Geekdom and fandom and cosplay, oh my!
This year was my second time heading down to Heathrow in London for Nine Worlds Geekfest. Last year it was my favourite con, and though this is likely my only con this year, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I flew down with my friend, Erica, and it was the tail end of her trip to Europe this summer. I saw another girl I know from Aberdeen after we landed, Siân, and it was her first Nine Worlds. We settled into the hotel, and then Erica and I met up with some authors to take a taxi to Goldsboro Books for Fantasy in the Court. My eternal gratitude for Stephen Aryan for having the foresight to arrange transport to avoid the worst of the tube strike traffic.
Despite the strike, the bookstore was packed with authors, publishing folks, and readers. I caught up with lots of people and ended up meeting Diana Sousa, who I know from Twitter, in person for the first time. A bunch of us went to Byron Burger after the event before we clambered back in the taxi to head back to Heathrow. Thanks to Goldsboro Books and Hodderscape for arranging the event!
For Friday, I did a lazy cosplay of Kimmy Schmidt. I’m a fan of low effort, stealth cosplays. It means I still feel comfortable wearing clothes similar to my everyday wear, but I feel like I’m joining in the cosplay community. In the morning, I hung around mostly, and I had my first panel, “Beyond the Binary,” at 1.30, which was part of the LGBTQAI+ and YA tracks. Marieke Nijkamp was an excellent moderator, and I enjoyed chatting gender and sexuality in YA with Tom Pollock, Sarah Benwell, Lauren E James, and James Dawson. Afterwards I wanted to go to other panels, but ended up in the bar, per usual. One of the chats, with Julie Crisp and Lucy Hounsom, proved to be good prep for my evening panel, as we talked about our favourite books we read in our youth. At 5, I moderated the “Childhood Influences” panel, and grilled Kim Curran, Taran Matharu, Alex Lamb, Ed Cox, and Frances Hardinge about their favourite books they read as children.
My top tip for moderating: Come up with far more questions than you need. I had 11, but I think I only asked about 7 in the end. I was able to then ask a more natural follow on question, or find ways to combine two. It meant I had some in reserve in case audience questions ended early. It seemed to go well, mostly because I had clever and lovely panellists.
Friday evening I had a meal with the other Team Mushens authors and Ms Mushens herself. We’re quite the squad at any SFF event—there were something like 15 of us! We went to the Steak & Lobster place in the con hotel. Last year it was called the Trunk restaurant, and it was disappointing then. Even though the name changed, service hadn’t. Juliet got a cold lobster, most other people got lukewarm ones (you’d think when they now only serve lobster, steak, or risotto, they’d have gotten cooking them down pat), and they seem to seriously have a grudge against giving people tap water. Peter Newman had to ask 3 times before they finally brought it—another flashback to last year. My veggie risotto was perfectly edible, but not particularly exciting. But the company was good. 😀
Then it was back to the bar for more chatting. I ended up staying up far too late on the Friday, but I enjoyed sitting with Lorna, my friend from Aberdeen who met us down there, and Tom Hunter and Del Lakin-Smith, until about 1.45 am.
Saturday was, unsurprisingly, another long day. I wore my favourite stealth cosplay that I’d been really looking forward to: hipster Ariel! I wore my old Ray ban frames (everything was somewhat blurry in my right eye), a tank that said “Life’s a beach,” the most incredible green scaled leggings, and my doc martens. I wish I could wear these leggings every day. Erica went as hipster Belle, and Lorna went as Arnold Rimmer in the “Quarantine” episode of Red Dwarf. It was a huge hit and she got more than 50 cosplay tokens!
On Saturday I managed a few panels that weren’t only my own. I wanted to go a panel at 10…that didn’t happen. I went to the Max Max panel of “We Are Not Things” with Naomi Alderman, Laurie Penny, and Ludi Valentine. If anyone has spoken to me in the last few months, they’ve probably heard me banging on about this film. I saw it three times in the cinema. I very nearly cosplayed Capable. Big fan. So it was fun to listen to a lively discussion about what it does well, what it doesn’t do quite right, and all the issues it raises. What a lovely day! Favourite quote: “Unbelievably entertaining, which is what you want from your feminist propaganda” – Laurie Penny.
After a bit more hanging about, I went to a workshop at 2 pm by David Monteith, an actor and one of the runners of the Geek Syndicate website. It was tips for reading your work aloud and it was SO helpful. I’m okay at readings, but there’s a lot of room for improvement, and so I’m going to practice the tips I learned from David. He does private sessions if you’re in the London area, which would be money well spent. He’s also in a New Orleans voodoo-flavoured production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Arts Theatre West End, which I wish I could have had time to go to.
After more bopping about and then going for dinner at the much better restaurant in the Marriott, I had my evening panel, which was about girl characters in YA. People can be very quick to slap labels on girl characters; that they’re Manic Pixie Dream Girls or Mary Sues or Strong Female Characters, so we spent some time de-constructing that. My favourite moment was Mel Salisbury saying things would be much easier for girls in YA (and society) by getting rid of all the old white men in power, hehe. Saturday was another late night, which is par for the course at these cons. It’s sort of a blur. I spoke to a lot of people, including a nice catch up with Ro Smith. I went to bed at around half three, after I said goodbye to Erica, who had a godawfully early flight at 6 am to head back to California.
Sunday, by some miracle, I was up, packed, checked out, and breakfasted by the 10 am Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meetup. This is a group that meets fairly often in London, and it’s run by two Team Mushens authors: Den Patrick and Jen Williams. Last Fantasycon they had a con meetup and it went really well, so they repeated it at Nine Worlds. There was cake, tea, coffee, and reading by James Oswald, Anna Caltabiano, Charlie Fletcher (who is GREAT at readings), and a short one from Julia Knight’s upcoming book. It was packed, which is always a good sign!
Afterwards, I went with Lorna to Laurie Penny’s workshop of writing columns, which I found very useful. I’ve been interested in writing articles and pitching them, but haven’t really known how to get started. By this point of the con, I was flagging badly. I hung around, had some afternoon tea with friends, and then flew home to collapse into my bed at 11 pm.
Nine Worlds does so much right. They are super inclusive and welcome diversity. They had badges for preferred pronouns and to signpost whether or not you were comfortable speaking with strangers. There were lots of panels on diversity, and many different tracks. Even if your main interest wasn’t books (general books or the new YA track), there’s a fanfic track, or an academia track, star trek, geek feminism, video games, comics…basically whatever your little geeky heart desires. There was a blanket fort workshop! Brochures list the best local places to cater to dietary requirements. They have a quiet room if you’re a little overwhelmed, and many newbie meetups. There’s a very clear harassment policy in place. What many cons struggle to get right, Nine Worlds is 100% for. It’s very refreshing.
As with pretty much everyone at the con, though, I was pretty unimpressed with the hotel. I’ve been to at least four or five cons at the Radisson Blu at Heathrow, and they’re always very understaffed, but this time was the worst. Service went at a glacial pace, everything was terribly expensive, the staff were either nice but run off their feet or run off their feet and very surly. Some staff evidently misgendered people despite the pronoun badges, which is unfortunate when the organisers put in so much effort to make the con a safe space. They put someone on the lobby cafe by herself on her first day and the place was super busy with a con. As Immortan Joe would say: mediocre. Here’s hoping Radisson either promises significant improvements or we can find another venue.
TLDR; Nine Worlds is a great con. You should consider going to it.