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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Conflux 9: the 2013 Natcon

This time last week I was on my way home from Canberra on a Virgin Australia flight. I had to get a taxi to the airport because, unlike other places, Canberra doesn't seem to have a bus route that goes directly there - you can, if you're familiar with the area, take a bus NEAR the airport, but not actually there. And if you come from interstate, chances are you just want to get to the airport or from there to the hotel (no courtesy buses either, it seems, or not to the hotel I stayed in) without having to lug your bag around and ask people where to go. Still, because it is the way things are done there, at least the process ran smoothly, with the hotel getting me a taxi immediately. The last time I was interstate, at Swancon, the hotel connection bus I had booked failed to appear and the hotel gave me a cab voucher, because it was getting uncomfortably close to my departure time. It wasn't all that much dearer than a Skybus and got me from door to door.

Now, the con itself: I had a ball!

I rarely go interstate for a convention and the last two I have attended have been Natcons, where I was persuaded by friends who wanted to share a room. Swancon is always great - I've been to three - and this was my second Conflux and also excellent, as it was last time. It is, after all, a professional development for me as a YA writer and teacher-librarian, because the place was crawling with YA writers such as Kate Forsyth, Garth Nix, Margo Lanagan,  the delightful Richard Harland, Felicity Pulman (from whom I bought the last two of the Janna Mysteries for my library - she had to self-publish them because her publisher scrapped the series after four, but I had a young man waiting to read the rest of the series) and even new children's writer Tom Dullemond, who is a member of the ASIM Co-op, whose book was launched at the convention. Sean Williams was there; he's better known for adult fiction, but has done some work for children and teens recently, and some of my book clubbers are currently reading his manuscript from Allen and Unwin.  Not there, alas,  was Michael Pryor, but perhaps he will be at my next convention, Continuum, which is on the Queen's Birthday Weekend and I know my publisher Paul Collins will be a GoH there. There's something great about

I set off on the Wednesday evening after work, catching a flight from Tullamarine airport. I was expecting to have some sort of meal, but there really wasn't time - the plane was no sooner up in the air than it was coming down again - a short trip and even shorter for a probably good tail wind - so they offered us crackers, cheese and fruit juice. No tea or coffee. I was hungry and yearning for a cuppa by the time I arrived.

My taxi driver was a nice young man who had been doing this for two weeks. He was a systems analyst between jobs, as taxi drivers tend to be when they're not uni students. The trouble was, he didn't yet know his way around and had to ask another driver where Rydges was - there are two in Canberra and I had specified Capital Hill. He tried to drop me off at Lakeside - just as well I saw the name on the door mat! So he apologised profusely and took me to the right place for no extra charge.

I checked in and met Edwina Harvey, one of two friends with whom I was sharing a room, but Edwina and Anne had been out for dinner already, so I went to the hotel dining room, where I took one look at the menu, went "Eek!" at the prices and ordered a bowl of beer-battered chips, about the only thing on the menu I could afford, apart from a salmon entree which I didn't want because you couldn't have it without batter and I hate battered fish - the last time I had some, the batter was nicely browned and the fish was almost raw.

Those beer batter chips were to be my lunch at least twice more, when I couldn't get out.v Fortunately, I had prepaid for the Steampunk Afternoon Tea and the Regency Banquet and a buffet breakfast was part of the hotel's deal.

Thursday afternoon I attended the Steampunk Afternoon Tea, wearing a long dark skirt and a long-sleeved blouse, with a bit of Victorian-style jewellery and a shawl. There were, of course, a lot of folk who could sew better than me and came in proper costumes.

Here's a picture of the winners. To the left is Lewis Morley, artist extraordinaire, and that samurai robot is Thoraiya Dyer, who seems to have an unfair amount of talent. 

The winners

And here's a pic of Lewis Morley and his partner Marilyn Pride, who illoed my first two books for Allen and Unwin. I once wrote her into a children's chapter book, as an artist who was coming to visit her old school, where she had donated a painting, but nobody knew where it had disappeared. I think the illustrator of THAT book must have recognised the cheeky reference, because the picture of the artists in the book looked uncannily like Marilyn.

The afternoon tea was delightful, and we had eaten our cake stand of cakes and sandwiches when, to our surprise, they brought us another one. 

That night I was on a late-night panel on the subject of fairy tales, moderated by Jenny Blackford. I think I may have been the only member of the panel who hadn't done folklore academically! Everyone else was either a PhD or Masters candidate. I really just wanted to talk about the use of fairy tales in fiction, especially YA fiction, which I know best, but we got diverted by other things. Oh, well. It was a good panel anyway, and afterwards I stuck around for one on the subject of self-publishing, although it's not something I would do myself, becuase it was on the subject of whether or not self-published work needed an editor. Patty Jansen, a member of the ASIM group who has self-published a lot, argued that it was a waste of money because you could always rely on beta readers. A freelance editor on the panel suggested that some of her potential clients might have been better off spending their money on learning to write! She would not accept first drafts.
Someone else commented that not everyone was as honest as this editor and not all writers had access to such excellent beta readers as Patty.

Patty said that if some people wrote and published dreadful stuff, it was no skin off her nose. At this point, I piped up with, "It is if you're a reviewer!" and everyone laughed.

This attitude of, "Oh, I can get my family and friends to read it!" is one reason why I rarely review self-published work, and then only if the author has a track record in the paid publishing industry, such as Felicity Pulman. There may be some wonderful self-published work out there, but how do you know till you have agreed to read it? And the ones who approach me mostly want to offer me an ebook, which I can't put on my library shelves and this is one of the main reasons why I review.

We all went to bed, with no time or energy for the ASIM  room party we always promise ourselves.

Friday afternoon, after some panels and some I went with Edwina for a swim in the hotel pool before going to a memorial to Jan Howard Finder, aka the Wombat, whom I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog. It was a small group, but nice to remember him together. Everyone had a funny story to tell about him and it was especially pleasing to have an attendee who had only met him once but wanted to pay tribute. David MacDonald said he had met Jan when they were both on a Tolkien panel in the US. Jan had made him feel welcome and had been delightful.

David actually took this picture with my iPad. That's Marilyn Pride, Susan Batho, me behind Susan,, Graeme Batho and behind him Edwina, Jean Weber and Bill Wright, a Melbourne fan who asked for copies of my photos of Jan so he could use some for his fanzine.

The evening brought the Regency Banquet, which was very special. I had made an effort to prepare a costume, buying a Simplicity pattern which turned out to be very complicated for the likes of me, and got as far as cutting out the pieces. I simply wore a long dress and shawl with a ribbon under the bust.
And here I am with my friend Anne Devrell, who did make the costume from that pattern. She can sew. I can't - well, not with a machine. 

I had read about this banquet, which had been done before. It was carefully researched by Dr Gillian Polack, Canberra fan and historian extraordinaire, along with a team of volunteers who had cooked and tried out a huge number of recipes before settling on a menu, which was handed to the hotel. They had the menu, so they were able to reuse it at this banquet, and towards the end, the chefs were invited in to be applauded by the diners.

We were also entertained by a historical dance group, who played historical instruments, performed complex Regency dances and invited us to come up and learn the simpler ones with their help. That was a lot of fun and I had a go at most of them.

I enjoyed the food - you could eat as much as you liked without every touching meat, Gillian had made sure of that, none of this giving veggies the side dishes everyone else was having or a salad. Even the rolls were Brentford rolls, and part of the menu. Gillian went around anxiously apologising that the flavours weren't quite right, but they tasted fine to me. Typical picky historian! I had no room for dessert, which was a pity, because they looked wonderful, but Gillian persuaded me to try the homemade apricot ice cream and I had a bit of the "burnt almonds" which were really just almonds stuck into the kind of glassy toffee even I can make. Delicious!

More panels on Saturday - I was doing one called "Appropriating the sacred" which I thought might be about the use of religion in spec fic and was all ready to talk about some of the books I had read with religions in them, but it was really more about the ethics of using existing religion in fiction, especially Indigenous religion. Still, it worked well and I waffled along.

The Ditmars were on at five pm, so again I ended up having a chips lunch. I attended two kaffeeklatsches, one with Garth Nix, one with Kate Forsyth. Kate's was especially interesting, I thought. though I think Garth Nix is a fine writer. He was startled to hear that at my school, it's the boys who are borrowing his Old Kingdom Trilogy, which is about three strong young women.

Here, in case you don't know, is the list of who took home the Ditmars:

Best Novel
  • Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

Best Novella or Novelette
  • “Sky”, Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls)
Best Short Story
  • “The Wisdom of Ants”, Thoraiya Dyer (Clarkesworld 12/12)

Best Collected Work
  • Through Splintered Walls, Kaaron Warren (Twelfth Planet)

Best Artwork
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for Midnight and Moonshine (Ticonderoga)

Best Fan Writer
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews in Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
Best Fan Artist
* Kathleen Jennings, for body of work including “The Dalek Game” and
“The Tamsyn Webb Sketchbook”

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Best New Talent
  • David McDonald
William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.” (

I pinched this from the Locus web site, which included the other entries. I have only read the Margo Lanagan book and the Tansy Rayner Roberts stuff and I have seen the cover of Midnight And Moonshine, which I bought, and I have to say I think those ones deserve their prizes.

A bunch of us went out for dinner afterwards, hoping to drown our sorrows - Simon Petrie of the ASIM bunch had been on the novella shortlist and Peggy Bright Books had had its wonderful collection Light Touch Paper on the list too - but we ended up  just eating Mexican at a fast food place.

The next morning I had to leave directly after breakfast, but it was great to catch up with friends, meet those I hadn't seen before and I learned a lot from those panels.

A delightful con!

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