What did Heide and Iain do at Worldcon, held this year in Dublin?
Here’s our day by day impressions, with some photos:
For some reason there are two planes (different airlines) that go from Birmingham to Dublin within minutes of each other. Iain was on the other one. We were going to share taxis, but then one of the planes got delayed. We decided that we would not share taxis, then the other plane got delayed so it was all fine in the end.
The accommodation was a delight. An AirBnB, booked by Iain, about a mile from the convention. We had a whole house, which was pristine and well-equipped. We shared the house for part of the time with Justin Lee Anderson
We just about had time to walk over and register for the con, so we did. The first familiar face I spotted was Thomas Årnfelt. We wandered back across the river to a pub and ordered Guinness, (because I am a cliche) and Thomas came to join us too.
Dublin has always been a wonderful city to visit but also an expensive one. Our decision to AirBnB in the Sandymount area (about 1km south of the Liffey and the convention centre) was ideal. We were 25 minutes walk from both convention centres. I had one my genuine “How much?” shock of the week in the local Spar shop — €2.49 for a can of chopped tomatoes! — about three to four times the price one might expect to pay in the UK.
On the first day, I encountered one of the major themes of this convention: queues. From registering to getting into panels, there were always queues. And rooms filled up quickly. It’s a testament to how popular WorldCon was but something I have never experienced — or expected to experience — in UK conventions.
I wandered, without really planning it, into an activity that was to become the theme of my Worldcon: pestering the good folks of the traditional publishing world about why comedy novels are out of favour. I started by attending the kaffeeklatsch of Natasha Bardon, who’s publishing director at Harper Voyager. She was fun and engaging, making sure to answer everyone’s questions (there were around ten of us). When it came to my question about comedy, she suggested that it was because comedy is so subjective. I had a follow up question, because she was talking about engaging with readers, about whether she could imagine mainstream publishers emulating the rich set of experiences that Unbound provide, through their crowd-funded perks. It turns out that she very much wants to do something similar, but lacks the means at the moment.
I went to a literary beer with Lee Harris (senior editor at Tor) and asked the same question about comedy. He replied that it’s because comedy is so subjective. He fleshed it out by describing the profit & loss sheet that he needs to prepare for Tor to see what they’re investing in, any time they buy a book. He said that he must forecast sales etc, and that he generally can’t make the numbers work for a comedy novel. I failed to ask the obvious (obvious in hindsight) follow-up question about where the low projected sales come from for a comedy book.
Following the advice of my daughter, we attended a number of academic talks at the secondary venue, the Odeon Cinema in Point Square. We were disappointed to discover they weren’t selling popcorn at 10am to convention goers. We were not disappointed by Sara Uckelman’s 20 minutes on appropriate naming conventions in pseudo-medieval settings.
As an intermittent roleplayer, I had agreed to run some roleplaying games in the gaming hall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. These turned out to be the most fun events of the week and also a much appreciated opportunity to sit down in a chilled-out environment. The players on all three days were friendly, easy-going and made GMing the games a dream. And the gaming hall organisers were excellent. I would love to see more gaming at genre conventions elsewhere.
I had my first panel duties on Self Publishing in 2019. There was no moderator listed for the panel, so I appointed myself, and fellow panellists (Francesca Barbini, Eden Royce and Andrew Chamberlain) didn’t seem to mind.
The room was packed full, with people standing in all available gaps. The panel was pitched to be about the evolution of self-publishing, but a quick audience survey revealed that most were there for practical information, so we tried to make it useful. There were lots of questions, and people that came along with follow-ups outside of the panel.
I went to a workshop called Scrapyard Cosplay. This was very much my cup of tea. We were given a few scraps of fabric, pipe cleaners, duct tape and bin bags and were given an hour to make an outfit. We (the team of four people) achieved an excellent result, and learned that it is possible to sew (after a fashion) with a pipecleaner.
I met up with some fellow members of 20Booksto50K, a self publishing group for dinner. It was a lovely meal, which I worked up a decent appetite for after turning up to the wrong restaurant, a taxi ride away.
An academic panel on Pseudoscience was a treat. Homeopathy, climate change denial and flat-earth theory came under particular attack. I’m a big fan of the scientific method but it seemed that the panel’s views denied any kind of spiritual existence. I asked the panel about that and caused a disagreement among the panel. Result!
An amazing evening followed. We attended a “Romance Plot or Not?” quiz event in which the plots of various romance novels were read out and the audience had to work out which were the fake ones. My favourite real plot was about the bad boy biker were-hedgehog who has to change his ways to win his lady love.
Then, to cap the evening off, there was a science fiction ceilidh dance. Never before have I encountered science fiction and ceilidh in the same sentence, let alone in the same room. The only science fictiony dance I can remember is the ‘Gay Photon’, adapted from the ‘Gay Gordon’. You can’t beat a good ceilidh and, despite the warmth of the evening and inevitable result of putting 150 high-energy dancers in a medium-sized function room, it was an absolute hoot.
Another kaffeklatsch, this time with Juliet Mushens, who is a literary agent at Caskie Mushens. By now, I realised that a very similar group of people were making the same rounds as me. Mostly they were doing it because they wanted tips and insights on getting their books into UK publishing houses. Juliet provided a useful primer on this. She also answered my question by saying that comedy is difficult to sell because it’s so subjective. I wanted to push a little bit harder on this, as all reader / writer experiences are subjective, so I asked if she thought that it was to do with how readers react if they have a negative experience. What I mean is this: if a novel is described as horror and, upon reading it, it’s not as horrific as I expected, I will not react badly to the mildness, or even the absence of the horror. If a book is described as funny and, upon reading it, it’s not as funny as I expected, then I might have a much more negative reaction. She agreed with this notion.
I went to a panel: Technology we can’t believe we’re still using. I stood at the back, because it was very crowded. Charles Stross, Alison Scott, Tom Merritt and Dave O’Neill were very entertaining. The conversation ranged from technology (why do we still all have to type in numbers to phone people?) to clothing (why buttons?) and audio (the quarter inch audio jack is still going strong), the panel talked not only about what was still around, but some of the reasons for it (investment of money, usually).
Personal highlight of the week was at the quieter secondary venue and a talk by Bruce Davis. A combat veteran, trauma surgeon and writer, Bruce provided fifty minutes of explanation of how fiction and film gets trauma injuries wrong and how to write them more realistically. I asked him where my main character should get shot if they want to have a good chance of survival — his surprising answer was through the right lung (no major blood vessels or crucial nerves apparently).
I discovered, as the excellent Grenadine event app updated, that the first panel of the day was down to three people. I emailed the organisers to see if we could add Iain Grant to the panel and they agreed. Hence Satire and the Fantastic featured both me (as moderator) and Iain (as panel member). We covered plenty of ground, talking about what satire actually is, what it’s not, and what role it plays for us. The other two panellists were Ju Honisch and Juliana Rew. Ju talked about satirical plays that form part of the strong beer festival in Bavaria. The politicians are expected to attend and laugh, or risk being ostracised.
I had another panel: Why isn’t humour taken seriously? Comedy in SFF. This was moderated by David Levine, and the other panellists were Gail Carriger, Mark Galarrita and Jay Key. I relayed my dedicated research, gleaned from my kaffeeklatsching. I’m not sur we shed any more light on the subject, and then the panel took a turn into more of a how-to, explaining comedy writing techniques.
Another excellent academic paper over at the repurposed Odeon cinema. Sam Scheiner presented ‘All of Biology in 60 minutes or less’. An impossible task of course but what he did do was boil much of biology down to ten simple rules or statements which allowed him to explain science fiction points such as ‘why you can’t have living gas clouds’ and ‘why sex is kind of important’.
I snuck onto Heide’s Satire and the Fantastic panel. I was the only man on the panel and easily the loudest person on it so I kind of failed to do my bit for gender balance and equality there. It was a lot of fun though and I found myself questioning my own assumptions on satire as it went on.
My last panel duty was to moderate a panel called Creative Couples. I was a little bit unsure how this was going to pan out. Is it really a topic that can engage an audience for forty five minutes? I needn’t have worried. Both couples were incredibly funny and chatty. Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman talked about how they had to move to New York because they were fed up with being the most colourful people in their circle of friends. Diane Duane and Peter Morwood talked about how their Irish neighbours lovingly call them “the trekkies”. Both couples exchanged stories and laughs with no real steering needed at all.
A final quieter day and a time for reflection. It had been a very busy convention and, although I hadn’t complained about the queuing as much as some (except when a woman queue-jumped one day – a British woman no less!), I had been forced to learn to enjoy what I could of the con when I could.
The biggest take-away for me was that the most helpful panels and events were the ones that had nothing to do with writing. As a writer, the writing panels often felt like a regurgitation of things most people already knew. The academic papers though were insightful and I can imagine using what I’d learned in my own writing.
Oh, and roleplayers are the nicest people in the world.