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The Phoenix Convention IV, Dublin

As well as being work for writers, SF&Fantasy conventions are great fun, which is possibly why a lot of us go wondering slightly guiltily if we can justify the expenditure in time and money when we do have plenty of work we could be getting on with back at home. So it’s always good to start a trip, as I did, by encountering a fellow author, in this case Paul Cornell. In fact, I couldn’t have avoided him since it turned out we had seats next to each other on the plane by some remarkable booking coincidence. So we were able to justify our trips to each other as we blithely chatted all the way from Heathrow to Dublin airport. As it turned out, Debbie Miller (aka gaspode_girl) and Ken MacLeod had met up by chance at Edinburgh Airport too, so as far as the writers were concerned, the convention was already getting underway.

Paul decided to head into Dublin on the bus while I waited for gaspode_girl in the always excellent company of ephiriel and then Mary, ephiriel's mum gave us all a lift to Wynn’s Hotel where the convention-goers were gathering in the bar. As you can find out from assorted other posts, most notably this comprehensive one by mizkit there was a solid LiveJournal presence throughout the weekend (and lack of a mention for everyone here should not be taken as any kind of slight, just a reflection of the time it takes to add everyone's names to what's already an insanely long post).

It was a lively two and a bit days of unexpected interesting things, good humour, good food, good company and the pleasures of discussing genre and writerly issues with fellow fans and authors. If you want to, you can click through to read more about

I wasn’t staying at Wynn’s, so later on, headed for the Park Inn, Smithfield, which I’d booked partly so as not to be overlooking O’Connell Street on a Saturday night and partly on the recommendation of the bellinghman. I can definitely recommend it to anyone looking for modern, comfortable accommodation in Dublin, and since it’s two minutes walk from the Luas Red Line, you can hop on a tram to get pretty well anywhere you’d be wanting to go. gaspode_girl and I were more than satisfied with dinner there on Friday night, and that wasn’t a fluke, as we ate there again on Sunday, in the excellent company of the bellinghman, the bellinghwoman, and also my Dad, who lives in Co.Laois and drove up to see me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First thing Saturday morning, I got up and went down to breakfast, to find myself eating in almost complete silence but for the clink of cutlery and some quiet classical music being played over the speakers. It turned out the Park Inn was the venue for the AGM of the National Deaf Women's Association. So I was very much the one at the linguistic disadvantage as women on all sides were having animated conversations in sign language, sometimes with someone else clear across the room, all with the most marvellously expressive faces. It was quite fascinating for an inveterate people watcher like me.

Only it turns out the deaf are extremely alert for people looking at them. Inadvertently making eye contact meant I was immediately hailed in sign language which I had no hope of responding too. The same happened in the lifts and in the corridors. I realized it was because I was a single woman and like the majority of their own delegates, self-evidently in the 35-45 range. So people were obviously keen to make newcomers welcome - just like at an SF&F convention really. And that was another good thing about this year’s P-Con that I’ll mention while I remember it. While it’s great for regulars to meet up with pals at a con, it’s important to make sure newcomers are made welcome. I’ve found that’s always the case in Ireland and there were plenty of new faces in Dublin this March.

Though there must be issues for staff of a hotel hosting a gathering for the deaf that don't arise with other groups. The chambermaids must have been warned to knock particularly loudly before entering the bedrooms. Well, I'm assuming they had been, after passing one lass who was hammering on a door like the Sweeney about to launch a dawn raid.

Anyway, I was heading for Wynn’s, so had my first ride on the Luas, the Dublin tram system. This has only previously been a source of confusion on the last few years’ summer holidays when family trips to Dublin have encountered unexpected roadworks and diversions as it was all being built. Now, it’s splendid. The ticket machines are swift and logical, the trams themselves are new and well-designed and all in all, I am thoroughly impressed.

The first order of the day was the opening ceremony hosted by xnamkrad as this was his first year as Chair of the Convention, having taken over from slovobooks, which was always going to be a hard act to follow. Happily, by the close of proceedings on Sunday, everyone agreed it had been a splendid weekend, and with xnamkrad and his team at the helm, the prospects for P-Con V next year look rosy. For a fuller report, click through to read about

My first panel, so to speak, was a session of Just A Minute, that famous panel game where you have to speak for 60 seconds on the topic you’re given without hesitation, deviation or repetition, all of which you can be challenged for by other players. Now, I’ve won this before at P-Con, as indeed has Paul Cornell, who was again sitting beside me. So a degree of good-humoured competition between the two of us did intensify rather, leaving mizkit and Michael Carroll neither of whom have played the game before somewhat bemused. Consequently I’m sure all fair-minded people will agree that I was perfectly justified in giving Paul a clip round the ear for trying the wholly spurious challenge that Tintin is repetitious. Oh, and I won. And I am thinking that it might be time to retire from such competitive play since, one must always bear in mind, no one likes a smartarse.

Then we moved on to the more serious panels, though none of the ones I was in were in any sense lacking in humour and lively debate. Together with Conor Kostick and Raven Dane, I discussed how fantasy writers deal with real world magic and religion in their speculative fiction, and with Debbie Miller and Oisin McGann, we explored the differences and similarities of the various places where we actually write, and indeed, where we’d like to be able to write. The crucial importance of having a door you can close became apparent, either to ward off the distractions, or to shut on the work in progress when you need to get away from it for the sake of your own sanity.

I also sat in on C E Murphy (aka mizkit), Debbie Miller and George Green discussing dragons, and Debbie, Raven Dane and John Kenny talking about the current popularity of vampire fiction. As with my own panels, the debate was lively and informed and I made notes as I learned things I hadn’t known and other people’s observations prompted ideas that will ultimately feed into my own work one way or another. This is one of the key work-related uses of any convention for a writer, this and talking to other professionals about the work we do, as well as keeping up to date with the latest news and trends in the business. Yes, conventions are also about promoting oneself to potential new readers (which is best done by not pushily shoving your books under their noses in the dealers’ room), but that’s by no means the main benefit to writers from their attendance.

There was also time on Saturday to remember David Stewart, a stalwart of Irish fandom and quite one of the most genuinely nice men it’s been my privilege to know. And the evening was spent eating and drinking along with about twenty other good and close friends in a wholly satifactory restaurant, the expedition having been planned with characteristic precision by slovobooks.

On Sunday Debbie Miller and I were discussing Writers’ Block with Michael Carroll, where we mostly concluded the only thing to be done is just keep on going when you hit one of those agonizingly slow and uninspired stretches of writing. Because it happens to us all, and to the great and good authors in all literary genres as well. Later on, Debbie and I joined George Green to discuss Myth-takes, or when fantasy goes wrong. Which did offer me the chance to admit to the worst mistake I’ve ever made in a book, as asked last week by an eight-year old at a school where I was giving a talk. Overall we concluded that hard work is the key to avoiding bad writing, namely doing your research, building a coherent plot and credible characters and not being satisfied with merely ticking the genre boxes. And reading Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, obviously.

After the charity auction raised a substantial sum for Childline, the final session I was scheduled for was a game of Pictionary, girls against chaps who were being insanely competitive on account of their victory last year. None of them seem inclined to admit this might have anything to do with having two professionals on their team – Oisin McGann, illustrator and John Reppion, comics author, along with Paul Cornell and natural20. However I am pleased to report that we women held our own throughout a tight, frequently hilarious contest, thanks to the talents of Leah Reppion, mizkit, feorag and Debbie Miller. Coming from several points behind, we even took a slender lead before ending up with a draw. Which in this context, means everyone’s a winner.

After the closing ceremonies, thanks and farewells , I was, as is increasingly the case, leaving a convention with a whole clutch of cards and email addresses for new friends, as well as realising just which established pals I had meant to sit and chat to, but somehow there had never been time. Ah well, we have email for that kind of thing nowadays.

Then I had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner with my Dad, gaspode_girl, the bellinghman and the bellinghwoman. I headed off to the airport promptly on Monday morning to get my flight back to London, alone this time as Paul had gone back on Sunday night. Which was not a problem, since by that stage of a convention trip, I am pretty much ready to sit quietly on my own with a good book, just decompressing after spending so much time with so many people.

Back at Heathrow I had to negotiate getting a bus back to business parking and fathom the intricacies of the perimeter road leading back to the M4, M25 and M40. This isn’t something I’ve done before, as I normally take the train to the airport. I’m happy to say it all went well, which augurs well for my trip to Croatia at the end of next week, when the timing of my flights means using the car is a far better option.

With very light traffic, I was home in time to welcome the lads home from school and then to take younger son up to the secondary school to take part in his year-group’s concert along with children from the other local primaries. Which is all part of life as a writing mother.

And now I had better address myself to the To Do list, which encompasses stuff for this weekend’s Forbidden Planet event in Bristol, some bits of accounts and more entertainingly, thinking about a short story for an anthology I’ve just been invited to contribute to.

[Edit: after staring bemusedly at the source text, wondering why feorag isn't showing up in the bit about Pictionary, when she's definitely listed in the original composition, I have identified the lack of a crucial bracket responsible!]


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2007 12:37 pm (UTC)
It was, as always, lovely to see you. That evening meal with you, your Dad and gaspode_girl was great, too, and please thank your Dad from us for picking up the tab like that. Oh, if he ever does write his memoirs, well, put us down for a copy. No wonder you're a story teller.
Mar. 14th, 2007 12:47 pm (UTC)
Debbie, Raven Dane and John Kenny talking about the current popularity of vampire fiction

There do seem to be a lot of vampire or urban fantasy around at the moment. I like the contrast between the 'real' and the 'unreal', though sometimes I prefer a fully realised fictional world.

And reading Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, obviously

Having read this book I've vowed that should I ever write fantasy I will make sure cows are featured too, to explain where all the leather comes from.
Mar. 14th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)

Hey, pigskin should work.

I happen to play the game World of Warcraft. One of my characters, Kiiroi, happens to have the Skinning and Leatherwork skills, and as such, will attempt to skin any 'beast' she encounters the corpses of. Now, most beasts can be skinned when dead, producing leather of various grades. There are also animals that are never a threat, and these are termed 'critters'. critters include wandering cows, sheep, rabbits, rats, roaches, snakes, and so on. Hit them, and they die without fighting back. Some critters can be skinned - for example, the rabbit, and some cannot - including the rat.

Kiiroi so wants some snakeskin boots, but sadly, snakes can't be skinned.
Mar. 15th, 2007 05:30 am (UTC)
I can't help responding to this...I play WoW as well, mainly as a Druid. A few days ago I had a random and slightly bizarre tell from someone I didn't know: "If Druids love animals so much, why do they wear leather?"

Apparently people really do care about these things...

(The answer, of course, was that we only skin things that are already dead)
Mar. 15th, 2007 05:31 am (UTC)
(And that was me)
Mar. 15th, 2007 07:15 am (UTC)
I think that there's a confusion in many people's minds between your actual Druid, and the PETA fluffy-wuffy urban-dweller image of what a Druid was about.

The old religions (not modern druidism, which is a repro religion) had quite an apparently savage attitude, quite at odds with modern urbanity. For instance, the old idea that the king was not a ruler, but an intermediary killed at the end of his reign to go back to the gods, whose blood on the snow would bring back the spring, and so on, that's something that is so watered down in Christianity ('there was a king of the Jews, once, a long time ago ...').

Ah, and then there's the country attitude to animals, the non-urban one. A countryman will raise an animal, get to know its foibles and quirks, tend it, and so on. And then, at the end of an autumn, slaughter it, butcher it, and eventually eat it. It may be a pig, it may be a cow, it may be a rabbit. Or even a goat in our case. (When you keep a herd of goats, the nannies, the milk producers, are what matter. But half the kids are billies.)

I see the Druid as that herdsman. He or she doesn't want animals or plants to suffer unnecessary distress. Illness and injury should be attended to. But at the end of the season, the reason for that care and attention has an underlying practicality.
Mar. 15th, 2007 08:43 am (UTC)
Absolutely. There is a Druid quest in Darkshore that requires you to cure sick deer, while others involve culling various populations.

What made this particularly strange was that I don't play on a RP server, so I wouldn't expect people to take things so "seriously". Still, part of the game's attraction is that so much of it revolves around interacting with the environment, even if on a "normal" server that isn't the primary concern.

You've also inspired me to look up Druids on wiki (much more interesting than work at the moment...)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 14th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
TinTin, TinTin, TinTin...

I'm so mean...

But I love your Who episodes, so will you forgive me...

Mar. 14th, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC)
It was utterly fantastic to have a chance to hang out and talk with you a bit!

Which did offer me the chance to admit to the worst mistake I’ve ever made in a book, as asked last week by an eight-year old at a school where I was giving a talk.

And? What *was* the worst mistake you've ever made in a book? :)
Mar. 14th, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, we're all ears over here!
Mar. 15th, 2007 06:10 am (UTC)
Well, the example I am prepared to offer up is one that never actually made it into print. In the final draft of The Swordsman's Oath, our hero Ryshad has to fight a judicial duel, trial by combat if you like. He wins, and goes off to the bath-house, all hot and sweaty, this being a tropical island. Stripping off, he washes himself down and then he has to go and be a witness at the exection of the condemned party.

Only he neglects to actually get dressed again first

I remain eternally grateful to the eagle-eyed copy-editor who spotted that and politely queried if that was in fact what I intended?

Er, no!

Copy-editors are wonderful. They save us from ourselves, and more crucially, from appearing in Thog's Masterclass in Ansible!
Mar. 14th, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC)
Glad to hear you had such a good time at P-CON - maybe one day I'll get there...

Mar. 14th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
...planned with characteristic precision by slovobooks.

Next time, though, it'll be a smaller crowd and a quieter restaurant!
Mar. 14th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)
The obvious solution is to plan a small dinner for each night of the con, including the Friday. Of course, that gets murderously expensive, but. :)
Mar. 15th, 2007 07:22 am (UTC)
Ah, but then, we won't all see each other!

The fact that sacristan was at the far end of the table from us, and we barely spoke a word to him, and didn't catch up on everything he and his dear Denise have been at since last Octocon is not a flaw with my argument, oh no, not at all.

Ah, right, got it.

We need a whole Con every weekend. That way we could keep caught up. Who do we know who we'd trust?

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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