It’s that time of year again

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FantasyCon is almost upon us. Every year it sneaks up on me – one day, it’s months away, then all of a sudden it’s a matter of weeks and I’m signing up for panels and readings and wondering when I’m going to have time to do the important stuff: buying books, and propping up the bar.

I’m actually uncommonly nervous about Fcon this year. I’m always nervous (social anxiety is a hell of a drug) but this year I am filled with a creeping dread at the thought of it. And that’s not to say I’m not also looking forward to it, but imposter syndrome strikes in all kinds of weird ways, and it’s suddenly taken the fun and hilarious form of but what if this is the year I get found out? Every year, I have a wonderful time with wonderful people, who seem to like me well enough, and the creeping fear that I’m secretly awful and nobody’s guessed it yet is white noise in the background. This year, it’s louder. This year, I’m convinced that the goodwill and party atmosphere my subpar personality has coasted by on will no longer be enough, and everyone will see me for who I actually am. It’s super fun!

I think it’s something to do with being an awards nominee. And it’s difficult to talk about any negativity associated with awards nominations; of course I’m absolutely thrilled about it, even as I am slightly baffled. But they do come with a certain amount of pressure. And yes, much of it is self-imposed; nobody holds me to higher standards than I do.

Earlier in the year I was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson award for my short story ‘Sun Dogs’. It was without a doubt one of the coolest things ever happen to me. And even though I didn’t win, it remains one of the coolest things, because it’s true that being nominated for awards is an honour and a joy even if you don’t actually win. But. And there is always a but.

It’s hard to admit to, but not winning an award stings. It’s hard to admit because it feels inherently selfish and egotistical. Shouldn’t the nomination be honour enough? And it is, yes, but there is always the hope inside of you somewhere – tiny, and quiet, but there – that you might possibly maybe be in with a chance of actually winning. So when you don’t – like I said, it stings.

It goes away, though, and the status quo resumes, because you can’t really miss an award you never had. And when I received my Shirley Jackson nominee pebble and certificate it really was a joy; even if I didn’t win, nobody can ever take away from me the fact that someone, somewhere thought my story was good enough to be shortlisted. I can say that now, with the benefit of hindsight, because the sting has healed.

But I am going in to FantasyCon an awards nominee again. A double nominee, in fact. I’ve been here before: in 2015, I was nominated for two British Fantasy Awards and attended my first ever FantasyCon feeling like I’d swallowed an especially nervous stone, which I carried around in my stomach all weekend. I feel like that again now. And although I tell myself I dare not entertain the hope that I might win, I know that my brain will betray me and do it anyway.

I’m sure it’ll be all right on the night. I’m sure I’ll manage to swallow the nerves down and have fun with my friends, and I’m sure they won’t see through my Normal Person Suit and find only terrible things beneath, because that’s something my mind has made up. (I mean, I’m not a Normal Person, that much is true, but the part of my brain that isn’t constantly on fire tells me that I’m pretty okay, actually.) And whether I win or not, I will always have the honour of having been considered worthy of the shortlist – and that is a hell of an honour.