If I don’t blog now, I never will! I am home after one of the most intense and inspiring long weekends of my life! Swancon36/Natcon50 was definitely one of those legendary events of the Australian SF community. Cat Sparks called it ‘the con of conversations’ and it’s absolutely true that the set up of the hotel bar, and the lovely mix of people we had, meant that all the pieces were in place for some amazing conversations. However, it’s usually true that the cons which are the most fun socially are those with the suckiest programs, and that was definitely not the case here. I found so much to interest me in a professional development sense, even if I didn’t get to nearly as much as I wanted to, and the feedback I got from other authors/professionals was the same.
The thematic streams (educational, academic, romance, writers etc.), run by different programmers, gave a real structure to the program and meant there were several flavours to each day of the convention – I only participated in and saw some of the writers stream but I heard great things from friends who spent time in the others. I’m glad to hear that the romance stream went well as that’s something you don’t often see given much time/space in a traditional con.The design of the bar, in the centre of the hotel lobby, gave a really nice vibe to the convention for me. It often feels like ‘the bar’ is a hub of private little groups in a dark squished-in space, which can feel exclusive and a little intimidating, especially if like me you’re someone who actually doesn’t spend a lot of time in those kind of spaces the rest of the year around. At this con, the cafe-bar seemed to allow for a lot more of spotting people you knew, and a lot more mixing up of people rather than always sticking to the same crowd. Also their homemade lemonade allowed for some serious injections of Vitamin C, which I was grateful for.
On the whole I found the staff really friendly and helpful – Good Friday was a bit of a nightmare day for them as they were understaffed as usual on public holidays – but I appreciated the cheerful waitstaff, bartenders, receptionist etc. It didn’t hurt that Alex and I were sharing a club twin on the top floor which allowed access to a very swanky breakfast/coffee lounge. Lovely for when you needed the quiet moments.
I really enjoyed the panels I was on – I never cease to be appreciative when I am put on something other than the usual suspects. Yes I do remember the years where I only ever had the same panel (comedy and fantasy, who knew you could combine them?) at every convention. Which was fun and all, but being able to talk about adventures/quests, indoor v. outdoor fantasy, my TV influences, social media, feminism and gender, and all manner of other things was lovely, and with so many different people.
Particular thanks to Kitty who did the ‘awesome women in comics’ panel with me – I was very wary of that after the awful mess that happened at Worldcon, and because I still don’t feel like enough of an expert on the comics field to talk about it for a whole hour, but it went well, was probably my biggest attended panel, and it was fantastic how we both had such different reading lists for people to look at. That and the other gender panel, the one I did with Justina Robson and Sarah Xu, were probably the most audience-participationy of the ones I did, and for the most part in a very good way. Let me hear a No Derailing Woohoo!
My big regret is (as it always is) that I didn’t see more of the program myself. I am kicking myself about missing Grant’s presentations, especially the Disney one. I kept hearing about these brilliant things other people went to! But I lucked out with the panels I did attend – a marvellous one about the midlist and the current state of the publishing industry with Justina Robson, Ellen Datlow, Kate Eltham and Kirstyn McDermott – so many smart opinions and perspectives on that panel. I also very much enjoyed sitting in the audience of the ‘Casting your Pod’ panel, and was rapt by the interview Jonathan Strahan conducted with Sean Williams – it was fascinating to just go through Sean’s career like that, and they had a really good balance of warmth and professionalism, so it didn’t just turn into two mates swapping in jokes.
Almost by accident I ended up going to the final panel of the con, in which the guests revolted from the original topic and decided to take casual question and answers. It was a pleasure to see how relaxed and comfortable they had become with each other, and it was a fun audience to be part of.Somehow I’ve talked about the con without hitting any of my personal high notes! I haven’t always been able to capitalise on the thriving con nightlife in previous years, and with my family safely tucked away at home, this was an aspect I made the most of. Thursday night was great – I was quite askance about the first night being so heavily programmed (and having to do a panel at 11:30 Hobart time, gah) but it worked so well to give the con a massive energy right from the start, and meant we hit the ground running on Friday morning. Friday had the launch of the Twelve Planets series, which was elegant and involved Dirk Flinthart designing an impromptu cocktail to match the colour of “Love and Romanpunk” – ie, purple. If I could remember the names of the ingredients, I would share the recipe because it was yummy!
Because oh yes, I had a book out at this convention – something that really truly nearly didn’t happen – and with The Shattered City only out a few weeks ago, it meant I had TWO. After having so many years of going to cons where I had nothing to sell or promote, it’s lovely to have some actual stuff on the dealer’s room tables, and it didn’t hurt that several copies of Power and Majesty were given away in the con bags. So I got to sign lots of books and talk to new readers as well as people I’ve only talked to on the internet before. It’s enough to make me feel like a real writer, or something…Speaking of which, I have to say that after the Lean Years (cough, decade) as far as publisher attention and interest goes, it really does not suck to have both a Big Publisher (Voyager) and a Lovely Indie Publisher (Twelfth Planet Press) doing lovely things for me. If Friday was the TPP night (Terri made pink cake!) then Saturday night was all about Voyager – while the Masquerade was going on, a group of authors and a few others were whisked away for a swanky dinner at Chez Pierre, a restaurant that proved to be divinely decadent.
(to put this into context, authors who spend most of their year writing quietly in a room on their own are supremely surprised and grateful when people want to buy them a cup of coffee – getting to go to a fancy industry dinner is like Disneyland for Book People)
My greatest regret is that I didn’t put on a frock for this event, but hey, we had a private room. We also had SNAILS (well, the more adventurous among us did, how can you go to a French restaurant and not try snails?) – I also had duck and the meltiest nougat icecream. Almost as much fun as eating my own delicious dinner was admiring the artworks that everyone else had on their plates – except for Simon Brown’s teenage son who had regarded the menu with such horror that he was allowed to curl up in the corner with his book and a bowl of pomme frites.
I got to have lovely in depth conversations with many people at the dinner, and later in the taxi back to the hotel, and even later at a room party, and yes. The Con of Conversations. No wonder I came home with a squeaky voice. Of course, however wonderful all the evenings were, Sunday has to win hands down. Sure it didn’t have purple drinks or snails, but… it did have awards. Many, many awards.
So um. This might require a post all of its own. But in short – Galactic Suburbia won things. And then each of us individually won things. And it got to the point where people were honestly pointing and laughing because we had won so many things (and that’s just the kind of people our friends are!). And it did not get old. There was much kissing of Sean Williams, and giggling hysterically, and carrying armloads of trophies to the bar. And my speech – the only one of the whole awards, on demand – was a touch incomprehensible. So, sorry about that.
I will try to write a better one, and post it some time today.
The con was wonderful, in short, beginning to end, and I had a fantastic time. What made it even better was the reports from home, that the family (and particularly the baby) were coping wonderfully without me. I can’t tell you how lovely it was to have that fear and guilt slough off me, day after day, as I received pics of Easter hunts, and heard how Jem had slept entirely through all but the first night. Considering I didn’t manage to wean her before I left… it made all the difference, and I am hugely grateful to my honey for making it so easy for me to be away from them all.
By the awards night, I was reaching my limits. I could tell, because Thoraiya had brought her gorgeous little two year old, and my eyes welled up whenever I looked at her. By the time it was Thoraiya’s turn to win all the awards, and she took her little sweetie up on stage with her to collect the trophy, I was working really hard not to fall apart.
Then, all too soon, it was over and time to go. I had breakfast with Alisa and Alex, said my goodbyes to people, and prepared to ship out. I was missing most of the last day of the con, but so hungry to get home to my girls. Then, ten minutes before we left, I got The Call from Virgin that my flight had been cancelled, and I wouldn’t be leaving until evening – worse than that, I wouldn’t get home until the next day. At that point I did rather fall apart – being apart from the baby for so very long had been manageable, just, but adding another day to it completely overwhelmed me. It didn’t help at this point that I was sleep deprived as well as emotional! My grateful thanks to Kathryn, Terri and Alex (and later, Robin) who whisked me away for some quiet time in the Green Room.
The silver lining, of course, was that I got to stay out the whole con, got to hear the lovely things people (especially the guests) said at the end, and even got to enjoy the closing ceremony, and grab some more of those irreplaceable conversations before it was time AGAIN to leave. I had become utterly stupid with sleep deprivation by that point, leaving things everywhere, and lucky to string coherent sentences together. I blame that entirely for the fact that I forgot to double check when my delayed plane was leaving, which meant I arrived at the airport with only a few minutes to spare – something I only realised after I saw that the Virgin check in desks were not manned and, oh yes, because my flight had been delayed, I was also shut out of the automatic check in. After a major freak out on my part, a woman turned up to the desk and checked me in with ONE MINUTE to spare.
So yes, the flight home was not fun because I was exploding with stress, and arriving at Melbourne at 1am with 7 hours to go before my flight home was not fun, and trying to find the motel I had checked into, in the dark, amid a tangled web of streets and paths (I had to later concede that there was a straight route between the airport and the hotel but that’s so not the way I got there) was extremely less than fun, but I got some quiet hours in a room with clean sheets and a plug for my phone recharger, and at that point it was all I needed. More stress in the morning when I managed to completely lose the Virgin Check In terminal (honestly, lack of sleep makes me SO stupid, can’t think how I survived Jemima’s first year of life) but finally I was on the last plane, and home, and home, and my girls had a welcome banner out for me, and I am now rich with baby and little girl cuddles. All’s well that ends well.
Phew. Taking all that into account, it’s a good thing it was such a good convention for me, really, wasn’t it?