Labyrinth Sarah Cosplay: How To

“Through dangers untold and hardships un-numbered

I have fought my way here to the Castle beyond the Goblin City

To take back the child that was stolen …”

Many of the people I know have deep and powerful memories associated with the film Labyrinth.  Released in 1986 it stars David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, and a young Jennifer Connolly as Sarah, the girl trying to win back the baby step-brother she wished the goblins would take away from her.  She has to beat the Labyrinth within the 13 hour time limit set by the Goblin King to claim back baby Toby.  But this is a goblin labyrinth that changes around you and is full of surreal perils that need all of Sarah’s wit and cleverness to overcome.

Labyrinth is a coming of age story about Sarah’s growing acceptance of responsibility and her sexual awakening, but one that recognises that we all carry an inner child within us.  Regardless of how adult the world requires us to be, we all have the need to play and our imaginations are a core part of what makes us who we are.

Bowie’s Jareth had a huge influence on many of my contemporaries, who were all at extremely impressionable ages when the film came out.

Jareth dancing with the Goblins, with prominent bulge
Dance magic dance!

Let’s get that one out of the way now: the bulge is even more impressive when you finally get to see the film on a proper cinema screen for the first time as a grown woman.  (Previously, I’d only seen it on tv.)

This is a film with a huge number of iconic sequences, but one that is particularly visually striking is the Masquerade Ball scene.  Enchanted by a magic peach, Sarah is whisked away from her friends and shown what life could be if she opted to stay with Jareth: a glamorous life as a beautiful princess.  It’s a scene full of emotional intensity that shows how Sarah has got under Jareth’s skin.  This is about so much more than a stolen baby for either of them.

It’s a classically 1980s vision of a fantasy ball: off the shoulder meringue dresses and big hair.

Jareth and Sarah dancing at the Masquerade Ball
Jareth and Sarah

I’ve always had the urge to do this as cosplay.  Who wouldn’t want to dress up as a beautiful princess and get to be on David Bowie’s arm?  But it’s difficult to do on your own.

Black and white photograph of Jareth and Sarah standing side by side in the Ball scene
Jareth and Sarah

A little over a year ago I met a woman who has since become a very dear friend.  She does the most astonishing Jareth cosplay.  It’s uncanny.  So it was with some trepidation that around the end of last year I suggested that perhaps I could be the Sarah to her Jareth.  She was incredibly enthusiastic about it.

So we did it at WorldCon in Dublin.

Me as Sarah from the film Labyrinth with a friend dressed as Jareth
Jareth and Sarah

And it was the most magical day you can imagine.  It’s instantly recognisable, and there is huge love for the film still.  I felt like a princess all day.

Jareth handing Sarah one of their crystal balls
Insert your own jokes about playing with Jareth’s balls here. (We made them all.)

A friend kindly gave up most of the afternoon for a little photo shoot.  (Though we are both considering a pro photo shoot at some point.)  My Jareth has done some modelling work in the past, and it was fantastic to do this with someone who knew how to set up interesting shots.  (Left to my own devices I tend to stand fairly awkwardly and self-consciously.)  Playing off someone for the pictures was wonderful.

Jareth and Sarah

But how did I go about making it?

The dress

This was the largest cosplay project I’ve undertaken since Missy.  As with Missy,  I needed to mix two different dress patterns to get the look I wanted.

Photograph of the two dress patterns I usedI used the pattern on the left (Butterick 4743) for the base of the dress.  It had the right shaping for both the neckline and the bodice and skirt.  I opted for the full length skirt with fishtail, and added a thumb loop to help manage the skirt (SO important for practicality).  But I used the puff sleeves from the pattern on the right (New Look 6031).  With modifications – the sleeves were fully lined.

The fabric was from one of the little fabric shops on Goldhawk Road.  I found this perfect polyester satin.  It’s white, with green lurex thread woven through it.  That gives it the perfect shimmer for the pearlescent look of the film.  As with much Goldhawk Road fabric it wasn’t perfect – it had a flaw running through it close to one selvedge that I had to cut round.  But 8 metres of it was relative cheap and gave me plenty to play with in case I needed to recut.  (And I did: I had to recut the same lower sleeve twice after it got stained by some spilled balsamic vinaigrette I’d failed to spot on the black dining table.  Wah!)  I spent more per metre on some good quality cotton lining for the bodice and sleeves.

After that it was a fairly straight sewing job to make the dress.

  • I bound the raw edges on the inside of the sleeves.  The puff sleeves are stiffened with netting between fabric and lining, and the raw edges would have been extremely scratchy otherwise.
  • I added little bra strap keepers, made from bias binding.

  • I used some 1 mm white rattail (Kumihimo braid) for the button loops on the sleeves.  I sandwiched this between the lining and the outer fabric.
  • The sleeve openings were trimmed with a lace and pearl trim.

The biggest challenge with this dress was the decoration.  There is a lot of sparkle going on in the original.  This was always going to be a case of “More Is More”, but finding the right sparkle proved to be a challenge.  I spent a lot of happy hours searching “Wedding Dress Applique” on eBay and looking in the trimmings section of every haberdashery shop I came across.

Dining table covered in trimmings
Too much?

Yeah, that got a bit silly …

Ultimately I settled on a few key bits of sparkle.

  • The bodice of the dress is decorated with a crystal applique design.  This came ready attached to a net backing.  I trimmed it and then couched the whole thing down using silver embroidery thread.
  • I trimmed the seam between bodice and skirt by couching on a resin crystal drop trim.  This was an embellished cup chain that came in a single piece that was a perfect length.
Back view of the dress, showing the train
Dress!

 

The accessories

The other key part of this look is the accessories.  They present another key opportunity to add MOAR BLING to the outfit.  The key one here is getting the hair to look right.  To me, the solution seemed pretty obvious: embellished hair combs.  Attach the right feathers, beads and streamers to them and you have an instant, easy approach to the look.

There are lots of You Tube videos about how to embellish combs.  The principle is simple: you need comb blanks, beads and other embellishments and wire to attach everything.  (I used 0.3 mm silver plated.)

Hair comb embellished with beads, feathers, cord, braid and ribbon flowers
One of the finished combs

The combs were embellished – in roughly the order I added them to the combs – with:

  • Two different kinds of silver feathers – silver sprayed feathers for the top (the more rigid ones) and silver goose feathers (the longer ones are the bottom).  Each feather was individually wire wrapped onto the comb – if I lost one I didn’t want the whole comb unravelling.
  • Lengths of cord tied to the bottom.  I used 3 mm white rattail (kumihimo cord)
  • Lengths of lighter Kreinik Balger tapestry braid (#12) at the top.  The shade ‘Easter’ has a green shimmer that matches the fabric of the dress.  (This took most of a reel of braid.)
  • Fabric flowers made by gathering lengths of silver organza ribbon around a large central bead.
  • A picot edging made from small Czech fire polished AB crystal beads plus some crystal AB leaf shaped beads.
  • Larger Crystal AB Czech fire polished beads in a row along the base of the comb (largely to hide the untidy wrapped wire)
  • A couple of Crystal AB drops at the bottom edge of each comb.
View showing the combs in place in my hair
The final combs

On top of that I added a large paste crystal necklace that I already own.

And I made some earrings from Swarovski crystal drops (also Crystal AB) and chandelier findings.  (As I don’t have pierced ears I used screwback findings.)

WorldCon Dublin 2019

Two years ago I travelled to Helsinki to attend WorldCon.  I pre-supported Dublin for 2019 and voted for it in Site Selection.  I’ve been looking forward to it for the last two years, so it was fantastic to finally make it there.

Me driving a Back To The Future DeLorean
A DeLorean! I’m so glad someone brought one!

And I had an amazing time.

It was great to see a distinctly Irish flavour brought out throughout the event.  Some of that was in the programming, with a strong thread around Irish writing, myths and legends.  But it also featured in the stuff around the convention centre.  There was a Back To The Future rigged out DeLorean (a fine Northern Ireland company!) and a version of the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones (a show filmed in Northern Ireland) that was made from hurley sticks and appeared on the day of the All-Ireland Hurling Final being held in Dublin.

Me sitting in a reproduction of the Game of Thrones Iron Throne - except made from hurley sticks
The Throne of Games

The proximity of Dublin to the UK meant that there were a lot of friends there.  Many more than in Helsinki, and from three distinct groups in my life: EasterCon people; book club/SRFC people; and old friends who were also attending, many of whom live on the island of Ireland and were attending their first WorldCon.  And after this year’s EasterCon and a really busy first part of the year I’d made the deliberate choice not to put myself forward for Programme so that I could relax and enjoy the event.  That changed the tone of the event for me, making it much more social than either of the two previous WorldCons I’ve been to.  Fewer panels, more late nights, and a lot more bar con.

Me sat in the Captain's chair on a mock Star Trek ship set, flanked by two friends
Captaining the USS Cuchulainn

Some of that was down to the programme.  Apart from a couple of items, which I will come on to, there was very little in the “cannot miss” category for me.  Lots of great items, but very few that were wowing me either in the subject or the panellists.  And with the venue offering rooms that were often quite small (leading to lots of advance queuing and frequent complaints from people who weren’t able to attend items they wanted to go to) sometimes the best thing to do was to skip a session and let someone else take a spot.

But there were a couple of sessions I simply could not miss, and I’m glad I didn’t, because they were highlights of the weekend for me.  I’d particularly wanted to catch these because I have an academic and professional background in Irish history, culture and literature, so looking at Irish writing through an SFF lens was a must.  The first of these was a session on Northern Ireland SFF, featuring Ian McDonald (one of the Guests of Honour) and Jo Zebedee.  The second was a panel on Irish SFF more generally, featuring McDonald and Zebedee again, but also Sarah Maria Griffin, on her only panel of the weekend.  I adore her writing – Spare and Found Parts is a brilliant, astounding novel – so I was particularly keen to hear her speak

There was a lot of commonality between both discussions, pulling out the essentially political nature of Irish SFF – North and South.  In both cases, writing focuses on engaging with the past, whether colonial history or the Troubles, and it provides a vital and urgent way of engaging with contemporary political issues around feminism, queer politics, violence, migration etc.  Griffin (who is a joyously angry and articulate goddess in person) was particularly vocal about the need for writers to be archaeologists, exhuming buried skeletons and exposing them and their consequences to the light.  In all cases there was a tension between writing authentic fiction rooted in Hiberno-English and strongly redolent of place, with the imperatives of finding a commercial audience.  At times that meant fighting hard to protect the text, at times a “word by word battle” as Griffin put it.

Me with writer Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald giving me a free ARC of his new novella

 

If there were differences to be drawn out between North and South, then they were ones of style and tone.  You should expect writing from the North to be sharper and harder, with a distinctive black humour.  But it’s harder to escape the Troubles, with writers frustrated at expectations that everything they write should be about that to some degree or other, or that they should expect people to read unintended Troubles allegory into their writing regardless.  (Zebedee talked about the pressure she felt under to put alien bombs under cars, and McDonald related the story of a NI screenwriter who had their work un-commissioned by the BBC because it wasn’t about the Troubles and the commissioner considered that the only appropriate topic for a NI-set drama).  If there is a gap, then Zebedee felt writers in the North were at risk of being disengaged from their cultural heritage, which otherwise would provide a rich heritage for them to drawn on.

Another stand out panel for me was one on the treatment of faith and religion in SFF.  It’s rare to see religion treated as anything other than world-building colour in SFF.  It provides some seasonal celebrations and the basis for rituals, or Gods are made manifest and appear as characters (the old Granny Weatherwax line in response to Nanny Ogg pointing out that gods exist: “That’s no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages ’em.”).  But characters are often relatively secular in their outlook – rarely do you get the sense of characters being guided by a faith-based moral code.  (One of the rare exceptions to this is Maia in Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, whose quiet faith is deeply rooted.)  This ended up being a conversation that continued in the bar with Meg McDonald, one of the panellists, while she was painting glitter on my face.  In her view, faith and belief should be active things, constantly engaging with the events of the world and adapting and changing as a result.

Blakes 7 cosplay - Avon and Servalan are back to back and Blake has his gun aimed at Servalan
Blakes 7 cosplay

Otherwise, the major theme for WorldCon for me was cosplay.  I’d arranged a couple of group cosplays with friends.  On Friday and Sunday, I cosplayed as characters from Blakes 7 with a couple of friends, who were Blake and Servalan.  It was particularly poignant this year, given the recent sad losses of Gareth Thomas, Jacqueline Pearce and Paul Darrow.  I’m very glad we did it, and it was great to see so much love out there for a forty year old television show.

Me as Sarah from the film Labyrinth with a friend dressed as Sarah
Jareth and Sarah

 

I also debuted a new costume on Saturday, with a friend.  I was Sarah from the Masquerade Ball scene in Labyrinth, to her Jareth.  I’d been apprehensive about suggesting it to her, given it could be read as me crashing an already extremely successful cosplay of hers.  But it had been a lifelong dream of mine to do, and Ida was delighted to have the excuse to refresh her costume for a very specific – and famous – scene in the film.  (I’ve blogged separately about the cosplay and the making of the costume.)

Jareth and Sarah

We had a fantastic day.  We couldn’t walk across a room without being stopped at least three times by people wanting photographs.  We gave up most of the Saturday afternoon to a mini photo-shoot, and the pictures are stunning.

Jareth and Sarah

It was the definite highlight of the con for me.

FO: Thirteen

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.  
Representation matters.

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.

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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.  

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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.

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.

Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist 2016

On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to be at the announcement of the shortlist for the 2016 Arthur C Clarke Award.  The announcement took place at the launch even for the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, at Stratford Picturehouse.  There were canapes and I had a badge that entitled me to free wine.  If only it worked for more than just that night.

Award Director Tom Hunter announcing the shortlist

The Clarke Award is in its 30th year.  As a juried award it will always carry a certain cachet  The announcement of the shortlist just 24 hours after the Hugo shortlist was inevitably going to show up the differences.  The Hugos have always been a bit of a popularity contest, even before their recent Puppy-infested controversy.  By contrast, the Clarke Award is a juried award, and it often ends up reflecting a uniquely British take on genre fiction.  I frequently disagree with the judges’ choice of winner, but the shortlist is always an interesting snapshot of the state of genre fiction in the UK that year, and every book is an interesting read.

This year’s shortlist is no different.  The six books announced on the night were:

  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
  • The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Arcadia – Iain Pears (Faber & Faber)
  • Way Down Dark – J.P. Smythe (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)

It’s a really interesting list and I have a huge amount of respect for the team of judges who have managed to whittle a submissions list of 113 books down to a shortlist of just six.  As Award Director Tom Hunter said, “This is a quintessentially Clarke Award kind of a shortlist. Look once and I’m sure everyone will see a choice they agree with. Look twice, and you’ll likely see a new book you want to read next. Look a third time though, and I hope you’ll see how well all of these six books sit together, and how they represent a particular special moment in time for UK science fiction. In other words, like all great books, this is a shortlist that rewards the more you read into it.”

I’ve read two of them already.  I really enjoyed the Becky Chambers, but it feels a bit lightweight to me for the Clarke.  I’d pegged it more as the kind of book that would be a Hugo contender (though it didn’t make the shortlist).  And even though I found the Tchaikovsky interesting and engaging, I preferred Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora as a colony ship story.  Even if it lacked Tchaikovsky’s super-evolved spiders.

Of the others, I already had Way Down Dark by J P Smythe on the TBR pile.  Much as I love Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, I thought his novel The Machine was far the stronger and more interesting book of that shortlist.  David Hutchinson made the shortlist last year with Europe in Autumn (to which Europe at Midnight is the sequel).  I haven’t yet read it (part of my failed bid to read the Clarke shortlist last year) but I’ll move that one up the list pretty sharpish.

Of the other two, I’m probably most excited by Arcadia.  I really loved An Instance of the Fingerpost by the same author, when I read it several years ago, so I’ll be interested to see how he’s evolved as a writer.  There’s quite the buzz about Arcadia at the moment.  I haven’t yet read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s writing, but I’m looking forward to The Book of Phoenix.  She is gathering a real head of critical praise as a writer.

If you’re interested in sampling the shortlist, by the way, all three of Hodder‘s shortlisted books are on offer on Kindle at the moment. I’m intending to read as many of them as I can between now and the announcement of the winner later this year.

In the meantime,  I’ll leave you with these pictures of some of the awesome cosplay on show on Wednesday night.


  

Missy Yarn

I’m feeling a little sad that I’m not at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally this year.  I keep seeing photos from friends showing all the beautiful yarn and amazing creations, and it’s making me a bit jealous.  I would say that my bank balance is thanking me, but one of the reasons I’m not going this year is that I’ve spent my money on rugby tickets, and I’m not exactly stinting on the yarn front either.

You might remember that I found a new indie yarn dyer while I was at Nine Worlds this year.  Third Vault Yarns specialise in geeky-inspired colourways.  Lola has a fantastic eye for colour and is producing some beautiful dying with a witty SF touch.  (Please, somebody buy the Nightcrawler and Vortex yarns before my hand slips.)

Last week she was polling views on which of three test dyes should be her new Waters Of Mars colourway, commemorating the discovery of water on Mars with a Who-inspired colourway.  I fell instantly in love with one of her test skeins and bought it.  More on that in a later post.

But while we were talking on Facebook, she spotted my Missy cosplay profile picture.  And this happened.   I ended up entirely accidentally commissioning Lola to custom dye me some Missy inspired yarn.  I’ve never commissioned a custom dye before, so it was really exciting.  Naturally, the yarn is purple and red.  I asked for two skeins, on her pure merino Companion 4 ply, to give me some options about what to make.  I’d really welcome ideas, actually, about what this could become.

It took me a few goes to get that picture, by the way.  The first few looked a bit like this.  

What a helpful cat!

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015

Over the last few days I’ve been at Nine Worlds Geekfest.  It’s the third year it’s happened, the third time I’ve attended, but the first time I’ve stayed in the main hotel.  In previous years I’ve commuted in each day (2 hours each way …), aiming to get there for the second panel of the day and staying as long as I could (usually to tea-time) before going home.  Which makes for a very exhausting way of doing a con, without any of the evening fun which would at least give one a reason for feeling tired.

Of all the cons I’ve been to, Nine Worlds feels the freshest, most energetic and most welcoming.  It prides itself on its inclusive atmosphere and has programme tracks dealing with feminism, LGBTQIA issues, race and culture as well as tracks on books, films, comics and tv shows.  Panels contain a mixture of famous names and new voices.  People from various minorities are not just confined to their own programme tracks, and there is a huge amount of cross-over, with programme items crossing over more than one track.  But this approach to diversity and tolerance goes beyond programming.  Panel members are briefed not to refer to audience members by their gender during Q&A sessions, and prounoun badges are available so that the transgendered and gender-fluid can indicate in a more subtle way how they wish to be referred to.

All of that is in marked contrast to other cons I’ve been to.  LonCon3 (WorldCon) last year felt like East London had been colonised by the USA for five days.  Marvellous as it was to see and meet so many big names from the States, it would have been even better if they’d made some concessions to not being in their own country.  (I recall Jeff VanderMeer giving me the side-eye when I spoke about the cognitive dissonance I was feeling from all this US cultural imperialism.  Of all the people there, I thought he would get it.)  EasterCon (the BSFA’s annual event) feels like the redoubt of a certain generation of fans: a cliquey gathering that it’s very difficult to break into, full of in-jokes and making little or no effort to welcome new people, beyond exhorting them to volunteer to help run the con.

So, I was very excited about going this year, and particularly that I’d managed to persuade some of my geeky friends to come along to.  As I’d learned last year, staying over at a con is only fun for me if I know you have a core of people to hang out with.  Evenings are no fun if everyone else is enjoying themselves and you have no-one else to talk to.

Cosplay

IMG_1857Cosplay was a big part of my Nine Worlds experience.  Having had so much fun dressing up at LonCon3 last year, I wanted to repeat the experience, and Nine Worlds has a much higher density of cosplay than any other con I’ve been to.  So, on the Friday I dressed up as Missy.  (Regular readers will have seen the series of posts documenting the process of making my costume).  I was expecting to be only one of several Missys – every set of con photos I’ve seen recently seems to have included a mandatory group of Missys.  But it turned out I was the only one there.

One of the items on the programme that day was a panel on Gender Fluid Time Lords, and I bumped into the moderator and another of the panel members, both of whom insisted I come along.  When I walked in the room for the start of the panel they gave me a big cheer.  (The photos in this post were taken at the end of that panel).  I was quite struck by something Laurie Penny said in that panel about Missy looking a bit like a suffragette.  So I think the next step will be to add a suffragette sash and rosette to my Missy costume.  Instead of “Give Women Votes” I think it will have to read something like “More Women Time Lords”.

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Knitted Wonder Woman, with a mini Power Ranger

On Saturday I reprised my Nyssa costume, from last year.  Which led to the writer Simon Guerrier (the one I’d fangirled at about his Blakes 7 audio dramas at a Doctor Who event at Conway Hall a few days before) confessing that Nyssa had been his first childhood crush, a fact an old friend of his had once accidentally confided to Sarah Sutton (without knowing who she was) at a party.

There were some amazing costumes there, ranging from the clever and witty, to the laboriously screen accurate.  The sheer level of creativity on display was astonishing.  I have very few photos,  I’m afraid (having too much fun …) but some of my favourites were knitted Wonder Woman, a woman who came as the bowl of petunias from Hitchhiker, an amazing Imperator Furiosa, a clutch of Peggy Carters and a woman who came as Sherlock’s wallpaper (dress with a black and white damask print on it, with a yellow smiley face embroidered on it).

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My friend Georgie’s Aeon Flux

Programme items

There were many, many amazing programme items, ranging from the deeply silly to the very serious.  The hotel’s lack of chairs (yes, really) meant that it sometimes proved difficult to get into some of them unless one was very early indeed.  But there were plenty of alternatives on offer.

Some particular highlights:

  • The Gender Fluid Time Lords panel I mentioned above.  It provided a fascinating insight into how Missy had been received by people from the transgender community.  It was interesting to hear their anxieties (boob jokes, a fear that the gender swap would be presented as a consequence of the Master/Missy being crazy and unstable etc).
  • A fantastic gin-tasting from Jensen’s gin.  Their Master Distiller and one of their Brand Ambassadors took us through the history of gin and their distillery.  While plying us with gin.  £5 well spent.
  • A talk by Dr Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge, a book about how to reboot civilisation after an apocalypse.  He’s a very engaging speaker and brought along lots of toys to play with.  And who knew that you could prove the heliocentric model of the solar system using just Miley Cyrus (with her wrecking ball) and a watch.
  • Death in Genre.  A discussion of death and violence in fiction, including its anthropomorphic personifications.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Joe Abercrombie suggesting Death could be a squirrel, hoarding acorns, each of which is the soul of the departed.
  • The F-word in Fantasy.  This was a late night panel on sex in fiction, which had me laughing myself silly.  But one of the best parts of it was seeing Laurell K Hamilton (who was playing it as if it were a serious panel) being gently teased and deconstructed with a very British sense of humour.
  • Dancing with Imperator Furiosa while Peggy Carter was singing Bon Jovi.

Coping with the awesome

Cons are exhausting places to be.  There is no denying it.  The sheer quantity of people, and the amount of content in the programme can be overwhelming at times.  I think I’m still struggling to find the right balance so I can have the maximum amount of fun while staying sane and not collapsing with exhaustion.

As one of life’s outgoing, confident introverts, rooms full of people are fun, but incredibly draining.  Add to that a lot of programme content that one needs to pay active attention to, and it’s an exhausting mix.  Much as I love that mix of people and content, I need a lot of downtime to re-energise.  Half an hour of fighting my way through the crowds to get to the next panel is not going to cut it.

Some of the best parts of the weekend were the times I got to spend quietly with just a few friends: a quiet dinner with a friend and her baby, or sitting outside the hotel in the sunshine with a few other friends.  I need to find ways to build those times into my weekend in the future, and not be afraid to skip a panel to grab a nap or get some quiet time so I can enjoy the evening entertainment.

Ironically, while cons are the best places to meet fellow geeks and hang out with them, the sheer overwhelmingness of the con environment means you will never find me at my best or most engaging.  I’ll probably be struggling to some degree or other with the scale of the event, punchdrunk and trying to wrestle my introvert self (with addded Imposter Syndrome) into some semblance of sociability.  Last year I bumped into one friend, and I was so spaced out all I could do was hug her and squee incoherently.  Conversation was entirely beyond me.

Finding a route through all that is definitely still a work in progress.

 

Missy Cosplay: The Final Result

So, after all that effort, I’m sure you want to see the final result.

*fanfare*

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This is me, all Missy-ed up, and wearing the hat from my last post.  I put my hair up in a messy up-do and hoped that the hat would cover any unevenness.

And here are a couple of full-length pictures:

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If you see a Peter Capaldi standee, it would be rude not to
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Missy stealing the TARDIS. Photo by Harriet Monkhouse.

Missy Cosplay: Part the Eighth (Finishing Touches)

With the jacket and skirt done, there are a few finishing touches needed for Missy.

The blouse

IMG_1810_zpsfcd0c571I ran out of time to make a blouse.  I’m not too upset about that because I’m still not happy that I’ve found the right pattern.  It needs a dropped yoke cut on the bias with the body of the blouse gathered into it, quite full sleeves and a Peter Pan collar.  So I’ll put the fabric that I bought by until I can find the right pattern. I’m sure Missy will come out to play again, so it can wait.

In the meantime, I found this shirt on eBay, which I thought was close enough for now.

IMG_1829It’s by a company called Cotton Lane, who made the original blouses for ‘Nightingale’ nurses and have a good line of vintage inspired clothes in natural fibres.  It’s plain white, but sufficiently Edwardian looking to fit with the look.  The main problem with it is the ruffle on the collar.  But that was very easy to trim off with a pair of small scissors.

IMG_1837Missy’s blouse is worn with a small black cameo brooch at the throat.  Again, eBay came to the rescue here.  I found a pretty good match to the original for 99p!

(and in this picture you can see the changes to the collar as well).

The hat

I knew that I really wanted to finish the look off with a version of Missy’s hat.  I had real difficulty tracking down a black straw hat base that I could adapt to make it.  I bought a black sinamay tilt hat base from Petersham‘s, but it turned out to be far too small and wasn’t giving me the look I wanted.

IMG_1838Cue some frantic searching on the Internet.  Most of the black straw hats I found were very wide brimmed sunhats, usually with a very deep crown, rather than the shallow one I was after.  I have a big head (I take a men’s XL in hats, believe it or not), so I really didn’t want something that would perch badly on the top of my head because it was too small.  I needed a hat that was deliberately designed to sit at an angle over one eye, and, that like the original, wouldn’t project beyond the sides of my head.

IMG_1839After much searching,  I eventually turned up this 1940s straw tilt hat on Etsy.  It has a slightly elasticated band designed to hold it on the back of the head, which makes it easy to get it in the right place and can be secured with a couple of kirby grips.  Which was great, because I was nervous about how I was going to keep it on.

IMG_1840I modified it to look as much like Missy’s hat as possible by adding some plastic fruit and flowers (again, from Petersham’s).  There are two stems of black/red berries, one of fabric daisies and one of fabric lavender.  I trimmed the stems of these down and used millinery wire (but floristry wire would also do) to secure them in place on the brim of the hat, using the photo earlier in this post as a guide.  I found my jewellery pliers were incredibly helpful in pulling the wire through the straw of the hat.

The boots

IMG_1842Missy wears Edwardian style button boots under her skirt.  Much as I would love the excuse to buy new shoes,  I went for the ‘model’s own’ option.  I’ve had these boots for quite a few years now, so they’re definitely old favourites.  They’re by Irregular Choice.  The heel shape and profile of the lower part of the boot works really well, and the massive sparkly bows aren’t visible under the long skirts.