Nine Worlds! It came! I went! Did that sound weird?Anyway. This weekend just gone was the third annual Nine Worlds convention at Heathrow, an event that is such a geekfest, it is called that on Twitter. This is a single con attempting to devote at least some programming to as many difference aspects of geek-beloved media as possible, all the while remaining as diverse, inclusive and people-friendly as possible.
If you think that’s a huge and challenging remit, you’d be right. I went to the con last year as well, how did the 2015 effort stack up? What were the best panels this year? Did I manage to take a photo of anything other than the view from my hotel? Well, as you can see on the right, I’ve certainly equalled that, at least.
Ten Most Paneltastic Panels in Panel-Town
Firstly, yes, Nine Worlds remains an impressive, sprawling convention. I definitely came away feeling pretty inspired by a lot of the discussion, especially on the Books track. (Sorry, ‘All of the Books’.) They managed to improve on an already-strong 2014 – I could have sat on Books events for the entire con and not had a bad time.
However, seemed lazy not to sample the range available. I also went to a few panels on the Creative Writing track, who didn’t get my attention much last year, but put on quite a few hard-to-resist items this time. Also a shout-out to the Young Adult track – only went to one of their’s in the end, but there were definitely a couple I wish I could’ve made. So much good stuff, I didn’t make it to a single Comics event. And I really like comics.
I was at the con all the way, from Thursday evening until Sunday evening. If I listed every event I attended like last year, this blog post would be novel-length and a bit dull. So here are Ten Highlights:
- Cheese & Cheese – Readings of cheesy books with a supply of IRL non-metaphorical cheese to eat. The only event I attended on Thursday night and a great way to get into the con spirit of affectionate laughter. Might have overindulged in cheese, though, as I tried some cheddar today and was repelled. Whoops.
- “Waiter, you spilt some sci-fi in my fantasy!” – Despite the silly name, this was an excellent panel on different genre-bending books and how to deal with the heave-ho between the different kinds of story as you bash them together with a hammer. Very funny (especially the gravity-rage of James Smythe) and relevant to my personal creative interests.
- Knightmare Live – Yes, Knightmare, the classic CITV gameshow in which a child walks through a CGI maze with a bucket on their head, guided only by their friends talking in their ear and a few actors pretending to be fantasy characters. Here’s a video if you want an idea of the style/tone/level of camp. The stage show is a well-judged mix of affectionate homage and gleeful panto and I laughed myself silly. I believe they’re still touring around, so if you have any fond memories of the TV series, find a tour stop. It’s hilarious. Even better, as seen nearby, I got a photo of myself wearing the Helmet Of Justice. Also pictured: my Rachel & Miles X-Plain The X-Men t-shirt featuring fellow bucket-head Magneto.
- The End Of Author Mystique – A discussion of social media (especially Twitter, inevitably) and how it has changed the author/reader relationship. Great combination of fun chat and genuinely potent questions, especially around the issue of responding to criticism. (Probably best not to.)
- NaNoSessMo – At this event, so intriguing it was covered in The Guardian, we tried to write a novel in 75 minutes. Due to only having 29 people and taking around half that time to plan the book, will likely be more of a novella. Still, the creativity flowed like blood at a vampire party. Nice to exercise the active part of my brain after two days of mostly listening. I believe the resultant epic will be published for free online, and I may write more about it when that happens.
- Death In Genre – A fun panel talking about both genre fiction’s use of death and its occasional personification of the concept as skeleton in cloak, perky goth girl or gigantic crushing hammer. It’s a strong topic, all the panelists were on form and it was a con highlight for me. Even though I discovered seemingly-charming author Paul Cornell killed off Dr Spiller in Casualty, which moved me to tears as a teenager.
- The F-Word: Sex in Fantasy – From one universal constant to another, another excellent panel combining serious discussion of handling sex in your writing with thoroughly amusing/disturbing recounting of, um, specific occurrences. You can never have too many mentions of the penis-dunking beaker, it seems. May sound like a joke, but I bought Snorri Kristjansson’s book after he reminded me of that beaker.
- TV vs Books vs Comics vs Games: FIGHT! – Another panel which sells itself on concept alone, but all the combatants turned up with serious points and brutal trash talk to elevate the pitch. Peter Newman deservedly won the day for books, though. Or maybe his argument that books are awesome because they work through our imaginations and we’re obviously amazing just tickled my ego.
- Writing Support Groups – A panel about writing groups, and I like writing groups. Chat with Claire, Kirsty and Lizzie of the Big Green Bookshop group (of which I am a member), as well as representatives from the T Party and Super-Relaxed Fantasy Club (which I also sometimes attend). Talked about why writing groups are awesome and looked into the practicalities too.
- Critiquing Critique – Last panel of my weekend, almost didn’t go due to exhaustion, but I’m glad I did. Partly because Val Nolan and Roz Kaveney gave an extremely accessible yet thoughtful talk about the art of reviewing, which will always be close to my heart. Also because listening to them dissect someone else’s story helped me make some big realisations about one of my own. Lovely end to the weekend.
And that was the #content of Nine Worlds 2015! But we’re not quite finished yet.
Free Books and The Bar
The main appeal of Nine Worlds for me is the focus on interesting discussion over signings and/or advertising, more so than other London-based conventions. So the above panel-chat is my main reason for going but it isn’t the only aspect.I also got some free stuff! To the right is a picture of the books I obtained over the weekend and I’m looking forward to every single one of them! Also smeared coffee and chocolate cake over my new copy of Nunslinger at the Super-Relaxed Fantasy Club panel, but never mind. Sometimes life happens.
And beyond that, yes, the social aspect. I am a shy, shy human, but managed to catch up with a few people, from my regular supporting cast and beyond. I live in hope of one day being better at that sort of thing – maybe trying to do it more than once a year might be a start? Might attend a few more London-based events, even see if any other conventions look fun.
As many have already said on Twitter, the hotel bar was frustrating at times due to mega-queues. When you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people in for an event, only one or two bar staff at peak times seems silly. See also: the coffee outlet, which took so long that I found I could get my steamy brown caffeine quicker by walking two hotels over to Starbucks.
Also, a few occasions where events featuring bigger names were in comparatively small rooms, leading to a tight restrictions on access. I get that there are a lot of events on, but if the con continues to grow and attracts more A-listers across different track areas, maybe it needs a bigger venue? With a better bar?
In short, no room for complacency and we can always improve, but I’ll almost certainly be going to Nine Worlds 2016. Despite a few growing pains, it was another really fun year, with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and a lot of really good discussions. Finally, I’d like to thank my bag of ten preservative-ridden stodgy mini-croissants from Lidl for saving me from buying breakfast.