My third con ever, and my first Eastercon it was by all accounts its most successful year. No doubt the main reason for that being the main GoH George RR Martin, who featured prevalently in proceedings. This is the first year they have actually sold out of tickets. I felt privileged to be at the 63rd British National Science Fiction Convention. It was held at Heathrow Radisson Hotel, a building someone described as built by an architect unfamiliar with euclidean geometry, and composed entirely of gleaming marble, glass and wood panelling. Confusing as it was, it was pretty luxurious, with a price tag to match (£9.45 for a gin and tonic), and some very strange artwork in the atrium bar.
Unfortunately I was only able to make Sunday but it felt good to arrive when the party was already in full swing, so to speak. The first panel I attended was ‘Promoting Yourself Online’. It was chaired by Danie Ware of Forbidden Planet (as well as author of debut novel Ecko Rising, a hotly anticipated genre mash-up coming out later this year), and the panellists were Elspeth Cooper (Author of the Wild Hunt Series), Paul Cornell, Tom Hunter (of the Clarke awards) and Simon Spanton of Gollancz.
Danie began by commenting on the early days of Twitter, when just a few souls used it and thought themselves very clever, before it exploded in size on an unimaginable scale. Since that growth the importance of Twitter (and to be honest, it was Twitter that the talk focused on) has increased to the extent that, as Danie pointed out, a top-selling author who isn’t on twitter will attract fewer customers to a signing than a newer kid on the block who is actively tweeting.
The panel reflected on what Twitter should and should not be about. There was overwhelming agreement that it should not be the place to push your books, chat about mundane, irrelevant things, nor overshare personal information. They agreed that to promote yourself you do so by helping other people, and by being yourself. Simon Spanton commented on the way that it enables the writer and reader to really get to know one another, and how this can only be a good thing.
Next on my schedule (all worked out by a cunning app available on the Olympus website called Guidebook) was the GRRM interview. This was a fascinating talk, and in the hour and a half that I sat there (it really didn’t seem that long) George described his path to success, the pitfalls of writing and television work, some humorous anecdotes about filming the pilot of the hugely successful television series A Game of Thrones and some genuine nuggets of wisdom for all the aspiring writers in the audience. What resonated with me was his comment on Tolkien (he has been dubbed the American Tolkien, which I don’t think is entirely fair to either man). He said that we are all (fantasy writers) in the man’s shadow, and that it is a common error of the newbie author to spend vast amounts of time worldbuilding, when they should be concentrating on the story and the characters. Tolkien was not primarily a writer, he was a linguist and an Oxford Don. He was drawn to creating languages and cultures at a level far deeper than most people go. George talked of the iceberg of worldbuilding beneath the Lord of the Rings books, the portion that we see above the surface. Our stories, he said, should be akin to ice rafts, it’s not worth fleshing out and wasting time on stuff that nobody is going to read. A language student wrote to him and asked about the Valyrian tongue, to which he replied ‘I’ve written seven words in Valyrian, when I need an eighth I’ll make one up’.
It was a surreal feeling seeing George among the attendees, milling happily without any pretension. I did get a bit of a silly fangirl moment when I asked him for his autograph and could think of nothing to say other than ‘I enjoyed the talk’. I don’t know if it was his beard and bearing but I suddenly felt like a kid brought into Santa’s grotto and overcome by awe.
The dealer room was very large and constantly busy. At the Angry Robot table I was disappointed (and yet pleased) to see that Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls had completely sold out. I got a copy of Adam Christopher’s Empire State which he kindly signed for me after his gripping first chapter reading of Seven Wonders. I will definitely be buying that book.
Something that pleased me about being at Eastercon was the broad spectrum of attendees, and according to the reports, the near equal gender parity among them. I also noticed this on the panels and it was refreshing to see a lot of women leading the discussions (this in wake of the seemingly unequal gender balance at the recent SFX Weekender). I was disappointed to miss the panel on minority representation in fandom, but I hope in the future we will see an even greater diversity in the SFF crowd at cons.
There was only one low point which I will briefly touch on, the thirty eight minute preamble to the BSFA awards. I was brought to mind of the panel on Promoting Yourself Online when smartphones all around me glowed beneath the faces of the audience, a furious storm of reaction unfolding on my twitter feed. Despite the irrelevant, confusing and at one point offensive nature of this skit, I was completely baffled by the amount of time spent on it compared to the actual prize giving itself, which was over in something like ten minutes. One of the winners was Christopher Priest, who ironically lambasted the Clarke Awards recently for its shortlist (of which he was not a member). His one liner about the quality of the award itself was far funnier than anything in the previous ‘entertainment’.
As well as the panels, readings, stalls and goodybags, what cons are really about are the people. It was such a pleasure to meet people in the flesh who I have read about and tweeted to over the last few months. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones and I would liken to experience to a reunion of the best kind. There were no boundaries or barriers: between ability, race, generation, gender, writer or reader.
Next week: Alt.Fiction!