You might be aware that we are running a convention this weekend, so you won't be surprised to know we are knee deep in all the final preparation tasks. This is a little bit of behind the scenes, partly because you may find it interesting and partly because it is hard to think of anything else at the moment.
I seem to have a never ending to do do list, where items just move on rather than are actually completed, a lot of the items are ongoing conversations, with attendees, the hotel staff, our wonderful volunteer redcloaks, our participant and panelists. One party asks a question which then frequently means I need to contact someone else and then get back to the enquirer... each item spawns multiple actions. We send and receive literally hundreds of emails a week and have done for the last month or so at least. We are quite lucky in a way that I am not working at the moment otherwise I think we would be drowning by now. I guess other organisers have a larger team and delegate more, or perhaps have a less collaborative approach to programming.
This year in particular programming has got a lot more sensitive than last year. I'm fairly sure some issues raised around a larger event earlier this year has made attendees and participants much more aware of concerns relating to diversity and gender parity. Which in itself is a good thing and one I wholeheartedly support, but it has made conversations about the issues longer and more frequent, which takes, and deserves, extra time.
It would be much easier just to allocate people to panels and call it a day, but we feel that a more collaborative approach gets us better, more interesting panels, which is after all what we are trying to achieve. I'm not saying our approach is flawless and I know there are times when a communication has gone astray, but it's what we aim for.
In terms of statistics, flawed as they are, we believe that over half the panel places have been given to women and over 10% of the places have been given to people of colour (to borrow the American term). National statistics for this country are around 12% of people who chose a ethnicity other than white on the census, meaning if our estimate is correct we are not far off reflecting the population as whole, but it is an area we would still like to improve.
On a side note, we have donated two memberships to Con or Bust both this year and last year to encourage diverse attendees. We aim to have at least one gender neutral set of toilets, subject to the hotel staff agreeing, and have a harassment policy that we are very prepared to implement.
So programming took a little longer than planned, but now the programme is sorted, subject to minor changes, we have been busy getting all of the information onto our website, contacting moderators to get permission for sharing their email addresses, emailing about and collating responses for banquet menu choices and sorting the seating plan, getting details of traders and launches, having a minor panic about which booksellers were attending, then putting a plan in place to resolve this, liaising with the hotel about a million details including rooms for volunteers and guests, flipping the occasional table when I don't get my own way, getting quotes and failing to hire audio equipment, checking the invoices match the quotes and contracts, getting the programme booklet printed, getting lovely things to go in the bags for attendees etc. Perhaps even to, in Allen case, attend his paid employment or in my case to volunteer for other organisations...
Phew... no wonder I need my to do list...
Some of the wonderful volunteer redcloaks have been working on a number of items including the charity raffle, sorting signage, maps, name plates for panelists and will no doubt be brilliant once we get on site getting everything ready. We honestly could not run this event without them and are grateful for their support.
I think it it is easy to forget that these events are run by volunteers, this isn't how any of us pay the mortgage. HWS is an unincorporated Association as that gives us a legal way to exist as an organisation and do stuff like paying taxes, but it offers us no protection if something goes wrong. This was bluntly pointed out to use by way of threatened legal action last year. Any money avove the costs that Fantasycon makes this year is split between HWS and the BFS, but any losses are covered by HWS. Any money that HWS gains currently stays in the business and is used for things like paying deposits for the next event, maybe one day it will make enough money to reimburse those who have invested in it, but not this year.
We do do this because we love books, fantasy, horror and science fiction and want to help bring a community together to celebrate. We don't always get it right, there is always room to improve, but we try.
I would usual end a blog blog post asking for constructive criticism or opinions, but probably I shouldn't this week. If you have a view maybe give us a month or two to recover from the event and then drop us an email? Thanks.