Friday, 22 August 2014

Con pair...

Today I'm sitting down, not leaving the house, and listening to old, old music I haven't heard in ten years and to which I still know all the words. My brain needs time to recover.

Because this weekend just gone, I was at Worldcon, aka Loncon3. (It's like the superhero of conventions. It has a secret identity and everything!)

The weekend before that, I was at NineWorlds, aka London Geekfest. (Sidekick? Villain? Or the real hero?)

In between, I stayed in London (I usually live in York) and did some other geeky things with friends, including Fantasy in the Court at Goldsboro Books, since a lot of the authors visiting for either or both the above cons were attending too.

So I've been on the go non stop for very nearly two weeks, not to mention the hurried costume-creation and book-sorting and room-booking beforehand.

Con-wise, I'm not a newbie anymore - among others, I've done DragonCon in Georgia the last seven years in a row (and will be sad to miss it this year) and did a lot of the smaller Showmasters cons back when Torchwood fandom was still alive. But I missed NineWorlds last year when it started, and I've never made it to Worldcon, so the individual characters and natures of these two were both new to me. I also usually hate interrupting, imposing, or generally initiating conversation with complete strangers who obviously have a hundred better things to do than talk to me, so I was a little nervous about it all.

NineWorlds first.

Con attendance: about 1700, I've heard.

Pre-con book count: 12

My con started early. I got the Megabus down to London (really not a bad way to travel cheap, especially if you book well in advance and mid-week) on Thursday, the day before NineWorlds started, read over 400 pages of Scott Lynch's Republic of Thieves on the coach down until I was dizzy and dazed when I had to work in reality again, and trekked with my little suitcase, backpack, and tote bag of books from King's Cross over to Heathrow. Outside Heathrow, about to tentatively get on a bus I hoped would take me to the right hotel, I spotted one of the other boarding passengers was wearing a Firefly t-shirt, as she spotted my NaNoWriMo shirt... So I took a deep breath, engaged Con Mode, and spoke to her. Turned out she'd been to NineWorlds the year before and knew the way, which bus stop to use, and how it all worked. We chatted, she led me in to registration, and I was and am endlessly grateful for the reassurance just when I needed it.

And thus NineWorlds started being awesome from the very beginning.

Registration was easy at that point - it being late in the evening (roadworks had delayed my bus/train combo journey so I was an hour later than expected) there was nobody queuing, but friendly faces waiting to welcome us anyway. And surprise goody bags were dished out with our con badges. I'm accustomed to the con booklet, the options of free samplers and advertising posters, and a nice lanyard, but I didn't expect to receive two full, gorgeous books just for turning up.

I think this is an accurate representation, but it's been two weeks now and I'm still dazed.
Other stuff in the bag included 5 "Awesome Cosplay!" tokens (an idea taken from Eastercon, they said), to be handed out to worthy cosplayers, with the note that if you acquired 15 or more you could claim a prize on the Sunday. This lifted my excitable cosplayer's heart in an instant, and had me going, "That's an awesome idea, why doesn't every con do that?"

Next to registration was a "Naming Desk", with a big pot of Sharpies of varying colours, where you wrote whatever name you wanted to wear for the weekend onto your badge, and could pick up extra helpful bits. There were pronoun badges - I seem to recall I saw "he/him", "she/her", "they/their", "zhe/hir" and a blank one to write any unrepresented preference on. I did the "why doesn't every con do that?" again at this point. And there were also "communication clips" - different colours to indicate different preferences. Blue meant "For whatever reason, I find initiating conversation difficult but am more than happy for you to talk to me" (though it wasn't quite phrased like that on some of the reminder posters dotted about the corridors, which I saw get altered during the con to draw closer to this definition). There was also yellow, for "If I already know you, you're welcome to talk to me", and red for "I don't want to/am not ready to talk to anyone right now".

I grabbed a blue and ran off to see what the late night welcome panels were like. And the blue clip came in handy almost immediately: I hadn't had a chance to cut my long silver wig into shape for Quicksilver cosplay yet, and when I slunk into the room, everyone was busily constructing things and chatting merrily among their friends, and I was overcome with that urge not to interrupt people busy with things much more important than my little problem. One of the women in charge of the get-together spotted me and my blue clip though, and came over to ask if she could help. And just like that, she got everything sorted, my wig was hacked down to a better length, and I got to be calm again.

I was BUSY.
On Friday, while dressed as a Vulcan, I made it to panels about editing, swordfight choreography for writers, mythology and fairytales, and "How To Write A Sex Scene" (heavens). Generally speaking, though, despite the pages of notes I took down, the panels themselves weren't Friday's highlights. Instead, I engaged Sociable!Lea as hard as possible and found myself talking to all sorts of people at all sorts of times (like the couple I ended up working with for the Sex Scene panel, and Andy the sweetheart in fabulous World of Warcraft armour), and even bumped into an old friend from the aforementioned Torchwood fandom, much to our mutual surprise and delight.

By the time the evening entertainment rolled around I had a lot of people to wave at and ask after specifics by sight, and a handful I could (and did) stop and talk to and lose an hour without noticing. I prowled the little dealers' hall (I'm used to DragonCon, so although it was varied and delightful and included at least three book stalls aside from the huge, magnificent, drool-worthy Forbidden Planet table all along the back wall, it still seemed small to me) extensively, chatted to vendors and attendees alike, complimented cosplay everywhere, bought books, got books signed (Jen Williams drew, or offered to draw, an adorable dragon in every copy of The Copper Promise brought to her, and Kate Griffin was sweet and seemed excited when I showed up with the very first book she had published some ten years ago, under a wholly different name), rocked out to a Queen tribute band, and danced my feet off at the 80s All-Cheese Disco. When I was leaving my accommodation the next morning, my host asked how Friday had been, and I found myself saying, with some surprise, that it was the best single day I'd had at a convention in years.

Saturday had a lot to live up to.

Panels included: writing Steampunk, creating fantasy languages (WOW, that one was intense! It was like the distilled version of a month long linguistics course, delivered at speed, with a side order of extra geek for the moments it touched on Klingon, Elvish, Circular Gallifreyan and others), and a "Beat Writer's Block" panel which was more like "Spark New Ideas" rather than "Finish Your Damn Story". I also got lots more books signed, including a couple for friends, hit up the dealers' hall some more (by which point I'd already got a reputation for book addiction at the Fox Spirit table), and found time to eat and read a little more of Republic of Thieves too.

All while dressed in full Quicksilver (with fixed wig, and the lovely lady who'd cut it did run in to me and see it in play, to her glee), belting "Time in a Bottle" from a hidden speaker (if you've seen Days of Future Past you'll understand why) and being stopped near constantly for photos and to be handed cosplay tokens. Even Elizabeth Bear gave me a cosplay token while I was getting her to sign books for me. So that was fun.


The evening entertainment for Saturday also included the Whedon singalong (I sat out for Once More With Feeling because I still haven't seen that episode yet). A couple of cosplayers who knew each other and were involved in the Whedon track were dressed as Doctor Horrible and Captain Hammer, so certain songs of that were acted out beautifully, too, right down to full on freezing in place for an entire song. That was well worth seeing.

And then there was the Queer Cabaret, which started off with poetry and music and comedy skits and built up to the most wonderful, lovely thing I feel privileged to have seen. I mean, really. It was just gorgeous. And the standing ovation was so well deserved.

Sunday morning, I dressed in hot pants and a safari shirt and a brown fedora, packed brown leather high heeled ankle boots into my day bag, and set off on the hour or so walk from accommodation to con. Ten minutes in, the heavens well and truly opened, and by the time I reached a point at which I could surrender and get a bus, I was soaked through, and my desperate attempts to shield my canvas bag with arms, hat, whatever (contents: card games! paperback book! notebook! business cards! paper programme!) were no longer stopping the torrent. By getting the bus, I did manage to guide two day-pass NineWorlders to the con, but it was too late for me. I had to stop by the loos to literally wring my clothes out a few times, switched shoes after drying my feet at the hand driers, and schlepped (coincidentally, also the noise I was making) over to the first panel I wanted - a repeat of a hugely popular one from the day before, a "Writing the Other" workshop with Stephanie Saulter.

So I sat there with all my stuff spread across table/floor/chairs to try and dry it out, and tried not to shiver too much while taking all my notes (notebook was shielded from the worst by the book, blessedly enclosed in plastic bag with remarkable foresight by my absent-minded self packing up that morning). I think I worried Stephanie a little. But it was still worth it! Discussion was interesting and insightful, and hopefully will be very useful for everything I'm continuing to write/edit at the moment/in the future. She was so good (and so nice) I went and bought her first book from the dealers' hall later on.

From there, though, I squelched down towards the steampunk room for a cool panel on "Female Characters in Steampunk", and ran into a couple of the friends I'd made, consistently running into one in writing panels, and generally talking to the other for hours non stop. They, lovely, lovely people, looked me up and down and went, "Our hotel room is a few doors down and there is a hairdryer. Come with us." Good move. I cannot recommend hairdryers highly enough for such moments. Although do try not to point them at any bag that contains chocolate or boiled sweets. I ended up dry and even passably warm before I dashed into steampunk, which is probably the reason I didn't end up exhausted and chilled and in danger of illness. That one, too, was worth it, since I then went off and bought Gail Carriger's book on the strength of her panel presence as well, especially since she was signing shortly after that, with Stephanie Saulter. I managed to fit in a quick trip to the info desk to turn in my stack of cosplay tokens for my prize, too, and immediately affixed the "Outstanding Cosplay!" badge to my shirt.

(Not pictured: the little bag of chocolate buttons also part of the prize, which were immediately devoured.)
I hit up one last writing panel on "How to Invent the Wheel", which was a very good discussion of how to consider the introduction of any technology (future, past, hypothetical) into your worldbuilding and properly deal with the consequences and the range of reactions. Fun stuff. And then I went and played some games for a little bit, to wind down before everything packed up and finished. I managed to squeeze in dinner when I ran into the lovely couple from the Sex Scene panel, and we decompressed a bit chatting together in the restaurant. Then, of course, I found a Cards Against Humanity game going on upstairs, shouldered my way in, and spent the next four or five hours there. Fortunately the wonderful hairdryer-lending people wandered in too, so I was able to give dry, grateful hugs before we parted ways.

One of the CAH players, who I'd run into a couple of times at various points throughout the weekend, persuaded me to stay another half an hour/hour or so when I declared time and got up, by offering me a lift back to my accommodation. Sunday, you see, exemplified NineWorlds, for me. It was full of wonderful, kind people, who were happy to help if they possibly could. It was a relaxed, happy crowd, occasionally vexed by hotel staff, full of praise for con staff, and excited, pleased, and welcoming for everyone else.

NineWorlds is possibly the single most friendly, inclusive con I've ever been to. More than inclusive, actually, but positive. Not queer or autistic or disabled or female or minority inclusive, queer/autistic/disabled/female/minority positive. It was a celebration of everyone who usually gets left out of things, a paean to difference, and uniqueness, and how simple it really can be to make things accessible and enjoyable for everyone. The gender neutral toilets on the third floor ("Toilets with urinals"/"Toilets with sanitary bins") and the variety of available pronoun badges instantly signified that this was a safe space for anyone not covered by binary gender. I saw panelists introduced with their name and preferred pronouns, attack ships on fire off the... wait, this has turned into something else. Better stop before it heads into all those cons, lost... like tears...

Anyway. Yes. NineWorlds. NineWorlds delighted me. It reminded me what my first few cons were like. All hope and joy and geeky excitement, with very little negativity around. I only hope it can maintain it as it continues and grows.

I could hardly bear to take off my lanyard. And I kept that Outstanding Cosplay badge on for another week.

Post-con book count: 26

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