Tag Archives: conventions

Continuum 9: Contraindicators Report

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it has been almost two weeks since the Con! I haven’t had time to experience too much post con emo – I’ve been sent all over Victoria for work, hence the lateness of this report.

This Con was a bit of a different experience for me. I had an amazing time, but I didn’t spend quite as much time socialising as I normally would. Being on the Committee was really rewarding, and something I would love to do again, but it meant that I spent a lot of time doing behind the scenes things. Of course, it meant I spent way less money at the bar!


On Friday I did the usual welcome to convention going panel, Continuum 101 and then hung around to do a Meet and Greet for people who were new to the scene. Was quite nice, and I met a very interesting couple who had recently been to ComicCon and seemed to like the idea of a smaller, more welcoming convention. Hopefully they will return!

Then it was off to the Opening Ceremony, which featured a very cool video of different spec fic films, set to a catchy song by a local group. I am going to have to chase them up, I think. Apparently, the song is about Tram 86 – it’s called  “Northcote So Hungover” and is by the Bedroom Philosopher. Steph gave us a great introduction to the Convention and we were off and running.

Cleverly, they had organised the Chronos Awards Ceremony to follow straight after. While it wasn’t a seamless transition, there was still a sizeable crowd. As usual, Mondy and Kirstyn did a great job of hosting, and it was perhaps the quickest awards ceremony I have ever been to! The winners were:

Best Long Fiction 2012
“Salvage” by Jason Nahrung (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Fiction 2012
“The Mornington Ride” by Jason Nahrung in Epilogue, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)

Best Fan Writer 2012
Nalini Haynes

Best Fan Written Work 2012
Reviewing New Who series by David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

Best Fan Artist 2012
Dick Jenssen

Best Fan Artwork 2012
“The Entellechy” by Dick Jenssen, cover art for Interstellar Ramjet Scoop for ANZAPA 267 edited by Bill Wright

Best Fan Publication 2012
Viewing Clutter by George Ivanoff

Best Achievement 2012
Continuum 8: Craftonomicon (51st Australian National SF Convention) Program by Julia Svaganovic, Emma Hespa Mann, and Caitlin Noble

I was relieved that we beat No Award to take away the Chronos for Best Fan Written Work. I was really honoured to be able to accept it on behalf of Tehani and Tansy, it’s been a massive privilege working with them. I also was able to thank Lynne Thomas, Jo Anderton and Kathleen Jennings who have all contributed at different stages.And, what a lovely trophy!

Our Chronos Award

Our Chronos Award

However, I want it on record that I actually offered Tehani the trophy, but she said no!

The Snapshot lost in the Achievement category, but it was hard to be too disappointment given who we were up against – the Continuum 8 team did an amazing job and deserved to be recognised for a wonderful Con. Congratulations to all the winners!


Saturday did not get off to the best of starts, with some car trouble meaning I missed my first my first two panels! Very embarrassing, but by the sounds of things I was barely missed and they went off extremely well.

I spent a bit of time on the rego desk, and generally trying to be useful, plus squeezing in a bit of socialising. Sadly, I missed N.K. Jemisin’s amazing GoH speech, but you can read it here. Once you’ve done so (and trust me, you should), you will understand why everyone is tlaking about it, and why some troglodytes feel so threatened by it.

I went along to the book launch of George Ivanoff’s “Gamer’s Rebellion”. George is a great guy (and the coolest jacket of the weekend, which is saying something. It was painted in a TARDIS design) so I was delighted to see how many people turned up to support him as he officially achieved trilogy status. Narelle Harris was a wonderful launcher, too.

Standing room only at the Launch of Gamer's Rebellion

Standing room only at the Launch of Gamer’s Rebellion

After dinner there was a bit of setup and then the Maskabolo. Because I am not much of dancer I volunteered to man the door and check IDs and field questions from bemused hotel patrons as to what was going on! There were some amazing costumes, from Margo Lanagan inspired selkies to the God of Thunder himself.

The DJ did a great job, and I was very jealous of his iPad mixing desk app – I wish I’d had that back in my community radio days! Every one seemed to be having a great deal of fun, and I did the wallflower thing and hung around until very late. While there wasn’t enough alcohol in the hotel to get me on the dance floor, I still enjoyed myself thoroughly.


I was pretty nervous on Sunday, as I had arranged to interview Nora (N.K. Jemisin) for Galactic Chat. I’d never used the equipment before, and this was my first interview for the podcast, so I was really worried that something would go wrong, or that I would stuff it up. But, everything went smoothly and any shortcomings as interviewer were more than compensated for by Nora being such a wonderful interviewee. You can hear it here.

With that out of the way, I could relax a bit and spent some time on the rego desk. Soon, it was time for the launch of Kirstyn McDermott’s new collection, “Caution: Contains Small Parts“. KIrstyn is one of Australia’s leading horror writers (Madigan Mine is one of my all time favourites), and if the excerpt is anything to go by this will be a very scary, and brilliant, collection!

Then it was off to my next panel, Deeper Than Swords. I knew it was going to be a good panel when our moderator, Darrren, turned up wearing chainmail. This was a tough one because everyone is scared of spoilers, which I think impacted the numbers. We ended up asking the audience where they were up, and deciding to limit discussion to anything up to the latest episode of the TV show. We still managed to have a great discussion, touching on topics like the difference between the books and shows, the changes that come about because of the difference in medium, and the way that the exposure from and success of the TV has changed the makeup of the fandom of the series.

Tehani and I with our trophy!

Tehani and I with our trophy!

I had initially asked be taken off a few panels because of the extra commitments from being on the committee, but I ended up back on one of them:

Zombies Go Mainstream
Panellists: Gareth Hodges, David McDonald, Adrian Melchiori, Darren Sanderson

Walking Dead, I Am Legend, World War Z… Much like superheroes, zombies have lurched, groaning, into the public eye. Where do they come from, what is their appeal today and whose brains will they seek out next? And what about their origins in Vodoun?

I’m really glad that I was part of this one! We had a really enthusiastic and interactive audience, some great panelists (and me), and a wide ranging and fascinating discussion. One of the things I found really interesting was the idea that the zombie is one of the few modern horror archetypes (along with giant radioactive monsters), with most being pre 1900s (the Werewolf, the Vampire, Frankenstein’s Monster). We talked about what these archetypes represent, and how the Zombie reflected the fear of becoming a faceless member of the crowd and losing identity. We also talked about why zombie stories might appeal to the genre crowd so much, and made a long list of recommended reading and viewing. The only thing I found difficult was that I have never had people listen quite so raptly to things I was saying, and it was disconcerting! lol

And, then, of course it was time for more socialising!


Monday I took some friends out to the airport, so I didn’t get to the Con until lunchtime and before I knew it, it was time for my final panel, Tolkien v Jackson.

I felt rather boringly under-dressed for this one. Richard and Kathryn sported steampunk hats that I immediately coveted, and Paul was a picture of sartorial elegance. And, their discussion was just as sparkling, ranging from the Bakshi adaptations to the madness (and excellence) of Nicol Williamson’s audio reading. There was some spirited debate about the merits of the Hobbit movie and whether it lived up to Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies. One of the highlights was when we got Lewis Morley (who was in the audience) talking about his experiences working on the movies.  We should have had him on the panel!

I had another interview scheduled for the afternoon, but I think I will let you wait and see who. It’s going to be worth the wait!

The end of a Con is always a little melancholy, so after the Closing Ceremony the Committee, and a few others, retired to the bar for an unofficial Dead Dog Party and spent some time reflecting on what I think was a pretty successful Con.

There were so many positives to look back on. The Chair, Stephanie Lai, had a very clear vision for the Con and everyone bought into it. I think that everyone could see the really strong social justice theme that ran through the Con, and the programming team created a programme stream that reflected this. I was really proud to be associated with it, and to have played some small part in helping organise it.

As always, the choice of guests played a huge role in how the Con went. Both Nora and Paul were extremely accessible and involved, and went above and beyond in their roles as Guests of Honour. Nora’s speech helped set the tone for the whole event, and is still being talked about around the world. Add a great turnout of awesome people, a wonderful crowd, exceptional panelists and a huge range of panels and you ended up with an incredible convention.

There are few things they may have to be looked at in the future, mainly concerning the venue. The hotel staff were exceptional and did everything possible to make us feel welcome but I think this con was almost too big for it, with a lot of very packed rooms. But, next year is the Natcon and will be at a different hotel anyway.

All in all, another great Con. Next on my list – Worldcon!


Continuum 9: Contraindicators

I am starting to get very excited – Continuum starts tomorrow! If you don’t know what Continuum is, the short answer is that it is going to be four days of hanging out with awesome people who love speculative fiction. The long answer is:

Continuum is an annual Melbourne speculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture… we sink our teeth into it all! Continuum is run on a not-for-profit basis and all revenue goes towards venue and equipment hire, transport and accommodation for our guests, and other convention specific expenses. The Continuum conventions are supported by the Continuum Foundation and we are grateful for their support.

Continuum 9 will take place on the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, June 7 — 10, 2013. Our guests of honour this year are N.K. Jemisin and Paul Collins. Supporting them will be a wide range of other speakers and panellists in a fabulous line up of panels, presentations and special events.

Check out the website here. With tomorrow night being gold coin donation entry, there is no reason not to check it out.

I am going to have an action packed time, I am on the committee and have a number of panels. If you want to say hello, my schedule is below, or you’ll see me wandering around with a dazed look on my face. Or, I will be spending a fair bit of time on the registration desk. It’s going to be an awesome convention, we have wonderful guests and the programming has something for everyone. See you there!

Continuum 101
From Friday 18:30 until Friday 19:00 (30 Minutes)
Panellists: Hespa , Nicole Canal, David McDonald, Brendan Podger

Everything you wanted to know about fan conventions and con-going – an ideal starting point for anyone new or relatively new to conventions. Learn the secrets from those who have been around long enough to know better.

Venue: Harmony Room

Meet and Greet
From Friday 19:00 until Friday 19:30 (30 Minutes)
Panellists: Nicole Canal, David McDonald

If you’re new to Continuum, or just feeling social, come along and meet some people!


Reboots and Retcons
From Saturday 10:00 until Saturday 11:00 (60 Minutes)
Panellists: Lucy Baker, Nicole Canal, George Ivanoff, David McDonald

/Reboot/: to trash all known series history and just start over. /Retcon/ (retroactive continuity): to “discover” new events from series history that supposedly always happened. Some consider rebooting and retconning simply helpful ways of freshening up a mature comics, TV, or film series. Others consider them big frickin cheats. Discuss.

Venue:Fire Room

Continuum 101
From Saturday 11:00 until Saturday 11:30 (30 Minutes)
Panellists: Hespa , Nicole Canal, David McDonald, Brendan Podger

Everything you wanted to know about fan conventions and con-going – an ideal starting point for anyone relatively new to conventions. Learn the secrets from those who have been around long enough to know better.

Venue:Fire Room

Deeper Than Swords
From Sunday 19:00 until Sunday 20:00 (60 Minutes)
Panellists: David McDonald, Ben McKenzie, Jane Routley, Darren Sanderson

The Panel of Ice and Fire! Is the TV series gratuitous in its portrayal of sex and violence? Has Tyrion become too unsympathetic? Is there a divide between those who watch the series without reading the novels? Are we holding our breath for the next book?

Venue:Earth Room

Tolkien v Jackson
From Monday 14:00 until Monday 15:00 (60 Minutes)
Panellists: Kathryn Andersen, Richard Harland, David McDonald, Paul Poulton

From the animated Hobbit to the Peter Jackson and 48 frames per second, a discussion of films based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Venue:Fire Room

Conflux 2013 Roundup

Wow! What an awesome Con! After a month of solid travel, I have to admit that a little part of me was wishing that I had another week or so before I had to jump on another plane, but once I got there I realised just how much I needed to be around the spec fic community. There are much better con round ups out there (if you have one feel free to post in the comments), so this is just a very quick one from me.


At around 3:30am Thursday morning I realised there was probably no point going to sleep, and I am now terrified of missing another flight, so I gave up on the idea. That meant for a change I got to the airport nice and early and felt rather relaxed. It also meant when I got to Canberra, I was absolutely exhausted! Fortunately, someone had very kindly offered to come out and pick me up (thanks, Simon!) and through the wonders of Twitter we collected someone else and headed to the Rydges (going to the wrong one first lol).

After a coffee with some friends, I decided I should go and get some sleep in my hotel to preapre myself for the excitement ahead.

Photo by Helen Stubbs

Photo by Helen Stubbs

The hotel looked closer on the map than it was, but it was still only about 2.5km away. Someone else gave me a lift back there (the generosity of others was a recurring theme over the con) and I felt much better after a nap. The only problem was I cut it a bit fine to get back for the first event I had locked in and had to run the 2.5km back!

But it was worth the heart palpitations as I got there in time for the launch of “The Bride Price”, the awesome new collection from Cat Sparks! I love Cat’s writing, and this looks like it is going to be incredible! Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long to sell out.

Photo by Cat Sparks

Russell Farr and Cat Sparks-Photo by Cat Sparks

Then, it was off to the cocktail hour where I got to mingle with lots of awesome people, both old friends and new. From there, we all naturally migrated to the bar to continue socialising until late. Despite our warnings, the hotel obviously did not believe the stories of writerly habits and left a few poor staff to face the hordes.


Had a bit of a late start on Friday, you know, because of the flight etc My first event for the day was the long awaited launch of Rob Hood’s Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead. As always, Jack Dann was an excellent MC and it was wonderful to see the support from the community for this much anticipated release.

Photo by Cat Sparks

Jack Dann and Rob Hood – Photo by Cat Sparks

Once we had toasted Rob’s book, I headed off to a Memorial for Jan Howard Finder, or Wombat as he was affectionately known. I only met Jan once, on a panel at Worldcon, but he was a really nice guy and made me feel very welcome. It was a sad occasion, yes, but filled with lots of happy memories and funny stories about a well loved member of fandom.

The rest of the night was devoted to more socialising, and a great dinner with friends.


On Saturday, my awesome Mentor’s awesome book was launched!

Jason Fischer - photo by Cat Sparks

Jason Fischer – photo by Cat Sparks

And, then lunch and – you guessed it – more socialising!

Soon, it was time to suit up for the Ditmars. Someone had the great idea (not sarcasm – I loved it!) of handing out bubble blowing kits, so I spent most of the ceremony feeling bubbles land on the back of my head – they tickled! Deb Biancotti was our host this year, and did an exceptional job. After the awesomeness that was Mondy and Kirstyn’s show last year, it would have been tempting to try and copy it, and easy to fall short. But, instead, Deb made it her own, ably assisted by the wonderful Terri.

One of my favourite innovations was the way that the twitter stream was displayed on the big screen. Aussie spec fic fans are obviously far more mature than Bryan Adams fans, because every fifth word wasn’t “boobs”! For a great slice of the night, check out Sean’s storify roundup here.

One of the great things about this community is that most of the people nominated are friends so, I was very excited for each of the winners. It is obviously how important Peter McNamara’s legacy is (and rightly so) and it was lovely to see some of his family watch the amazing Nick Stathopoulos take away the Lifetime Achievement Award, while Russell Farr was overwhelmed after being awarded the A. Bertram Chandler for his services to Aussie Spec Fic.

And, I was absolutely stunned to win the Ditmar for Best New Talent! I was completely unprepared, in fact I hadn’t even voted for myself, and I didn’t have a speech ready. I have no idea what I said, other than that I forgot to thank some people I should have (sigh), but it was a massive honour, especially given the quality of the other nominees. I was delighted that it was Kaaron who handed me the award, as she is someone who has been extremely kind to me since I came on the scene. This was the first award I have ever won in my life, and I can’t think of a crowd I would have rather won it in front of.

Kaaron hands me the award - Photo by Cat Sparks

Kaaron hands me the award – Photo by Cat Sparks

As you can imagine, I was a bit stunned by all this, in fact I still am! I really don’t know what to say, other than thank you to everyone who has supported me, and everyone who nominated and voted for me. When I look at the past winners, there is a lot to live up and I promise I will do my utmost to do so.

You can find a full list of the winners here.


The trophies themselves were beautfiul, Lewis Morley designed them and did an incredible job.

The Trophy

Trophy – Photo by Amanda Rainey

I couldn’t celebrate too hard as I had a panel at 9pm, so I lingered in the bar for a while before heading back up.

SF, movies, television and fictionIs there an increased market for things SF? Movies, books, short fiction, TV series? Dr Who just keeps going.  There’s been a new Star Trek, a movie based on the Battleship game with groovy aliens, there’s Looper, Prometheus and Iron Sky. In books, Egan, Reynolds, and Peter F Hamilton are still in the game. The panellists talk about what they are seeing? Hard SF, space opera, romance in SF? What is driving this?

The panel went really well, with some great comments from Jonathan Blum, Devin Jeyathurai, Cat Sparks as we discussed whether TV has replaced the cinema has the source of quality SF, whether we are in a “Golden Age” of spec fic adaptations and whether complex ideas are being dumbed done to suit a simpler medium. Lots of robust, but respectful debate made for an hour that flew by!

Then it was time to celebrate an eventful day, first at the bar and then onwards to a room party until the wee hours..


In my capacity as a Continuum committee member I had to attend the Natcon Business Meeting. It was fascinating see the things that need to happen behind the scenes to make conventions happen. After two hours or so, the shine of discovery had worn off a little, but I am glad I went.

The rest of the day was devoted to trying to catch up with some of the people I’d missed, though I didn’t completely succeed. I was going to go to the Closing Ceremony but ended just chilling out with some friends until I was given another lift by generous, people to the airport. The flight home wasn’t the greatest, for some reason I went through Sydney and got stuck on the tarmac in Melbourne due to an airbridge malfunction. The drunken ice hockey team expressing their displeasure didn’t help either. But, none of that could take the shine off a truly wonderful few days.

Nicole and Donna and the rest of their team deserve much congratulations for staging such an incredible Con. It had all the things I consider essential – friendly and accessible guests, strong programming, a good area for social interaction and a great venue. This was my second Conflux and reinforced my belief that it is one of the best cons for writers in Australia.

While I didn’t make it to many panels I don;t regret it, because for me a convention is about catching up with old friends and making new ones. The time I took to socialise was definitely well spent, but the beauty of this con was that whatever stage of your writing career and whatever you were looking for, you would have been well catered to. Well done to all involved!

You can find a roundup of roundups here, with more in the comments. And, please feel free to link to your own in the comments for this post.



Conflux is coming!

Not many sleeps until I get up way too early in the morning to fly to Canberra for the Natcon. I’m very excited, as it means catching up with friends I don’t get to see too often.

I plan on a very casual convention and will no doubt be in the bar for most of the time, though there are a multitude of exciting book launches I plan on attending. I am also (I think) doing one panel:

Saturday 9pm-9.55pm Panel – SF, movies, television and fiction, Forrest Room 3

which I am sure will be a lot of fun, especially as it will be after the Awards ceremony so most of the panellists and the audience will be undoubtedly be..well lubricated.

Hope to see you at Conflux!

Continuum 9: Contraindicators

So, after enjoying two wonderful conventions in Melbourne I decided it was time to give something back and volunteered for the Continuum Committee. What is Continuum?

Continuum is an annual Melbourne speculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture… we sink our teeth into it all! Continuum is run on a not-for-profit basis and all revenue goes towards venue and equipment hire, transport and accommodation for our guests, and other convention specific expenses. The Continuum conventions are supported by the Continuum Foundation and we are grateful for their support.

Continuum 9 will take place on the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, June 7 — 10, 2013. Our guests of honour this year are Waris Hussein and N.K. Jemisin. Supporting them will be a wide range of other speakers and panellists in a fabulous line up of panels, presentations and special events.

To contact the convention committee, please email info@continuum.org.au. We’ll make sure your query gets to the right person!

June may seem like a while off, but things are really starting to happen. There are lots of events, both fund raisers and community building, being organised and they are a great way to meet people before the Con. Nominations for the Chronos awards (Victoria’s spec fic awards) are now open, and as a Continuum member you are eligible to nominate, and vote.

As you can see, there are two awesome international guests, and we have just announced a local Guest of Honour, the splendiferous Paul Collins. As well as the GoHs, there will also be fans and pros from all over Australia converging on Melbourne for an action packed couple of days. A great programme is taking shape, and you can submit your ideas, and there will most definitely be something for everyone.

I’ve blogged about my previous Continuums here and here, and I really can’t recommend it enough. If you haven’t already signed up, what are you waiting for? 🙂


Chicon is Coming!

I am currently in a state of overwhelming excitement, because in just a few weeks I will be in Chicago for WorldCon! There are a few reasons why I am a quivering mess. firstly, I have never been overseas before, so this is all new to me (I know – sad, right). With each step, like applying for a passport (oh my God does anyone ever get a good picture?) or organising flights, it is hitting home that soon I will be in a foreign city. It was meant to be a longer holiday, but unfortunately some things came up and it will now only be just over a week. But, that is still a week in another country!

Secondly, I will get to hang out with the amazing folk of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the George R.R. Martin fan group. Some of them I get to see every few months, some I last saw at AussieCon and some I have been talking to for almost a decade but have never met in the flesh. I am sure most readers understand that you can have deep and abiding friendships with people from the internet, and will see why I am so thrilled that I will finally get to meet them. Plus, I will get to hang out with George!

Thirdly, unlike AussieCon (which was brilliant), I am going to Chicon as a writer, with all the added excitement this brings. I’ve had so much fun at that conventions I have been to, and gotten so much out of them, that I can only imagine what ChiCon will be like. I am looking forward to the socialising and the talking writing with other authors and the making of  new friends and connections. There will be great panels and lots to learn. I know I will be exhausted by the end of it, but it will be more than worth it.

And finally, as someone very much at the beginning of my career I was really not expecting a chance to be involved in the programme itself, and was quite happy to be part of the audience. But, I’m delighted to be on a few panels, and more than a little nervous. There are some names there that I really look up to and I feel a little out of my depth. But, it will be an adventure and if you are there, feel free to come along and say hello!

And, now back to counting down the days…

(this program is still subject to change)

Fri Aug 31 12:00:pm Fri Aug 31 1:30:pm Tolkien in Technicolor
Buckingham From the aborted Beatles concept of The Lord of the Rings to the forthcoming Hobbit trilogy of Peter Jackson, a discussion of films based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Barry Lyn-Waitsman David McDonald Norman Cates The Wombat Toni Lay
Sat Sep 1 1:30:pm Sat Sep 1 3:00:pm Effective Habits for Aspiring Authors
Columbus CD A nuts-and-bolts panel discussing work habits for the aspiring professional author. How to organize, prioritize, set goals, avoid distractions, and make valuable networking connections in the industry. The panel will also discuss mistakes to avoid.
Brad Aiken Brad R. Torgersen Cecilia Tan David McDonald Lillian Cauldwell
Sat Sep 1 6:00:pm Sat Sep 1 7:30:pm Doctor Who: Is It Still a Kid’s Show?
Buckingham Has the “kids show” gotten more grown up with the last three Doctors? Was it an adult show even before the original cancellation? When, and how, did the transition happen, if it did?
David McDonald Kerri-Ellen Kelly Lynne M. Thomas Michael Lee Ryan K. Johnson
Sun Sep 2 6:00:pm Sun Sep 2 7:30:pm Have Sonic Lipstick Will Travel
Haymarket Celebrating the great Sarah Jane Smith, as a Companion and on her own.
Anna Sheehan David McDonald Ryan K. Johnson Stephanie Grace
Mon Sep 3 10:30:am Mon Sep 3 12:00:pm Getting the Most Out of Writing Groups
Columbus EF There are all kinds of writing groups for all kinds of writers. What should you look for and what rules should you follow to get the most out of the experience? How do you handle conflicting suggestions and how do you comment on others’ writing effectively?
Bill Shunn David McDonald Derek Kunsken Sarah Stegall Tim Susman

Wednesday Writers: Hespa

Back when I was even newer to the scene than I am now (and that’s saying something!), I was fresh off the buzz of the most excellent Swancon36 and desperate for another convention fix. I’d already decided I was going to Continuum, but I wanted to be involved as well simply attending. I sent off an email to the organisers, volunteering to help out if I could, and asking if there was any chance I could be on a panel of some sort. I’d been on a grand total of one panel before, so I honestly expected that I would get a polite no, but instead the wonderful programming coordinators managed to find room for me on some great panels. But, more than that, they went out of their way to make me feel welcome and included, not just on panels but throughout the convention, a convention where I knew very few people. So, it is very apt that today I welcome Hespa (One half of that programming committee – and I do hope the other half will be doing a post here at some point *hint hint*) to talk about her experience of the community aspect of conventions, and what it has meant to her. I am sure that, like me, many of you will find yourself nodding your head in agreement as you read this most excellent post.

Why I Get Excited About Conventions

Thank you to David for inviting me to write something here. I have a confession to make: I’m not really a writer. At best, I’d call myself an inexperienced dabbler in the writerly arts. I am therefore both honoured and terrified to be included among the august ranks of the Wednesday Writers. Here goes…

A couple of weeks ago 200 fantasy, science-fiction, horror, steampunk, anime, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Neil Gaiman, graphic novel, computer game, boardgame fans and I were hanging around the corridors of the Rydges Hotel, Carlton. It was the eighth Continuum, Melbourne’s annual fan-run SF convention.

I’ve been to Continuum since it began, but this year was different. I experienced the con through the fresh eyes of a number of friends from uni – geeks I’ve known for many years, who have finally decided to try out these convention things I keep raving about and see what it is that gets me so excited about them.

Here’s the thing: fandom is a community. It’s a cliche because it’s true. I’m sure there are fans who’ve had happy, well-adjusted upbringings surrounded by kindred spirits, but many of us grew up feeling like outsiders, teased or rejected or just plain lonely. For us, fandom can provide a sense of community that’s sorely needed. More accurately, though, fandom is a series of communities, connected by shared interests but sometimes oblivious to one another.

University was my first fan community. I was lucky enough to go to Melbourne Uni, which had (and, I believe, still has) such a thriving fan community that it spawned five separate fan clubs, including one devoted solely to the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (OK, that and drinking). Uni fandom was a revelation: for the first time I wasn’t the weird loner lurking in the library, I was part of a loud and raucously proud fellowship.

But uni fandom is strongly generational. I entered it as part of the 2002 wave that quickly became known as ‘The Scary First-years’. The older members who called us that viewed askance the sudden influx of bouncy, exciteable teenagers with no interest in the club’s traditions. Mind you, the old guard and their “traditions” had only been around for half a dozen years themselves, dating back to the last significant influx. Most of their peers had now graduated and were rarely seen any more, leaving a small core group to show up to meetings, sticking together, talking about shows no one had seen (“What’s Babylon 5?“) and making in-jokes no one else understood. Soon we had replaced them on the club committees; gradually, they disappeared from view.

A few years later, the cycle repeated. The Scary First-years graduated and moved on. Our time in fandom gave us confidence in ourselves and a network of strong friendships, but as we moved on out into the world, the old fan clubs ceased being the easiest way to keep in touch with one another. We left MU and its fandom behind. I’ve been back on campus a couple of times over the years and it gives me a kind of nostalgic delight to stick my head into a room and see a Fantasy And Science Fiction Appreciation Society event in progress, but the faces are all unfamiliar (and so young!). I’m now the old guard; the next generation is busy building its own community.

Conventions (the fan-run kind, at least) are fundamentally different. Their members run the gamut from wide-eyed newcomers to seasoned elders of fandom, all intermingled. I went alone to my first convention, since no one I knew was interested in cons, and the number of people willing to make friendly conversation with a random eighteen-year-old was astonishing. Sure, it’s always awkward to be the newcomer in a gathering of people who already know each other, but at conventions many of the old guard go out of their way to reduce that awkwardness. “Where did you get that great t-shirt?” they ask, or, “Hey, can you tell me more about that book you mentioned?”

If university fandom is a home occupied by successive, distinct families, oblivious to one another, convention fandom is home to a great big, multi-generational family, parents and kids and grandparents and interstate relatives all living together under one roof. And that gives it a sense of history and geography, of a much bigger picture. If it wasn’t for conventions and the people I have met through them, I might still not know about worldcons, ‘zines, Blake’s 7,  Community, fan funds or the works of a whole range of Australian small-press authors. I would remain blithely unaware of the issues surrounding women and people of colour in speculative fiction (and, indeed, in fandom). I probably wouldn’t be catching up with half the world on Twitter. I certainly wouldn’t have joined the Continuum committee and learned how to run one of these things. My world, in short, would be a whole lot narrower.

I know the convention community is far from perfect. For one of my uni friends, the recent con (her second) included her first direct experience of gamer sexism. She laughed it off, but knowing that she will always have that association with Continuum fills me with rage. So no, we’re surely not perfect. But set against that one negative experience from the weekend were dozens and dozens of positive ones: joining in on panel discussions, dressing up for the maskerade, being inspired to intense hallway conversations on topics that would never normally come up. Not to mention chatting with people they’d never met – from fellow first-timers to old hands to published authors.

A few days after Continuum, my uni friends were on Twitter organising to attend a New Melbourne Browncoats outing they had heard about at the con. And that, right there? That’s why I get so excited about fan-run conventions. Because they connect people and fandoms; because they open our eyes and broaden our horizons; because they help turn a collection of disparate groups into one big community.

Hespa is a firm believer that the best way to get the most out of life is to live several lives simultaneously. When not working her day job as a park ranger, she helps organise conventions; writes; crafts; cycles; cooks; photographs; learns; reads; games; and occasionally wonders why she never seems to have any free time. If you like, you can follow her non-daily Daily Writing Project at hespa.livejournal.com and her sporadic musings and squeeings at twitter.com/hespas_hats

Conflux Roundup

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

Conflux was an incredible experience, and I can’t speak highly enough of the job that the organisers did in putting it all together. It was more than worth the expense of the trip up, both in terms of my development as a writer, and just as an enjoyable social occasion.

There were a number of factors that I think contributed to its success.

An excellent committee

It’s often a thankless job running an event like this, so I want to mention the committee first up. It was obvious how hard working and dedicated they were, and it was a pleasure dealing with them in the weeks leading up to the convention, and during it.

An engaged local community

I was really impressed with how vibrant the Canberra spec fic scene seems to be. There were lots of really passionate and committed writers and fans from the area supporting the convention. It was also great to see a sizeable NSW contingent there as well.

Well constructed program

Again the committee deserve massive kudos for this. The program had a great mix of things to help writers develop their craft, and more pop culture type panels for fans who wanted to chat about their respective passions. It’s a hard thing to get right, but I think they nailed it.

Very strong guest lineup

All the guests at Conflux were engaging and informative, and were experts in their field with lots of knowledge  to impart. And, very importantly, they made themselves extremely accessible to the average convention goer. No sequestering themselves in a secret VIP room between engagements, they were always to be found mingling with the con goers and making themselves part of things. There was no feeling of “us” and “them”, just “us”.

The social atmosphere

As I have mentioned a few times, one of the great strengths of Conflux was the central area where people could grab a coffee or some booze and pull up a couch, meaning that it was a constant hub of social interaction. I not only met up with people I had been waiting months to see again, but made new friends without even trying, because that area lent itself to mingling so well. And really, that’s why you go to cons, to meet people who share your passions.

A recurring conversation I seemed to find myself in was how welcoming and inclusive the spec fic scene is. A social group where people have known each other for years (decades in some cases) can quite easily lend itself to cliques, but as a relative newcomer and someone who really hates trying to mix in new circles, I have been constantly and pleasantly surprised by how people go out of their way to include new faces. I was talking to someone who had never been to a spec fic con, but had been to many more literary gatherings, and he talked about the contrast, where one was about egos and competition, Conflux was about enjoying mixing with likeminded people, and celebrating their achievements.

My theory is that most genre writers are still fans at heart, and that is what motivates them to write. So, it’s about sharing their passion with others, not hoarding their knowledge as if there is only so much success to go around. That’s why you saw so many of the big names of Aussie spec fic and writers at the very start of their journeys deep in animated conversation, drawn together by their common interests. It was funny how a love of spec fic managed to trump all the differences of ideology and politics, it was certainly a very diverse crowd!

So, I came away from Conflux with a heap of new friends and contacts, new techniques and methods to apply to my writing, and energised and motivated to take the next step. Oh, and with a bad case of withdrawals that will only be fixed going to another Con as soon as possible!

Conflux: Day Four

Day One
Day Two
Day Three

By the time I checked out and got all my bags to the convention centre it was pushing lunchtime, so I spent most of the early afternoon chatting to various people and stealing chips from Crisetta MacLeod (thanks, Cristetta!). I wasn’t too fussed about getting to panels, I just wanted to take the chance to spend as much time with everyone as possible before the end of the convention. In hindsight, I do regret not making it to at least the “What does an Editor do?” panel, because the feedback was that it was excellent.

Before long, it was time for the final panel, both for me and of the whole convention.

Monday 2:30pm – Melrose Room
“Drop the Dead Donkey” Panel.
Have all the shows that have been rebooted, revised, resurrected been a waste of time? Was the original better than the remake?
Panellists: Conor Bendle, Mik Bennett, and David McDonald.

Donkey Panel

A very seedy looking panel, from left to right David, Mik and Conor


I am sure that Mik and Conor were sick of the sight of me by this point, it was our third panel together, but it also meant that we were familiar with one another, and it could be a pretty casual atmosphere. Because it was the final panel I didn’t expect we would have many people turn up, but it turned out to be the best attended of all the panels I had been on.

It was a very participative atmosphere, with lots of input from the audience which was wonderful. The conversation was wide ranging, from things that we thought should have been left well enough alone, to things that hadn’t been revisited and really deserved a second chance because they had been done so badly the first time (the Phantom!). That led to ideas that had been done well, but perhaps it was time for a new version as to share them with new audiences (my example was a vampire miniseries called Ultraviolet).

I think everyone found common ground with the idea that American remakes of British shows were generally of the Devil (with one or two exceptions). We also talked about how long running characters had so many incarnations that reboots were almost necessary to let all their iterations see the light of day.

It was a lot of fun, and surprisingly engaging considering the energy levels of us all at that end of the con. And, it was my first experience of a panel I was on being live tweeted (thanks, Jodi!)! Kind of scary, but very cool.

After the panel we had the closing ceremony, which quite rightly celebrated the hard work of all the organisers. It was bittersweet, because we all knew it was almost time to say goodbye. There was a mass exodus to the bar and every one hung around and chatted for a while, but gradually people began to disperse. I hate goodbyes.

Tim Reddan was good enough to drive me out to the airport, and as I flew out of Canberra I reflected on an amazing time. Next post I will share my thoughts on why I thought Conflux was such a success, and why I am hoping to go again next year.

Conflux: Day Three

Day One
Day Two

I took advantage of the fact that I had no commitments on Sunday by sleeping until quite late, thus avoiding the whole issue of Daylight Savings Time. I decided to order room service for lunch, thinking pizza sounded rather good. Over the weekend, my friends and I had a few encounters with a member of the staff who was, to put it mildly, eccentric and it was her who was on duty when I called. Our conversation went a little like this:

Me: Hi, could I please order some room service?
Staff Member: Nah, the chef isn’t in yet.
Me: Sorry?
Staff Member: Yeh, we don’t do room service until about 3pm, I think.
Me: But doesn’t the menu say 10am to 10pm?
Staff Member: I guess so, but the chef isn’t in.
Me: Oh, okay. No worries.
Staff Member: What did you want, anyway?
Me: Just a margarita pizza, but it’s not a problem, I will get something down the street.
Staff Member: I will see if I can work out how to use it and call you back in ten minutes. *click*
She hangs up before I can say anything.
Fifteen minutes later..
Staff Member: We stood around and pushed all the buttons until it started doing something. So, we are going to give it a go…
Ten minutes later…
Staff Member: Um, there was a slight problem and I don’t think you should eat it.

It was too funny!

The Craft of Short Story Writing

Panellists: Cat Sparks (moderator), Jack Dann, Helen Stubbs, Kim Westwood, and Kaaron Warren.

In terms of development as a writer, I think this would have to be close to the best panel I have ever attended. At the moment, I am focussing on writing shorts, and the amount of experience and knowledge on offer in this group was mind blowing, and there was pearl after pearl of wisdom handed out. I thought Cat did a great of moderating it, ensuring that it stayed on track and that everyone got a chance to contribute. I also thought Helen more than held her own, despite being amongst very illustrious company indeed.

Once again, my iPad was invaluable as I feverishly took down note after note. There are too many to list here, but some of the highlights included:

  • When asked whether she was a pantser or a planner, Kaaron telling us that she builds a story from a  pile of bones (great image!), and also saying that if she gets bored writing a passage she knows that it will bore the reader later on
  • Jack talking about how short stories are a way for a writer to build a reputation, and how for him when he writes a novel, each chapter is treated like a short story that ends in a semi colon
  • Cat saying that the biggest problem with short stories she receives is that they are boring, that titles are vital, and that every writer should value add to their culture rather than just adding more noise
  • Kim Westwood describing a short story as a world in a tea cup, a phrase that really resonated with me.

Obviously every writer is different, with different methods, and slavishly imitating another writer gets you nowhere. But, I doubt there was a single person who walked away from that panel without feeling like they had just received a master class in becoming a better writer. It was one of those things where you walk away reenergised and fired up, itching to sit down and write.

Instead, I went and socialised at the bar. But, that was fun too. 🙂

Gradually, a group coalesced and discovered it needed food, so we wandered out in search of Chinese. It was a lovely dinner where we had a chance to admire Jodi Cleghorn’s latest editorial efforts, some very impressive volumes indeed. I also had a lovely chat with some locals, who said they had no desire to write but were “only” readers, to which I replied there is no “only” about that, it’s about the most important thing there is! Writers are a dime a dozen at cons, but there is no point writing if no one is going to read it. It was great to hear a bit more about the Canberra scene (which really impressed me with its vibrancy, might I add), and to just enjoy good company and good food, even it was a bit depressing seeing the fish and lobsters swimming in tanks while they awaited their fate.

By the time we got back to the convention centre the disco was winding down, and I had managed to escape another situation where I might be expected to dance, which made me very happy. There was more great conversation late into the evening, and I finally managed to complete my list of meeting all the Guests. Like all the other Guests, Natalie was wonderfully open and friendly, and happy to answer our many questions. Because of the way everyone had grouped together, rearranging furniture creating a massive ovoid, I was able to meet a lot of new faces (to me) I had somehow missed until then. My only regret from the Con is that it took me until the last night to meet some wonderful people!

Gradually, people drifted off to bed leaving only a few die hards sitting around chatting, and when the subject moved on to sumo herpes I decided it might be getting close to my bedtime, too. So, another wonderful day at the Con, spoiled only by the realisation that the next day would be the last. Sigh.