Fantastika (and After)

Having returned home from this year's Fantastika conference, organised by my (now former) PhD student Chuckie Palmer-Patel, I feel tired but invigorated by the papers and talks I heard, and also much heartened by the supportiveness and engagement in evidence among those new to the conference and those who (like me) returned for its fourth year. That's been the mode of the Fantastika conference from its inception some four years ago, and the community that Chuckie has helped build up at Lancaster and elsewhere, where scholars of science fiction, fantasy, Gothic and the Weird can come together and talk across and between different modes in a fruitful conversation.

This year's conference, for me, has also been coloured by a kind of wistfulness as Chuckie is leaving the UK and returning to Canada, to Edmonton in Alberta. Chuckie's always been a source of great energy and purpose since she arrived at Lancaster. Chuckie's vim and vigour meant I always had a lot to read, to guide and suggest things, and sometimes to help edit down, but it was her way of dropping in at other times, outside of the schedule of supervisions, that I will remember - she would often come in and stand in the midst of my (rather cell-like) office space and we'd talk about what was going on.

This morning I checked the corrections of another of my supervises, Freyja, who also finished her doctorate at the end of last year. I was particularly struck by what she wrote about my having confidence in her project even during the times when, for her, this had been lost. Partly, I think, that is what being  a PhD supervisor is all about.

The word often used for young adults leaving the parental home is 'fledging', and helping supervisees to fly is often the way I feel about the process. I'm a flying instructor, allowing the person (as well as the scholar) the time and space to find their own way, providing help and guidance as they take their first leaps into the air, then suggesting adjustments to their technique, and then at last, watching proudly as they fly around on their own, calling encouragement. Very often, their aerobatic abilities exceed my own.

As Chuckie goes back to Canada, she leaves the legacy of Fantastika behind, and we'll try to carry on: in some form, After Fantastika. Alongside the conference, she has also edited and published the Fantastika Journal, which has just come out, and I'm proud to say that I'm in the inaugural issue. Hopefully, she will go on to do many more.

The scholarly community studying across the field of Fantastika modes remains strong at Lancaster. Colleagues such as Catherine Spooner and Taj Hayer gave fascinating lectures at this year's conference, and on the creative side of things, Lancaster is the home to a group of writers that work in sf/f including Eddie Robson, who spoke about working in tv and radio and writing science fictional work. Others colleagues such as Andrew Tate and Sara Wasson also work in these fields, and have supported the Fantastika community. Thanks to everyone!

Several of my present and future postgraduate students presented and attended the conference, whose work I'll support and guide as they take their own leaps into flight, which I look forward to. It's an amazing privilege to be able to do this part of my job, and part of the thrill of seeing them fly is getting to know where they land. And finding out what they do when they get there.


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