Spanish sounding people, but impressive nonetheless.

The good impressions continued when I was asked to choose from a selection of books and put them in a bag. For free. In total, I got about 7 books. One of them was the convention souvenir. A hefty tome gorgeously illustrated, just as nicely hard-back bound and a joy to behold. The rest of the books were a selection of art books, novels and drafts. The impressive side of it is not jus that they were free, but that they were there at all! To see how many publishers had supported a convention to that level is an incredible sign of the support they believe the convention warrants. Something other publishers should keep in mind when supporting conventions of any kind.

The program was also extremely well designed. Good descriptions of the panels, a lovely time table where you could see *exactly* what was happening at any point and where and maps of the hotel so you, simply, could not get lost. I didn’t get lost once.

The panels were taking place in four rooms and about a wide selection of topics. From Machen and his influences – there were 8 talks about Machen – to authors using pseudonyms, script writing, how to finish your second book, American influences and “in conversation” panels with luminaires like Sir Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman.

The organisers also thought about drink and food. There was a room open pretty much all day (until 8pm) offering food at very, very good prices. The spacious tables perfect for conversation and make new contacts. Fantastic detail!

There were low points, though. I attended 5 panels a day between Thursday to Saturday, and one panel on Sunday. I have to say the moderation and organisation of some panels left a bit to be desired, with some panels being *abysmal*. It is truly terrifying, as a listener, to hear how one of the panellists hadn’t heard about the subject matter (Machen) until two days before the event. Word of advice, never admit to that in public, even if it is true! The moderation in some of the panels was also mediocre at places. Some moderators truly didn’t understand that the panel wasn’t about themselves and offered more input than the speakers. In one of the panels, one of the panellists didn’t get the chance to utter a word.

The lesson? Do not choose the biggest expert as the moderator! Specially if that person has an ego!

Another lesson I’ve learned, six people in one panel is *way* too many people! Seriously, if you’re ever organising a panel, have three panellists and a moderator. Four panellists if you have no choice. That leaves each panellist with 10 to 15 minutes to talk and a fair length of time to invite questions from the audience.

Third panelling lesson: Make sure the panellists know each other or, at the very least, they know about each other. If you’re organising the panels, make sure to send everyone a short bio of who else will be there so they can take a look and see what works they’ve published in the past. Seriously, it makes quite a difference!

Despite the flaws obvious to someone who is as unforgiving as myself, the panels were very informative and, even though I don’t think that’s excuse for the poor organisation and moderation, worth attending. There’s room for improvement there and a world class event like this deserves world class panels and world class moderation.

The other thing I didn’t see enough of was World. The overwhelming majority of panellists were either from the USA or the UK. Granted, there were some from Canada, some from Australia and a few from other countries, but I missed having a more international and mixed bunch of panels. I’d have *loved* to attend a panel on South American or Far East fantasy authors or artists.

It might seem that I’m being overly negative here. I am not. I am pointing out where I felt there was room for improvement. That didn’t make the event bad or worthless, though. I just feel the organisation could have done with a bit of extra help to iron some corners.

The effects of this convention on me have been quite vast, I must admit. I am quitting playing videogames so I can make time for more writing and reading. I have continued with an adventure I started to write more than a year ago and also started to write a story based on the same adventure based on how it turned out when I played it with my friends. I am going to submit some of my short stories to internet groups and see what happens. The worst case scenario is they won’t like it.

The most important thing that’s happened, though, is that I am not going to let myself be put down by my own self. Absolutely no one at the convention put me down. Not a single person told me to keep my day job, to forget about writing or to, simply, keep it to myself, just because I have dyslexia, an accent or I don’t do it – or want to do it – for a living.

It was warming and overwhelming to see how people who are at the top, people who don’t need to encourage you because they’ve proven who they are and why they are where they are, spare not a second to encourage and offer support when faced with insecurities.

So hey! if they think I should continue, why shouldn’t I?

And why shouldn’t you?