My NAFF Journey to Swancon 40 (Natcon 54)

I was very excited to win the NAFF race this year, which allowed me to attend Natcon 54 (Swancon 40). I’d thrown my hat in the ring for the 2014 race but lost by one vote to Matt Lindus, who came over from Perth to the Melbourne Natcon at Continuum. This year it was a bigger race, with four great candidates (you can find more information here, and I was very chuffed to be declared the winner. While I had been to Swancon before, of course (I was even on the organising committee in 2011!), I hadn’t been back since we left Western Australia the following year.

Due to work and family commitments, I could only attend the convention Friday through to Sunday night, leaving Canberra very early on Good Friday to catch my first flight. While I had reading material and my own viewing on my device, I somehow got sucked into watching Orange is the New Black on my flight from Melbourne to Perth – compelling and engaging and just a bit confronting. I can see why it’s so popular!

Deb Kalin reading from Cherry Crow Children – all the launch books in the background. Photo by Cat Sparks.

Deb Kalin reading from Cherry Crow Children – all the launch books in the background. Photo by Cat Sparks.

Touching down in Perth a little early, I was lucky enough to be collected by Kathryn Linge, which meant we got to have a quick catchup before the crazy of the con kicked in. We made it to the convention hotel in good time by about 11.15am, which was lucky because my first program item was at midday – our official launch for the new FableCroft book Insert Title Here (with a sneaky West Coast launch for Cranky Ladies of History as well), double teaming with Twelfth Planet Press’s launch of the final book of the Twelfth Planets collection series, Cherry Crow Children by Deb Kalin. Thanks to amazing intern Katharine, the first time I actually lay hands on ITH was when I launched it, so that was kind of exciting! The launches were pretty well attended and I was pleased we had a few authors in situ – always lovely to see the people who make the books what they are!

The Dealer Room – photo by Cat Sparks

The Dealer Room – photo by Cat Sparks

After that we headed back to the dealer room, which was an excellent one – kudos to the con comm for getting a great range of sellers and a great space. They combined it with the Art Show which meant members had lots of reasons to browse around, and the variety of tables was fantastic. There was also a table for the fan fund auction collection which was most handy, as I had a stash of comics to donate, as well as a hardcover of Cranky Ladies for the auction, and on Saturday, the raffle I organised lived there when I wasn’t wandering about flogging tickets to people!

Friday night was a bit of a bust as the three hour time difference, on top of a busy term of work (and a super busy week) and a day of travelling caught up with me. The wonderful Katharine had generously offered me a bed in her room, and I think I was tucked up in it by 9.30!

I was supposed to be on a panel about YA fiction  on Friday evening, but for several reasons (a. One of our panellists couldn’t be there, b. Overtired) we canned that one (sorry programmer Sarah!). I did make it to my second panel though on Saturday, The Fiction Factory: speculative fiction and professional publishing, with Alisa Krasnostein and Robin Pen. We had an interesting discussion on why some books and authors get published and get shelf space, and others just don’t sell, not from a quality point of view, but from a business one.

IMG_9594I have to admit I was almost late to the panel, as I first attended John Scalzi’s guest of Honour speech. I (ahem, finally) started attending GoH speeches a couple of years ago – NK Jemisin’s speech at Continuum in 2013, and the speeches of both Jim C Hines and Ambelin Kwaymullina in 2014 were all astonishing and eye opening, and given I’m a bit of a Scalzi fan, I really wanted to hear what he had to say. Well, it was completely unplanned and random (the gist of it is here), but it was so off-the-cuff and beautifully delivered that it was definitely worth it.

All day Saturday I spruiked tickets for the NAFF raffle I had brought with me. It contained a hardcover copy of Cranky Ladies, a copy of To Spin A Darker Stair, and lots of tea and chocolate (well, it WAS Easter weekend!). The con attendees were super generous (we raised almost $400!) and I absolutely ripped through tickets, far more than I anticipated, to be honest! We actually sold out of tickets well before we had to make the draw, which we did at the magnificent masquerade on Saturday night. I was very pleased that Sally Beasley was drawn out as winner, as Sally was one of the first people I ever met in fandom, as we were both founding members of Andromeda Spaceways, way back in 2001.

Sunday was a much more relaxed day as the dealer room wasn’t open. I took the opportunity to head off the breakfast with my uncle and cousin and her family. We headed up to King’s Park for a beautiful couple of hours – it was a stunning day! I’d managed to get down to the riverside both Sat and Sun for a walk (the Pan Pacific was very conveniently located), and the weather really was beautiful.

I arrived back from that to find John Scalzi just hanging in the foyer, and he didn’t shoo me off when I asked if it was okay to join him, so I enjoyed a lovely chat with him for a while. I think this demonstrates the reason I love the speculative fiction convention scene over the pop culture cons: the guests are generally so much more accessible in the smaller, more laid back convention vs the highly monetised, ridiculously busy pop culture cons.

We were gradually joined by a gang of friends, and after John went off with Jonathan Strahan and Alisa Krasnostein to record a podcast, we stayed settled in the foyer gabbing until lunch!

After lunch I was on my final panel for the weekend, talking with Keith Stevenson, Cathy Cupitt and Frames White about language in SF/F. This was a bit of a different panel for me, and while I think I said some interesting things, I was very glad for my much more knowledgable and clever panel partners!

We then got ourselves ready for the evening ahead – we’ve made a bit of a tradition of tricking up for Awards, so we got jooshed up before early dinner & drinks at the Irish pub across the road, then headed in for the Tin Duck & Ditmar Awards ceremony.

Some of the Snapshot team get avaricious about our Tin Duck. Photo by Cat Sparks.

Some of the Snapshot team get avaricious about our Tin Duck. Photo by Cat Sparks.

As NAFF delegate, I was delighted to get to present an award, and even more pleased that the recipient of the Ditmar for Best New Talent, Helen Stubbs, was in attendance. I was also very excited to watch Glenda Larke pick up both the Tin Duck for The Lascar’s Dagger AND tie for the Ditmar! John Scalzi was very cheeky in the way he presented this, completely fooling us by announcing the winner as Trudi Canavan, letting this be collected, before telling the audience the tied result! And it was of course fantastic to see the 2014 Snapshot nab the Tin Duck for Best Fan Production, as well as Ditmars going to Kathleen Jennings for her cover of Phantazein and Cat Sparks for her Phantazein short story! And to see Donna Hanson be awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in Australian Science Fiction – so well deserved! I Storified the ceremony, with all the results, here.

Award winners and excellent people: Cat Sparks, Glenda Larke & Donna Hanson.

Award winners and excellent people: Cat Sparks, Glenda Larke & Donna Hanson.

We ended Sunday as is also traditional, in the hotel bar. As it was my last night, I said a lot of my goodbyes among the laughter and yarns. Leaving a con is always bittersweet, but I have to say, it’s not as hard as it used to be, and I think this is because we spend so much time hanging out with our friends on social media these days. Being together in real life is always better (for me, at least – my more introverted pals may not necessarily agree!) but it’s not like we never talk the rest of the year 🙂

Was lovely to spend time with old friends and some new. Picked up some swag from Chris & PRK who seemed to have some split personality thing going on as they promoted both Helsinki AND DC Worldcon bids. Caught up with bunches of others, and am sad I didn’t get more time (or even anything more than a brief hello) with most. But that’s the way of cons.

IMG_9613I enjoyed the touches of fannish history at this convention, too. We did a bit of this with Swancon36, which doubled as Natcon50, in 2011, and it was fun to see some of the Swancon Ruby anniversary stuff. I also enjoyed chatting with three of the most longstanding Swancon attendees, during the weekend: Gary (who was actually on both Swancon I & II committees but was overseas for both, meaning he’s only got 38 cons up his sleeve!), Sally and Ian. We really need to mine their brains for posterity!

After probably not quite enough sleep Sunday night, I was still up too early (stupid body not adjusting for time difference!) for a bit of breakfast and some more farewells before it was taxi time and back to the airport. It was a long day travelling back (even though the difference was now only two hours rather than three, thanks to daylight savings finishing on Saturday night), but nice to get home to the family, even if they hadn’t saved me any Easter eggs! I watched Interstellar (which I loved, up to a certain point where anyone who has watched it will know where I mean!) and most of Big Hero 6 on the big flight, which was nice. Not SO much fun heading back to work the next day, but that’s life.

I had a super great time at Swancon. I would have loved to be on a couple more panels, maybe some Doctor Who or Awards panels, but given my attendance was only confirmed two weeks out, I’m glad they could squeeze me in at all! Thanks to Sarah Parker for making it happen on programming, to the con com, especially treasurer Helen Duffill, for making my attendance smooth at late notice, and Matt Lindus and Sue Ann Barber for facilitating the NAFF race this year. Thank you also to the other candidates, and most especially to everyone who voted for NAFF (putting their money where their mouth is for the privilege!), bought tickets in the fundraising raffle at the convention, or purchased items at the fan fund auction – you all help make fan delegate trips like mine possible, and it’s hugely appreciated!

We’ll be starting the NAFF race for 2016’s Natcon (Contact in Brisbane on the Easter weekend) towards the end of this year, well in advance of the convention, to help make planning for both the winning delegate and the con committee easier. Look forward to hearing from fans interested in running!

Check out the new NAFF website which we hope will grow and become a repository of cool fan stuff from NAFF delegates as time goes on. I’ll be cross posting this report there soon.

Unless indicated otherwise, the photos I have used are my own. However, you might like to check out Cat Sparks’ great photoset on Flickr – she captures the con beautifully, as usual!

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