Friday morning, we got a welcome speech from the con committee and a welcome-to-country speech by a local elder, who told us about his family.
Then there was a panel of sweet kids who are on this year's Insideadog advisory committee. They will be getting swapped around, so hopefully some of our kids can apply next time, but I no longer have my enthusiastic Nerd Pack or even their enthusiastic successors. I also have the sinking feeling that most or all of these kids attend a private or a middle class stare school. I did have at least one very capable student applying to be an Inky Awards judge, but that was a while ago and she didn't get in.
However, that's neither here nor there. They were all passionate readers, the kind of people who will read the cereal box on the table if there's nothing else to read at breakfast. I totally get that.
Looking through the different panels, I think it might be best to describe the ones I enjoyed most, because it's been a about three days and I was still sick enough to have trouble focussing. At one point I was coughing so much I got up out of my seat and went to cough behind a pillar. A kind gentleman filled and handed me a glass of water.
The first actual session was the presentation - what we call a GoH speech in fandom - by Jennifer Niven. It was about her and how her books had been influenced by her own life. She said that when people sometimes challenged her with a "what do you know about that?" she would wonder how much they knew about her. Anyway, I was interested enough to download All The Bright Places, which I have in my library if it hasn't already been stolen. I think it has, though by a literacy teacher rather than a student.
There was a panel on "Invented Worlds, Real Feelings" which included an overseas GoH, Mariko Tamaki, who does graphíc novels with "queer" sensibilities(apparently, one of them was on last year's top ten most challenged books list, though it might be a bit hard to do a virtual readout of a graphic novel), Alison Evans, who has done a fantasy novel and the lovely Alison Goodman, whom I've known since we met in a car on the way to our Aussiecon 3 committee meetings. We used to sit in the back and chat and she told me about this really good book called Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. She did her first ever school visit to my library, because she wanted the practice, and spoke to my book club. She was teaching Creative Writing back then, but only had one book to her name, Singing The Dogstar Blues, but goodness, she had it all plotted out and showed my four eager students her massive chart!
There were several panels that day, but for me the standout was Jay Kristoff's GoH speech on Why We Need Science Fiction. You may know him as the co-author of the Illuminae Chronicles, which he's done with fellow Aussie Amie Kaufman, whom I first met at Flinders St station some years ago, when she stopped me to admire my t-shirt and told me she had her first book coming out the next year. They have both done very well since then, but, while Amie keeps popping up at various events, it was the first time I had heard him speak and I have to say I was impressed. I learned, among other things, that he once raided George R R Martin's hotel room for booze to share with some Game of Thrones cast members after the bar closed.
It did help that he finished his inspiring speech with a line about a show that had presented people of diversity, of all colours and races going to the stars together and showed a slide of the original Star Trek cast. I wanted to cheer, but there were a few startled laughs. Clearly those audience members didn't get it. I think Gene Roddenberry, with his concept of IDIC(Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) "got it" far better than some folk now promoting book diversity.
And I remember an episode, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", which showed the utter stupidity of racism. Two men from the same planet had been fighting and chasing each other through space for thousands of years. Both were half black, half white - literally! The only difference between them? One had black on his left side, the other on his right. When they finally got back to their homeworld, it was dead - destroyed by war. It wasn't by any means the best episode of the series, but it made its point.
Star Trek did what other genres can't: it commented on our world, hidden within the science fictional elements. I think that was somewhere in Jay's speech. Well done, Jay!
Saturday had more interesting panels than Friday. It opened with Mariko Tamaki doing her GoH speech, which was mostly autobiographical, about growing up Japanese in Canada, then doing her first graphic novels. It was an enjoyable speech with plenty of warmth and humour.
This was followed by "Too long, didn't read," on "Engaging the Internet generation." The main question was whether kids were reading less as a result of spending so much time on line. It was answered with a resounding "No!" by all the panellists. Kids, they pointed out, were reading - and writing - as much as ever, if not more. It was just a matter of what. This was the point at which Lili Wilkinson suggested allowing fan fiction as part of a creative response in English. Of course, I always did that, back when we were allowed to do creative responses. Hers went a tiny bit further: including characters from other universes in the fan fiction. That hadn't occurred to me, though why not?
I used to keep fan fiction as an option for the better writers - the poor ones really preferred to do something simpler, such as prepare a PowerPoint which showed pictures from the story and told the story. Once, I even had an integration student do an audio ebook, with his own voice reading what he had written, next to the slides. He needed help, but it worked and he had something to be proud of. Fan fiction, though, told me whether or not a student had understood the story. One student wrote a beautiful sequel to Morris Gleitzman's Once(she hadn't read Then, the actual sequel and I wasn't going to tell her). As far as I was concerned, she had understood it. And this particular student had a habit of writing novelettes! Nine thousand word epics, which I then had to edit. She was a bit upset at being limited to a few hundred words, but she learned how to keep it short and the story was published in the school anthology.
I digress. Anyway, I nodded in agreement with Lili. Recently, a student cried, "Miss, I can't think of how to end this!" I suggested he have a spaceship land. "That's what I do," I told him. (Well, only sometimes, but still...). Ten minutes later, his story was complete. With spaceship and all. Yesss! Not quite fan fiction, but similar to Lili's suggestion.
It was after this that Adele Walsh invited us to post links to our on line fan fiction on Twitter. Which I did, don't know if anyone else did.
Another session I enjoyed was "Finding Zevo", presented by a transgender person called Zevo, who has written an autobiography, the one we had in our goody bags. As far as I'm concerned, Zevo is a "he", a young man with long hair tied back in a pony tail, and a beard. You change genders, that's the gender you are, right? The program book referred to him as "they". But I will refer to him as "he". Besides, the one trans person in my circle of friends insisted he was David, once he was no longer Jan, and he, not she. When I went to his funeral by the river, his very macho sword and heavy armour were laid out and plans made for a sort of Viking funeral(the ashes were laid in a toy Viking ship and launched on the river.)
I wasn't sure what to expect, given that Zevo had been called "they" in the con book, but he was very funny and warm, as he told his story, of having been a nice Jewish girl for Mum, who wanted a girl. She even had a bat mitzvah. He assured us he was not born into the wrong body, it was the right body, just not what his parents wanted. For a time, Zevo was a lesbian, girlfriend and all. Then, finally, time to take the hormones and do the other necessary stuff and behold! A young man. He's just turned twenty-one and has already been doing a lot of community work - good on him! I will be reading his book as soon as I get my goody bag back from Mum's place.
A panel I liked very much was "The Real Of The Unreal", in which three spec fic writers talked about the research they did for their fantastical worlds. Alison Goodman, as we know, has been working on Regency fantasies(I bought the first in ebook on Saturday)and has done huge amounts of research, including learning some Regency era dances. Jay Kristoff said that he and Amie Kauffman work with what they know, research and then have their work read by experts in the area. That, of course, is a great way to do it. Rachael Kraw, whose sort fic novel has DNA in it as an important element, admitted cheekily that she bullshits quite a lot and hopes she will get away with it. So far, I think, she has. I'm reading that one next. They were comfortable together, as spec fic people tend to be. More of this next time, please!
Lance Balchin, a photographer who has built bits and pieces to use in a book called Mechanica(followed by Aquatica) did his GoH speech and that was great fun, as he showed us how he did it. Believe me, I had to be firm with myself and not allow myself a copy of one of those beautiful picture "encyclopaedias" of the future! I knew I would take them home, drool for a while and never read them again.
This was followed by a sneak peek at the new Insideadog website, which hasn't actually been created yet, but they explained that it would be more focussed on the chance for kids to do creative things instead if just checking out each other's book reviews. Pity it won't be out for a while!
The closing ceremony had the gorgeous cartoons I mentioned in my last post. I hope they will be up soon. I was sorry that on the Friday I had to miss Will Kostakis's GoH speech. I gather it made people cry! I had to leave on time for the family dinner, and the event had gone over time. Will said on Saturday that they might be doing a podcast - fingers crossed!
Anyway, there's my con report for this Reading Matters. I have a lot of reading to do!