Avon Cosplay: How To

“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.

2846744For 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.

img_2498Costumier 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.

avon-and-orac-2-nw2016Unlike 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.

img_2156In 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.

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2016

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.

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Missy with a knitted Dalek cosplayer

Cosplay has 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.

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Awesome photo by Duncan Lawie. (Thanks!)

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.

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Look what I made!

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.

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Kate with BB8

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.

Photo courtesy of Kate

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.

Four Castles and a Naturalist

We’ve just got back from a couple of weeks away, so I thought I’d wrap up some of the things we got up to.

First of all, we had a long weekend in Sligo, in the Republic of Ireland, with a bunch of friends.  As well as going yarn shopping and finishing a pair of socks, we hung out, ate too much and caught up with people.  Co Sligo has a high density of neolithic and megalithic remains, including stone circles and barrows, so we also found some time to go to Carrowmore, which is the largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland.

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Carrowmore

 

At the end of our holiday, we also stopped at Birdoswald, which is one of the best preserved Roman forts along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

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Sheep grazing on the site of Birdoswald Fort

 

The fort is on the longest stretch of the wall still in existence.  At various points over the last 2000 years, the stones have been taken by local people to build their houses and other local buildings such as Lanercost Priory.

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Hadrian’s Wall

 

It was also a four castle holiday: Carlisle Castle, Wray Castle, Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne Castle.  Of these, only Carlisle Castle really counts as a ‘proper’ castle.  It’s a classic Norman motte and bailey castle that has been besieged many times.  Wray Castle is a neo-gothic Victorian country house that has been left to the National Trust.  They clearly don’t know what to do with it, so after having leased it out for a while, they’re offering it as pretty much a building for play, where children can dress up and draw on the walls.  Both Bamburgh and Lindisfarne have been ‘proper’ castles, but both have undergone extensive renovation to turn them into private houses.

If you look through the window on the right of this picture of Lindisfarne Priory, you can just see Lindisfarne Castle.

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Lindisfarne Priory

 

And here’s a close up for you:

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Lindisfarne Castle

 

In the case of Bamburgh, it was converted by Lord Armstrong, a famous engineer, though part of me was mostly excited to see Bamburgh Beach, where part of my favourite episode of Blakes 7 (Aftermath) was filmed.  Lord Armstrong was also responsible for the glorious country house of Cragside that we also visited.  Cragside is full of Heath Robinson-style mad inventions such as a water-powered turbine that turned the spits for meat in front of the range.  It had its own hydro-electric plant and was the first house to be lit exclusively by electric lights.

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Cragside

 

All of these visits had me reflecting on the way history and pre-history is layered onto our landscape.  If you look closely enough, you can see those layers, and how they borrow from and interact with each other.

But it was also a holiday that let me find out more about two remarkable Victorian women.  The first was Beatrix Potter.  Although most famous as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, she was also a ground-breaking naturalist, specialising in fungi.  The Armitt Museum in Ambleside has many of her botanical paintings.  They are stunningly beautiful things.  During this trip, we went to Hill Top, the house she lived in as a single woman, which includes the study where she worked.  Potter was also one of the leading lights of the early National Trust.  She bequeathed over 4000 acres of the Lake District to the Trust, and it is probably because of her that rare breed sheep such as the Herdwick continue to survive in Cumbria.

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Swaledale sheep in Cumbria

 

The second was Grace Darling, a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter.  She and her father rowed over a mile each way, in a storm, in an open boat, to rescue the crew and passengers of the SS Forfarshire, which had lost engine power and foundered on rocks.  Her courage and bravery caught the public imagination and is probably responsible for the creation of the modern RNLI.  The lifeboat at nearby Seahouses is named “Grace Darling” for her.

 

Blake’s Heaven

Many of you I know in real life will know I have a passion for one particular TV series from the 1970s.  I was 9 months old when Blakes 7 started, and by the time it finished when I was nearly five years old it was my favourite programme.  I’ve had a life-long relationship with the show, made some amazing friends through its fandom and had an awful lot of fun.

About 18 months ago in the bar at Nine Worlds (which is where all the magic happens) I was talking to Jackie Emery of Horizon (the Blakes 7 fanclub), and she mentioned that someone was putting together a collection of essays by fans about the programme and was seeking contributions. I went home and drunkenly pitched an essay to the editor that very evening.

The book – Blake’s Heaven – is now out and available for purchase, with all profits going to Children In Need. It’s quite exciting to have something published under my own name.  So, if you want to read my self-indulgent ramblings about an iconic bit of British SF, please go buy it and read.  It is for a good cause, after all.