The convention started for me over two years ago. It was the last Who's 7 and Ruth Saunders had just announced that there wouldn't be another one. I loved this convention with its multitude of activities and debates. It was such a contrast to some other conventions that consisted of little more than guest talks and a dealers room.
I mentioned on the Lysator list that I was thinking of running a convention and Steve promptly popped up and said he'd be interested. Our combined convention running experience was nil.
Nothing deterred, we set about recruiting people who did actually know what they were doing. Sarah had done accounts for a couple of conventions and Eddie and Chris were old hands at the business. Ruth put me in touch with Andy Croft who was to prove an invaluable source of advice even though he wasn't directly involved with the convention.
The exact form of the convention went through several mutations. We shifted our planned date to give Deliverance more space and decided to go for a lower profile on guests and concentrate more on fan-run activities and also changed to a B7/B5 format.
We chose the Ashford International hotel after looking at several others found by a conference venue service. The Ashford wasn't the cheapest, but it did have several significant advantages. It had a level ground floor which was important when considering fans in wheelchairs; it had lots of small function rooms grouped together on the first floor; it also had a reputation (garnered from Who's 7) for friendly helpful staff. Funnily enough, the final point that decided in its favour was one that might seem trivial but was very important to us. The other hotel that had made it to our short list didn't want flyers left around the bar area. We realised that this would also extend to any kind of material stuck on walls, pillars, etc. in the public areas of the hotel. The Ashford, by contrast, had no objection to 'Vote for Servalan' posters, wall competitions with limericks, book quizes, flyers for other conventions, Klingon photos, or anything else being flyposted all over the place. These things being essential to the atmosphere of the convention, we voted for the Ashford.
Sarah fell ill some months later. She'd been looking after membership and the accounts for us. Ruth very kindly stepped in to look after membership and I got landed with the accounts <gulp>. At least I'd had the practice of looking after zine accounts for many years.
We'd invited Gareth Thomas of course, and also Sheelagh Wells and Joe Nazzaro as between them they covered both the fandoms we were interested in. I was to be grateful on several occasions that I'd invited Sheelagh - she was very helpful. Jane Kilick knew half the committee already, so we invited her to share her experience of Babylon 5. David Walsh was a later addition to the guest list. He fitted in perfectly with the kind of convention that we envisioned and indeed, he was a real hit with the fans.
One thing that you worry about for the entire run-up to a convention is whether you're going to break even. Convention maths is horribly simple. If you make a loss, the committee pay it. If you make a profit, it goes to charity. Some items leave you with absolutely no flexibility at all. The hotel cost 3,700 pounds and once we'd paid the deposit we were committed. It was only a few a weeks before the actual date of the convention that we finally knew that we'd broken even. (We knew we'd make a fair bit on the auction, but none of us had any respect for conventions that use items donated for charity to balance their accounts. We had some items where we'd had permission from the donors to use the proceeds for convention funds, but charity-only items were sacrosanct.)
The most stressful point came when Gareth got a part in 'Hosts of Rebecca'. I was delighted that he'd got the part because he'd been out of work a lot over the last year or two. It did leave us short of our main guest though. I posted a message to both lists the night I spoke to Gareth on the phone (because another pet hate is conventions who keep quiet when they lose a main guest - or even, in thankfully rare cases, advertise guests whom they'd never invited in the first place) and crossed my fingers that we wouldn't lose too many members. I think it took around a month before we had another guest confirmed. It's hard to remember now. It was over Christmas, and not the best time to contact actors. I was suffering from stress-related illness, though I didn't identify it as such at the time. My nerves improved a lot when Brian came aboard. He was pleasant to speak to over the phone and Steve's report of his one-man show in London suggested that he'd be a good speaker. He'd also been unable to make Deliverance because of a car accident, so he was a cast member whom fans wouldn't have seen recently.
Things moved rapidly after Christmas. Somehow, we got the programme finalised by dint of crawling all over my lounge floor with large sheets of paper and all the programme items written on little post-it notes. Conversarions flew as we rearranged things yet again. 'You can't have that item on then as David would have to be in two places at once.' 'Hang on, you haven't given Sheelagh a lunch break.' 'Do we want two similar items close together?' 'Is Paula there on Friday evening?' And so on. That was fun. We'd been recruiting volunteers for programme items for a long time. They were a wonderful bunch, willing to get involved in everything from puppets to astrophysics. Inevitably, the programme underwent some changes as we found errors that we'd missed the first time around, but it retained its general form.
There was one horrendous point a month or so later when everything went wrong at once. Several key people had to let us down for family/job reasons. Wasn't their fault, but I had to find another disco at short notice and extra tech crew. Just to add to the fun, it would normally have landed on Chris's plate, but his job was taking him out of the country and he simply wasn't in a position to do it. I'd originally signed on to do hotel liason and guest liason and I was now doing those plus the accounts and now chasing the tech problems.
The stomach pains promptly reappeared. Somehow, everything worked out. We found the guy who'd done the disco for Who's 7 and he was available (and did a great job). More tech crew were found and God bless them they did wonderfully.
The week before the con I was stressed out, sleeping badly and trying to figure out how the devil to pack everything. The one bit of light relief was constructing the standee. We went down to Oxfam and found some clothes that were pretty much Gareth's style (denims and sweatshirt); my husband made the body from hardboard and Julia enlarged some suitable photos for the face and the all-important beer mug.
On Thursday I staggered down to Ashford and suddenly everything started going right. Volunteers were cutting out and assembling badges. Convention packs were stuffed. I relaxed. I even wrote a filk song as Deborah told me of her travel disasters.
Friday morning, we set up registration and got everything ready. We took the hotel events manager around the building and showed him what we'd be doing and where and how we'd need all the rooms set up. We checked details of catering, invented silly names for sandwiches - BLT - Blake Loves Travis - and generally organised stuff. Things were still going well. People began to appear in a gradual trickle and we were in business.
The programe items started at 2pm and even for the early items there were a few people. We'd only expected half a dozen or so for the early items, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I can't recall much what I was doing. I know I was on the move a lot keeping track of various things, but it was incredibly relaxing compared to the weeks beforehand. I made sure I was at Registration to meet Brian when he arrived and was glad I'd mugged up on his most recent photo so that I recognised him immediately. He had his son Sean with him, a lovely lad about 8 years old. (Sean enjoyed the weekend, asked to come each day). I introduced Brian to his first panel and left him to it. (I'd offered to do it with him, but he said he'd be fine on his own) I'm not sure if it covered the intended topics, but the audience seemed to be enjoying it whenever I went past. Brian later described it to me as his 'stand up comic' routine.
At 5pm Paddy started his RPG. I wasn't sure how many players he'd catch this early in the con, but we set up a flip chart with a large notice on it to say that a game was starting and there was a group of players next time I went that way.
I can't for the life of me remember what I did until the opening ceremony, apart from the fact that Julia tells me I had a meal with her and Sheelagh and Joe. Said hello to a lot of friends as they arrived, did all sorts of odd jobs, sorted out various bits and bobs with the hotel, said hello to the other guests, etc.
The actual opening ceremony has gone entirely from my mind, though I guess I must have been there... Actually, I do remember my son arriving at a rush just before it started (he had school on Friday so couldn't get there early). I told him to grab the standee and it was worth it to hear the laugh as we brought it onto stage while passing on Gareth's apologies for not being able to be there.
Steve's mixer games came immediately afterwards. They were fun and I was really pleased when a fan came up at the end of the session and said that she'd come as a single fan knowing nobody and felt that she'd made some friends already.
I helped my husband with some of his unpacking (you did?) before going on to run the Friday night filk session. This must have been the first con in a long time where I didn't have to forcibly recruit filkers. All the filk sessions were well attended with people who'd done it before and also with people who'd never been to a filk session in their life. As usual, we were short of people who knew the words, but I passed out songbooks, and some people tried songs that they knew the tunes to. When my voice threatened to give out, I shifted to playing the concertina. Rachel (whom I'd never met before) had brought along a violin and started playing harmonies to my melody. It was absolutely wonderful! Before she left that evening, I made her promise to do a caberet act with me on Saturday.
Went to bed happy and slept well.
On Saturday morning, I did the panel with Brian Croucher and David Walsh. Although Brian had been fine on his own yesterday, I had definite ideas about how I wanted the session to go, and I also wanted to be there as a buffer just in case the two of them didn't get on. I needn't have worried on that score; it was a very enjoyable session. We got some interesting comments on the respective morality of the two characters. Brian seeing Travis as a very straightforward man with military principles and Servalan as far more of the underhanded schemer. He bounced well off David and even called him Jackie on several occasions.
Went to say hello to Jenni and Fifi in the chaos costume workshop. My goodness, that room was a sight. There weren't many people there, but those who were looked as though they were having an absolute ball! They'd even brought along a sewing machine and were working away at a costume for Buck Rogers. I wished I had time to stay and make something myself.
Moved along to give David Walsh moral support in his first solo panel session. He turned out to be a very interesting speaker with some amusing anecdotes about meeting Paul Darrow on the underground. He became a Servalan impersonator virtually by accident and it was interesting to hear him talk about how it had all developed.
Missed Brian's next panel as I was running a workshop on zine publishing, but I knew Joe Nazzaro would be a good interviewer and didn't worry at all. The zine publishing workshop had four publishers and one neophyte. Good actually, as we were able to give advice from our differeing points of view. I was fascinated to discover that Green Dragon Press always collate by hand. I couldn't do that to save my life.
How anyone decided what to do between three and four pm is beyond me as choosing between Babylon Park, chaos modelling, the second half of Sherridan's trial for treason, the start of the bring and buy sale, a workshop on SF writing by EPS and Sheelagh's make-up discussion would have made me agnonise for ages. Fortunately I didn't have the problem as my first priority was in getting the hotel to clear the tables needed for the bring and buy. We had the room set up as 'boardroom' which meant that the hotel provided stuff to drink and write with. Very handy for some of the workshops we'd programmed there, but a bit in the way for massive zine sales which needed the large table space, but without the extras.
I took a brief peek in Sheelagh's session which was going well (I needed to make sure that all the costumiers had cleared out their fabrics etc., but they'd left the room in excellent condition).
I also looked in on the chaos modelling session which was very slow initially - probably because there was so much else on at the same time. However, when I checked again an hour or so later, there were some very creative space ships indeed. They were using several of the items I'd been hording for the last month. Asthma inhalers, orange nets, plastic milk-tops and more were all venturing into space. The finished results looked wonderful.
I'd promised myself the 'realism in slash' workshop and arrived not long after it started. The next person in after me was a man, so reacting even faster than David (who was checking on people coming in from his vantage point facing the door), I asked him if he knew what slash was. He replied that it was horror movies and the like. We suggested that the talk might not be quite what he was after and he departed. Sadly, I was called away, as the talk got really interesting, to sort out some details for the forthcoming autograph session.
I took a peak in the main hall while we were setting up the autograph tables. My goodness - now I know where some of the tech budget went. When they said 'large screen' I hadn't realised quite how large that was. Mind you, it gave a darn good picture and there seemed to be lots of people in there watching 'Call to Arms'. I rather regret missing that.
The autograph session was quiet and relaxed. No really big name guests meant that there was a steady trickle of people rather than a flood. The guests had time to chat to people and nobody had to wait a long time.
On my way back to ops I passed the room where my husband and Calle were talking about web pages. Seemed to be an interested audience. I spent a lot of time passing groups of people <grin>. There were small clumps of fans wherever I went: in the gaming area, in the boulevard, in various programme rooms, in the bar. It was great. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was great. I felt that we'd really succeeded in doing what we'd set out to do and created an event where people could get to know one another.
After that it was the fancy dress/cabaret rehersal. These things always drag on a bit because tech need to find the requirements for each person/group and that means talking to people one at a time. I sat in a corner and practised playing 'The Ash Grove' at various speeds on my concertina.
Note for non-musicians. An accordian is a massive thing that looks like a sideways portable piano with a bellows and needs shoulder straps to support the weight. A concertina is a much smaller instrument that is usually octagonal in shape and can easily be held in two hands. I have a concertina. A three row D/G Anglo concertina to be precise, though nobody except another concertina player would probably be interested. (In any gathering of concertina players picked at random, you can pretty well guarantee that none of them will have instruments with identical fingering, as the designs vary enormously)
More autographs. Brian Croucher's a man who says what he thinks and can be very disconcerting when he decides to pull one on you. He looked Chris straight in the face and announced that he didn't like him at all, then laughed and apologised when Chris fell for it. (I'd have fallen for it too - actors can be very convincing. I've seen Gareth pull similar stunts, even on people who know him well)
Then the fancy dress. True to our philosophy of having fans do things, we appointed David as a judge. A costume fan was roped in for another and I got volunteered as a third. The standard of entries was great. Jem Ward started us of with variation of one of Shakespeare's speeches. The opening to Henry V to be precise. I only wish I had it written down, because it was very funny. 'When we speak of spaceships, imagine that you see them and not wobbly special effects' (or words to that effect). He got the best humour award.
I can't remember all of the entries now, but the standard was very good.
There were several entries from the chaos costume workshop and we gave a
special prize to a cyberpunk. (A cyberman with punk rock slogans sprayed on
his chest). There was a very good 'chaos' Romulan as well. Commander Kor
(well known to anyone who'd been in the bar) won the prize for best costume.
The great thing about being a judge is that you choose the categories. So
we could also award a performance prize to Jason Vorhees doing a guitar
routine with his axe.
The last entry (exempted from the competition as I was a judge) was a brief
skit Jem had talked me into. Dressed as Blake, I went and picked Avon out of
the audience. Avon and I argued. Avon shot me and I fell down dead. 'Oh my
God!' said Jem. In unison, the audience completed it. 'He's killed Blakeie.
The cabaret. Brilliant. What can I say? Helen Brunton's superb belly dance. Cartagia and Londo doing a routine together. The Reduced Blake's 7 Company with their wonderfully timed sketch about the BBC. The filkers with 'Don't follow him. Have me.' (I won't comment on my bit, but at least I managed to play it without any mistakes and Rachel was much better than me in any case. I sang 'Ladies From Hades' as well and Rachel did a song of her own.) The demonstration of Minbari flighting-pole techniques by a ranger and his novice. David Walsh dragging various people onto the dance floor. It was fun and I'm sure I've forgotten some other good performances.
Another filk session. I'd been terrified that I'd be too ill to manage all the items I'd intended to run (I really had been pretty bad at some points) so I'd roped Lil and Jean in to run this particular item. As Lil said, they couldn't hold a tune, but had plenty of books. It was an enjoyable session and we got the occasional non-B7 filk and lots of enthusiasm. I rather liked the UFO song. I even found enough voice to sing some filks that I haven't dared tackle in a long time. ' Viva Servalan!' requires volume!
Took in part of the slash turkey reading where Predatrix was reading some stories that were so bad they were superb. I decided to go for the live action routine and tried to mimic some of Blake's supposed actions. (And I was stone-cold sober too - I almost never drink at conventions) All I can say is that the writer had a vivid immagination and we all had a good laugh.
I wanted to introduce Val to Gareth as she'd been on registration a lot of the time and hadn't seen him yet. We went down to the Mountbatten bar where he usually hung out, but he was gone.
And so to bed as I had to be up the next morning, but on the way past ops, we saw a notice - Gareth had been kidnapped by the green Drazi and was being held for ransom!
Ah! I haven't mentioned the Drazi war yet, have I? All weekend members had a badge that was green or purple (Whadya mean it was lilac? If I say it was purpple then it was purple!) Points were scored for all competitions and awarded to the apropriate side. People really got into the spirit of it, and the greens were losing...
I was down for a puppet workshop first thing Sunday morning, but the girl who was doing it with me hadn't been able to come because of illness. As she was the one with the Blake's 7 puppets, I was going to cancel the session, but Nik said she really wanted to go to it. So, I grabbed my puppets and discussed all the different ways of stringing them and how to use them and untangle them and we had half a dozen people and had a good time. I hope Nik makes that shadow puppet - it'll be quite a complex control.
Did a talk with Brian. He said he'd like someone to feed him questions if the audience didn't have any. He was very interesting. He teaches and directs on occasion. He has strongly socialist views and is concerned that people and countries find it so difficult to work together for the common good. We discussed all sorts of things, the types of roles he gets cast in - he's perfectly happy being typecast as a criminal Eastender type, says it keeps him in work (which reminds me of a comment of Gareth's in which he rather regrets now that he tried to avoid being typecast). Brian doesn't even see it as stereotyping as he says there are plenty of criminals in the East Eend. (He spent a time in jail himself many years ago before he became an actor)
I found Brian to be very different from some things I'd heard about him from people who'd been to other conventions. He struck me as a fairly quiet man who relaxes more as he gets to know people. He's also a good speaker and holds the attention of an audience. I suspect that fact that he's now completely tee-total may be enough to account for the difference. If you ever want to buy him a drink, it's a pint of lemonade.
Sex in Space discussion with Neil Faulkner. We'd run a session on the same subject at Who's 7, but this one came out very differently. We worked more on the way media handle sex and its portrayal and how programmes such as Xena and 'Queer as Folk' are introducing gay characters closer and closer to the main stream. We also came to the interesting conclusion that a large majority of those present preferred not to have explicit sex on screen. It was felt that it got boring and repetative pretty quickly. Good character interactions are sufficient to fuel the imagination on their own.
I did some work on final cataloguing of auction items before catching the end of the Ruler of the Universe hustings and wished I'd had the chance to see more. Servalan won, but it was a strong field and I have to express my admiration for Londo Mollari, Emperor Cartagia and the Sandman who had some wonderful costumes and ran great campaigns. Buck Rogers also put up a fight. The characters were wonderful. Mollari stayed in character all weekend, to the extent of disconcerting a taxi driver at the end of the convention!
The auction was at 2pm. The item that fetched the most was one of Servalan's original costumes. The leather jacket and skirt from 'Pressure Point'. It was modelled for us by David Walsh, thus proving that he can fit into Jackie Pearce's costumes. The second most popular item was donated by Sheelagh Wells and was a video of 'The Gruesome Grannies of Gobshott Hall'. Two fans got into a bidding war for this rare Paul Darrow item and it fetched over a hundred pounds. Jane Killick had donated several original Babylon 5 scripts and these along with autographed trading cards and other B5 items donted by Joe Nazzaro all helped boost the auction takings.
Gareth came in half way through with a buch of green Drazi singing 'Show me the way to go home'. We awarded them 100 points for innovation and auctioned Gareth off to the highest bidder.
Brian Croucher took over the auction part way through. I'm not sure if it's the slightly intimidating manner <grin>, but he moves stuff quickly. We were running out of time at the end of the auction and needed to shift the last 20 low-value items in about two minutes. I asked him to take each item in turn and sell it to the first person to give him the price he asked for. No second bids or anything else like that.
I'd pass him a photo, book or programme and tell him what I thought it would fetch. He'd promptly add one or two quid to that and got his asking price every time in a couple of seconds. We were moving stuff faster than the badge numbers of the buyers could be recorded. What I found really fascinating was that we were getting a price that would normally have taken a couple of minutes to reach under normal auction circumstances.
The auction ran late, but not drastically so due to the speed up at the end. We developed a fast method of clearing the payments afterwards. I sorted out the items in advance and gave them to the people in the queue while two others checked the bids and took the money. The helpers did a sterling job.
The closing ceremony came immediately afterwards and finished virtually on time. I had a chance to thank the army of volunteers who'd helped with tech, strewarding, registration, programme items, stuffing registration packs and so many other tasks, and suddenly it was all over.
Luckily the stewards party gave me a chance to wind down. We organised a mini-raffle for the helpers and I'll never forget the look on Ivan's face when he drew his own ticket out of the hat first.
Ivan asked me if I'd eaten at all (He'd forced me to take a meal on Saturday by the sneaky expedient of booking me a table). At that point I realised that I'd had nothing since breakfast and hadn't even noticed! I grabbed a Danish pastry and kept going as I wasn't really hungry.
After that I went to help clear out ops. Around midnight I was just on my way to go to bed when a voice said 'Are we having the filk session now?' So we had a filk session. People brought out songs that they'd written themselves and we even composed one or two new ones. I seem to recall singing some of my really wrist-slitting songs. I like singing depressing songs when I feel happy. Cally dreaming of all the dead people on Auron is about as bleak as you can get.
It had been a great weekend.
Will we do it again?
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