When some one says “science fiction convention”, what’s the image that springs to mind? TV celebrity guests, with fans queueing for autographs? People dressed as Imperial stormtroopers and random anime characters wandering the corridors? Crowds of geeks roaming around stalls piled high with t-shirts, paperbacks and Doctor Who action figures? The SFX Weekender is all this, but with a very British twist: the venue is a Pontin’s holiday camp in North Wales.
As a result it was a very different experience to the kind of conventions I’m used to. No snug hotel bedroom with a fully catered breakfast in the morning; I slept on the most uncomfortable sofa-bed in the UK, needed a hot water bottle to stay warm at night (luckily I was forewarned and took one with me) and had to cook my own bacon sandwiches in the morning (oh, the humanity!). On the other hand, my chalet-mate Lou Morgan makes a much better cup of tea than any hotel kitchen
I also found all the cosplaying just a little unnerving, especially the five-foot-tall Dalek who accosted us on our way into the complex on Friday morning, demanding that we open the door for it or be exterminated. Suddenly I was a terrified six-year-old again and just wanted to hide behind the sofa! On the other hand the guy in the Alien costume, who must have been at least eight feet tall in his stilted legs, didn’t scare me at all, simply adding to the atmosphere of the con. Not everyone went the whole hog costume-wise; my friend Laura (right) opted for the low-key look, adding a pair of elf-ears to her normal ensemble.
I felt decidedly under-dressed as a result, though I was there at least partly in my professional capacity as a debut author so I didn’t want to look like just another fan. Since my book’s not out until next month, I just did one panel, “How to Get Published”. I got somewhat nervous as the time approached; attendance this year was up to 4000 people, and both main rooms had seating for hundreds! As it was, the stage lighting was so bright one could hardly see the audience, so it wasn’t all that scary after all.
It was great to catch up with the regular convention crowd, and Lou Morgan and Amanda Rutter were excellent chalet-buddies. I also met some more people I previously only knew online, including the jet-lagged and bemused Sam Sykes, and the lovely Stacia Kane, who turned out to live not that many miles from me.
Other highlights included a sing-along screening of “Once More With Feeling”, the Kitschie awards with Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (the latter in a gorgeous dress), the crowded but author-tastic Gollancz/Orbit chalet party, and of course the Saturday night disco with Craig Charles, where I boogied on down with Tom Pollock, Sophia MacDougall and China Mieville (shameless name-drop) until my feet were sore. Also, thanks to Jared I can now vouch for the fact that Kraken Rum (provided by the Kitschie sponsors of the same name) is delicious!
Will I be going back next year? I think so – it’s an awesome convention in its own way, and by then I’ll have at least one book out, perhaps two, so I’ll no longer be in that “not quite a published author” limbo. However I’ll be giving serious consideration to booking alternative accommodation, and damn the expense. Conventions are exhausting enough, without adding extra backache and sleeplessness to the mix!