So. Anyone who’s been paying attention to this blog (& is still here) will know I went to Loncon in August, and haven’t had much to say since. Some of the time since then has been spent in the writing cave, but mostly I concentrated on sorting out the real-world stuff for a while. However, I’ve been writing this blog about LonCon ever since.
As it goes on forever, here is the TL:DR
….So fantastic you will get higher than a kid on ALL the Haribo. You meet fascinating fans, authors, artists, publishers, translators, cosplay specialists, all sorts of people. It’s like a massive hub of goodwill and creativity all spiralling into critical mass of AWESOME!
And then it all ends. It’s back to real life, like Dorothy leaving Oz and going back into black and white. Concrash attacks with vicious teeth, and it takes a while to get back to normal. Then in the harsh glare of daylight you sit down and work out what you gained and what it cost you – and of course, when you can next reasonably justify going again.
So there you go. If you feel inclined, jump to the learning points at the end and add anything I missed – or, if you want a bit more detail (er, a lot more detail!) read on…
Recently I have come to the conclusion that there is one major downside to spending your entire childhood up a tree reading (well, two if you’re including splinters) and this is that there were a whole load of excellent things going on in the real world that I missed out on. Namely, conventions… Whole conventions, full of people who liked the same books as I did! I vaguely knew they had that sort of thing for Star Trek in America but everything always happens in America and I was never going to be able to afford to go there, so I didn’t look any further. Yup.
< facepalm >
It wasn’t until June that I came across the notion that not only were there conventions in the UK, but the WorldCon was actually going to be in London in the August! Well, that pretty much blew my excuses out of the water. Expense or not, if the WorldCon comes to you, as a fantasy author it seems a bit of a lost opportunity not to go and have a look at least.
So, World Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention came to the UK, and being the third time it has been in London, it was called Loncon 3.
Loncon. ‘Nuff said..
There’s loads on the Loncon website about Loncon, so there’s not much point me repeating it, but it’s well worth a look when you’ve finished here, especially for the programme which was amazing.
I volunteered to take part – when I did a bit of reading up, it said that was quite a good way to meet people, but the site said that they were pretty much covered so I was expecting to end up giving out leaflets or something. I was quite pleased to be asked to do the two panels, and frankly a bit baffled to be asked to do a signing. I figured there would be a dark little backroom to hide the dirty self-pubbers in but then I looked it up and discovered that the other people in the room at the same time were: Peter V Brett, Christopher Priest, and John Norman (yes, he of the Gor books) and then Jenn R Johannson of FSG Macmillan, Mike Shevdon of Angry Robot and …er… me. So of course it all became clear. The space was limited, the fans for the big names would be numerous – what they needed from me was someone who could take up a table but not crowd the room any more. Sorted! That I could do, and I figured, it could be that I could give some free stuff to all the fans as they came past. Bonus!
Because it was all a bit last minute, most of my prep ended up happening at 2am on worknights in the fortnight before the Con. Did this lead to some dubious decisions? Er… some. But mostly it came out okay. I designed business cards and a vinyl banner I’m pretty pleased with, bought a posh dress, watched both the Hunger Games films for the adaptations panel, read books by some of the people I was on panels with, and ordered jellybeans in tiny bags for the signing. Then I printed out little labels on with QR codes which I love and virtually no-one else seems to use (Why? Why? So convenient!) for the ebook and vouchercodes I was going to give away, and spent a happy evening watching Galaxy Quest (again) and stickering my jellybeans ( not a euphemism).
Now, I commute into London quite regularly and was hoping not to spend too much, so I hadn’t booked a hotel. In retrospect this was a silly idea as I spent about 5 hours of each day on the train, was horrifically short of sleep all week and missed anything that happened later than about 9pm. This includes ALL the parties! Duh!
So first learning point: don’t try to commute.
On the Wednesday night after work I ventured over to Excel, sussed the place out and picked up my badge. Went via the boat and the cablecar, which I hadn’t previously been on. The journey was not the quickest and was a bit pricey, but what a way to see London! You should definitely do it. It was really quick and easy to pick the pass up and the following morning I knew I’d made the correct decision when I saw the Twitter feed which was full of the queues…40 mins earlier on, and later it was longer. Then home for the remainder of my last-minute prep. Business cards! Bookmarks! Banner! A whole bag full of paraphernalia, and I was prepared for all circumstances.
On Thursday I accidentally missed the opening ceremony, so went for a wander to get an idea of where things were before the main crowd turned up. After a general circuit and fact finding, it all seemed a bit empty, but I knew there was loads of interesting panels on so went to find a coffee and looked through the booklet with a pen to hightlight the ones I wanted to see. Sadly this turned out to be most of them and in any case, lots that were all on at the same time. Damn! SO much good stuff, all on at once!
I had just missed the start of one, so went back into the exhibit hall to kill an hour before the next. Stalls were being assembled there: I did a circuit, and by the time I got back to the beginning, there were a few more stalls up that had not been there before, so I went round again. And then more meant another circuit… I went round about sixteen times in the end! Sadly, I had missed the next couple of panels due to being distracted by shiny things (links in previous post) so went to chat to some strangers, saw some more shiny things and basically missed a whole load more. Damn.
I didn’t want to stop there too late that first day, but lurked around on Twitter a bit. This turned out to be a great way to enhance the experience, as lots of the panels I didn’t get to were live-Tweeted, andall sorts of people put up photos and subsequently blogs. Great stuff!
Came across a tweet from an editor who wanted to chat to authors and agreed to meet up with Abigail (Bothersome Words) to discuss role of editor in publishing from a self-published perspective (spoiler: for me, VITAL! I have two). Meandered home earlyish, ready to prep for signing and panel tomorrow.
Signing, Panel – Fake Science.
Signing in Exhibition hall was with: Jenn R Johansson, Mike Shevdon, Adam Christopher, Maurizio Manzieri, Christopher Guest (he of The Illusionist fame), John Norman (miscellanea Of Gor) and… Peter V Brett. Well that was only ever going to go one way. Three established famous authors, a famous artist, three up and coming trad-pubbers… and me, with a grand total of 2 self-published books. Bless. I got my books on display and a hundred packs of labelled jellybeans and arranged the table nicely.
As expected, three queues formed, none for me. But on Thurs I had seen a load of authors sat in a queue-free environment looking cross and unapproachable, so I figured best thing to do was have a talk and laugh with the other authors around me; on one side it was Jenn Johansson, who had some really cool badges to give out, and on the other Mike Shevdon whose book The Sixty-One Nails I was reading (& enjoying) at the time. Anyhow, it was good to chat with them and pretty much what I expected, so at least I wasn’t too dismayed by that. At the end I went and put the leftover freebies on the table and ten minutes later they were gone! Clearly, with it being away from the main stalls and cordoned off, it was a bit daunting for random passers-by, and in truth I signed more copies at my own table later than I did during the signing session.
Went for a wander later – managed to miss meeting with Abigail again but caught a great panel on pseudonyms with Robin Hobb and Seanan Maguire and some others. Bella Pagan was entertaining and quite establishment, Seanan Maguire came across as no-nonsense and anarchic, Robin Hobb was softly-spoken and thoughtful. All agreed you can write different things under different names and you generally know which pseudonym goes with what you are writing. There was differences of opinion over whether subjects are still gendered, and a really interesting discussion about how you come up with a pseudonym and the fact that the name defines the character just as much for the auithor-name as for the character-name.
My panel was at 3pm, and was the Fake Science one with Paul Cornell, Dr Victoria Herridge and Andy Sawyer which was great fun. I had been boning up on hoaxes and fakes, and had a few ready to discuss, and Victoria Herridge had a wealth of conversation as she works in the Natural History Museum, while Paul Cornell was there with his Fortean hat on and Andy Sawyer kept us all playing nicely.
Victoria Herridge was in the panel about Dwarf Mammoths immediately before ours (another clash, regrettably, as it sounds to have beem a bit of a high point); in fact a lot of her audience came across to Fake Science. Add that to the popularity of Paul Cornell at several of his panels and the room was full, which was a nice way to start.
Conversation ranged from pranks and hoaxes to the really serious fakes, their consequences and the possible motivations behind them – joke, pressure, deception, malicious spite. There was so much to say that we didn’t cover the half of it, but it was a good rollicking conversation with a fairly engaged audience. Topics discussed included: the Fiji mermaid, Roswell, crop circles, sad side of Piltdown man, responsibility of science, monetary issues, Lary Niven’s Ringworld and Engineers of Ringworld being motivated by a group of high-school kids, duckbilled platypus, sightings of the Wright brothers plane as fakes, rhinogrades, dropbears and jackelopes. We discussed whether the role of science as a god-replacement in a non-religious world means that fake results = sin, and whether the pressure to find new discoveries leads to less flashy but equally valid results being overlooked or not developed. Paul pointed out that science wants replicability and won’t look at individual sets of results as non-representative. Forteans argue extraordinary claims should not need extraordinary proof, just ordinary levels of proof, but science disagrees.
Eventually we ran out of time, but it was a highly enjoyable, rollicking discussion with some good points from the audience, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Having finished the panel and a few post-panel chats with audience members, I gravitated naturally back to the exhibit hall, where I did a few more circuits of the stalls and then paused at the Banned Underground banner to chatting with Will MacMillan, author of the same (Tolkien meets Spinal Tap, apparently – and yes they are on the TBR list now), along with sci-fi author Jim Webster, and then finally met up with Abigail for a good old gossip about the role of editors, writers’ expectations from publishing, expected vs actual differences between trad and indie publishing, and then onto all sorts of goss.
Lastly, although I was starting to flag a little, I went to the Newbies’ meet in the evening, which I had read was the one thing you should go to. In fact I would add a proviso: it’s the one thing you should go to if you don’t naturally feel like chatting to strangers and do need introducing. Given that I had been doing little else than talking to strangers all day, I didn’t necessarily feel the need for help of that kind! However, there were other people there who were less confident (less gobby, if you’re not feeling charitable!) so I chatted to as many of them as I could reach, introduced a load of people to each other and sidled out at 10, shattered. Got the 11.35 train, getting home around 1am to have dinnger and sort out paraphernalia. Late night…
On Saturday my long-time cyberfriend MTMaguire, author of the K’Barthan trilogy came out to play. This was particularly pleasing as I’ve never met her in the flesh before. She knows Jim and Will well, so much banter was flying back and forth. I was delayed on the trains as the Jubilee line went into meltdown, so by the time I got there, MTM had set up shop on corner of Gollancz stall with bookmarks and freebies; I joined her there and it was SUCH fun! The stall on the other side of us was a small press by the name of Inspired Quills, along with several of their authors. They are a friendly lot and there was much banter between us all – and much petting of MTM’s tribble. Turns out, quite a lot of people will stop if you let them pet your tribble (er… this is not a euphemism either…!).
Patrick Rothfuss spent a couple of hours at the next stall along, and was very goodnatured and highly delighted to get his picture taken with fans dressed as characters from his book. More books to add to the TBR list…
Sadly, MTM had to leave while the night was yet young. I continued on the stall for a bit. I have to say, I totally loved manning the stall. There were so many interesting people there to watch and to chat to. I really enjoyed the panel… but I did get rather addicted to having the stall. At six the Exhibition Hall shut, and we left. A swift coffee and something of a snackish variety, and I headed home to sort out my things for Sunday.
Sun Panel – Adaptations
Sunday was a bit strenuous, but still good fun. I made a really early start from home in order to get in on time, along with a draggy bag of books, banner and all the relevant paraphernalia. I set up on the stall and basically spent the day hailing passersby- notable characters included Pam, Daniel and Adora; Stephenie from Netherlands, Stephen and Barbara from Italy, a pirate from UK who said he wouldn’t have a freebie as he only bought from small presses and only pirated big publishers.
Sara from Inspired Quills suggested marketing my latest book “Song of the Ice Lord” for the LTBG community – I had not thought of that. We had a really interesting discussion about books involving alternative sexualities, as she pointed out that if ever a book features someone who is homosexual, asexual, demisexual, transgender or any of the other variants, that as a general rule the alternative sexuality becomes the point of the story. In “Song” there is a subplot about a man who falls for another man, but that is mostly incidental to the main story (the war they are fighting).
I also met Gingerlily and Caspian who I had chatted to on email in a previous incarnation, and who was now launching his book. Cool stuff!
Panel on adaptations with Paul Saxon Bullock, Jonjo, Carrie Vaughan, who, it turned out, is good friends with someone I went to University with, who was also there doing a maths talk. I’d say this was random, but Professor Nick would quite possibly be able to disprove this and calculate the exact probability so may be best to leave that joke alone….
The panel covered such points as the fact that different media have different strengths and do different things well. We agreed that abridged versions are bad, and that getting an adaptation slightly wrong is worse than totally changing it beyond all recognition (though obviously ‘slightly wrong’ is always going to be quite subjective). In any case it does cause us outrage when a character in an adaptation does things the character in the original work wouldn’t have done. We asked the audience for their best or worst examples of this, and had a highly enjoyable fifteen mins back-and-forth on the following:
Hunger Games – a mixed bag though reminiscent of Battle Royale. The books become increasingly cynical and downbeat. In the films the use of colour and design is fabulous to look at and really emphasised the differentness of Capital vs districts. Will they fix the ending? Most of us hoped so!
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hamma Kavula was not a popular addition though most admitted the character was well-played. There was some grumbling about how they’d changed the story but it was pointed out that the book is an adaptation of the radio play by Douglas Adams in the first place, so is not necessarily the source material. All agreed that when they announce an adaptation of your favourite story, the first reaction of excitement is closely followed by gloom at the possibility of disaster…!
Tolkien films –Lord of the Rings was fairly faithfully done and the changes seemed true to the spirit of the story but Hobbit was much more ambivalently viewed because of all the added backstory – is it still cheating if you’re adding from Tolkien’s own mythology? No conclusion was reached.
On Monday I had nothing much planned so turned up early and chatted with passersby all day. No Will and Jim sadly! Pam, Daniel and Adora came past and Pam blagged a bag from Gollancz, which made me laugh. I had a wonderful day chatting to anyone who stopped. I also had the enormous good fortune to meet the lovely Robin Hobb.
A few years ago I introduced my mother to the Assassin trilogy and she’s been a big fan ever since. As it was coming up to her 75th birthday, I told her I would get the latest Hobb for her – but did not necessarily mention that if I possibly could, I’d get it signed. I couldn’t get to the signing session but bought my copy and had it ready to hand just on the off-chance – and I was lucky enough to catch Ms Hobb as she passed the table. She very kindly stopped to sign the book and wrote a lovely inscription which made my mum squee like a fangirl later, so that was really nice of her.
After lunch, however, everything started to go quiet. A lot of the stalls did not attend on the Monday anyhow, and many of the others started to shut down around 2 or 3pm. I shut down the stall early-ish with the intention of attending the closing ceremony but foolishly stopped to sit down for ten minutes. Of course, I suddenly realised how tired I was and that if I went into the closing ceremony I’d only sleep through it anyway. Plan B, then: I grabbed some food in the fan village and staggered off home to fall in a heap and consider the prospect of work tomorrow and the 0455 alarm call….
So, that was LonCon. It was SUCH Fun. I absolutely loved it and for the space of two days I was Googling every other Convention I might reasonably get to: but then came post-con-crash, and it wasn’t pretty. Also, it ate all my writing mojo for an unfeasibly large amount of time, and I can’t really afford that.
I have now come to the conclusion that I probably shouldn’t go to any more cons for a couple of years. I just haven’t got enough books on the shelf to justify that sort of expenditure (in money, time and energy). I’m not far enough along the path for it to make sense. On the other hand, when I have half a dozen books out, I’ll ease back into it by taking a table in the dealer’s room for a day at one of the other more local events. I suspect fitting thatlevel of involvement in with real life will be much more sensible.
I don’t regret going though, not a minute of it, and if I could kick over the day job tomorrow I’d be at every convention I could reach. I had such fun, met some amazing people, and learned a whole load of things. What things? Well, in no particular order:
I should read Lovecraft if I don’t want to be eaten, apparently.
I should have gone in costume on one of my non-authorial days.
I love having the stall and chatting to people!
SF&F is under-represented in Dutch, Israel, New Zealand and Italy, most home-grown authors writing in English in order to have a market. Looking into translations for some of these markets.
Good coffee is hard to find in the Excel centre.
Clean toilets with no queues make a surprising difference to the experience. The Excel staff were lovely and kept the place excruciatingly clean.
I love meeting cyber-friends.
I love publishing and talking about publishing.
I need to write more books!!
Robin Hobb is lovely, very gracious.
Patrick Rothfuss was really good with his fans.
George RR Martin has a LOT of lookalikes in the fan communities.
I SO SHOULD HAVE TAKEN PHOTOS!! Having a camera on the phone and one in my bag with extra batteries is of no help whatsoever if you DON’T TAKE THE DAMN PHOTOS.
There are lots of cool people at cons (also, a surprisingly high occurrence of kilts).
I can do a whole day on an outsized bowl of porridge and a lot of coffee.
Next time, will get a hotel so I can go to some parties. Or write, either is good.
I love panels. Next time I should go to more panels.
I love having a dealer table. Next time I will get help to cover the table so I can go to more panels.
Fans! Didn’t meet any of mine, obv (there’s time yet) but fans are very cool.
Notes / blogs. Make notes at the end of each day. I’ve forgotten loads of cool stuff.
Twitter is splendidly useful for cons. Got loads more info from Twitter.
Con app was very good – lots of info and updates.
I did collect cards and mail people after, which was cool as managed to meet up post-con with a friend I didn’t even know was there, who it turns out was meeting another cyber-friend I didn’t know she knew. Random!
Comfy shoes a must, and assorted ones. My trainers gave me blisters so I changed to horrifically ugly but comfy ones which were very good indeed. Heels for the signing, then took them off immediately after. This is something to consider when constructing costumes.
Pre-panel green room chats – a good opportunity to chat through and plan but also to meet people and put faces to names.
I WANT TO DO MORE CONS! I can’t afford to do any more cons yet but soon as I have the books and can afford the time and energy, I’ll be right back.
Reading books by people on your panel – a great way to find other cool books. Still working through the LonCon section of my TBR list. Have read three Patrick Rothfuss books now, and loved them. Bought a copy of the first one for my mum for Christmas. Word of mouth is powerful, and cons are good for spreading it.
All told, I did love Worldcon and am looking forward to checking out some of the smaller UK ones; but to justify the cost in time, money and energy, I think I need to put it on hold until I have a few more books out.
Which said, I guess I’d better go write a few more, eh?
Though obviously if any of you have a favourite convention, or good convention tips or just want to gossip about Conventions I Have Known, hit the comments. I’m open to persuasion, gossip and further learning points!
Catch you later, peeps: