I attended my first convention way back in 1987, the WorldCon in Brighton. I’d been working in youth hostel in Crete, had just sold a couple of short stories to Interzone, and on my arrival back in Britain felt ready to brave my first con. I couldn’t have started with a better one. It was the first WorldCon held in Britain for quite a while, boasted a fine programme of panels and talks, and was attended by such luminaries as Doris Lessing and Robert Silverberg (I’ll never forget the former asking me if she could take a chair in the convention café – my first brush with literary celebrity – or Robert Silverberg standing next to me at a store in the dealers’ room, where he bought a Gollancz edition of Ballard’s The Terminal Beach). I’ll never forget the incredible one hour monologue by Kim Stanley Robinson on the subject of Philip K. Dick; I recall it as a bravura, word-perfect performance without recourse to hesitation, repetition or deviation – as Just A Minute would have it. I came away with an abiding respect for Robinson’s intellect and raconteur-ship, as well as a better understanding of Philip K. Dick. The other high point of the con was meeting Mike Cobley and the rest of the Glasgow SF circle, an acquaintance that is ongoing. I left the con with the feeling that for the first time I’d met a bunch of people who loved the genre and were committed to writing within it. It’s something I still get from conventions. Let’s face it, you don’t meet many people out there in the real world who know or care much about SF, still less are willing to wax lyrical about it long into the early hours over foaming flagons of ale.
Since ’87 I’ve probably attended fifteen to twenty conventions. They’re less about being awed by big name writers now – though I still feel flattered to find myself in the company of the likes of Steve Baxter and Al Reynolds – and not so much even about attending panels (more often than not, although I go to cons with the good intention of attending loads of the things, I end up ensconced in the bar nattering to friends). One of the delights of con going, quite apart from meeting old friends, is making new ones. I find that every convention I go to I meet someone with whom I hit it off, and with whom I keep in contact, be they writers, editors or fans. I know of no other community as friendly or as tolerant.
Enjoyable cons of the past include… and I’m getting hazy here, as I’m relying on memory alone… a MexiCon in the early nineties held in Nottingham, where I met Steve Baxter for the first time, got very drunk, met him again in the morning and told him exactly the same things as I’d regaled him with the night before; at the same con the Glasgow SF circle read out their favourite bad SF, to great hilarity… Skip a few years to Glasgow in the late nineties, the convention which gave me a life-long aversion to white wine, thanks to a rather lavish HarperCollins dinner and party (and thanks to Mr Cobley for getting me back to his flat in one piece); I recall Harrogate around the same time, which I attended with Keith Brooke where over several pints we swapped and developed ideas which became the basis for one of our numerous collaborations; then an EasterCon held at Heathrow a few years ago where Molly Brown made me feel my age by hollering “Daddy!” as I came down the stairs into the packed foyer. Thanks, Molly.
And of course there is the prospect of all the cons to come…
I would have loved to have attended LonCon last week, though finances and distance stymied that. There’ll be others, though, and if I see you there, mine’s a pint of bitter.