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If I don’t do this convention report now it won’t happen.

My convention was rather strange, in that it was very much confined to the space of the Exhibits Hall. That might sound dull but it really wasn’t. It was also strange in that for me the fun was in seeing everything I’d had in my head for two years come into place very physically. I had realised years ago that my mistake in theatre had been to get involved in performance. I should have gone in for direction, so much, much more fun and I hold by that now. For all I enjoyed my panels, the real joy of the convention began when Shana Worthen and I stood in that empty hall, the banners newly rigged, and realised it was ours.



Highlights:

Panels: I enjoyed my panel on YA and the sense of wonder with Jo Fletcher, Ben Jeapes (M), KV Johanssen, but did not really enjoy my first panel on the need for government in future sf because I think it got hung up on Statism, and I’m rather more interested in how we govern ourselves in other ways. The panel, Writing the M, on rethinking how we think about Iain Banks was fun but one day Jude and I should do an In Conversation on it. The last panel (of the convention) on taking apart empires, was also fun as by then we were all punch drunk. I did one panel by my request with Clute, on the First World War, which sort of worked, but I am beginning to think that the best reason to put me on a panel with Clute is to get him mad. We don’t seem to play well together in public: I want Facts, he wants Metaphor. The only things I got to were Clute and Gomoll’s interviews—both good tho very different—and a panel on “best sentences” which was frankly a terrible idea for a panel which I am pretty sure I didn’t realise when we as a Lit team discussed it. I think we’d thought it would be a light hearted quiz, but then we put Greer Gilman and Frances Hardinge on it, which resulted in a very erudite and fascinating exchange between them, but an utter failure (in my opinion) in terms of anything that could have been called “light evening entertainment”. I’m afraid I can’t even remember who the other panellists were. I came away convinced that when Niall Harrison and I finally stage our Sercon (yes that is pre-pre-publicity) we should call it In Conversation. There should be no panels and no titles of panels, just X and Y will talk to each other for an hour in front of you.

People: I loved having a venue that meant I saw huge numbers of you in the hallways because otherwise I wouldn’t have seen you at all. It wasn’t a dinner and hang out Convention for me, and I am deeply grateful to those of you who took the time to find me or to stay around when I had a few moments spare. I am also terribly grateful to everyone who helped with MIMO, and in awe of the number of my current and ex students who turned up to contribute. I loved so many members of the Committee Team that it’s embarrassing to do shout outs but Mike Scott, Nigel Furlong, Pat McMurray and Mark Meenan were just lovely on the day, calm even when I went into full scale melt down (four completely different serious problems in the space of one hour). I came away from the convention feeling thoroughly blessed by the people in my life.

Venue: this worked well for me. For those complaining about size, seriously, are you kidding me? Don’t you remember Denver and Reno? This was actually pretty compact and easy to navigate. I liked the boulevard (see above) not least for the cheap food and easy availability of vegan, and gf on site. On the first day of set up I walked 17 miles but by the final day was down to 7 miles. I know there are people with mobility issues for whom that’s a problem but we put seating everywhere, advertised scooters in advance and had access seats in every room (I was particularly impressed by the wait space outside the auditorium as I don’t really need an access seat for mobility—tho I do for deafness—but I sure as hell can’t stand in line for an hour any more).

Dealers: almost all the dealers were very happy. We had to move the occasional table where I had screwed up, negotiate placement of tables where something unusual was wanted, and one gentleman made the mistake of believing that because he was 80, had been a public speaker and was 6’ 5 he could be a louder and more commanding presence than me. I’ll leave that one to your imagination. But otherwise it couldn't have gone better: I’ve read a lot on retail over the years for no particular reason other than a vague interest in motivational psychology so right from the start I planned to attract footfall for the dealers.
1. We pulled the dealers right to the front and centre of the hall.
2. We set up Displays and Artshow to ensure that there was no way to get to (the whole of) either without crossing the Dealers Area.
3. We used small blocks (this was decided after talking to the Dealers in Chicago but is also the advice of Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
4. We created three conversation pieces in the Dealer Area both to attract people into the centre and to encourage people to turn left/right (also Jacobs’ advice); these were, in order, the Bone Chair from Use of Weapons, made by Edward James; the Hugo Display on a nice new stand which is Loncon3’s gift to Worldcons Future, and the Wasp Factory by the artist Tessa Farmer. You can find her work on line and you might want to remember the Wasp Factory when you are nominating for awards next year.

This worked like a dream. If you wondered why we lost a lot of dealers on Sunday night, it’s because several had run out of stock. Not everyone did well, but as dealers were giving me discounts, chocolate and kissing my hand, I think overall people left happy.

In some ways the Dealers were the easiest as most came to us, but some were sought out at Bethnal Green market, others came via the good works of the Outreach Team at ComicCon and elsewhere, and some I simply have no idea. Thanks to Noel Collyer and Liz Sourbut for dealer wrangling on the day.

Art Show: see Colin Harris’s report on FB for the finance which was excellent—to the point that the art auction was rather denuded thanks to advance sales. From my more subjective point of view the Art Show was light, airy, very large and beautifully hung. Well done to Serena Culfeather, John Wilson, Colin Harris and others. The Art Showcase book looks beautiful.

Displays:
This is where my heart was. We began hunting for displays two years ago with the principle, “We don’t just want displays about science fiction, we want displays science fiction people are interested in”. That left us a hell of a lot of leeway.

I owe a vote of thanks for whichever government thought up “impact” as an assessment criteria as it proved the golden word for hooking universities, and we had representatives from Imperial, Dundee, UCL, Greenwich and my own Anglia Ruskin. We had fan exhibits, serious contributions from Kids Company (who were lovely people and please go look them up and support them), Darwin’s Pigeons and the Wriggly Wild Show. We had the Proxonomics Forum and Costume displays. We also had silly displays such as the Match the Cat Competition (no one won, but the display itself cropped up in people’s reports), and the Raw Spirit Project which was surprisingly popular in twitter feeds (and a thank you to Meg MacDonald who sourced the final three bottles of whisky). I lost track of some of what we had. One of the exhibits I’m proudest of was Edward James’ Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers in the Great War. This belongs to the Science Fiction Foundation and will be touring. Ask Edward.James@ucd.ie if you want to borrow it or use pdfs to create your own (ie in the USA). Again, this is something you might want to think about come nomination time as it has a web site as well: http://fantastic-writers-and-the-great-war.com/

In addition to all of this were the guest of honour booths. I think we did particularly well there with teams of people who really cared about the guests. We went for funny, intimate and metaphor rather than just representational. The Hobbs booth (Jude Roberts, Tiffany Angus, Serena Culfeather, and Kirsty Harris) was a seascape of dragons and live ships, with the Extra Bonus Dragons! lent by the scarily talented Sarah Haddock (who I just want to note here is also Anglia Ruskin). Round the back the many Loncon 3 pigeons which fans produced flew in to hang out with the Wizard of the Pigeons. The Bryan Talbot display was almost solely the work of the talented Verity Glass who also did awesome worldcon history posters for us.
The Clute Study was my idea and the flowers for it were made by Eastercon participants: we had hoped to build a book labyrinth for John but just couldn't get it to work which I’m a bit sad about, but I love what we did. Kudos to K. Dawn Plaskon for pulling it all together and adding immense value to my original idea. The Edwards banner was also my idea but written by Adam Roberts and produced by Edward James. By this time I was starting to feel like Damien Hirst ie a fraud. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to the people with the skills to pull off these whims. The Banks booth was produced by David Haddock and Jude Roberts, a sandy beach complete with Bomb and Books. The Gomoll Both tried to encapsulate the degree to which Jeanne has been at the centre of so much in fandom.

Getting people to send exhibits is only a fraction of the job. By the time we were well on our way, I had a new job at Anglia Ruskin (and they have been fantastic, without them we couldn’t have afforded the display equipment, and they also got PR for us) and my life was emails and reports. Shana Worthen took over much of the administration, and once we had the provisional layout in place, she and Joe Raftery took over the hall plan. In March Clare Boothby came on board to help with furniture orders and eventually became such a key member of the project that I can’t remember how we did without her (badly is the answer, as we realised on the Saturday before when we discovered we had ordered 200 too few chairs). Phil Dyson supervised layout on the day and helped us all stay calm and structured. Laurie Man and Stu Segal have been our advisors and critical friends and Laurie stepped up to the Committee as Deputy when I stepped down.

I don’t want to talk about the events that led me to step down from the Committee except to say that it was a mistake on my part to take a role that required me to take collective responsibility in that way because the chance of it ending in tears was too high. That I still got to do the actual job I signed on to do was just fine. I also want to say that while there were definite moments in which some people got awkward dealing with my anomalous position, on the whole everyone on the Committee has been fantastic.

Finally I want to say how utterly awesome Shana Worthen was and is. This report rather elides her role because so much of what Shana did is the small, detailed stuff that’s hard to point to. She checked info over and over again, made sure everyone could see files, set up mailing lists, reminded me of things I hadn’t done, took over the skype meetings when I realised that I really wasn’t coping well with them (I am not an evening person at all and would approach them tired, cranky, and knowing that was my entire evening gone and that dinner was probably optional), made sure we were communicating with logistics and facilities and was, in all ways, far more organised than I was. When I stepped down from the Committee, it was Shana’s support—as both friend and colleague—that helped me through what was more personally traumatic than I expressed at the time. We worked as friends and colleagues and by the end the idea that anyone was anyone’s deputy/junior/assistant or anything else was ludicrous and absurd. I will never be fully able to express my gratitude.

For me this was the best Worldcon Ever. Not just because I had fun but because of the clear signs of excellence and happiness all around me. I usually hate fan rooms, the Fan Village was awesome. I’ve spent three years listening to discontent around Worldcon Programme and got to see oodles of love for this year’s Programme Team spilling across the internet. I realised years ago that to be part of something amazing is far more rewarding for me than anything I, personally might do, and I truly got to be part of something amazing.
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