Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Pros and Conventions

For the last few years I’d been wanting to “upgrade” from doing the annual Novacon SF convention to attending an Eastercon – generally the UK’s largest annual SF&F weekend, and finally this year, I finally got my act together. 

Hosted on a different city each year, the location for the 2018 Eastercon – AKA “Follycon” – was Harrogate in North Yorkshire, in the Majestic Hotel, a huge Victorian building, evidently grand in its day – complete with the most enormous gent’s toilets I’ve ever seen. This had quickly become a convention talking point for everyone... I’m surprised they don’t already have their own Twitter account. 

I arrived on the Friday afternoon when everything was already under way. I signed in and headed straight for the art show to put up my work, realising that in hindsight, arriving the day before would have been beneficial and less stressful. While I get a buzz out of the smaller events, I found it completely overwhelming at first and it took me until the following afternoon to acclimatise.

At Novacon, I’ve been used to one main rolling program and a few sub-events all within easy reach of one another. This bigger event saw multiple large panel events running simultaneously with half a dozen or more smaller events happening at the same time in various different parts of the venue. Typically, many of the programme items I had bookmarked, clashed, so I had to be reluctantly selective.

I exhibited at the art show, with my largest and most diverse display to date. The art show was huge and astoundingly good. The quality of the work on show was second to none and incredibly wide-ranging with very few similar styles. 

With over 600 pieces on display of vastly different styles and mediums, the art show was spectacular. My work felt perfectly in place and in very good company. Sadly my fellow artist and good friend David A. Hardy was unable to make it to the convention, but his work came without him. A genuinely pleasant surprise came when I realised Chris Moore and Jim Burns were also part of the art show – two artists alongside Hardy, whose work I have admired for many years, and that has been a big inspiration to me, so meeting them was an absolute pleasure.

Despite being one of the artists, I could have happily spent the whole convention in the art show! I also had the pleasure of meeting other artists such as Neil McChrystal and Anne Sudworth as well as many familiar friendly faces from Novacon –  not to mention Serena and John, the driving force behind the art show and two wonderful people who deserve a month of sleep after putting in so many hours of hard work and taking care of all their artists.

With that in mind, what made the event was really the people. Friendly, likeminded folk and people who you can strike up any conversation with. And unlike your ComiCon type of film/tv events, there are no outrageous autograph charges here (none at all, in fact) – well-known authors, artists and guests are more than happy to sign things for you and to socialise, be one of the crowd and enjoy the convention as much as the attendees – as many of them were prior to being known. There was no feeling of ‘them’ and ‘us’, with no egos on parade.  

I spent a lot of time talking with publishers and writers, but the highlight of the weekend for me, was spending time in the company of Jeff Noon, Christopher Priest and John Clute. I had attended the Angry Robot book launch for Jeff Noon’s new book The Body Library – a title with which I’d been fascinated since reading his previous title, A Man of Shadows last year.

Christopher Priest only appeared on one panel, but it was an insightful – but unfortunately rushed – discussion on the late Brian Aldiss. The various anecdotes from the panel members on their own personal experiences of knowing Aldiss was interesting. After Arthur C. Clarke, Aldiss was one of the first classic SF authors I read, and whose books also inspired some of my early artwork.

It was an honour to spend a few hours with Mr Priest after the panel, despite the traumatising lack of coffee at the hotel bar! Despite being my favourite writer, we touched very little on books, instead talking all manner of other things. I did get him to sign my copy of The Glamour, though!

There was a poster area with posters of varying subject matters. I exhibited a poster on synaesthesia and art/music and made myself available to speak about it to anybody interested. I thought this item was a really good idea and more could have been made of it, as the variety of subjects was really interesting. This also sparked some ideas for future work. 

I also joined in Guardbridge Books’ launch event for Harry Elliott’s novel Warrior Errant, to which I have recently illustrated the cover. I found myself signing copies as the cover artist, which did feel a bit funny, since the author Harry was unable to attend.

I had finally settled comfortably into things when it was time to start dismantling the art show. For various reasons, the traditional art show auction had been replaced by a ‘silent’ auction of on-board bidding. It took a long time for any bids to start filtering through and many people kept asking when the auction event was, so they had to be informed otherwise. 

On the up-side, this enabled us to have the option of instant sale pieces in our displays, an idea I really liked, as it allowed a good combination of pieces that could go to auction, and pieces that perhaps catered for people who were maybe not staying for the full weekend, or were there on a budget.

There has been a lot of things to follow up since the convention, and it has taken a while for my thoughts to settle down. If I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy the size of the event. It was a bit much for me personally. But I did enjoy the social side and of course, the exposure – and you can’t have one without the other. 

There was also a constant feeling of wanting or needing to be in three places at once, and many people who you wanted to talk to, you couldn’t, because you’d either just manage a passing hello or indefinitely keep missing each other as events collided. There was also the matter of having to choose between events. I regularly found myself yearning for a smaller, more simple affair – yet when it was all over by the Monday and things were winding down, I did feel a bit sad. So conflicting feelings, really.

It is difficult to compare an event like Novacon of around 200 people, to something like this, which is perhaps four or five times the size, though both have their pros and cons.

I prefer the simplicity of Novacon, but in recent years, it has felt like the same, but diminishing returning crowd. And it really is a superb convention, which deserves a good attendance. It has a great programme, great guests and you have both the time and space to properly see the people you want to see. However, Novacon does feel like it has become an annual meet-up for the same group – nothing wrong with that, but as somebody on the exhibiting side, you want to see new, fresh faces and a growing attendance.

I would certainly do another Eastercon, especially now I know what I’m in for. On the whole, Follycon was a very positive experience. So many things happened and people met, that simply wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I got a lot out of it from that point of view, and feel all the more inspired for having done so.

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