Monday, February 6, 2012

SFX Weekender 3: The Weekendering!

So, this weekend we packed off the kids, loaded up the car, and headed off to Prestatyn, North Wales, to the SFX Weekender. I've been to a few cons over the years but is my first Weekender, and the biggest one I've been to for a good many years. I didn't have much idea what to expect, to be honest - so here's my experiences...along with some dreadful photos!

Gaze into the Face of Giant Dredd!
I think it's best to start with that simple fact that I had a brilliant time and met a lot of lovely people. Staying with friends helped, of course, but generally we ended up talking to people were sat next to at panels, down the pub, or just in a queue somewhere and the whole atmosphere was warm and relaxed. I think the organisers were less relaxed - a train derailment played havoc with their guest list and scheduling on the friday, and the the snow may have missed North Wales on the saturday but hit the rest of the country with similar knock-on effects. By and large this didn't affect me that much, as I'm not one for signings and most of the guest Q&A's I wanted to see went ahead. But it's worth mentioning that I did hear a stream of updates through the day, and if the site's shonky internet connection was better I've had got them through Twitter, too.

The site itself - a Pontins, totally rented out for the weekender, was pretty basic, if I'm being honest, but most of the time we were in the chalets we were asleep, spending as much time as possible in the warm, dry, and well-connected central area. We did have an exciting moment when the toilet door lock broke, trapping one of us inside but we got a fast response from the site management team and that was fixed pretty promptly. I think the only real site-related complaint I'd have (and it's a minor one) was that the fencing off of the main void in the early evenings to reconfigure it meant that the indoor cut-throughs to ongoing events in the Screening Area and the Pub were also blocked off, and which was a bit cruel in the cold, rainy conditions.

Cosplay Troll. One of the best
costumes I saw there. 
But, onto happier things. The Weekender is a mix of literary con and media con - with a lot of genre-based panels on a wide range of things as well as famous guests, screenings, and the big Saturday night Masquerade Ball. It's all wrapped up in a Very British Bow - a celebration of British Geek Culture, if you will, and feels very proud of being a British Con rather than trying to imitate an american one, at least that's the impression I am left with.

Panel Highlights for me have to the "Just a Minute" Panel, hosted by a slightly Phillip K Dick obsessed Paul Cornell, which was hilarious, and the Flash Fiction Panel of which I shall only say "Unicorn Sandwich". You had to have been there, and if you were, you will never forget. The more thoughtful panels I saw tended to wander around the point a little bit - often interesting, but with out the up-temp focus of the more game-show styled ones.

We saw three "big quest" Q&As, which were all great, but I think most would agree that Big Hairy Man-God Brian Blessed stole the show with a blazing and thundering display of Brian Blessed-ness. He was overwhelmingly funny, and larger-than-life, and played the audience like a pro, leaving a packed Main Void desperate for more. The other two - a very laid back and funny Sylvester McCoy, and Toby Whithouse's thoughtful and informative Being Human panel, were also pretty great, but honestly pretty eclipsed.

Giant Dancing Robot Invades
North Wales! 
I think the other big impression was all the cosplayers, which really took me by surprise. Huge numbers of people really made an effort for the Masquerade, to the extent that I felt guilty for not! And the Ball itself, hosted by Craig Charles, really was up to its reputation - I kept being told it was going to be great, and it was - and I danced the night away on saturday in a way that is really making me suffer today!

Any other highlights? Well:

  • I had to flee the Black Library stall after saying that the only BL author I read was Sandy Mitchell, then realising that Dan Abnett was stood next to me. 
  • Buying a Sarah Pinnington novel just to find out if it has the same mucky sense of humour she displayed on both panels I saw her on. 
  • Our team coming joint 16th in the Blastermind Quiz! Woot! 
  • The Buffy Sing-Along being surprisingly packed and fun. 
  • And I can't work out if I find the oddly condescending attitude of some of the security staff funny or not...! 
And more. But I can't remember it all! 

But it was great - and we're already booked for next year!