My Ridiculously Long WFC Report
So. At last. An attempt at a coherent World Fantasy Convention report.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that “Smarch” refers to the Tad Williams Message Board (previously located at shadowmarch.com, hence the name). That expression will be used a lot in this post, since it was fellow Smarchers I was travelling with, and Tad himself was there as well.
Almost every time I travel, it is with Smarch-friends, and this was also the case for WFC. Some of them have gone several times already, and since it was in Europe this year (which doesn’t happen often) I decided to go as well. I almost couldn’t go because I hesitated too long and memberships were sold out, but I eventually managed to get my hands on one after all.
I’m always nervous about travelling by myself, especially by plane (it’s not the flying I mind so much – that part is fun – but airports that make me nervous), so I took the train to Germany to meet up with ylvs (who I had just met earlier this year in Stuttgart.) We spent one night at her husband’s apartment in Duisburg, in a neighbourhood full of stores selling Turkish wedding dresses. I wish I had brought my camera when we went out for dinner – you will just have to believe me that the shop windows were hilarious.
On the morning of October 31st we flew over to the UK, and had some ridiculously good timing: we got to the baggage claim just as our suitcases got there, got to the shuttle just as the shuttle arrived, bought our train tickets to Brighton and got to the platform just as the train arrived.
I’m not sure what time it was when we arrived in Brighton (between time zone change and too many fun things happening, I am a little confused about lots of things) but I think it was still before noon.
Ylvs and I made our way down to the con hotel, on foot since it wasn’t that far. Just as we turned the corner onto King’s Road (right by the seafront, where both the con hotel and our own were) ylvs stopped, looked around, and said, “I think I’m having hallucinations. I just thought I saw Neil Gaiman jogging past. But he’s not at WFC, so that can’t be right.”
But then a little while later, after dropping off our bags and collecting our con badges and book bags and programmes, we discovered that, yes, Neil Gaiman was in fact there as a surprise guest of honour.
Being two slightly confused newbies, we sat in the bar for a while until one of our WFC veteran friends, Sahi, found us. I’m not sure in what order things happened, since I didn’t have much time to write in my journal and so by the time I got to write anything down, my memories were already pretty blurry, but there was food at some point, and wandering around the dealer’s room, where – at the very first table, too – we found a book with a very embarrassing mistake. A copy of The Dragons of Ordinary Farm, which Tad Williams co-wrote with his wife Deborah Beale. Only…
Misspelling an author’s name on the cover, how embarrassing is that?!
We also attended our first panels, one on writing historical fantasy and one on comics (which we only went to because Neil Gaiman was on it). I will have to do a separate post on the panels at some point, because I don’t have my notes from them with me right now – and this post will be long enough as it is!
Eventually, the last two of my Smarch-friends, cyan and Libra, got there. They have the same real name, which together with mine and ylvs’s very similar-sounding one, probably made for rather confusing introductions.
After dinner, we went to our own hotel, which was apparently very confused about what “twin beds” meant. Because neither of our two rooms had those, even though it would have been quite simple to separate the double beds into two individual ones. Instead, they crammed an extra bed in mine and Libra’s room. And the other room didn’t even have enough towels. I don’t think I can recommend staying at the Holiday Inn.
Even though I don’t smoke, I went outside with cyan and Libra to chat while they had a cigarette, and then we sat in the bar to talk some more, and guess who wandered in and turned out to stay in the same hotel? Tad.
In Stuttgart, it felt quite overwhelming to be hugged by Tad, in an “OMG my favourite author just hugged me, how is this my life?” sort of way. But somehow, between then and now, with Tad occasionally stopping by in our online tavern at Smarch, I have gotten used to the fact that he knows and, apparently, likes me, so that hugging him didn’t feel so weird this time.
After breakfast (I really could get used to English breakfast, by the way) we went to the guest of honour interview with Neil Gaiman, during which I was too busy listening to take notes. I wrote some things down in my journal afterwards, but again – this will have to wait for a separate post.
We went to lunch with a couple of people I didn’t know, and still don’t quite know why they were with us (maybe some of my friends knew them from previous WFCs? Or were they new friends?), and then to “Sir Terry Pratchett in Conversation”.
I was very conflicted about whether I should go to that or not, because Patrick Rothfuss was reading at the same time, and I love the Kingkiller Chronicle, while not caring all that much for Discworld (I have read two or three books, but have no desire to go back for more.) Eventually, Terry Pratchett won out, though. There will, hopefully, be plenty more opportunities to see Pat, but I doubt I will ever get to see Terry again.
We had another panel we wanted to attend right afterwards (actually, if I had been able to split myself in three, I would have attended all of the three panels at that time), but Terry Pratchett ran late, and then we got stuck behind him exchanging hats with someone in the hallway, so we were even later and missed the beginning of the one on women in heroic fantasy and only got crappy seats way in the back.
Since Friday evening was the mass signing, we went back to the hotel to pick up the books we wanted to get signed, and then to dinner at a nearby Chinese place, where I was the only barbarian in our group to eat with a fork instead of chopsticks, and still managed to spill food all over the table.
The mass signing could, I suppose, have been better organized. If authors have their name signs standing on the table they’re sitting at, how are you going to see that sign when people are standing in front of that table? And with dozens of authors there in no particular order, how are you ever going to find anyone, especially people you don’t really know what they look like? I ended up pulling out my copy of Blood of Dragons (which I had just finished reading on the flight) to look at Robin Hobb’s author picture, and still only managed to find her by looking at which books the people standing in line were holding.
And as ylvs pointed out, with the authors sitting down, it put them in a position of awkwardly looking up at the fans standing in front of their tables, so she crouched down a little to talk to Neil Gaiman to put them at the same height and was rewarded with several minutes of conversation about her living in the land of Grimm’s fairy tales, despite the fact that Neil easily had the longest line at the signing. I would almost say, as long as everyone else’s lines combined.
(And also, see what this con did to me? I never used to call authors by their first name, except for Tad, but now, after hearing everyone else referring to them this way, it seems pretty natural.)
So I got Blood of Dragons signed, and The Name of the Wind, but was too shy to actually talk to Robin Hobb or Pat Rothfuss – the latter thankfully easily to find, thanks to his rather distinctive beard. Even though he and two other people had switched around their badges and name signs.
I wandered around with my friends for some time, keeping Sahi company as she got an author (who was Dutch, like her) to draw something in her notebook (she had decided to collect drawings instead of autographs this year) and giggling as I watched Random Fanboy getting his picture taken with Tad.
Right. Random Fanboy. That is a story I should probably tell you, even though it happened to Sahi, not me.
Sahi arrived a day before the rest of us, on Wednesday, and at the Early Arrivals Reception, there was a guy going around with a notebook asking everyone, “Excuse me, are you an author or an artist? Can you sign my book?”
And then, at one point, he went up to Neil Gaiman and asked, “Excuse me…” He was interrupted before he could finish the question, so Sahi didn’t know if he actually asked Neil if he was an author, but if he did… oh my god… I am really not good with faces, but even I recognize Neil.
Libra hadn’t brought any books for them to sign, but still wanted Robin Hobb’s and Trudi Canavan’s signature, so she decided to ask them to sign her programme. I decided to do that too, since I hadn’t felt like dragging one of Trudi’s books to Brighton. But instead of signing the progamme, she signed three bookplates for each of us (I still haven’t decided what books to put them in), and we also got a bookmark and a button with a quote on it. I still find it pretty amusing that we both went for the same quote.
And then, while standing in line for Robin Hobb, the most unlikely thing of the entire con (heck, the most unlikely thing of the entire year) happened, which I’ve written about here.
I also got to meet Rajan, who was a Smarcher a long time ago – I know his name, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him – who begged us to free him of a thing that had somehow ended up in his possession. Years ago, at another con, Tad and his wife Deborah had signed a cover of the (then) not-yet-published Dragons of Ordinary Farm to all Smarchers, and it was decided that, since it belongs to all of us, it should travel the world and have its picture taken in as many famous locations as possible.
The “famous location” part didn’t work out quite as well, because while Castlefest is fun, it isn’t exactly famous, and a random bookstore in Vienna certainly isn’t. The “travelling the world” part worked for a while, but then circa 2009, the cover disappeared. The last anyone knew it was in Australia, and suddenly it resurfaced in the hands of an American in Brighton. I’m still not sure what happened in between.
Since it was sort of sunny, or at least not raining and not entirely cloudy, we started the day with a walk on the beach and some picture-taking. It was so utterly odd for me to smell the sea when the weather was cold – I have only ever been to the sea in the summer.
I would happily have stayed on the beach longer, but the first panel of the day was one on worldbuilding, with Pat Rothfuss and Robin Hobb, and there was no way we were going to miss it.
Again, details in a later post, but it was great, and if not for my unwavering loyalty to Tad (really, why wasn’t he on that panel?) I would easily call it the best one.
I had to miss both Trudi Canavan’s reading and a panel with Neil Gaiman because I had a kaffeeklatsch with Robin Hobb at the same time. (Seriously, before I go to another con, I need to get my hands on a time-turner.) I went to the bathroom right before, and on the way out, held the door open for the woman behind me. And then turned around, stared for a moment and thought, “Wait, was that Robin Hobb?” (It was.) It’s pretty awesome to bump into well-known authors all over the place.
We had some overpriced snacks in the hotel bar for lunch, and then I don’t know what happened until Tad’s panel (called “Elvish has left the building”) at 5 PM. We might just have spent all that time chatting in the bar. Although at one point I went back to our hotel (or rather, got blown there by the wind, and then fought my way back against it) to get the spare batteries for my camera, since I have somehow become the semi-official Smarch camerawoman, and was expected to film the panel. (Oh, and if I may brag a little, one of my videos from Stuttgart is now a source on Wikipedia.)
We met Rajan again at the panel, and even though I hardly know him, I made him sign the Smarchmap, which is a map of the world where every Smarcher I meet has to sign in the place that s/he lives.
We fought our way against the wind again to find a place for dinner. I really like strong wind, so I found that quite fun. And dinner was delicious – I would recommend the place, but I can’t remember the name.
Two of our group went to some party, but the rest decided it was too much, too many people shouting at each other because it was the only way to be heard, and went back to our hotel for a drink and a chat in the quiet bar, and then I enjoyed some quiet time in my room and tried to catch up with my journaling, until Libra came back and told me of a hilarious reading of the worst book ever they had attended. Well, I’m not sure if it is the worst book ever, but it must be pretty high on the list and had me nearly falling off the bed with laughter. It is probably terribly mean of me to say that it was this book, but really, if you self-publish rubbish like that, you deserve it.
On the way to get coffee on Sunday morning, we bumped into Tessa, another once-upon-a-time Smarcher, and again, despite not really knowing more than her name, I accosted her with the Smarchmap. I now have my first signature in Australia, yay.
We made sure to get to the “Californian sorcery” panel early, and get front-row seats so I could film again, since Tad was supposed to be on the panel. Only… he didn’t turn up, and nobody could find him. I can’t really remember much of the panel, since it was mostly about writers I haven’t read.
Five minutes before the end, Tad turned up, with a rather entertaining apology: his phone had refused to switch to the proper time zone, so it was still on Californian time. Which was OK, he had accounted for the time difference when setting his alarm… but what he had not accounted for was that in the US, daylight saving time had ended (it happens a week earlier in Europe), so he was off by an hour.
I would hesitate to share this embarrassing story, but Tad already posted it on facebook, soo… And guess who also lost his name badge? Sorry, Tad, you have made me really feel like a friend rather than a fan now, and I do point and laugh at my friends.
And it was pretty funny to see the screen thingy in the hotel lobby (which showed the daily programme) saying, “nobody lost their badge yesterday, although Neil Gaiman came close” and then a bit later, Tad shows up wearing a handwritten badge.
Since neither of us wanted to go to the awards banquet at lunchtime, we had decided to go out to eat with Tad instead. Someone asked Tad what he would have talked about if he had made it to the panel on time, since, apparently, he is from the wrong part of California to really fit in (I don’t know anything about Californian geography, OK? I never liked geography, and am just glad I can even find California on a map without hesitating.) So he told us a story about how he had once saved Ray Bradbury’s life.
There were also some funny stories about his children, which I won’t post for two reasons: a.) those kids have a right to their privacy, and while I might tell those stories to friends in person (just like I would tell stories about any other friend’s kids), I won’t post them online, and b.) posting a conversation with friends online feels weird and creepy. And even if Tad is a well-known author (well, within his genre, anyway), that is what it was: a conversation with friends.
Tad eventually had to leave us, to attend the awards ceremony, so after I had dumped out a bag of Austrian chocolate with all sorts of weird things in it, like bacon and red wine and Indian spices, and made everyone take some, we walked back to the hotel together and got a picture taken together (which I still haven’t seen, I need to bug my friends about putting their pictures online), and I accosted Tad with a book for him to sign. (Sorry, Tad, but there still are many more unsigned books waiting for you the next time we meet.)
Then at last, we could no longer put off the goodbyes any longer. Tad left for the ceremony, and us Smarchers went for a walk through very windy Brighton, past a completely ridiculous amount of jewellers, and on the pier, and back over the beach.
Finally we returned to the bar to warm up again and chat a bit more. Rajan turned up again, because he had forgotten to actually hand over the signed Dragons of Ordinary Farm cover.
At about 5:30, we headed back to our own hotel, to pick up our luggage and wait for our cab. Between the five of us, taking a cab to Libra’s house in the suburbs of London was hardly more expensive than the train, and far less hassle with our book-stuffed luggage.
It was lovely to spend another night together with my friends, dinner and talking and laughter, Smarch-gossip and Tad-geekery (god, I love it when I only need to raise my finger in a “wait, I want to say something” gesture when the talk turns to onions and people know exactly what I’m going to say) and playing with kittens (who are named Drogon and Rhaegal, and Libra, her sister and their roommate really should really get a third pet just to name it Viserion. Yes, even if that would get shortened to “Vis”, which means “fish” in Dutch, and would sound weird when their Dutch family and friends come to visit.)
But all too soon, it was time to go to bed and catch a few hours of sleep before ylvs and I had to get up at far-too-early in the morning to take a cab back to Gatwick, to hurry through the airport and fly back to Germany. I still had to spend a couple of hours on trains after that, going back to Austria, hours that I meant to spend writing about my experiences and instead spent sleeping.
And now that I’m home… for almost a week now, and still not completely unpacked… now I sit here wondering if I should go one step further next year – if I should go to the US to attend WFC again. There’s WorldCon in London, too, which would probably be the more reasonable, closer-to-home choice, but I really enjoyed WFC, and for some reason, the idea of WorldCon doesn’t appeal to me quite as much.
Well, I guess I have finally run out of things to say. So I leave you with something I told my best friend on the phone on my way home, and which for some reason made me laugh after I’d said it:
I don’t know what other people take pictures of when they are on holiday. I take pictures of writers.
(And also, clearly, of gulls and kittens and the sea.)