There was a time when I’d come home from conventions with a camera full of photos, but a few years ago I developed ‘camnesia’, a condition where you only remember that you were carrying a camera after the event. This is often exacerbated by the difficulties of taking photos when the subject you want to record contains yourself – which is why I have no photos from the Swancon in 2009 despite being a GoH. So at unCONventional I started every panel by asking for a volunteer minion, and handing my camera to then. Thanks very much to everyone who acted as my camera minion.
The con was held at the Surrey Hotel. The public areas of the hotel looked like an old english pub, and the rooms were simple but comfortable. It was a very cosy place, with wonderfully helpful staff. On checking out, they said they loved hosting the con as everyone was friendly, cheerful and didn’t get drunk and disorderly like some conference attendees or hotel visitors do. The food was good – especially the muffins baked fresh each morning. (Though the salad I had was very interesting. I asked for it without the blue cheese and it came garnished with crushed up potato crisps instead.) The restaurant area was great for gathering in to chat before and after events.
The first day of the con began, for me, with afternoon tea with local Orbit staff and author Helen Lowe at a nice local vegetarian cafe called Kokako. Afterwards I returned to the hotel for an informal Kaffeklatsche with a few early arrivals. At 7pm Terri, the con chair, officially declared the fun had begun at the Opening Ceremony.
When I heard there was going to be a viewing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show with audience participation I had to watch. Here’s some of the audience settling in:
Afterwards I hung about in the restaurant chatting until late. Time zones were in my favour, keeping me alert. So alert that I decided to wait up until Paul arrived from the airport at 1:30am.
My con duties began with a writers workshop, called “That Got Your Attention”, which was about adding tension to descriptive writing. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the group, which would have been great because I suspect there are more than a couple of future success stories in there. They were all receptive students with oodles of talent, and I hope the exercises were useful, or at least fun to do.
After lunch I had my first panel, “Women in Fantasy and SF” with Lyn McConchie, Mary Victoria and Helen Lowe in which we covered a lot of ground, defining what a ‘strong’ female character is to us.
Afterwards I popped into the floating market and bought some drawstring bags – one that was perfect for my iPod earphones and the other I’m now using to hold a small, portable weaving loom. Dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant called Tiffin had been arranged by Helen Lowe, and included her hubby, Mary Victoria, and fellow FWOR members, Russell Kirkpatrick and Kylie Seluka.
We got back to find the Masquerade wasn’t quite at the dancing stage yet so we went upstairs to the restaurant area and got caught up in talking with everyone. But I didn’t stay up quite as late as the early start (according to my body clock) was catching up with me.
I stared the day in the audience of the “Getting Published” panel. This was particularly interesting in that nobody was there to talk about attracting a publisher’s attention – it was all about self-publishing. It covered a lot about promotion, which led well into my next panel…
“Promoting Your Book”, with Helen Lowe, Stephen Minchin and Grace Bridges, contained two small press publishers and two authors, but the issues were very similar. I ranted a little about authors who put a lot of effort into the latest blogging fad but don’t have basic info about their books, a bio and photo on their site – which is what bookstores, reviewers, and anyone who wants to pin your books on Pinterest, needs. We talked about what works for us and what didn’t seem worth the effort.
After returning to the nice vegetarian cafe for lunch with Russell and Kylie, I headed to another panel, “Geography in SF” with Russell Kirkpatrick, Stephen Minchin and Mary Victoria. Russell did a fine job of moderating. The combination of authors meant there were diverse world building examples, from Simon’s science fiction scenarios to Russell’s geographer’s approach, to Mary’s world as a tree.
Terri had snaffled a huge bag of Whittaker’s couverture chocolate ‘pips’ to use at the con, so with the help of the hotel kitchen staff I set up to make my special chili hot chocolate recipe. For the next hour I made frothy cups of spicy chocolate for con goers.
Fortified with chocolate, I signed some books then headed downstairs to do my GoH Speech. Or what I fondly call ‘telling yarns, with photos’. It covered what got me into writing fantasy, my three careers, and stories about the covers of my books.
Dinner at a very nice restaurant recommended by Jo, the Navas Cafe, then we returned to get dressed up for the Sir Julius Vogel award ceremony. Lots of well dressed people there…
The presenters and some of the winners…
For the full list of the winners and nominees, head to the SFFANZ site.
Giving out awards to their delighted recipients is so much fun. Afterwards there were cocktails, which evolved into another lovely night of drinks and chat up in the restaurant area.
After a relaxed morning the Closing Ceremony concluded the con at midday. We said our thanks and goodbyes. Here’s a pic of my favourite prop from the con, carried in just before the end of each panel:
I didn’t realise until then that I’d barely left the hotel, except for meals, the whole weekend – and hadn’t wanted to I was having so much fun. I had a wonderful, wonderful time. It was a very friendly, cosy convention and I’ll definitely be looking to return in the future.
Afterwards Russell and Kylie took us out to a famous black sand beach. It was good to take the opportunity to see something ‘touristy’ while we were in the country as we didn’t have time to explore New Zealand. We needed to head back home for Continuum: Craftonomicon, the national convention of Australia. More on that in another post.