I had real trouble sleeping on Friday night.
The first problem is that the Radisson Blu’s rooms seem to default to a temperature of about 23.5 Centigrade (according to the thermostat) and that is far too warm for me. The second is that although there is air conditioning, it’s rather noisy. The third is that the hotel’s right next to Heathrow Airport, and jet liners are a tad on the loud side so having the windows open didn’t seem like much of a plan.
By about 3am, when I still hadn’t slept and the planes seemed to have stopped, I finally opened the window and eventually managed to drop off. Still, that wasn’t the best setup for my first ever talk at my first ever convention. Even so, I managed to get up in time for breakfast beforehand.
My friend Eleanor had bravely made her way back from the youth hostel she was staying at to get to Nine Worlds for 9am, for which I was (and am) profoundly grateful. I wasn’t expecting much of a turn-out that early, but in fact we got about thirty people along. Laura, who was running the LGBTQ+ track, was having some rather vexing problems with the laptops, but luckily for me I’d prepared nothing other than words so all I needed was a microphone. I was given one, and away I went on the subject of Bisexual Erasure.
I can’t in all honesty remember exactly what I said. I certainly know what I intended to say, and I think I said a lot of it, but I was trying to fit an awful lot of stuff into about thirteen minutes and I know I missed some bits out. I might actually write it all up at some point and publish it as its own blog post, or even (if I’m feeling particularly pretentious) an essay. However, I got through it, and managed to wrap it up at the right time, and that was me done. I then saw two more mini-talks, about LGBTQ+ representation in literature, and Orphan Black (which I haven’t seen, but which sounds interesting), respectively.
Eleanor and I stayed in the room waiting for the ‘Fantastic Worlds And Where To Find Them’ panel, featuring Joe Abercrombie (amongst others). Rather gratifyingly, while waiting for it to begin someone came up to congratulate me on the talk I’d just done, which was very nice. The panel itself was a discussion from various fantasy authors about world-building, and whether they build the world around characters or create the world first and then fit the characters into it.
After that I migrated to Commonwealth, where I got Joe Abercrombie to sign my hardback of Red Country (my favourite of his), and also remembered to ask him a question that’s been bothering me for a while – what exactly is a Sunday Times Bestselling Author? The answer is apparently someone who’s appeared on the Sunday Times Bestsellers list, which is the ‘official’ chart of hardback sales in the UK. So there you go.
It was just after this that I was walking through the corridors of the Radisson Blu and I saw Barad-dur:
I took this picture (with her consent) and Tweeted it, noting her name in order to do so. I then retired to my hotel room to watch Man U vs Spurs, because it was the first game of the Premiership season, damn it, and I’m not the sort of person who can spend an entire weekend in a huge crush of people, no matter how friendly and geeky they all are.
Whilst watching the match and browsing Twitter I saw that Nine Worlds had retweeted a Tweet from Joanne Harris (of ‘Chocolat’ fame) with a picture of this same girl with the caption ‘The kid’s costume’. I’d been right next to world-famous author Joanne Harris and hadn’t really interacted with her at all because I’d been busy talking to her daughter about her awesome Barad-dur costume.
(possibly for the best, I’ve no idea what I’d actually say to Joanne Harris, but I did feel a little stupid)
Then I went to a panel about Unlearning Bias when writing, where I found myself sitting next to Barad-dur once more (now without her eye on). This was an intriguing panel, with an interesting message about how even members of groups that are under-represented in science-fiction and fantasy (read: anyone except straight white males) can fall foul of not putting enough diversity in. One of the panelists explained that they only way she can ensure an equal amount of male and female characters in her work is to count them: if she does it ‘by feel’ she always ends up with more men.
After that I was unable to get into a panel on the Psychology of Possession and Exorcism (rooms filled up fast on Saturday!) so I meandered back to Commonwealth and found myself taking part in a very simple RPG based on the X-Men: Days of Future Past timeline. My mutant (whom I named ‘Sugardoom’ mainly because I’d just been given a small pack of free Haribo) proved to be almost completely useless in our struggle to break free from our prison compound and died after rolling a double ‘1’ when trying to phase my head through some doors to see what was on the other side.
This was convenient in some respects, as that was when E.J. Swift (author of The Osiris Project) showed up, and I had a quick chat with her and Liesel Schwartz (author of The Chronicles of Light & Shadow). Eleanor then reappeared: she’d apparently gone along to a meet-up with Kieron Gillan, a comics hero of hers, and she’d been able to show him her work and he’d given her advice. This was after I’d told her about my unintentional blanking of Joanne Harris, she’d laughed (via text) and then bumped into her and had a long conversation about myths and gods. It’s fair to say that Eleanor had a good Saturday, and was a bit wide-eyed by this point.
Saturday evening consisted of going to a panel about ‘Writing Sex in Fantasy’, which wasn’t huge on practical advice but WAS huge on humour, largely due to Snorri Kristjansson who is one of the funniest people I have ever heard speaking in the panel format. After that Eleanor and I went to see ‘Only A Moment’, which was three authors and an editor playing the Radio 4 panel game ‘Just A Minute’ only with the name changed to avoid a (apparently legitimate) cease-and-desist letter from the BBC. The only one I knew was Joe Abercrombie. Yes, Joe Abercrombie was playing Just A Minute. It was bizarre.
It was also slightly unfortunate, because one of the panellists (Zen Cho) left halfway through due to apparently not being in the right mindset for it due to having witnessed what she considered to be an inappropriate and somewhat racist incident earlier in the day. Once I found out what it was, I could see her point – a white panellist had dressed up as Ming the Merciless. Ming is of course an alien, but with not-very-subtle (well, pretty damn blatant) East Asian features/name, and was generally shorthand for the Chinese-phobic attitudes of the day when he was created. It’s fair to say that for all its inclusiveness, Nine Worlds was very white in terms of the general attendance, and perhaps having a speaking topic of ‘My Privilege’ was not the best idea: for my money, that’s something that should only be addressed seriously in an appropriate setting, not riffed on for light entertainment purposes.
However, a very brave author from the audience responded to a requested from Paul Cornell (the chair) and she stepped up to fill Zen Cho’s seat. The game progressed after that unfortunate incident and ended with a smirking Joe Abercrombie (I do wonder if he ever turns the Lord Grimdark persona off in public) on a triumphant 29 points. Eleanor bailed just before 11pm in order to make sure she could get back to her hostel, and since the Bïfrost cabaret appeared to have ended and there was no disco in sight (or sound), I returned to my room to have another go at sleeping in the Radisson Blu…