SFX Weekender 3 write-up: Mega-edition
I begin with a caveat. Should I forget at some point to mention someone who I met, or indeed had a long conversation with and have temporarily forgotten, I apologise. I did toy with the brief notion of agonising over a list before I started writing this but decided against it. Let the chips fall where they may and if I do miss someone they are welcome to snub me at a future event by way of reparation.
So. The SFX Weekender was held in Prestatyn, in North Wales. I was labouring under the false misapprehension that I had never been to Wales before, which got me all excited until I remembered that Llanberis isn’t an especially English name and I’ve been there climbing and walking quite a few times in my misspent youth.
The drive across was entirely lovely and uneventful, although getting up at five in the morning to defrost a car and sit behind the steering where for three and a bit hours was a bit painful. Additionally, the GPS decided that the last twenty minutes or so of our journey *had* to be along a single-track road which – if it had snowed – would have seen me stranded and very, very upset. We arrived in good time, just before half past nine in the morning, and I had expected to hit the first surge of queueing that was all the northern attendees arriving. Instead, I got my keys straight away. Apparently a large portion of the con-goers had arrived Thursday night and spent the majority of the evening queueing for their chalet keys, so I had missed the incredible and frustrating queue by twelve hours.
Of course, since everyone had endured the queue for keys for so long in the cold, they had promptly gone out on the piss, which meant that at half past nine they were all asleep. Meanwhile, the South of the country was locked down by a goods train derailment, so everyone coming up from London went from a 4-5 hour trip to an 8-10 hour nightmare. The only people up and about were cosplayers who were so excited about their outfits (and with every right – there was a lot of awesome cosplay) that they just couldn’t sleep. It’s kind of odd being so outnumbered – like being the boring dude who turns up to a costume party in his cardigan – but then I did get to see a midget bobble-headed Darth Vader fight two Aliens so there was definitely an upside.
By sheer fortuitous chance, we met Anne Lyle, Lou Morgan, and Amanda Rutter on their way to The Princess Bride. I was driving, they were walking along with their backs to me and right up to the last second I had planned to wind down the window and shout something terrible and uncouth in the style of Withnail. Sadly, my conscience pricked me with the fleeting thought that – even though I was certain – it might not actually be them and I was going to kick off my con by verbally abusing three random women. Later on I did manage to make Lou regret ever having talked to me, what with talk of my band Surrogate Monkey Mother and the difficulties we had with the second album, Double Colostomy Transport Girl.
One of the things I’ve started to notice about convention-going is that as I meet more and more people, the feel of the convention has changed quite heavily for me. When I first went to Alt.Fiction back in 2009 out of a simple desire to just do more than lurk on forums imagining what it would be like to actually talk to people who were interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy, I spent a very large portion of it not talking to anyone at all. Quite memorably, I ate a quick sandwich sitting on a spare chair between two big groups of people who I now know and didn’t say a damn thing.
Now, though, it’s a very different story. It’s like there’s actually too many people for me to catch up with them all now. I found myself having odd, fragmented conversations on the fly, where I would just meet someone going the opposite way and we’d have a few seconds to say hi and maybe trade some sort of pleasantry on the convention so far. It’s not a bad thing, really, but it did make me feel guilty sometimes when I thought, “ooh, I should really talk to that person more, we should catch up,” and then I’d feel even more guilty because I was already having a good time talking to the people that I was already talking to.
I thought I was going mental, but Ian Whates assured me that this is fine, and you eventually get used to the conversational ronin existence that is socialising at a large convention.
The convention itself was very well-balanced, with plenty of star appearances and signings (all of which I pretty much ignored), a decent dealer’s room, and a screening room that flitted between movies and genre-writing panels. The Elf Preservation panel moderated by Jared Shurin of Pornokitsch went very well with just the right mix of actual discussion and crowd-pleasing irreverence. Just A Minute, hosted by Paul Cornell, was a highlight of the convention. It’s one of those games that people can take very, very seriously, and had any one of the panel fallen into that category I think it would have bombed. However, they played it just right with a blend of wilful ignorance, feigned stupidity, and sudden, decisive bursts of brilliance that turned it from panel game to pin-sharp improv comedy.
The evening events flip-flopped. Craig Charles was brilliant. Late, but brilliant. Sadly, he was the only DJ making an effort. The DJ before him had a serious issue with music choice and for almost two hours stuck to a pattern of two floor filler tracks followed by one absolute mood-killer. Pat Sharp was terrible. I don’t grudge him the right to capitalise on the fact that he’s Pat Sharp to get some gigs in, but he was so lazy behind the decks that I started to feel bad for him. Who rocks up to a SF/F convention with Three Lions on their set list? Putting on movies in the screening room might have seemed like a good idea, but it left very little space for people to sit around and banter. I think we had a nice little group all sat down after the quiz quite merrily talking away when they dropped the lights for The Thing, and I was honestly quite disappointed that it fragmented because of that.
Top tip of the convention: avoid the cafeteria unless absolutely necessary. For breakfast, get into Prestatyn and eat at the Pendre cafe, where they do a decent full English, a vegetarian version that is also good, and serve coffee with hot milk so that as you drink the coffee it can be topped up with milk and eventually becomes a very light latte. You cannot deny how awesome that is. It is not possible.
I should probably do some mentions to round this up (and remember, the caveat applies).
Hello, and thank you to – Adam Christopher, for writing a cracking book and remembering my pen; Laura Lam, for making me look comparatively awake; Anne Lyle, whose book I’m now really looking forward to; Lou Morgan, for being Aces (and not rolling her eyes at that joke); Amanda Rutter, for the dancing (there will always be dancing); Del Lakin-Smith, who wants to know if you have electricity in you; Kim Lakin-Smith, whose jacket did not make her look like a sardine; Neil Benyon and Gemma Morgan, who are sickeningly laid back and delightful; Ian Whates, because; Alasdair Stuart, for His benevolence and omnipotence; Ro, who claims her left hand is stupid but that’s probably comparative to the rest of her and thus it would kick your ass on Pointless; Saxon, best jacket, most ebullient; Emma Jane Davies, for being the sort of person who damns the weather and wears awesome shoes made entirely of sequins; Paul Skevington, who is a very nice man; Sam Moffat, who couldn’t remember how many pairs of shoes she packed; Donna Scott, who didn’t bat an eyelid when I bellowed “WHO WAS THE MAN FROM I, CLAUDIUS?” at her; Neil Bond, who puts the terror – and saliva – back into terrific; Marc Gascoigne, whose suggestion on lowering book-buying costs makes perfect sense; Simon Gilmartin, for taking one for the team and handling my quota of massages; Gareth Powell, of the White Stripes; Lee Harris, who dances very well; Jaine Fenn, who dances even better than Lee (sorry, Lee); Danie Ware, for persevering through a crap Friday of travel; Jared Shurin, for not freaking out when I stopped him mid-stride to talk about Jung; Adrian Faulkner, who does not care if you need sleep because he needs to dance; Emma Newman, who wins the best “oh, I know who you are” moment award because it coincided nicely with House of Pain’s “Jump Around” coming on; Jennifer Williams, who is great; Marty, who is also great; Jenni Hill, who had a very vague idea of who I was but was cool about it anyway; David Moore, whose favourite things are (and I quote), “me, and people paying attention to me”; Mark Chitty, who makes me feel unfit and lazy; Will Hill, who is awesome and friendly and affable and generally just nice; Lavie Tidhar, who melded drunkenness and confusion into one incredible Ur-state of consciousness; David Tallerman, who kindly ignored the fact Lisa had to remind me I had just bought his book; Paul Cornell, who said hello even though he was extremely busy; and finally to Lisa for coming with me and being supportive of my ridiculous hobby that makes us spend the odd weekend sleeping in a freezing box in Wales.
Again, if I have seen you at the con and left you off the list I am so sorry, but it took me damn near half an hour to write all of that and I feel wrung out from the effort of remembering it all. I will buy you a drink – a soft drink, or else this could get expensive quick – at the next one. I promise.*
*please note all promises are not legally binding contracts. By reading this footnote you agree to the stipulations regarding legality of contracts contained therein. There is no cow level.