"We are Catastrophe!"
To pounding music, four grown adults take to the stage in leopard print, and one in a space-themed leotard. "We apologise for Katie," the MC says. "She didn't realise she had to dress as a space leopard and instead came in a space leotard."
But wait, let me back up. Why am I in a conference hall with 400-odd people, being confronted by the space leopard breeding programme?
It all starts a few days prior.
EasterCon is the UK's four day science fiction and fantasy eggstravaganza (sorry not sorry for the puns). As the annual British National Science Fiction Convention. It has been held over the Easter weekend every year since 1955, and the conference is an opportunity for 800-1,200 SFF lovers, authors, buyers, publishers and agents to come together and let their nerd hang out. And hang out we did! This year’s convention was called Conversation, all about getting us talking about books, science fantasy, science, fantasy, and everything in between.
I was lucky to score a spot on three panels, key among them Gateway to Fantasy: YA and inspiring generations. I grabbed three of the books that were my gateway to fantasy out of my home library for a show and tell, selecting Tamora Pierce, Scott Westerfield and Garth Nix.
My bestie and I arrived at the Hilton and checked in, and before I’d even snagged a lanyard I was bumping into people I’d met at BristolCon. As always in conventions, the bar is where the real conversation happens, mixing and mingling* with writers and readers of all sorts and all perfectly lovely to talk with.
Saturday morning starts with breakfast, of course, and there’s nothing better than a hotel breakfast. At breakfast I'm trying to get decaff coffee and I can't find the bin, and a very helpful gentleman shows me where it's hidden. I look at his name tag and it's... Garth Nix. I mean, there's only one, right?
I say, "Oh, wow, um, hi! Um, I'm sorry to do this (note: I'm British, we have to be sorry about many things) but I am a huge fan of your work! Hi!"
And he's like, "Oh hello."
"I've brought one of your books with me, I'm on a panel about YA and inspiring a generation and I brought your book but I didn't know you'd be here!"
Stunned silence. "Well, I planned to attend that one."
EasterCon had a dealer’s room for books and merch, an art dealer’s room for selling artwork, and then several auditoriums for panel discussions and readings. My bestie and I hurried over to one to do the first talk of the day on cowriting with Gareth Worthington, where my tips were:
both need to feel equal ownership of the characters and stories.
both need to be good at capital L Listening.
both need to bring their brand of magic to the table.
timezones make it fun
While the audience was small, it seemed somewhat appreciative.
The next talk I was giving wasn’t for a few hours, so we wandered into the dealer’s room where I spent a small fortune. Haul includes:
Gates of Hope: JE Hannaford (plus a fabric map!)
Beyond Sundered Seas: David Green
The Devil Walks in Blood: David Green
Shades of Night: Rachael Boucker
Untamed Night: Rachael Boucker
Visions and Abominations: Tim Mendees
There were book launch events (David Green and Rachael Boucker, to name only two) and other rooms to the convention: a Lego room, a craft room, a tea room, a socialising room, a dedicated quiet room... Something for everyone!
And then, the jewel on the crown of the weekend: the Gateway to YA Fantasy panel. I volunteered to moderate and was joined by Hildur Knútsdóttir, Lucy A. McLaren and Susie Williamson. We talked about what made YA special to us, what the difference between YA and NA means for us, and a bit about the books that inspired us. I talked about Tamora Pierce and her Circle of Magic series, how it was really about growing up and found family; also about Scott Westerfield and the Uglies series, how that was the fairytale wrapped up in dystopia and the excellent characterisation; and of course Garth Nix, and how there are dark themes because life can be dark, and exploring these issues in fiction as a safe space to do so and imagine life another way is important.
But what about Garth Nix?
I saw Garth Nix in the audience. I didn't wax lyrical (at least I don't think so) but the panel quickly wanted to discuss definitions of YA and suchlike. Afterwards, Garth... Left. He left the room. I was like... Did I say something? Maybe he's busy, got to get somewhere.
On our last day, we wandered into the main auditorium at just the right time. The British National Science Fiction Convention group were about to vote on where 2025 should be held. First up was a team called… Catastrophe.
“Led by our illustrious leader, we are proposing that we hold the next convention, called Catastrophe, in Ikea. They have recently released 100 cats in there for an advert, I’m sure they will be fine with space leopards.”
Of course, this was the joke entry, and it seemed that everyone was in on it. I loved that there were these quirky in-jokes but still accessible to people new to the convention, and plenty of people willing to explain what was going on!
Quickly after that was the more serious entry, proposing Belfast, and when it came to the vote, well, are we going to choose cats and Ikea or Belfast?
(They even showed this advert to prove that Ikea could come with an influx of cats).
For 2024, the conference will be called Levitation, and will be held in Telford. You can check out more details here. https://eastercon2024.co.uk/
And the finale?
My friend spotted Garth Nix on Sunday. Of course I was carrying around his book, like the cool person I am, and I approached him again. "Hi! Um. It's me!"
"Hi Becky. I came to the talk and really enjoyed it. Definitions of YA are ever changing, aren't they?" He signs the book. "This is an old one, one of my lesser loved ones."
"I think it's very powerful and has stuck with me."
"Yes, it seems the ones who love it really love it."
“Oh, and good luck with your own writing!”
All in all, I loved my first EasterCon and cannot wait for the next one!
Have you been to a convention? Tell me everything!
*(mixing and mingling means potential Covid issues though, which the con did suffer from. The convention is updating it’s Covid policies for the next one!)
This article was written by Becky James
Becky James is the author of The King's Swordsman series and the Dark Tides series; based in the UK, she has a deep love of the British countryside, canals, and all things fantasy; she devours anything that has magic, swords, good friends and good times.
You can read her other posts here.