Again, I’ve not been doing terribly well at this blogging malarkey of late, and hopefully those of you who actually click through and read my ‘blog will forgive me. Rather than explain myself (beyond, perhaps, saying that I had an absolutely shit Great North Run and really didn’t feel like writing about how I ended up taking forty minutes to cover the last 4 km, limping like Herr Flick all the damn way), I thought I’d write about NewCon, which I just got back from.
Literally, just back. Merely long enough to settle hats and say, I nearly…-nope, sorry, I’ll stop larking about.
Write it up while it’s fresh, that’s the key.
I signed up to go to NewCon after my first convention experience this year, which was Alt.Fiction in Derby. I had been discussing the idea of doing more convention stuff, of seeing more of that side of Science Fiction and Fantasy (essentially the side where I’m not either reading by myself in a badly-lit room with a duvet round me, or trying to enthuse about a book with a sword AND a dragon AND a rocket ship on the cover to notionally close but the more I talk the more rapidly they are distancing themselves acquaintances). While I was having that conversation, the lovely Ian Whates descended, said the words “NewCon 5″, and vanished.
I was intrigued.
So, I went and looked it up. I was looking up Fantasycon anyway, and had been disappointed to find that although it was a convenient destination (Nottingham being an easy peasy drive and very familiar to me) the actual event fell on the weekend of the Great North Run. So, with Fantasycon out of the running, I signed up for NewCon instead.
And it was good that I did. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly busy these past few weeks, and had I not already put a deposit down on my room along with the convention ticket price, I probably would have scrapped the idea just on a priority basis of having a lot on and then I would have missed out on the opportunity to meet some new people.
So, after finishing work on Friday I leapt in the car and drove down to Northampton. It was a surprisingly quick and easy drive for a Friday night – the M1 northbound looked rammed but going south was okay, and I arrived just as a large group were heading out to dinner. I dumped my stuff and came back downstairs to make chase, but they were already seated and making a serious attempt to demolish the buffet, and my best efforts at wangling a seat close to the NewCon group actually ended up with me being directed to a chair on the opposite side of a rather large restaurant.
Being British and therefore filled with an insurmountable need to not create a fuss (imagining that, for some reason, all the staff idly standing around are extremely busy and do not need to be bothered), I sat at my table and ate a buffet dinner for one, fiddling with the internet on my phone.
After dinner, I went back to the hotel and got myself sorted out with a “my name is….” sticker, which I just happened to have a roll of along with some nice Crayola glitter pens to add the crucial detail of my name with, and went down to the bar on the off chance that convention goers would appear at some point and that I’d look pathetic enough that they’d introduce themselves and save me the trouble of battling with my own insecurities.
Luckily, Ian was on hand again, along with his lovely wife Helen who made a point of introducing me to all and sundry around the bar which was great, although I did spend a great deal of the time apologising to people for monopolising their time since everyone seemed to know each other and here I was lumbering into the room going “I like books, looool”. I had a couple of pints, a nice chat with Susan Boulton, Sam Stone, Donna Scott and Paul Skevington (I think Paul was forced to talk to me as I discovered later that I’d been sitting on his jacket) among others.*
I went up around midnight planning to get my head down relatively early (although disastrously late by my normal bedtime standards, Lisa and I following a sleep pattern that has us in bed before sundown and up so early that we meet people coming home from nights out on our way to work in the morning) but I found myself watching the ever-excellent Out of Sight on the hotel tv** before a couple of episodes of Scrubs eventually put me to sleep.
Even with such a late night, I woke up at 6 and sat watching the not Grand Prix coverage on the BBC, as Heikki Kovalainen launched a beer can catamaran down the flooded pit lane to the bemusement of the presenter and the Formula One official standing nearby. By 7 I was climbing the walls and went down to see if the breakfast buffet was ready to go. It wasn’t, but luckily the woman setting it up was struggling with the lids on the soy milk and in exchange for opening it for her she went and got me a bacon sandwich and turned on the coffee machine.
A few short hours later, I found myself in the Fish Market helping Del Lakin-Smith unload sound gear. It was pretty cold in the building, and I ended up going back to the hotel to put on a t-shirt and an extra jumper, but all discomfort was my own damn fault for not having remembered my jacket. The venue is quite interesting, because it’s such an open space. You can’t really avoid or miss the panels in any way, because they’re right there in front of you, and if you stand at the entrance you can take in everything happening in the event with one brief look around. The coffee shop/restaurant/bar at the end was great, with friendly and capable staff that cook a mean bacon sandwich and brew brilliantly potent and – by that token – relentlessly potable coffee.
I went to the first panel, which was a slightly meandering discussion regarding Science Fiction in media other than books, the essential point being that we’ve won, with Science Fiction elements popping up in mainstream culture everywhere. Fromt he gaming perspective, it put me in mind of Warren Spector’s keynote address from PAX 2010 where he said pretty much the same thing about gaming culture and it was interesting to hear the panellists musing on interactivity in media and the idea of media cross-talk to create a broad narrative that people engage with by actively seeking out the references themselves – that if you get it right, then fans of a premise will engage themselves with zero prodding or direction required. Indeed, the less the better.
After that, I went to a reading by Sam Stone, Kim Lakin-Smith, and Jaine Fenn, all of whom I got a chance to talk to independently of the reading itself and all of whom were, in point of fact, lovely. Kim seemed a bit nervous reading her work out, which is understandable from a performance point of view but was essentially unnecessary because what she read out was great, and it was nice to hear what she has been working on.
There was a conversation with Pat Cadigan which I missed because I had to pop out for some sinus medication, but I gather was very good, and then I was back in time for the Is YA Genre Fiction Really So Different? panel which was a prime target for the obvious joke (delivered by Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot), “No. End of panel.”
I stuck around for the Wordpunk panel, which was fun to see – Simon and Del seemed a little freaked out by the focussed attention of an audience, but once their guests joined then (Paul Cornell and Tom Hunter) they relaxed and had a good bit of banter. We’ll see how the podcast turns out in due course.
Paul Cornell had been viciously cut from the printed programme of events, so the Jester of Time did a bit of magic by way of a warm-up act (and was enthusiastically received by the attending audience) and passed over the mic to Paul, who swore on his very life that he would not rant about ebook or DRM, a vow that lasted right up until the point where he realised that he still had a half hour on the floor and had told us everything about himself already and set off on a galloping tirade to fill the time.
Then there was a book launch, of an anthology of short fiction from the Northampton Sci-fi writer’s group. Alan Moore had written a foreword for it, and having finished an event in town during the day he popped in to lend his support and sign books along with the panel of authors. It was extremely nice of him to do so, and the contributing authors were visibly turgid with pride at having shared a signing table with an author of his stature.
I think that’s enough for one post right now. We have Zombieland to watch, and Lisa has been making grumbly noises about me spending a weekend away and then coming back to stare at my computer instead of lovingly at her.
*I was going to do a list of mentions but it’s probably better to go to the list of attendees and mentally append each name with the word “lovely”.
**Although Soderbergh’s unusually frequent start-stop cinematography has started to grate on my nerves twelve years down the line. I remember it being really cool when I first watched it – and what an amazing soundtrack, too – but all the way through I kept wondering if the satellite signal had glitched. Maybe it was just because of how late it was.