Eastercon 70 Roundup

Or ‘what I did on my Easter break’

I’ve attended a couple of cons in the past—namely NineWorlds & a couple of writing ones—but have never made it to an Eastercon, until now. Somehow, I found myself involved as an Ytterbium (Eastercon 70) staff member before the event and it was actually the best thing possible for an extroverted introvert—I automagically had something to talk about with people and met other volunteers, staff and committee members, thus having an instant social circle.

The convention itself is very newbie friendly, and takes issues such as accessibility (essential for an ME sufferer such as myself), gender identity and safe spaces very seriously, creating the best possible environment. I’m sure they can’t get it right for every single member—there were over 1000 attendees—but for me, it was a safe, happy space.

So, other than getting involved with next year’s committee and some stuff further into the future (I did say no to things, twice!), what else did I do?

I met some authors I really admire, enjoyed a few choice pints from the real ale bar, spent too much in the dealers’ rooms, put in a few volunteer hours, dithered over which sessions to attend, attended some great sessions and missed some others, and met some incredibly awesome, amazing, friends-for-life, people.

Unofficially, Ytterbium started for me on the Thursday when I travelled down early to check that my involvement had gone to plan. I helped pack the registration packs and met some lovely people there. Of course, I ended up in the pub later that evening with some of them, so I must have been doing something right! Thursday night was also an evening of searching people out who’d I met and interacted with online, to introduce myself, and for Mike to join me, after driving down after work.

Friday morning was a relaxed start, although I did attend a session on volunteering at the con but it wasn’t until the afternoon that things got fully underway. The event officially started, cunningly enough, with the opening ceremony. Here, the chairs were dressed in their finery, and introduced the guests of honour: John Scalzi, DC, Frances Hardinge, with Sydney Padua arriving later.

After that, I had a lovely chat with Dave Hutchinson and asked him to sign one of my books. Not realising the time as I was talking, I got to ‘Writing in Difficult Times’ late and ended up sitting on the floor at the back. It was very hard to focus on the words as all I could see was John Scalzi’s guest of honour t-shirt reflecting the lights back at me! Jokes aside, it was an important panel, particularly with regard to current politics, privilege and testing out “what if” scenarios through SFF writing.

After food, it was ‘Rapid Fire Info Shots’; highlights for me were Edmund Schleussel’s ‘How to Create the Perfect Demon Summoning Circle’ and ‘The Problem With Lembas Bread’ from Ginger Lee.

Saturday morning saw me in ‘Recording Audiobooks’ by the excellent-as-ever Emma Newman, and Saturday afternoon in the Hay Lecture by Dr Hamied Haroon, ‘Medical Imaging: Exploring the Final Frontier’ which was fascinating. I missed the John Scalzi interview sadly, due to being in a meeting, but it’s impossible, with such a good programme to hit every session.

Later on saw me at the BSFA awards ceremony—congratulations Gareth L. Powell (and thank you for giving Mike and I some stellar writing advice later, as well as threatening to kick his ass if he doesn’t finish his novel)—and a session on ‘The Art of Reviewing’. I didn’t particularly learn anything new but it was useful to hear others’ takes on the subject and reaffirm that what I’m doing is right in their eyes.

We also thoroughly enjoyed Mitch Benn as the evening entertainment. Sadly, the disco was a bit much for me and I managed to amble in a corner to one song before heading for bed.

Sunday saw me at the Eastercon Bid session—hooray for Concentric in 2020 (yes, I’m a committee member)—as well as the 1992 Technetium bid, which was a sheer delight. This was followed by ‘Tall Technical Tales’ and ‘Mechanical Computing’. Sydney Padua’s animated technical drawings of the Difference Engine were incredible and I’ve now got the Science Museum on my list of places to visit, as it’s been too long since I last went.

At this point my ME kicked in, so (frustrated) I cut back on sessions, making ‘Future Worldcons’ but not much else. It was great to hear the experience in the room for that session, particularly as I seem to now be a conrunner…

Monday saw me in ‘Introduction to Knot Theory’ which was slightly too mathematical for my fatigued brain, but gave me something to look up later. And I also attended a session about conrunning. I think there’s a theme developing here…

Finally, there was the closing ceremony. Only one other con I’ve been to has had this, and it’s a great way to finish. Nineworlds was a bit weird for me and Mike—we didn’t know anybody and after the last session, we ended up straggling home with no closure. A formal ceremony really does help with saying goodbyes and returning to the real world.

It was also a reminder of just how many people are involved—Farah and Phil did an incredible job of chairing Ytterbium under extenuating circumstances, and Judi (the Ytterbium bid chair) brought the whole room to tears as she explained her reasons for stepping down. Just seeing the lists of names of committee members, programme, gophers, registration, ops, tech, art show, dealers, green room, newsletter, guest of honour liaisons, safeguarding, treasury (whoever came up with the name Gringoats deserves a medal) and everyone else is very humbling. I’m incredibly lucky to count some of these people as friends.

The only slightly weird bit for me in this, was when the handover from the existing chairs to next year’s happened. I’ve been to enough events where the outgoing chair/leader/society president etc… has been thanked by the incoming one and been congratulated on what they’ve done. It was missing here at this Eastercon, and I was a little sad considering what a fantastic con it had been. However, this was later rectified and was a very lovely moment.

We spent the evening in the real ale bar, getting some great writing advice from Charlie Stross, drinking real ale from what remained of the many barrels that arrived a couple of days prior and generally collapsing in a satisfied heap.

I know I’ve missed out lots of lovely things that happened—conversations and geeking out with lovely new friends, random meetings of like-minded people, book hauls, yarn purchases and other shiny bits from the dealers (I was bought an octopus pendant from Dark Flights, as a very early birthday present, to match the branding of Escaped Ink)—but it was an awesome, overwhelming couple of days.

What would I change? I’d like to see more live tweeting of sessions—as someone who has a fatigue condition, I miss a lot of cool stuff and it’d be great for more people to tweet soundbites so I can catch up. It’s also useful for those of us who don’t own timeturners and can’t make all the sessions at once! And the hotel food was expensive and not great, but we didn’t starve, although spent more money than we intended on feeding ourselves (yes, there was a curry van, no, we didn’t discover it in time).

Advice for con newbies? Have a look for sessions for newbies (there were several at Eastercon, although they didn’t make the printed programme, instead mentioned in the twice-daily newsletter). Keep an eye out on Twitter under the con account and hashtags and for Eastercon, their newsletter containing additional sessions, restaurant information and more. We always carry a bottle of water and some flapjack-type snack—quick hydration and protein if you get a drop. Also on the subject of self-care… don’t feel you need to go to every single session, build in downtime—there is generally a quiet room at cons, but also taking a break and wandering round the dealers or art show is something different. If you’re wanting to meet people, volunteering is a great way to do that (and very much helps the con). I went to the ‘gopher hole’ and put my name down for a few things… sitting on the art show door, for example, or being a roving microphone for a panel session. There is a modest payment, made in in-con currency called groats, which are convertible to cold hard cash or spendable in the bar, with some dealers or on the hotel bill. Final piece of advice—get out of the hotel and get some fresh air over the weekend.

If you’d like to find out more, have a look on Twitter at hashtag #Eastercon70 or the official Ytterbium Twitter account, or the website. For details of next year’s Eastercon, Concentric (to be held at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole Hotel over the Easter weekend), check out their website or Twitter feed.

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