Some of the Manchester Spec Fic group at the con
This time last weekend I was at my first Eastercon, Mancunicon. It wasn’t my first SFF con, I’ve been to Worldcon (Interaction in Glasgow, 2005) and World Fantasy con (Brighton, 2013) but this is the first con I’ve really “got”. (I’m not counting comic cons like MCM and other general SFF entertainment cons like SFX weekender as these are a completely different kettle of fish).
Why is that? Let’s dissect.
In Interaction (Glasgow, 2005) I was 21. I went along because it was in my home city and everyone in my writers’ group (GSFWC) told me it was the bees-knees. I went with my sister , who is a dabbling SFF geek (i.e. she read Dragonlance and David Eddings as a teenager and liked the LotR films). I think we spent the whole time like rabbits in the headlights. Cosplayers, Americans (gasp), dice with more than 6 sides, all these subgenre of SFF that we had never even heard of, were all new and fascinating to us. We were overwhelmed by the huge scale of it all. And to be honest, it was intimidating. I felt like I had walked into a secret society and did not know the handshake. My overall memory of Interaction is seeing Anne McCaffrey and staying in the dealers room to buy dragon-related merchandise.
In World Fantasy con, 8 years later, I was at university in nearby London doing my postgrad so again I did not stay late. I had some vague plan in my head that if I bought a ticket a year in advance, it would give me the motivation to write a novel and network at the event. I went by myself and attended lots of fascinating panels and saw childhood heroes Susan Cooper and Terry Pratchett (squee). I once again bumped into the good old GSFWC crew who told me that I was missing barcon. Barcon? What is this? But I had to get a train back to London! >.<; I did ZERO networking. I also had ZERO novels to pitch, so that wasn’t really surprising. I found it quite difficult to start conversations with random strangers and most of them tried to get me to buy their burgeoning novels. Whilst I have no problem with this, when every conversation (which took me minutes to work up the courage to initiate) ended up as a book selling exercise, I soon became too fatigue to even attempt to strike up conversation. My experience was also ruined slightly by being chastised by someone who thought I should have recognised him. I probably should have, but it left me feeling quite upset and frankly I wasn’t sure if I would go to another con after that.
Which brings me to Mancunicon 2016! What changed?
1. Con envy
I joined Twitter about a year ago and so suddenly I have a greater understanding of cons and the people that go to them. People on my feed who were living nowhere near each other suddenly popped up in photos hanging at the bar at some awesome con. I was very envious of those who went to Fantasycon 2015 as Fox Spirit, who had just accepted my story “Yukizuki” won a British Fantasy Award, and lots of people I admire on Twitter attended. I was determined to go to Mancunicon and had no excuse really, as I am currently living in Manchester.
2. Multiple groups of friends
As well as catching up with GSWFC members, ManSpecFic members were in attendance at Mancunicon. And over and above this I managed to make a few connections via Twitter and codex to get myself invited to so awesome dimsum, have a few drinks at the bar and start conversations with people I have a great admiration for. Hurray. Although I was quite happy to wander alone at times, there was always someone I knew, somewhere, to chat to when I was feeling lonely.
I signed up to do EVERYTHING when Mancunicon was first announced. After some deliberation I realised this was not necessarily the smartest thing to do so I volunteered for a couple of hours on registration. Meeting Martin and the reg crew was great fun as I instantly felt like I was welcomed rather than left on my on. Greeting people with a friendly smile and a bit of banter, meant when I saw them later in the hotel, I felt like could approach them.
4. Being on Panels
I was on my first panels at Mancunicon. On Friday I was on the Diversity in SFF panel. This is a subject which I am very passionate about but is also well-worn. In a way I am very aware that the people who attend diversity panels are the people who are already on board (same with feminism panels) but I also wanted to cut my teeth on something I could talk about. I was shaking under the table, and this was the bigger room of my two panels so we had to use mikes. I soon realised however, that I was just as knowledgeable as the rest of the panelists. No-one was an ‘expert’ on diversity, and no-one has all the answers. I shared a few anecdotes which got appropriate laughs and nods and I didn’t fall over or start speaking gibberish. Bonus.
The on Saturday I was in the anime panel. This was in a tiny room and filled with so many anime aficionados that I immediately thought they would call me out for being a part-time fan. It ended up being a giant fun pub talking discussing the horrors of Sword Art Online and the disappointing tropeish middle of Attack on Titan. I shared my love of Ghibli and Japanese culture with a whole room of strangers. It was so good in fact, that a few of us kept talking about it after the panel finished, and I ended up chatting to these people at other things during the weekend.
I also was involved in the Manchester Speculative Fiction group’s crit workshop on Saturday morning which has a very nice write up by one of the victims, I mean participants, Arthur Chappell. We did our normal Milford rules crit but there was something more energising about doing it at the con amidst the energy of the place.
5. Being a bit more chilled
They say that in you don’t just need to meet the right person, you need to meet them at the right time in your life. I feel this way about cons. I’ve mellowed out a bit, am a bit more confident in myself and I know a few more people. I’m no longer intimidated by older men talking about hard science fiction, I just remove myself from the conversation if I don’t find it interesting and talk about something else. Mancunicon therefore was perfect for me. Being a UK con, it was a bit smaller than the others I’ve previous been too. And suddenly all the comments people had said about cons being friendly and inclusive made sense to me. I don’t think this is an Eastercon only thing, I genuine think it’s about finding the right con at the right time. I was less obssessed with panels and going to everything. Partly this was impossible due to the tight room sizes of some of the panels but also because I enjoyed just soaking in the atmosphere. I also just talked to people. It didn’t matter if they were fans or multiaward winning novelists, everyone was a SFF geek first and foremost.
Highlights I have not yet mentioned include:
Aliette de Bodard and Zen Cho’s comedy duo cooking demonstration. I already knew how to make gỏi cuốn but it was so much more entertaining watching them do it I also learnt about the degrees of fish sauce.
The African SF panel where my eyes were opened to the ongoing influences of colonialism in Africa.
The Strange Horizons tea party because, Strange Horizons. And hanging out in the Presidential Suite like a boss.
Meeting a well-known agent and him telling us anecdotes about his first con and how friendly these big name authors had been at the time. And realising at the beginning he was just a massive fan like the rest of us.
Bar rants about: misogyny in anime, My Little Pony fandom, steampunkers, fantasy art, chocolate slave traders and books, books, books and writing.
SO needless to say, I might be a con-vert.