EASTERCON 2003. (Seacon 03) The Hanover Hilton Hotel, Hinckley. Leicestershire. April 17th to April 22cd 2003
My 7th Eastercon in a row, and a welcome return to the Hinckley Hanover of the 2001 Convention.
I knew this would be a busy and demanding convention in many ways. Despite some initial setbacks it was to prove to be a huge success.
I planned on joining in not only the Masquerade, and SMS's Beyond Cyberdrome events as usual, but also aimed to take part in writer's workshops, and plug my own SF/Horror performance poetry booklet, Dreams Take Flight, as much as possible. This proved a challenge from the outset, as it was to be literally the day before travelling to Hinckley when the books rolled off the press.
Travel was also to be a challenge as several train companies faced industrial action by their guards which meant delays were highly likely. Worse, several guests and panel operators dropped out of the con at the last minute, including Guest Of Honour novelist, Mary Gentle, and Liz Holiday, the lady running one of the writer's workshop events I was particularly interested in attending. Worse was the sudden news of the impending bankrupsy of The Big Engine publishing group, who had been planning on running a short stories on Postcards competition for which I had written several entries in preparation, as well as subscribing to their excellent 3SF magazine which is now sadly no more.
The train strike never affected my journey on Thursday 17th but the weight of my luggage was giving me a hernia and the train did break down for nearly 30 minutes near Crewe. I was to change trains twice on this journey.
A speedy cab ride from Hinckley to the hotel on the eve of the con and things got started.
I met a few Manchester friends in the bar, Chris Brooks and Keith Martin, and we had a few beers and went off for food. The hotel banquet looked expensive at £18.50, so after an abortive attempt to walk down the road in search of a decent eatery was spoilt by motorway slip road roundabouts, Keith drove us all to the fish and chip shop.
Back at the hotel, we registered, receiving a whole pack of goodies, including free copies of David Farland's book, The Sum Of All Men, the first part of his Runelords series. Many SF fans clearly were not keen to buy another fantasy novel that threatened to become an ever expanding series and several copies of the book were simply to be abandoned over the weekend.
The Programme of events in the Read Me was very well set out, even with a cross-referencing index. Sadly there was to be no daily newsletter of the kind enjoyed at previous cons this year.
SMS, Eira and their baby son, Cuillian arrived. I then handed out the first of the complimentary issues of my book, (Free to the members of FONT, and especially SMS and Cal who worked on the book in editorial and art work for me). which were well received. I even sold one that pre-convention evening.
More beer and conversation followed. The Read Me con programme details let me pick out which things I might wish to be involved in, and then it was off to bed about 2.30 AM
FRIDAY 18th April 2003.
The Con wouldn't start until 2.30 PM, so much of the morning following the first of five excellent buffet breakfasts was spent idling around, reading and chatting and of course drinking. Friends arrived in droves now, and I got my first look at one of the best, most relaxed dealer rooms set up for a con yet, and started parting with my dosh in earnest. I realised even now that getting everything into my suitcase and other bags would be a problem by the time I went home, especially as I had brought my video camera with me for the first time too.
One big problem, - beer was running out quickly. The Con had barely begun and many bottles and draughts were exhausted. Replenishments would dry up all weekend. The Hotel seemed to fail consistently to grasp the level of thirst before them.
I made my first trip to Chaos Costuming where Barbara Stewart and Jams Steel among others helped me create the demonic claw that would drag my Gumby costume creation from the stage to Hell. The hook-claw was composed of the Guardian Newspaper, cellotape and green cloth and stuffing from the Cthulhu-Pus Chaos costume James had worn in Jersey.
Free tea/Coffee, milk and American muffins appeared for all who wished for them in the Rotunda which was quickly recovering its reputation for attracting kids to throw paper aeroplanes down on everyone from the upper levels.
With the arrival of Gav and Cal, the Manchester FONT - MANCHESTER SCIENCE FICTION GROUP FONT-zinescould be given out, and it was good to see the twin sons of Mark and Elaine (Joel and Ethan) and SMS & Eira's boy, Cuilliam dominating the cover of the zine this time. (with some grown up members of FONT (Chris Brooks, Keith Martin and Mike Hubbard) in the background too)
The first event I went to was the Chris Cowan/Neal Tringham Titanic Ice-breaker pub quiz for SF fans. Neal sadly wasn't able to attend in the end, and the quiz as presented was very hard work but enormous fun. Three of us went up together to take part and ended up playing on separate teams. We didn't win in my team.
Later I went to Alan Kubayashi's talk on the special effects and set design work he did for shows ranging from Babylon Five to Star-Trek Enterprise and The last season of The X-Files. The talk was a slide show presentation showing minor details like computer screen icons, and wall posters and badge labels, many of them too fine in detail to be seen on screen in close up.
The evening meal was now easily taken to, with a simple as much as you can put on your plate for £5.50 approach replacing the more expensive banquet arrangement, so we would no longer be heading for the local take-aways.
We were clearly making the Rotunda the centre of our activities this Con, with many finding the main Snooty Fox bar in the Hotel too smoky. The last surprise of the evening was the serving of very cheap sausage in a bun, where for a single £1 we could have as many sausages as we could cram in between two rounds of bread. It would be nightly challenge right up to Sunday.
SATURDAY 19th April.
I rose early, having met Dave, my room-mate for the weekend, and had breakfast. The first event I attended was the replacement writer's workshop, for would be novelists, run by Juliet McKenna, a writer with many books to her own credit, in which four/five writers with fantasy novels in strong preparation, were invited to submit (prior to the con) the kind of synoptic letters they would send to a publisher to describe and promote their works. Juliet focussed on a simple who, what, where, when, how formula, which she used to give each author reasons why their work would be rejected. It was in many ways a harsh workshop with little chance for feedback from others than Juliet herself, but she made many valuable points that all but the most thin-skinned author could take offence at.
I went back to Chaos, not to make more for Masquerade, but to make a Nun's wimple for SMS's Beyond Cyberdrome event, and following the easy to read 'Instant Nun' instructions he'd left, I w as quickly able to make a disturbingly transparent wimple and habit from the most basic material. I also added a luminous green crucifix and Barbara kindly lent me a large set of beads to use as a Rosary.
I then went to see Chris Baker (AKA) Fanghorn, talking on his extensive artwork, and book cover back-catalogue, a fascinating well illustrated slide show presented with an infectious sense of charm and good humour by one of the finest SF artists around today.
Dave Wake offered me a few lines in his play, A Dragon
In The Title, which I agreed to do on the Sunday on top of much other activity. He gave me the script extract relating to my scene. It was very funny.
The Saturday Evening Highlight was the Reductio Absurdum comedy Play, The Matrix Remaindered, a spoof cross-breeding of Matrix with Men In Black and The Blues Brothers that was amusing but not hysterical, and often impossible to see for anyone more than ten rows from the front of the audience. More impressive was the warm up routine by M J (Simo) Simpson, a hilarious monologue by a building contractor assigned the task of engineering Tracy Island of Thunderbirds fame, and a re[peat of an earlier favourite of his routines about a health and safety inspection on Darth Vader's Death star. These classic comedy gems were to be quoted and requoted by many throughout the remaining weekend.
The last event of the evening for me was the 'Nuns On The Run' Beyond Cyberdrome audition, where my wimple would be tested in the public arena. Unsure what to wear under the see-through material, I first of all tried it on over my Cthulhu tee-shirt and realised quickly that I would be a Nun concealing a dark, pagan evil false God too, an idea too good to waste. I joined about 8 other nuns, one other male, and several in customised, home made and often skimpy outfits.
SMS, dressed as The Sheriff Of Nottingham, Eira, in Robin Hood Principle Boy garb, and Mark Slater as a very sinister Torquemada. We did take the 'Nuns On The Run' motif literally by spontaneously and collectively running away with Robin Hood in hot pursuit as we ran shrieking loudly through the Rotunda and Snooty Fox bars past startled drinkers. The interview panel tested our faith severely, quickly rumbling my masculinity and service of a false God, which I claimed to be keeping in place only by my faith in their own God, a story they were clearly not buying for one moment. Cal offered me my own parish, as long as it was on a remote desert Island somewhere. However I got off lightly compared to nuns obliged upon to juggle and sing for their place in Binary history, and this year we had to do the binary cheer-leading in Latin!!!! Nihil = O Unum = 1
The arrival of three other mysterious Spanish Inquisition figures meant our faith was tested again. I didn't help my case by calling Torquemada Lord Toblerone and even Omega. Poor Heather fared worse though being an elvish Nun with cute pixie ears. The Inquisition banished her from the interview room and even locked her out. She returned in time, as did a cardboard cut out of Sara Michelle Gellar that was not to join us on Sunday in the arena.
After much photo-posing in full habit I got a few beers and a sausage buttie and headed for bed, knowing Sunday was to be extremely busy now.
SUNDAY 20th April 2003
Busy wasn't the word. This was an extremely demanding day for me now. The Masquerade rehearsal meant an early breakfast for me, and I got the first chance to test the claw that would drag me from the stage later.
A quick change to habit and it was Beyond Cyberdrome time, which went extremely well, even with the high drama of a baby crawling dangerously close to mousetrap obstacles set for the robots being rescued by members of the Spanish inquisition before ever being in any true danger. The one other male nun at the auditions dropped out to tend his automaton, so I was now the solitary (temporary) transvestite. We cheer-led in Binary, hopelessly out of synch and rhythm as ever, often blatantly making it up as we went along, and joining in also with Chris O Shea's wandering Minstrel tunes. James Steel was roped in at the last minute as an additional narrator who somehow became King Of England. My cry of "We are the nuns who say Nihil" may be forgiven one day.
The robots were very impressive, with one looking like a Diplodocus, another showing amazing skill in turning over on itself to retreat whenever it collided with a wall or another robot, and many fabulous slow moving K-Nex systems too.
On to Dave Wake and James Steel's production of A Dragon In The Title, which was a very funny spoof of Fantasy novel cliches, in which I had a few lines and in which most of the audience took part as sound effects, and ad-libbers. Great Fun.
Then it was on to the art auction where I bid for a few items but came away with only one, a wax print lava-flow creation piece by Mic Rogers. Fanghorn managed to sell a painting for £675. A little pricy for me, but certainly worth the money.
After food it was the Masquerade for real. I turned myself quickly into Gumby from Monty Python's Flying Circus, with a simple knotted handkerchief to the head, a woolly jumper with braces over the top of it attached to a pair of trousers rolled up above the knees and a pair of green wellington boots. James Steel helped me make a last minute Hitler moustache to complete the effect on a man stupid enough to sell his soul to Satan for a packet of salt & Vinegar crisps (even though he'd asked for Cheese & Onion). The claw was to be wielded to drag me off to Hell as I finished explaining this 'bargain' to the audience.
As my costume involved little effort beyond the claw 9now a prop in Chaos costuming for future events) and the knots in the handkerchief, my chances of winning a prize were just about Nihil. I knew this even more on seeing the competition, a Lady Samurai warrior, James Steel as The Iraqi Information Officer telling the world that Cal, in an old faded bee-suit leotard was the best costume in the convention, as she buzzed by him, a formidable and nasty looking giant squirrel outfit that was worn to butcher and skin the Easter Bunny, and the Giggling Nuns from the Beyond Cyberdrome set earlier that day. There were less entries than usual, and of course special mention should go to the junior entries too. It nevertheless added up to terrific entertainment all round.
MONDAY 21st April
After virtually everyone got inaccurate bills and statements of when they were leaving and how many were sharing rooms from the Hotel computer, things settled down to a very pleasant chill out day.
Though the programme had much to offer I never went to anything al day, preferring to chat with my friends, many of who were going home as the day wore on. Later we did go to a very relaxed Dead Dog Party, with endless free chocolate and some free beer, and much pleasant conversation.
TUESDAY 22cd April 03
Breakfast, hotel check out, several pleasant farewells, taxi, train, taxi, home. Happy memories.
Thanks to everyone for a great Eastercon, with special thanks to SMS, Eira, Mark, Elaine, Chris Cowan, Cal, Gav, James Steel, and Barbara Stewart, Dave Wake, the twins and Cuillian.
The six short stories I wrote for the postcard story competition are added here for those who wish to indulge them.
ENQUIRING INTO THE FOLLOWING
July 2019? Not sure if our archives go back that far, but a translation from Old English says: This Balloon belongs to Jane Miller, aged seven. Her address is then given, but much of itis wet, soggy and unreadable now. She bought the balloon for fifty pence in aid of Oxfam. The tag reads "Should this balloon travel further from London than any other launched today the person named upon it will win a wonderful prize.í
Well, I have to say such events were common in that century, and I believe that it was also about that time that there were experiments in launching litter and rubbish into deep space, so her balloon tag must have been jettisoned from Earth as such a consignment. It is very kind of you to return it to us on the ladyís behalf, but sadly you seem to be about 300 light years too late in arriving here with what is undoubtedly the prize winning tag. I do hope you have a pleasant journey home.
SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE SMART BOMB
Excuse me sir, yes, you on the Bicycle. I appear to be lost. No, please donít try to ride away, I promise I am not programmed to detonate here. My navigational guidance system is malfunctioning after a collision with an antimissile skirmish a few miles back, and I need to seek directions to the ballbearing factory I am destined to destroy today. In-built retinal lie detectors will inform me of you attempt to misdirect me or claim not to know the directions required in which case I will have to conclude that you are a hostile force and act accordingly, so if you would kindly tell me which route to take and then ensure that you are about five blocks away from my epicentre before I explode, you will be quite safe, thank you.
JOB APPLICATION FORM
1/.Names, by which you may be summoned to dark biddings_______
2/. Address, - Crypt, Castle, alternate dimension, infernal region, graveyard plot number, etc_____
3/. Nature, a/. Mortal. b/. Living. c/. dead. d/. Undead. e/. other ______
4/. Weaknesses (must be declared) - ie, Sunlight, stakes, fire, silver bullets, etc. ____
(You will be expected to work nights and full-moon only staff needs will be recognised as we are an equal opportunities employer)
5/. Education status in black arts - Mage, Demon, Necromancer, witch/warlock, etc __
6/. Number of heads, arms, tendrils, ec...... and length of fangs. (Humanoids go to question 7)
7/. List your previous acts of evil and infamy with references where possible.
8/. Finally, explain why you wish to work here at Tescoes.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, it seems that your missing luggage has now been safely located. It appears that our space-port baggage handlers unwittingly placed it onto a Beetleguisian Mining freighter which will be returning to our solar system in about five light years. The captain promises to take personal care of your property until it is safely back in your hands.
We trust that this mishap will not spoil your vacation-stay on Mars, and as no one has come forward to claim the fifteen tentacle bathing costumes that you seem to have been given by mistake in place of your own luggage, we se no reason why you should not make of them what you will. Please find enclosed by way of apologies, vouchers for generous discounts off a Plutonian Ski-ing expedition.
YE OLDE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
Brave Sir Gawain, your mission-quest, should you choose to accept it, will involve pursuit and slaughter the fire-breathing Dragon Wyrm that has reduced many villages north of Camelot to wasteland and cinder. The foul beast is believed to take shelter in the heart of the Quaking-Fen, surrounded by quagmire, quicksand and bogland from which no traveller has yet returned. Such terrain would be impassable to horse, and as you dare not bear heavy armour, you must go with only sword and shield for protection. Merlin advises that you should dare to ignite the methane and marsh gases at the hearty of the fen to roast the creature in its own juices, but how you will escape the region before the inferno engulfs you too is a mater for you to decide upon. That be the mission-quest. This grail will self-destruct in five seconds.
LATE NIGHT HOUSE CALL
Doctor, Doctor. Thank you for coming to my castle at so late an hour. I am terribly ill. I need blood, lots and lots of blood.
"Why? You donít look ill at all to me. I can only give blood to patients who are losing blood. You havenít cut yourself or anything."
"But I need a blood confusion, now. Right now. "
Blood confusion? Donít you mean Blood Transfusion? "
"I mean what I say. The confusion is yours. You assume that because the blood has flowed through your veins and arteries all your life it must belong to you. In fact it really belongs to me, and Iím taking whatís rightly mine back from you. Kindly put down the medical bag and bring your neck nearer to my teeth. Thank you.....
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