As far as the UK genre conventions go, I'd like to think I was something of a regular. They have a number of benefits, after all. They get me out of the house. I get to connect with the like-minded; the authors, the publishers, the reviewers, et al. Some new business might shake loose; an anthology invite here, a podcast session there. And, getting to elevate myself and my brand - given that my name and/or work aren't on a billboard yet, the elevation thing is also a plus.
Even with the usual summer trip to Toronto, I don't get to as many conventions/gatherings as I'd like - certainly not globally. There were plans for StokerCon to be held here in the UK last spring; a welcome change in my opinion, given how often it's been held in the U.S. But the pandemic decided all of this was fighting talk. So, no StokerCon in the UK. What did happen was a UK concession to a similar convention; ChillerCon, to be held in the spring of 2022. With StokerCon this year being moved to an online platform.
For the uninitiated, StokerCon is a long weekend of a convention as hosted by the HWA (Horror Writers Association), attracting the likes of authors, publishers, editors, reviewers, podcasters, illustrators and designers. Even readers. Four days of programming that include readings of existing and new works, discussion panels, Q&A panels and such. Let's not forget the meet-&-greet, which is one of the key things about conventions. It's also where the Stoker Awards ceremony is held (named after Bram Stoker - the author of the novel Dracula): awards given to those exponents with superior achievement in horror fiction; be it a novel, novella, screenplay, etc. With the pandemic being nothing less than a challenge - what with the need for social distancing and other such safeguards - the decision was made to have StokerCon 2021 as a virtual event.
Which meant, as a result, a global audience could attend. And I should know, having now met those from the UK, the U.S., New Zealand and Russia. I'm sure there were more I wasn't aware of from other countries.
I have a reputation as a hugger at conventions; a genuine appreciation for my horror tribe. I know from my peers, that they, too, miss this sense of camaraderie as part of the convention circuit; they, too, want to dole out and receive hugs. That said, with a virtual convention, you truly do get a global audience. So, as part of my first StokerCon, I get to talk with those I know in the UK; catching up with Dave Jeffery (and it's only been a few years, boss) getting to 'meet' Stephanie Ellis at last. From overseas, the likes of Sarah Read, Jeff Strand (a joy to hear him talk productivity & back catalogue) and John F.D. Taff. In John's case, I just wandered into one of the virtual bars/lounges to see him in there. John is one of those people who I've spoken to briefly every now and then on Twitter around the author hustle and such. To catch this veteran author in real-time for a proper chat one-on-one was definitely a high point. Sadly, with an attendance of over 400 people (if memory serves), some were inevitably missed, such as Roni Stinger, Clare Castleberry and Brian Keene.
Most of the time at the convention was spent in the virtual bars, connecting with peers. Talking shop, talking about where we're from, what we watch, what we read, what food we like. Any and everything. I did attend some of the programming, including the actual Stoker award ceremony. Given the time difference between the UK and North America, I was up until the early hours. But the ceremony, along with the event as a whole, was well-executed, so props to the organisers for all their hard work. Given that this year's virtual convention was such a success, it'll be interesting to see how future StokerCons are managed. Post-pandemic, there may be more of a virtual element introduced. We'll see, I guess. I'll be looking forward to it.