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.

 

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Nyssa Cosplay: How To

I thought I’d set down how I went about pulling together the Nyssa costume, in case anyone is interested.

For research, I watched The Keeper Of Traken, the Doctor Who serial where Nyssa first appears, and used stills found via Google Image searches to try and get the details right.

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The Jacket

NyssaoftrakenfairyskirtThis is the key part of the costume.  It was the most time-consuming to make, and is probably the most complex thing I’ve ever made. The original is in a sort of patchwork velvet in dark red/russet colours.  That is very difficult to replicate, so I ended up opting for a plain crimson velvet instead.  It has leg of mutton sleeves and a high collar. It’s fastened with four buttons, and button loops.  The hem is straight.

I used the jacket from Simplicity pattern 2207 as the base for mine.  It’s a princess-seamed jacket, which gives the right shape through the body.

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But I had to do some significant modifications to it. To make sure I’d got these right and understood the jacket construction I made a full toile/muslin before cutting into the super-expensive velvet.

The modifications were:

  • I recut the collar to make it a high, straight collar.
  • I recut the sleeves as well, to turn them into leg of mutton sleeves.
  • I changed the fastenings to four, self-covered buttons and button loops, which were sewn into the front of the jacket between the front and the facing.

By far the most difficult modification was the sleeves.

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I did this by making up the sleeve in calico.  The pattern was in two parts (an upper sleeve and an under sleeve), so it was impossible to do the modifications without making it up in that way.  I then cut across the sleeve head horizontally and inserted another piece of calico to add extra fullness and length (about an extra 10cm in length across the full width of the sleeve).  I pleated the excess into the sleeve opening, using the same technique as on my Rowena.  When I was happy with the look I undid the seams on the sleeve and cut the inserted calico on a straight line between the two pattern pieces.   This piece of calico became my pattern piece for the sleeves, with seam allowances tidied up.

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I toyed with straightening the hem, but decided that the shaped hem was more flattering.  If I did straighten it, I would have liked to have added a bit more length in the side seams.

The fairy skirt

This was a very simple and quick part of the costume (about 2 hours from start to finish).

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I cut a series of leaf shapes out of three different fabrics, using another bit of calico as a pattern piece.  The green and pink are both polyester lining fabrics.  The blue is a voile with a printed sparkly gold design on it.  I had it in my fabric stash already, and it provides a bit of variety in the skirt.

I layered the leaf shapes over each other.  The green provides the base, then the blue, then the pink on top.  I then gathered them into a very simple waistband which acts as the channel for some 1″ elastic.  It’s not the most elegant of skirts, but the waistband is covered by the jacket and it gives the right effect.

I left the edges of the leaves raw.  I might go back and do some simple rolled hems, but it will be a lot of work for something that is only going to get occasional wear.  I also experimented with putting some net under it for shape and structure, but found it left the skirt too bulky when the original has quite a draped look.

Accessories

There are a few other key pieces for the Nyssa look.

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The brooch Nyssa wears at her throat is very hard to see from stills and I struggled to find a good close up of it.  So I had to aim for something that was broadly the right size, shape and texture.  I made this one from a button I had in my button box that I’d got from a mixed lot of vintage buttons.  I simply glued a brooch back onto the back of it using jewellery glue.

The tiara is a child’s tiara for a wedding or confirmation.  It’s on a comb, which makes it secure an easy to position.  I found it on eBay.

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Nyssa’s shoes are, again, not really shown on screen.  From the way she moves and the sound, I get the sense they were low-heeled pumps of some sort.  And the colour clearly matches the rest of her outfit.  I’ve had these suede, kitten-heeled courts for a long time, so I thought they’d be perfect.

The tights are a pair of Jonathan Aston opaques in a gorgeous, bright blue, which turned out to be a perfect TARDIS blue.  I found them in the sale in John Lewis.

The final result

Hair and make up were very straight forward.  I scrunch dried my hair with a bit more of the creme I use than normal (Aussie Frizz Remedy) and parted it in the centre rather than to one side.  Make up was heavy on the pinks.

Photo courtesy of Duncan Lawrie
Photo courtesy of Duncan Lawrie

Yes, I know, I appear to not be wearing the shoes by this point …

Cosplay

I took part in cosplay for the first time last summer at LonCon3.  I dressed up as Nyssa, a companion of the 4th and 5th Doctors.

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I decided to do it because a friend of mine was telling me how much fun she’s had in the past cosplaying at events.  It seemed like a great way of hurling myself into the whole con experience. I’d been at other events where people had been cosplaying and I’d been in awe of the amazingly creative outfits they’d pulled together, whether it was the woman whose Wonder Woman outfit was completely handknitted, or the man I saw who dressed as a Sharknado.

I picked Nyssa for a few reasons:

  • She was a companion at around the time I first remember watching Doctor Who (5 was my First Doctor …).  My inner hipster liked the idea of going a bit retro and dressing as someone from Classic Who.
  • I also liked the idea of dressing from someone from British SF traditions.  WorldCon was in London and it seemed appropriate to fly the flag for one of the most iconic bits of British SF television.
  • It’s an easily recognisable costume. If you’re dressing up, it helps if people know who you are meant to be …!
  • But it’s also very comfortable and easy to wear.  Not skintight.  Not too much flesh showing.  Practical for things like going to the loo.  And I wouldn’t need a wig or special make up.

The idea came to me because a friend of mine saw a photo of me from a friend’s wedding a couple of years ago and suggested there was a resemblance.  IMG_0493

So I pulled a costume together for the main cosplay day of the convention.  And apart from some strange looks from the hotel staff at breakfast that morning, I had an absolute ball.  I kind of got a bit of a window into what it might be like to be Kate Middleton – people shout your name at you (well, your character’s name …), they want their photo taken with you, they give you things (hall costume awards), and I got to wear a tiara!

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It’s an amazing ice-breaker and way of connecting with people.  I met someone in the vendor’s hall who normally cosplays as the 5th Doctor and was suddenly regretting not having brought their costume this time.  I was photographed next to one of the two TARDISes at the Convention by a man from San Francisco who wanted to put me in his Who fanzine.  I even got Instagrammed by a gushing Hugo Award-winner.  Apparently Nyssa had always been Mary Robinette Kowal‘s favourite companion, and was a huge role model when she was growing up.

It’s also an incredibly playful thing to do.  I’m a big fan of play.  I have a busy job, and being able to let my hair down and engage in playful and creative activities is one of my favourite ways of relaxing, whether it’s making stuff, or being deeply silly with my friends.  As a child I used to be part of a local drama group, and I also did Drama at GCSE,.  Both of those were a great creative outlet, but I probably haven’t acted since I was a teenager.  Cosplay is a great way of having the fun of pretending to be someone else and performing a role, but without the stress of learning lines or being quite so obviously in the spotlight.

It’s something I definitely want to do again, so I’m just about to start work on a new costume to wear at an event later this year.  I plan to write a series of blogs about the costume-making process.  In the meantime, I’ll write one about how I pulled the Nyssa costume together, in case it’s of interest.