Long ago, hormonal 14 year old me watched repeats of her beloved Blakes 7 on UK Gold and idly dreamed of Avon being in her bedroom. Little did 14 year old me imagine that would one day happen. But 14 year old me could also never have imagined that there would be seven of us, warm white wine, crisps and a lot of bad jokes about nuns told in an Irish accent.
Lots will be – and is – being written about Paul Darrow’s acting career and his contribution to the cultural life of the world. But I want to talk about the man I was privileged enough to get to know and spend some time with.
I first met Paul in October 2012, at a small lunch in aid of charity that I’d seen advertised somewhere online. I was at a moment in my life where I wanted to meet some new people and mix up my social life. I took a day off work and went to Hastings for the day, not sure what to expect. I found an engaging, intelligent man full of enthusiasm for life who was brilliant company and the polar opposite of every cold-hearted, calculating bastard he ever played on screen. Lunch extended into a slow wander through the autumn sunshine. Conversation turned to an event he (and Jacqueline Pearce) were due to be at the following day at Kennington Cinema Museum. As we parted he looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
So I duly presented myself at the Cinema Museum the following day. And I found myself sucked into Paul’s entourage. We spent a lot of time hanging out on the smoking terrace – with Jacqueline Pearce – and generally running round the Cinema Museum giggling (we were hiding from someone Paul was trying to avoid). I laughed so much my ribs were aching.
Three months later I found myself in a small hotel, deep in the countryside. There were about 10 of us, and after a fantastic dinner we played Trivial Pursuit in teams. Paul’s team won. He was always very competitive, and picked the pink questions at every opportunity. (A category where he always had an unfair advantage, I feel.)
That set a pattern for the last six years. It was like a long lost uncle had suddenly arrived in my life. But an uncle determined to drag me to the pub and tell me stories about all the exciting things he’d been doing while long and lost. Fascinating insights into the acting profession from repertory to working for the BBC and ITV, and film, told with real pride about his craft. Behind the scenes stories from on set. History told with an instinct for drama. And underneath it all, a childlike enthusiasm for life, often expressed through filthy jokes, impressions and a mischievous sense of humour – all with impeccable comic timing.
This long lost uncle introduced me to an entire extended family of cousins I’d never have known otherwise. I met and made some amazing friends through Paul. Fascinating people I would never have met otherwise. And a circle of remarkably un-fannish people at that. Paul drew around him those that were interesting, engaging and good company. And we all cared for him deeply.
If there is one thing I learned from the time I spent with him, it was the joy that can come from time spent in good company with no particular plan in mind. He turned hanging out into an artform of existing in the moment.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Take the chance. You may find your life is impossibly enriched by doing it.
Last weekend I was at Ytterbium, the 70th annual British science fiction convention. It’s run each year by a committee of volunteers, and is a huge endeavour that attracts around 1,000 people. It’s my fifth year attending, since my first, Dysprosium in 2015. And it was far and away the best EasterCon I’ve been to in those five years. So much so that it’s taken me nearly a week to get over my concrash enough to consider writing a con report.
Over the last five years my personal involvement in SFF communities has increased significantly, as has my confidence in these spaces. Reflecting back to Dysprosium, I spent a lot of my time feeling like an unwelcome outsider. I was a Muggle at Hogwarts and none of the cool kids would give me the time of day. Now, I know far more people in the community, and have found/built my little subset of the tribe to hang out with.
Building that community has taken time. I have one friend who has that fierce brand of confidence that means that she can walk into any room, be the centre of attention, and emerge feted. That is not me. I joke that I grow on people more slowly, much like mould, until I become part of the furniture. A wise friend always remarks on my networking ability. Professionally, part of my job is to know lots of people and understand the connections between them. I have slowly learned that not everyone works that way, and I’ve also learned that it’s something I unconsciously bring into my personal life. But I’m not always good at deepening those connections beyond the superficial, however much I might want to sometimes. (Fierce, confident friend had to have a few goes at it before I finally twigged what she was doing. Two bottles of wine and the sharing of many confidences one evening, and the rest is history. Wise friend invited me for tea and cake with astonishing clarity, and then patiently and explicitly explained to me over said tea and cake that it was because she liked me and was interested in deepening our friendship. The rest is history.) And I forget – unless reminded – that the flip side of being the person who knows lots of people is that I’m a person known by lots of people. I struggle with that, largely because inside my head I think of myself as pretty boring in comparison to all the amazing and interesting people I know.
All of that made this a bit of an interesting EasterCon for me. This was a weekend where it felt like I was everywhere. Being on six programme items was, by any measure, a lot. And it led to the surreal experience of having people keep coming up to me to talk about them. Plus having lots of the organising team loudly calling me a hero and trying to buy me lots of gin on Sunday night, after I stepped into the breach at short notice earlier that day (see below). I’m not used to that kind of attention. Really, I’m not. I’d already gone into the weekend worried about being over-exposed. I’m not a famous writer or fan. I don’t work in publishing. I’m just me, who sometimes dresses up as characters from Doctor Who and runs a relatively low-traffic book review blog. So this is a weekend that has messed with my head and my self-perception quite a bit.
Six programme items. I was on three of them because I’d suggested them. But the rest were down to accident, the programme scheduling gods, or not moving quickly enough.
SF-ing Clue. In homage to a popular radio comedy show, this was a team-based panel game, done as a con warm up event on Thursday night. It had been deliberately set up with an all-woman set of contestants, to help counter the idea that men have the monopoly on doing funny things at conventions. In line with its inspiration there was a premium on puns and witty wordplay. We had only 48 hours to prep the rounds, which was harder than you might think. They included the Umbridge English Dictionary (giving existing words SFnal definitions, such as “Revoke: to turn back into a Klingon”) and YA Film Club (“To Kill A Mockingjay”). I won’t be giving up the day job. And the moral of this story is never to agree to do something in the pub when you’ve had a lot of wine after a long day.
Planning For The Apocalypse. I’d suggested this because it seems that my friends and I have fairly well developed apocalypse plans, and it’s a regular topic of discussion. I’d had in mind a kind of Choose Your Own Apocalypse type thing, but I had not envisaged the chaotic, surreal hour that followed. Someone described it as three feminists on a panel with Alan Partridge. Someone else wondered if it was a scripted radio play. Regardless, it defies description or summary. You had to be there. All I can say is that Tiffani and Helen, my fellow panellists, are goddesses of deadpan humour and witty comebacks. I was mostly corpseing with laughter.
The Art of Reviewing. Much less eventful. And a chance to meet and spend some time with the wonderful Maureen Spellar of Strange Horizons and fantastic book-tuber Claire Rousseau. We got into the democratisation of what ‘good’ is, and the role of reviewers as influencers. Claire and I spent a lot of time talking about how lovely Runalong Womble is.
Conflict Without Violence. This was the panel I’d been most anxious about all weekend. It was my first time moderating. I was doing it in the big room, with John Scalzi `(one of the Guests of Honour) and Aliette de Bodard, two writers I really admire, plus Juliet Kemp and Brian Attterbury, a professor specialising in SFF literature. And on a serious topic too – the prevalence of stories about physical violence in SFF, when there are so many different ways of telling stories and resolving conflict. Much of it is a blur, but I think we explored the topic fairly well.
I walked out that room congratulating myself and feeling in desperate need of a cup of tea and the chance to decompress. I bumped into one of the organisers, who was in a massive panic because the moderator for one of the panel items had pulled out at the last minute. Stuff happens to us all, but there is something inexcusable about letting down volunteer organisers at short notice and without good reason. It creates a horrible mess for them to have to sort out. I’ve been in that organiser’s position, and there’s no way I could leave them with a crisis on their hands. So …
The 2019 Hugo Award Shortlist. I ended up moderating this with 10 minutes notice. 10 minutes. That was long enough to Google the shortlist, try to work out what areas to focus the panel on, introduce myself to the panellists and take it from there. I think I got away with it. But a badly prepared moderator is not a good thing, and bad moderation can ruin a panel, however good the panellists are. I’m incredibly grateful to an understanding audience and the panellists for their tolerance, and for enabling us to have a great discussion.
Administering Fantasy Worlds. My final panel on Monday lunchtime was a struggle. I was exhausted and panelling is Hard Work. But I poured my remaining spoons into it. This was a re-run of a panel a few of us had done at Nine Worlds last August, looking at governance and bureaucracy as world-building issues in SFF. My friend Kate (an accountant) moderated, and did a fantastic job helping us to cover a lot of ground. The other panelists were Wendy Bradley (retired tax inspector) and author Charlie Stross. Kate and I have been fans of Charlie’s for years, so were having to suppress our inner fangirls whilst talking about the lack of proper procurement frameworks for laser guns, or the logistical challenges of handling taxes paid in live chickens.
The programme as a whole was excellent, and the organisers should be congratulated for that in particular. Diversity was built in right from the start, with none of those awful “Women in SFF”-type panels that compartmentalise people who aren’t straight, white, able-bodied men into discussions only about their protected characteristics. The team did an amazing job in building thoughtful panels of knowledgeable people that brought different perspectives to issues. Big name authors were mixed up with debuts and subject experts, leading to rich discussions. Inclusion was built into the event from the ground up, in panelist/moderator guidance, with the use of pronoun badges, and badges to signify access needs, including invisible ones. It feels like the best parts of events like Nine Worlds were taken account of. It’s in marked contrast to previous years and ha set an incredibly high standard for next year’s EasterCon. I hope next year’s organising team have been paying attention and deliver the same standards.
Other stand out items were a performance by SF author, songwriter and comedian Mitch Benn, who performed his new song Zombie Jesus Chocolate Day. Rapid-Fire Info Shots was a gloriously chaotic mix of three-minute segments by willing volunteers on subjects as diverse as why Captain Benjamin Sisko is the leader we need right now; how to draw the perfect demon summoning circle; and the problem with Lembas bread. All while having (vegan) marshmallows thrown at them. I also saw author friends read from their work, and went to their book launches. I’m sad I missed so many other great items for scheduling or energy level reasons – including a couple of brilliant-looking Doctor Who items.
But the best part of the weekend was the bar-con. I met and hung out with loads of amazing people, some of whom I’ve known in passing for a while, but got to know better over the weekend. One friend made a special trip to come down for the Sunday night. There was dancing. There was gin. There were many hugs. Nights were late. Feet were sore. Heads were sore the following morning. The craic was mighty.
Roll on Dublin in August. Roll on EasterCon next year.
I hadn’t expected to be as moved as I was by the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. I thought it would be just another announcement when it happened. We’d all debate it furiously for a few days, speculate wildly, and then move on to the next thing.
But all around me I saw legions of women profoundly affected by a simple casting choice. Finally we would get to be the heroes of our own stories, rather than just the Companion along for the ride. We could save the world, be brave and courageous, kind and clever too. In a year where our childhood princesses had become Generals, all those playground games where we’d centred ourselves, all that female-led fan-fiction, was finally validated.
Over the summer there was a glorious flurry of cosplay, from the TARDIS full of bras to people urgently trying to find grey hoodies to replicate that first, precious sight of the 13th Doctor. But the moment that hit me was in early November when the first image of Whittaker’s Doctor in her new costume were released to the press.
I saw that and my knitterly heart skipped a beat. Cosplay and craft has always been one of my favourite ways of engaging with story, and all of a sudden I wanted that sweater and to be wearing it in a way I haven’t felt for a long time. I needed to be putting my own mark on the 13th Doctor, and this was my way of doing it.
I immediately started searching on Ravelry for top down sweater patterns I could adapt. And I found myself near a branch of John Lewis with time to kill the following day. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to have a sweater finished in time to wear for the Christmas special? I’ve done NaKniSweMo before, so this should be possible, especially as most of it is plain.
Cue 6 and a half weeks of furious knitting. I finally finished this afternoon, just in time for the Christmas special.
The pattern is Take It Easy by Annamaria Otvos, which is a simple seamless top-down sweater with set-in sleeves. I used Rowan Felted Tweed DK. It’s lovely to work with, has a good range of colours and the stripes mostly came out of leftovers from other projects. You can find the details fo the colours I used and in what order on my project page on Ravelry. Suffice to say, it took a degree of angsting over that single, very over-processed picture, and quite a bit of swatching to get colours and a sequence I was happy with.
If it turns out the sleeves are striped as well I’ll scream.
This summer I did the crazy thing that I last did back in 2014. Two back to back conventions: Nine Worlds and WorldCon 75 in Helsinki. Two crazy weeks of spending time with my geeky tribe, having my imagination and creativity stimulated and learning lots of things. But they were very different events.
In many ways, Nine Worlds has become my ‘home’ convention, even though its multi-disciplinary programming means it doesn’t always have the book content I instinctively crave. This year I sought to help fix that, rather than just complain about it, by taking part in a panel for the first time. My panel was Police and the Supernatural, which was a discussion about the works of Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell, both of whom have written supernatural police procedurals set in London, but ones that are very different in style. We turned out to be the second most popular programme item after the Saturday night cabaret and disco, so no pressure there then! It was a brilliant experience, I have to say: my fellow panellists were awesome and the time flew by. What was particularly lovely was having people coming up to me the rest of the weekend (and in Helsinki!) saying how much they’d enjoyed it.
There were some fantastic programme items at Nine Worlds. Some were thought-provoking (including a deeply interesting session on architecture and world-building in fiction, plus one on robots, AI and the labour market) and some were deeply silly, but they all shared a generosity and humility from the speakers. And I learned a lot, for example about theories of education through the example of teaching in Harry Potter, or some amazing examples of powerful women in West African history.
And it was just so much fun too. As always, you stuck out if you weren’t in cosplay or dressed flamboyantly, and people were determined to enjoy themselves and facilitate the enjoyment of others by being relentlessly and furiously kind and thoughtful. Rarely have I encountered an environment that is so energetically inclusive and generous in its acceptance of others. Diversity in all its forms is firmly within the DNA of Nine Worlds, proving that it’s possible to do with a bit of work – and it doesn’t take that much of it either.
Numbers were a bit down on last year, which was a bit of a shame. I think that was in part because many people couldn’t afford the time or money for two conventions and had chosen to go to WorldCon instead. Understandable, given how rarely it makes it across the Atlantic (of 75 WorldCons, only 8 have been outside North America, 5 of those in UK, and 3 of those in London). But those of us there were made the most of it.
WorldCon75 in Helsinki was a different kind of con. Much more book-focused, but very traditional in its approach. Being WorldCon, the spread of authors was much greater, with big names from the US and Canada that are rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic. There is little like sitting there eating your dinner watching George R R Martin walk past, or going to what I dubbed the “Hangover Panel”: 2pm on Day 4 (the day after the Hugos) where famous writers like Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Bear and Jeff VanderMeer were talking about their cats. With lots of cat pictures and funny stories about them ‘helping’ with the writing.
WorldCon was huge. There were around 7,000 people there, in a venue that was probably designed for about 4,000. It got full very quickly, in a way the organisers had not foreseen. This was the third-largest WorldCon in history, with the largest still being LonCon3 in 2014. There were a lot of complaints about the crowds and the queuing, but the organisers were responsive and I never had any difficulties. A bit of patience and planning got you into most things, and if you weren’t able to make it into one of the rooms then ther was bound to be something else on the programme that appealed.
But there were a couple of off-key aspects for me. As with LonCon 3 this felt very US-centric and dominated by US concerns with a very low level of awareness of US cultural colonialism and its impacts. That was uncomfortable for an event taking place in Finland, and at times it just felt plain tone-deaf. The main example of this for me was a panel on resistance, which was composed entirely of US writers and led to a discussion dominated by Trump, healthcare and various issues in the US system, with only one panellist referencing non-US examples (Kameron Hurley talking about the experience of South Africa). All of the over-riding cultural framing was the US narrative from its founding myths of resistance. At one stage, one of the panellists suggested that paying one’s taxes in order to support other people in society was in some ways a rebellious act. The audience pointed out with increasing irritation that this was normal in Europe. In another panel, an audience member from the US questioned why the panel was discussing the work of two British writers rather than the US writers she named.
The panels themselves felt short – 45 minutes compared to the hour, hour and a quarter of Nine Worlds. This meant they never really got beyond scratching the surface of a topic. Panellists rarely got to speak more than twice during a discussion. And some of them felt either poorly organised or poorly moderated – with panellists unsure why they had been selected for a particular panel, or with moderators taking a wildly different interpretation of the brief than appeared in the programme.
That sounds like I’m being harsh, and I guess I am. But that didn’t stop it being an amazing event and an opportunity to meet and hear from people I don’t normally get to encounter in the UK. But what really made the event was the awesome crowd of people I met and hung out with over the five days of the event, swapping ideas for panels and badge ribbons.
In two years’ time WorldCon will be in Dublin. There’s a huge buzz about it already, and I’ve bought my membership. I can feel in my water that it will be another big event. Hopefully there will be a bit more sensitivity when it comes to some of the cultural issues (I can’t say I’m looking forward to having Irish history mansplained at me by Americans – I fear there will be some crashing insensitivity displayed, but it will at least highlight the difference between Irishness and the wholly separate identity of being Irish-American).
But that’s two years away. In the meantime there’s next year’s Nine Worlds to plan for. Excuse me while I go and think up some panel ideas.
For much of my time at Gollancz Fest this weekend, this was my view: three white men.
When two of them are Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie you kind of have to acknowledge the awesome, but even so. Some stats about the event:
Day 1 morning – 13 speakers, 5 women (38%)
Day 1 afternoon – 12 speakers, 1 woman (8%)
Day 1 evening – 3 speakers, 0 women (0%)
Day 2 morning – 9 speakers, 2 women (22%)
I make that 37 speaker sessions in the programme, and 8 of them taken up by women. That’s just 21%. There were no speakers from ethnic minorities. But while the audience was also overwhelmingly white, the gender balance was much closer to 50/50.
This isn’t just about the numbers. For me, it was a pretty alienating experience sitting in that audience. The event was so tightly scheduled that there was little or no time for questions. So I sat there reflecting on how this was demonstrating in microcosm what society is like for many of us. If we are not represented in the conversation we can do little other than internalise the message that our place is to be the passive audience for the achievements and creative work of others. Seeing someone that looks like me on a panel does so many things. It can be inspirational, showing other women what can be achieved. But mostly it adds richness and freshness to a debate and conversation that otherwise risks becoming a tired rehashing of the same topics.
And what happens when diverse voices aren’t there? You only had to look at the Saturday afternoon panels to see. Of all the books mentioned during the afternoon panels, only one was by a female author (an essay by Rebecca Solnit that the moderator referred to when framing a question about people’s response to crisis). It was probably unintentional, but that will perpetuate the idea that the only good quality books are written by white men, making it even harder for anyone who looks different to get recognition. And the bias was reflected in the books on sale in the room too. While many of the men on the programme had multiple books by them displayed for sale, including in splendid 10th anniversary hardback editions, none of the women had more than a single title on offer, even though many of them are prolific writers. If you were Elizabeth Bear, there were none of your books on sale in the room at all. So, your husband might have to write in the blinding reflected light of all your Hugo and Locus awards (as he revealed during one of the panels), but none of your work was available to buy.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed the problem. If you checked the GollanczFest hashtag on Twitter you could see in amongst the enthusiastic live tweeting of the wit, humour and insight of the panellists an increasingly vocal set of grumbles about the diversity issues of the event. By the third all-white, all-male panel of Saturday afternoon it was getting pretty vocal indeed, with links being shared to pieces about the importance of panel diversity and ways of improving it.
I’m a firm believer that providing feedback is the best way of getting issues like this addressed. During a lull this morning Marcus Gipps, one of the Gollancz editorial team, was filling time and asked for feedback, so I raised the issue. Fair play to him, he ruefully acknowledged that it hadn’t been the best, and they’d clocked all the comments made on Twitter. He pointed to some scheduling difficulties that had apparently made it difficult to achieve greater representation. It was a very graceful response, and I hope that the organisers will take the feedback on board if they run a similar event next year. But as a publisher-run event, GollanczFest can only draw on Gollancz writers. Looking down their list of authors I can’t help but wonder if it’s Gollancz that has the diversity problem rather than GollanczFest.
Either way, as a community we deserve better. And unless we keep highlighting these issues they won’t get fixed.
UPDATE: I’ve had some fantastic conversations this evening with various Gollancz staff. I’ve been really touched by the way they’ve approached this issue with a genuine willingness to engage. I’ve been told that there had been plans for an additional three female panellists, but they’d had to pull out at the last minute for various reasons, including childcare reasons. The opening out of the programme to non-Gollancz writers like the awesome Catriona Ward and Antonia Honeywell (who write for other Orion imprints) was in part intended to address the gender balance issues. I’m also told that Gollancz only publishes Elizabeth Bear in ebook, hence the lack of physical copies of her books for sale. Refreshingly, Gollancz have acknowledged that these points aren’t the whole solution, and they will reflect further. I’m left feeling much more positive. This is why it’s important to speak up in a respectful and constructive manner, folks.
“Do you know what,” Sophie said as she pointed at my brand new, black knee boots, “if you got yourself a silver leather tunic you’d be Avon.” As is so often the case, Sophie gets the credit for coming up with an idea that I’m mad enough to turn into a reality. And this one is mad: cosplaying Avon from Blakes 7 feels a bit like heresy, even if it does fit with my hipster 1970s British SF cosplay aesthetic.
For those of you unfamiliar with the source material, Blakes 7 was created by Terry Nation, the creator of the Daleks, in the late 1970s. The pitch was for the Dirty Dozen in space – a drama that followed the exploits of a mismatched crew of convicted criminals who had escaped from a tyrannical Government on a stolen spaceship and under the leadership of the messianic Roj Blake. the only innocent man among them. Famously made on a shoestring budget and with a notoriously inaccurate title (Blake only appeared in the first two series, and there were never seven of them …) it was still a massive hit, pulling in weekly viewing figures of around 11m, despite being scheduled against Coronation Street. The strength was in the scripts: this was a drama influenced by Thatcher and the Northern Ireland Troubles, where the ‘good’ guys cause more death and destruction than the ‘bad’ guys, and men of principle become the very thing they despise. It’s a series whose influence reaches far, into Firefly, Farscape, Dark Matter and any other number of series you could mention.
Right from the start, Paul Darrow stole the show with his characterisation of Kerr Avon, the cold, calculating fraudster. Avon is probably the truest antihero in the history of British television: scriptwriters were famously told to always give him two reasons for any choice he made, the altruistic one and the self-interested one. This computer genius is not the awkward, bespectacled geek one sees in contemporary dramas. He is resourceful, ruthless and with cutting remarks and sarcasm as sharp as his cheekbones. As a child I was captivated by the slow reveal of his character’s tragic backstory of betrayed love, and his sparring with the evil Servalan, where sex was just another weapon in their tussle for power.
Costumier June Hudson brought a fantastic look to the second series, in particular. There was a hell of a lot of beautifully tailored leather and some iconic looks. Paul Darrow (and Jacqueline Pearce) would cheerfully wear anything she designed for him, leading to some pretty amazing outfits. One of Avon’s most famous is known as the ‘oven ready’: a glorious tunic made from silver doe-skin, worn with thigh-high Household Cavalry-style bucket boots. If you listen carefully, you can hear them squeaking as he walks around the set.
So if I was going to cosplay – or rather crossplay – Avon, the oven-ready was an obvious choice. Swap the tunic for a mini-dress and you’re home free. To be honest, I’m surprised no-one seems to have done it before.
Unlike last year’s Missy, which was an epic make, this costume was one pulled together mostly from commercial sources. The dress is one I found on eBay. It’s a Marks and Spencers silver sequinned dress which comes in both regular and petite lengths (this is the regular). The sequins give it the same look as the doe-skin. The polo neck is one I had already. Instead of ski-pants I’m wearing 120 denier opaque tights, and the boots are model’s own, from Ted and Muffy (formerly Duo). The studded belt was another eBay bargain.
Where this costume got spendy, was in the accessories. My teleport bracelet was one I bought through Horizon, the Blakes 7 fansite. It’s made by Martin Bower, the original designer, from the original materials (all except the pink perspex, which is a replacement). The Liberator gun was from Century Castings, with the webbing belt another eBay find.
The finishing touch is my mini-Orac.
In one of the episodes of the second series, Gambit, Orac shrinks himself and is taken on a heist by Avon and Vila. (And in that episode, Avon is wearing the silver doe-skin tunic.) My Orac was an impulse purchase from an amazing prop-builder called Richard Bailey, who I found on Facebook through one of the Blakes 7 fan groups.
Another awesome Nine Worlds has finished. As I think I said last year, of all the conventions on the calendar, it is far and away the most welcoming and inclusive, which creates a joyful and creative atmosphere.
I’m on the come-down from a brilliant weekend, and recovering from the heady mix of lots of people, days packed full of content, and late nights socialising. Inevitably, that makes my reflections a little fragmented, but I’ll pull out some thoughts.
This year we were at a new venue, the Novotel London West in Hammersmith. After last year’s hotel debacle, this was a refreshing change and it proved to be a much better location. The food was better, the rooms were better, the space worked really well for the event, it was easier to get to, there were more facilities (shops and restaurants) close to the hotel and the staff were amazing, with prompt and friendly service. I really hope we will be back there next year.
Cosplayhas become a big part of my con-going experience. This year I reprised Missy, but with a twist. At last year’s con Laurie Penny remarked after seeing my costume that she’d only just realised just how much Missy looks like a suffragette. As a proud feminist that really chimed with me. So what better to do at a convention that prides itself on its progressive ethos, than to cosplay Missy as a suffragette, campaigning for more Time Ladies to appear in Doctor Who? I made her a sash, with the slogan “Time For Ladies”, suggested by a fabulous friend of mine. I’ll post about the making process for that sash in due course.
I also brought a new costume, a female Avon from Blakes 7. (I tried it at EasterCon earlier this year, but this is the first time I’ve managed to get pictures of it – the 1970s concrete exterior of the hotel also provided the perfect spot for a dystopian photo shoot.) Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of the series, so the appeal of cosplaying my all-time favourite character was hard to resist. I still feel slightly uncomfortable about doing it, as if I have no right to attempt something so iconic, but it’s a great character to play. And it’s wonderful to see just how much love there is out there for the series. I had people running across the hotel foyer to give me cosplay tokens, and I had some great conversations about my costume and the series. Come find me as Avon at a future con and I might even let you pet my Orac. I’ve blogged about putting this look together in another post.
The programme was great, as always, with some really thought-provoking sessions. The stand-out one for me were Alex Lamb’s session on modelling complex systems. Alex is the author of Roboteer, but he’s also a part-time stand up and improv, as well as having worked creating agent-based modelling systems for academic research. He is clever, funny and has tremendous energy. He got the whole audience for his session playing variants of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and then showed how the insights from that could be modelled in increasingly complex (and beautiful) ways. Though it led to the depressing insight that we are doomed to society ultimately collapsing once corruption takes hold. Honourable mentions also go to sessions on monsters in art history, how writers get and refine their ideas, a taster session on metal clay work, and a glorious end-of-con session on writing humour.
If I have one small complaint, it’s that there didn’t seem to be as many sessions on books as in previous years, and some of those in the evening slots proved to be a bit … drier … than I might have expected for that time of night. (There seemed to be no equivalent of last year’s gloriously hilarious panel discussion on writing sex.) From talking to one of the organisers, it sounds like there had been some difficulties behind the scenes that may explain it. I think the new model for organising content tracks may not have helped either. I really hope that gets sorted for next year. I love the broad church of fandom that Nine Worlds includes all under one roof, but I’m primarily a lover and reader of books, and if I’m give a choice I will gravitate towards book panels and events.
But as always, the thing that makes Nine Worlds is the people. Friends make the weekend special, and are the source of all the best memories. The late night room parties. Enthusiastic dancing at the Bifrost disco. Heckling panels via text message. Cosplay photo shoots where it’s hard to keep a straight face. But there are also smaller moments of joy too. Catching up with people you haven’t seen for ages. Making new friends and planning future shenanigans. Finding out an author friend has given a character your profession, after a chat you’d had at EasterCon. But mainly just the simple joy that comes from hanging out together and chatting.