SFW4, or There and Back Again

March 5th 2013

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Pwllheli is a long way from anywhere that anyone is. Even for someone used to travelling long distances to get to places, it was hard going. The M62 was stop-start from Leeds through to Manchester, and the Welsh A roads (complete with freezing fog) were little more than jumped-up country lanes. We even stopped once, thinking we’d gone too far, only to discover when we worked out where we were, that we hadn’t gone far enough.

But that was where the Sci-Fi Weekender was, so going anywhere else wasn’t really an option. Me, my merry crew (a special shout-out to my co-pilot Abi, without whom I’d have probably ended up wrapped around a tree somewhere, gently snoring), and about 5000 other people descended on a holiday park (Hafan y Mor, if you need to look it up) to talk, watch and be science fiction for a couple of days before dispersing back across the country again.

I’d been warned that the accommodation on previous Weekenders had been of a somewhat basic – and cold – nature. As it was, it seemed this year was substantially better, with most caravans having working heaters, and I was inexplicably installed in a four-bed apartment with sea-views, radiators, power-shower, kitchenette and wide-screen TV. Just for me. Perhaps the organisers had heard I snored like a revving chainsaw, but other author-guests reported similar levels of luxury. Which was nice.

There are problems with running a big con on a holiday park. Everyone is spread out across a substantial site. If the weather hadn’t been kind – bearing in mind this was the very beginning of March – there would have been problems simply getting from where you slept to where things were happening. Also, there would have been no one venue which would have fitted everyone in. Also, it made finding people you knew really difficult if, like me, you were running a steam-phone without a twitter feed.
However, once I managed to find other authors and publishers I knew from other cons, and exchanged mobile numbers, it was fine. Lesson one: go prepared. It’s easy to feel lost in such a big crowd.

The organisation was a bit on the ad-hoc side. I knew where I needed to be and when, but there were programme changes and rescheduling and no-shows. Lesson two: cons don’t just happen in physical space anymore, they happen online at the same time. It’s been something I’ve been able to ignore until now (yes, I know SF fans are supposed to be early adopters of new technology, which makes me a perverse Luddite twice over), but it’s a truism that those with 3G phones were much more plugged-in than I was. From my vantage point – I’d gone to work, to talk to other writers and generally be available – everything seemed to happen well enough that they were prepared to do it all again next year.

The panels were held in amongst the signing queues, the bar area, and the traders’ stalls, so it was, to quote one of my colleagues, like talking at a motorway service station. Not ideal perhaps, especially with the incipient sound desk problems that would plague that venue all weekend, but the audience for the panels tended to sit forward, and it was in some respects, better than an enclosed room – a certain buzz, if you will. I certainly enjoyed my panel on the Future of SF – a series of smart questions from the floor added to the flavour, and my signing afterwards was enormous fun (thanks to Forbidden Planet for stocking the books, including the first ‘in the wild’ sighting of The Curve of the Earth).

The fact that so few authors and ‘big six’ publishers made the trek was most likely a mistake on their part. Those who did turn up could comfortably fit around a long table at the Mash and Barrel, and the smaller presses – Telos, Black Library, Angry Robot – did brisk business. Lesson three, for anyone who’ll listen: turn up mob-handed with some big names, and it’ll be worth your while, both in terms of raising your profile and shifting some books. These aren’t necessarily people who’d go to the more ‘literary’ cons. Where else are you going to meet them?

Some of the costumes that people brought to wear were awesome. I’ve never been to a con with a big cosplay element, and it was fascinating to see the effort and technical expertise that had gone into the outfits. Being accosted by Rorschach – and working out who it was behind the mask – was actually really cool in a ‘one of us’ geeky way.

All-in-all, without glossing over the problems, I had a thoroughly good time, met some new people, stayed in a lovely apartment and shared the driving there and back. If they want me back, I’ll go.

One Response to “SFW4, or There and Back Again”

  • Tim Rowe says:

    3G wasn’t helping much — most of us couldn’t get a reliable data connection. I suspect it was a capacity problem. Most of the year there wouldn’t be much demand (most smartphones don’t work well in the swimming pool). I think that for next year they should take communication advice from the steampunk or (some) post-apocalyptic writers.