The Sci Fi Weekender

Although the science fiction weekender only lasted a couple of days, it appears to have had a profound effect on me. It is amazing how quickly seeing strange character juxtapositions, wonderful costumes and face paint becomes normalised. I’m actually finding it odd that there are no xenomorphs, stormtroopers, superheroes, clocked and corserted figures hanging around in my peripheral vision.

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I am missing talking to people who actually nod and understand when I refer to Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, the works of HP Lovecraft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Chronicles of Riddick. I am missing people who think it is as much as a travesty as I do that Firefly was cancelled, who are happy to discuss my theory that UFOs are actually time travellers from the future rather than aliens, people who let themselves be themselves no matter what.
I am missing the people who recommended graphic novels, who discussed literature and film and who smiled and laughed all weekend. I am missing the people who saw someone who had never been to a con before, who was alone (because their husband had done his back in and couldn’t face driving the kids up to meet them) and who therefore gave up their time to talk, keep me company and make me feel welcome.
I am missing all those people who danced equally enthusiastically to Jump Around, RESPECT and the Monkeys (?), while watching fire eaters and wearing heavy costumes.
I am missing the endless stimulation afforded by events which ranged from a one man band, to a fantastic hypnotist / illusionist (www.theempathist.com) to the hilarious The Festival of the Spoken Nerd (http://festivalofthespokennerd.com), from film to three man plays, from interviews with fascinating guests to panels with up to five.
I am missing discussions with other authors, I am missing my new friends. Perhaps I am missing the freedom to really be myself without worrying that I will get that look, you know, the one we geeks are very familiar with, the one says ‘get back in your box’.

So, to the details. I arrived at the Hafan Y Mor Haven holiday park on Friday morning after a three hour drive and the first thing I saw were two people dressed in quite astonishing Lord of the Rings outfits. This was my first experience of the fabulous juxtaposition of the weird and wonderful with the everyday. They allowed me to take a photo of them in front of reception (one of many I’m sure they tolerated over the weekend) and in fact, later came second in the costume competition (beaten, shockingly to me, by a guy in full Warhammer gear).

ImageI checked in and was ridiculously excited to see that my pack came from just behind Rene Auberjonois’! I bought a Winchester Brothers t-shirt (I was starting to worry that I was looking way too ‘normal’) and proceeded to get my bearings.

Luckily for me, with my legendarily poor sense of direction, everything was close to everything else and my room was a short walk from the centre of the action.

I was enjoying just walking and people-watching so much that I missed the Dr Who interviews and the Writing Horror panel.

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But I did make the Writing into Known Universes panel with Debbie Bennett and Dez Skinn, where they discussed the highs and pitfalls of writing in existing universes (e.g. Dr Who).

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As someone who has every single Buffy book, I found it particularly interesting to find out how much leeway the fiction writers have and what they think of fanfic. This is where I met my first friend – the lovely Kevin, who dressed as Dracula for the ball on Saturday night and who made sure I was never lonely – thank you Kevin. If you’re reading this, sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

I had a mooch around the stalls, bought far too many books and badges and seriously considered buying a corset before deciding that it probably wouldn’t wear too well in Bollington.

I then went to watch an interview with Lewis Macleod Star Wars Sebulba and mimic genius.

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It turns out that my artist’s badge and black wristband was the equivalent of a VIP pass, so I got to go right to the front row and caught every nuance of his performance. He was touching and hilarious, mimicking everyone from Brian Blessed to Barack Obama for a rapt audience.

ImageThe next thing I saw was ‘Zombie Science’, by theoretical Zombieologist, Dr Austin (http://www.zombiescience.co.uk). He gave us a hilarious and yet somehow scientific view on whether or not zombieism could ever exist. He concluded that a prion disease was the most likely vector, reminded us to remove the zombie’s head in case of an attack and gave audience members the chance to try a tennis racket crossbow and feather duster as potential weapons.

I even managed to fit in a movie: ‘The Search for Simon’, a funny British indie film about a character who has been searching for his brother for thirty years, believing that he was abducted by aliens (http://www.thesearchforsimon.com).

Although torn between partying the night away and working, I did then head back to my apartment where I prepped for my own panels the next day. I was nervous about talking to a room full of people who would already be experts with their own strong opinions on the things I was going to talk about.

On Saturday morning I wrote for a couple of hours and lost track of time. Then my mythologically poor sense of direction kicked in, causing me to almost turn up to my first panel late, and in my pyjamas. I made it though, fully dressed and with my hair brushed (sort of) and teeth cleaned, thank goodness.

ImageMy first panel was ‘So you think you can write’ with Gareth Powell, Fiona Moore, and Debbie Bennet. I needn’t have worried. The moderators on each panel were fantastic, asking incisive questions, making sure everyone got a turn to talk and keeping things moving along. Each panel felt like a fascinating chat with experts and the audiences were lovely and attentive.

What I found surreal and wonderful was that every so often I would look out and see something so out of place that I would literally lose my train of thought and my jaw would drop: a xenomorph watching a panel, a minion tottering by, characters from Total Recall getting a drink at the bar, a dalek attempting to get a drink at the bar (he was never served, whoever was inside forgot to take into account that the barman was unable to see how old they were and that he would therefore need ID). Judges Dredd and Anderson looking at keyrings, aliens on stilts, tiny little Princess Leias and Meridas playing near the signing booths.

ImageImageMy second panel of the day was ‘It’s all Portal to Me: Fantasy Writing the Myths Exploded’ with David Tallerman, Paul Lewis, Gareth Powell and Danie Ware. We discussed ideas as diverse as ‘can fantasy be literary?’ (yes, of course) to ‘is fantasy reactionary’ (not necessarily, although restoration of a ‘good’ status quo is often central to the trope) to ‘can fantasy be issues fiction’ (yes – see Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger and Sacred Scars) to ‘must it always have sword fights?’ (not necessarily).

My third panel was ‘Does Crime Pay’ with Debbie Bennett, Sara Jane Townsend, Gareth Powell and Paul Lewis. During this session, among other things, we talked about whether Crime was ‘the new black’ in publishing (it certainly seems to be huge and we agreed that there was a never ending fascination with death and puzzle solving which would make it perennially popular), whether you could earn more money writing crime than other genres (certainly some people can, but that is true of any genre, surely), whether it had changed over the years (I maintain that there is a movement towards increasingly detailed forensic writing – more gore, more loving description of the murder, more fetishisation of the death, more detailed views of the corpse) , whether crime writing was harder than sci-fi writing (in some ways I think it is, mainly because you have to strike a very difficult balance between giving out clues and not making it too obvious, but then any book with a twist must strike the same balance – the reader shouldn’t see it coming, but on a reread should be able to find the pointers that it is).

I then got a rest and a quick sandwich. During the course of my panels my resolve had been slowly corroded and cosplay so normalised that I marched over to the stall selling the corsets, bought one and put it on for my last panel at 5pm. I had been ‘sci fi weekendered’

I caught the end of ‘Just a Minute’ starring some of my new author friends, watched most of the interview with Graeme McTavish, who was incredibly gracious and headed for my last panel ‘What makes science fiction sci fi’. I was feeling pretty chilled out about the panels now and looking forward to an interesting discussion. Gareth Powell, Jonathan Green, Sara Jane Townsend, Simon Clark and I talked about what sci-fi was. Some beautiful descriptions from my fellows authors included ‘the sound the brain makes when it looks at the world in a particular way’. We talked about our favourite science fiction, recommended books (Hyperion and City’s Son from me) and talked about the difference between Sci fi and SF. It was loads of fun.

I had planned to see How I Live Now, but I was completely absorbed in the cosplay competition, people had made so much effort. So I stopped in the arena, ate a pizza, clapped A LOT, then went to Festival of the Spoken Nerd. Running for the front row I found myself laughing until my sides hurt, and wishing my husband could see them (spreadsheets are totally his thing). Then I watched a one hour play, Suspended in Space and then the cosplay final. I was considering heading back to my room to change for the masquerade ball, but it all seemed a lot of effort and I was, after all, wearing my new corset, so when I got chatting to Ian Stone, hypnotist, magician and all around amazing guy, I decided not to leave. Okay, I was probably going to be the most boringly dressed at the ball, okay I had a leather dress and mask that I wasn’t going to have a chance to wear, but I was having real fun.Image

Then, one of my best, and most unexpected, nights ever. Ian introduced me to Alan Mitchell, a writer who co-authored Third World War with Pat Mills (among many other things). He was absolutely fascinating, he told me his theories about the future, we talked about writing, about the world and about 2000AD (obviously). Then we went for a dance, and Ian asked if I was going backstage. It hadn’t occurred to me for one moment that my artist’s badge would allow me to do that or that I would be welcome back there (I forgot for a moment how nice everyone was).
Ian led me to the back of the stage and then, with a flourish like a magician (which he is, so that makes sense) pulling off a trick, he introduced me to ‘Glen’. For a moment, I didn’t click, then I realised who he was: Glen Fabry, a prolific and hugely talented artist who, in his enormous portfolio, has 2000AD’s Slaine which he drew for 12 (I think it was) years.

ImageNow, I don’t think I’ve discussed before here how important 2000AD was to me. My dad and I read every single issue, every week, without fail for years. I loved Slaine, Dredd, ABC Warriors, Nemesis, Strontium Dog and Universal Soldier (I remember being utterly disappointed by the film with Van Damme, because I was expecting 2000AD’s Universal Soldier and didn’t get it). My writing, which is visual and dialogue heavy has been inevitably influenced by my immersion in the 2000AD worlds, and the stories opened out the possibilities science fiction so that now everything I write has those elements. Some of the stories and artwork have stayed with me for life.
I admit that I probably squealed. Glen took it very well and happily talked to me for ages, despite the fact that he probably had many more interesting people to talk to and that he probably has fans gushing over him all the time. What a guy!
I was introduced to so many great guys backstage, and was having such a great time that I didn’t even notice the whole place go quiet. It had got to 330am without my even noticing it.
Now, you’d think I would go to bed at that point and it would be the end of it. No I managed to stay out with Ian and my new (dare I say it?) friends till 720am! Ian did some wonderful tricks (from hynotist’s tricks like heating and cooling my hand, to a time travel trick where I wrote a word on a piece of paper and he produced a note from his pocket with my word on it), read my Tarot and told me all about his new show that he is planning – based on Faust. It sounds amazing. The audience to Ian’s show is going to be shocked, blown away and incidentally cured of phobias. Watch this space for more on Ian’s new show.
It was only when I saw that it was light, realised that the clocks had gone forward and remembered that I had a three hour drive to cope with that I had the heart attack.

So now I’m home, doing washing up and wishing I had a xenomorph in the back garden. Did I wear my corset on the school run this morning? No.

But I did wear it out to lunch on Mother’s Day. Watch out Bollington, the real me has been unleashed.

I’ve written a really long post – sorry, I’ve just been so overwhelmed by how much I’ve enjoyed my weekend. If you want to book tickets for SF6 this is the site to go to.
http://www.scifiweekender.com/

Geek the fuck up, people!

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