Conventions are one of those things, a little like dental work, that everyone is just expected to do. However, the best case scenario tends to be a lot higher than ‘No cavities!’ or ‘Mum, he only used the crowbar once!’. Conventions are safe spaces, the places where we can go to let our hair down, be ourselves, network, schmooze, drink, do bad karaoke, sign the odd deal and argue in Klingon over whether Peter Parker should have organic or mechanical webshooters.
That’s a tall order. And here’s the thing; it sets conventions up as the peak of the geek calendar and in doing so, all they’re set up to do is let you down. I’ll never forget attending my first FantasyCon, stepping through the door of what one of my best friends had described as one of the most welcoming conventions in the country and…being confronted by 300 people who clearly knew one another, chatting away and getting drunk together.There was no welcome booth, there was no one on duty to ease newbies in. There was just me and a bunch of already mostly drunk authors. It looked, and felt, like every ghastly clichéd high school lunch hall dream given form.
I didn’t turn and run, much as part of me wanted to. I persevered, enjoyed a good deal of it and talked to almost no one. I attended another couple of times and, gradually, found myself moving in the same orbits as people who are now some of my closest friends. One of them is Adele, our feral leader here at Fox Spirit Towers. She had a similar track to me through the UK convention circuit, moving from member to guest to sleepless podcast tech goddess to leader of the pack in a little under three years. She was also completely rebooting her life as this was going on which, to my mind, is probably the only plausible reason why it took that long.
So, largely left to our own devices, people like Adele, myself, the Cheesecakes, Sam, Andrew, Lisa, Vick, Vicky and the others all slowly began to form our own social circles. It took a while and by a while I mean years, but I can now walk into any convention in the UK and, chances are, have a friend or two already there. It feels nice. It feels earned because believe me, it was. There are very few lonelier places than the bar at a FantasyCon when everyone’s talking to everyone but you.
Here’s the truth; no convention, on Earth, is going to answer every single one of your geek prayers because nothing ever does and nothing ever will. Make no mistake, you’ll have fun but the sky will not shower book contracts and meaningful discussion down upon you. At least not without you rigging some bizarre publishing/weather dominator hybrid.
Yeah, Destro. You BETTER run.
For someone who doesn’t like or ‘do’ conventions, it turns out I’m going to a couple of big ones in the closing stages of 2013. In November I’m off to Leeds for Thought Bubble, which is always a very rewarding and immensely strange experience. Thought Bubble, or ThoBubs as its affectionately known, was founded by the comic store I worked for straight out of University. That’s the same comic store that made me redundant some years later and catapulted me into a period of sustained, constant change and near unbearable psychological stress. That period of my life meant that when I went to Thought Bubble for the first time, back in 2011, it’s fair to say I was not in the best of frames of mind. It’s a very weird experience spending time inside something that was so nearly built with your help. It simultaneously makes you proud and desperately sad. You get glimpses of the next life over, the one that was almost yours. You don’t regret it, certainly, but you do find yourself wishing it wasn’t in your eye line quite so much.
That being said, Thought Bubble is a desperately friendly show and, because I’m working for the company’s website (Freelancer tip: Never burn bridges. Ever. You never know when you’ll be able to cross back over them) I’m on the guest list. So, two days of wandering around Leeds Armouries, chatting to small press and big press alike and coming home with a metric kilo of review copies looks set to be on the cards.
Before all that though, I’m off to World FantasyCon.
This year FantasyCon has combined, Voltron like, with WorldCon to create a colossal robot that will stomp across Brighton and…
Sorry, I seem to have turned over multiple pages there.
This year, FantasyCon has combined with World FantasyCon and the end result has been a complaint storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Doctor Who fans discovered the internet, keyboards and Twitter. There’s been, on average, one ‘thing’ about WFC 2013 every five or six days. I’m not going to repeat any of the well documented issues a lot of people have with the convention set up here, firstly because I don’t have the word count and secondly I really don’t want to. Make no mistake there are absolutely legitimate problems with some aspects of the con that have been expressed forcefully and eloquently by some of the best writers in the field. Them, I don’t have a problem with.
The internet hordes crowding around them yelling ‘FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!’? They’re the problem.
At this point, WFC 2013 could transform the entire hotel into gold, provide everyone with unlimited chocolate and alcohol, premiere all the missing Doctor Who episodes still left and odds are someone would still sniff and go ‘Huh. Well apparently all the rooms smelt of wee.’
I saw people complaining about the free book policy earlier today.
How do you do that?
How do you express serious concerns about the giveaway policy at a con? It’s free books! You’ll be allowed a set amount, odds are you can swap them around maybe and maybe even read some before you pick up even more at the next convention! Like usual!
There’s such an accretion disk of negativity around the con that at times the real issues some people have and the efforts to address those issues by the organizers are being obscured by the stampede of people struggling to be the first on the soapbox and the first to lead the next charge. That’s awful for two reasons; firstly because the real issues people have with aspects of the programming are being obscured. On a more personal level, honestly, I’m slightly nervous going.
I’m attending as a redshirt (Although apparently we’ll get jackets which sounds dapper and AWESOME) and part of me is sincerely apprehensive. I’m going to be part of the Con’s face (FaceCons! That combine to form…I am on an ‘80s cartoon kick this month aren’t I?) and a lot of people seem eager to explain exactly why the con sucks, possibly to its face, that I am part of.
Oh and just for giggles, I’m also at my first ever book launch as an author! Which I may also be red jacketing at! Which may mean I’m technically cosplaying as either postmodernism or the entire industry… Anyway Fox Spirit’s Tales of Eve anthology has an officially official launch on Sunday at 10am. The launches are being held in the space between the art show and Hall 8 and this should be really fun. Tales of Eve is a great book, Mhairi Simpson did a kick ass job as editor and a bunch of Fox Spirit authors will all be there to sign the book and launch it out into the world.
So, let’s review; I’m going to be a volunteer at a convention where a measurable proportion of the attendees aren’t especially happy and I’m also going to be attending my first ever book launch as an author.
No pressure then.
Now, take my basic apprehension and apply it to people attending a con for the first time. The needle’s buried in the red.
Or it would be, because on this one the convention has a plan. Full details are here:
Go, read, and go say hi. It’s a great idea and exactly the sort of thing I wish someone had thought of during my first couple of FantasyCons. It would have saved me a fortune in J20 and crippling social anxiety.
As for me, well, I have a plan too. The redjackets have all been asked what events they’d especially like to attend and wherever possible we’ll be scheduled to either work those events or be free for them. The book launch aside, I’ve asked for a range of diverse events and also said if I get none of them? That’s fine. If I go where I’m needed, rather than where I think I should be, I’m bound to see and hear new and interesting viewpoints. I’ll be challenged. I’ll learn new things. I’ll engage, and in doing so be too busy to get nervous.
So why don’t you try the same thing? Also, feel free to say hi if you see me. You can’t miss me, I’m the guy who looks exactly like the photo of me on this website. Let’s chat for a bit, assuming I’m not wrapping a panel up or helping disappear the flocks of taxidermied and yet somehow living ravens that always seem to apport into existence if Ramsey Campbell stays in one place too long. Because, underneath the groupthink, the communications failures on both sides and the vast helpings of schadenfreude people seem to be relishing, we’re all fans. This aspect of popular culture makes us all happy, hits us all right in the feels, and that sense of unity? That’s the one place every convention lives up to our expectations. Sounds like fun. Hopefully I’ll see you there.