Swancon 36, Natcon 50 – the report

Cons are a bit like dreams – they’re hectic, often surreal affairs, that fade from the mind on waking, like mist in a stiff breeze. Then, over days or weeks, bits and pieces come back to you. Photographs crop up that remind you of things previously lost in a drunken haze and so on. However, I will attempt to post here a roughly accurate report of Swancon 36, which was Natcon 50. Forgive me if I miss any events or people that I should include.

It was a great con – there was a really happy vibe about the thing and loads of people having a good time. The bar was a big round place right in the middle, which made it prefect for distracting a person on their way to a panel. Sadly I missed several panels I was keen to see, purely because good friends, new friends and interesting people distracted me on the way. But that’s kinda what cons are all about.

Thursday:

I flew into Perth late Thursday afternoon and, once I’d checked in to my hotel, went to the con and immediately found several friends in various states of sobriety. I joined them, drank, registered and then attended the opening ceremony. The main event there was a comedian, I believe his name was Brent, who was, quite frankly, fucking hectic. He openly admitted his act was largely based on his ADHD (“Don’t hate us, we probably invented fire.”) He did a crazy pastiche of comedy based around impressions, regularly referencing back to Star Wars. It was… interesting. After that we retired en masse to the bar. There were several panels and things happening, but the bar seemed to have a kind of magnetic effect on me and there were too many good friends and interesting people around.

Friday:

I wagged a couple of hours on Friday morning. Having never been to Perth before – in fact, it was my first time in WA – I took the opportunity to have a mooch about. I walked through the CBD and up to King’s Park, around a few bush trails there and then back along the river. The river has jellyfish! I took a few photos.


Perth from King’s Park (photo by me)


King’s Park (photo by me)


Jellyfish! (photo by me)

Before long I found myself back at the bar. I was told my panel, SF & The Social Network, had been cancelled, so I stayed in the bar till I got a phone call asking where I was. It turned out that no one else had been told the panel was cancelled and a bunch of people were waiting for me. Thankfully Amanda Pillar was among those waiting and she had my number – thanks Amanda! I ran downstairs and we had an impromptu and casual discussion about social networks that turned out to be really interesting.

Following that were two awesome panels. Dead Eyes: Dolls and Simulcra in Horror was first and, as the name suggests, it was creepy as hell. Horror luminaries Stephen Dedman, Jason Nahrung, Kaaron Warren and Robert Hood were on the panel and talked about the uncanny and disturbing nature of those things and what makes them so horrible.

Following that was a panel called Darkness Beyond Borders, with more horror luminaries – Kaaron Warren, Kirstyn McDermott, Ellen Datlow and Paul Haines. This was a discussion of just what horror really is and what scares us and why. Fascinating stuff.


Darkness Beyond Borders, l to r: Ellen Datlow, Kirstyn McDermott, Paul Haines, Kaaron Warren. (photo by me)

After dinner, myself, Peter M Ball, Cat Sparks and Dirk Flinthart took part in some true lunacy. Before a roomful of people we took on the personalities of the Gentleman’s Entomological Society. This is basically a live role-playing game before an audience where cards are drawn detailing some strange bug and a philosophical idea. One person has to spin the yarn of how they travelled somewhere and discovered said bug, in true 19th Century fashion, and weave into that story the philosophical idea. Meanwhile the other players try to trip up that story with challenges. It’s basically making shit up on the fly, which four writers are eminently qualified for. Plus wine. It was a bloody good laugh and somehow I won.


The Gentlemen’s Entomological Society, l to r: Dirk Flinhart, Cat Sparks, Peter M Ball, Alan Baxter. (photo by Rob Hood)

From there we went to a screening of “A Positive”, a short film of Kaaron Warren’s short story of the same name. Creepy and very powerful, I’m very glad I saw it. I recommend anyone that likes powerful psychological horror to check it out.

Then there was a room party. We never talk about room parties.

Saturday:

I had a slow start Saturday. Not surprising if you’ve just read Friday above. But at 10.30 I was on a panel called Oh zombie, my zombie, all about the rise of this originally very small sub-culture into serious mainstream consciousness. On the panel were myself, Rob Hood, Jason Nahrung and Grant Watson. It was a great discussion of all things zombie, with the Undead Grandmaster himself, Rob Hood, ensuring every idea was well detailed with examples.

After lunch I went along to an interview panel, which was Ellen Datlow being interviewed by Kaaron Warren. If you don’t know who these people are, get thee to Google and find out. Amazing ladies, both. The discussion was fascinating and I learned a lot. I also discovered a whole bunch of new stories I need to read and, with the help of Google and an iPhone, we managed to all learn new things about one of Ellen’s all-time favourite stories.

The bar swallowed me again after that, and then it was the ball, with Sean Williams and David Cake tearing it up, 80s style. Then a room party. Which we don’t talk about.

Sunday:

Sunday dawned far too early, especially given everything that had gone before. I was booked in for a Wellness Session at 8.30, teaching a Tai Chi class. Only two people turned up, but we all felt much better than everyone else at the con because of it. Except, maybe, everyone else that stayed in bed. Who knows.

Following that was my two hour Write The Fight Right workshop. A good crowd turned up for that and we had a good time. Well, I certainly did, crapping on about two of my favourite things – writing and fighting. I think people got a lot out of it, and had some fun.


Write The Fight Right workshop. In this photo it would appear that I’m trying to teach people how to drink. (photo by Daniel I Russell)

After lunch there was the launch of Paul Haines’ new collection The Last Days of Kali Yuga, from Brimstone Press. It’s a beautiful book, full of the darkest work of Haines. Paul read from an original story and the whole event was incredibly emotional. I can’t wait to read the book, and I’m also dreading it. Paul’s darkness and powerful meta-fiction is some of the best stuff out there, from this or any other generation. I strongly recommend that you brace yourself and read some Haines if you haven’t before.


Paul Haines signing at the launch of The Last Days Of Kali Yuga. (photo by me)

After that was the Ticonderoga Publications 15th birthday bash, which included the official launch of their two latest anthologies, Dead Red Heart and More Scary Kisses. Russell B Farr, editor at Ticonderoga, spoke first to a packed room, talking about the birth and development of the press. Then others spoke about their involvement in it – Grant Stone, Jonathan Strahan, Sean Williams, Angela Slatter, Lisa L Hannett. You can see from the list of names there just how influential and respected Ticonderoga is. Then the books launched, with a number of the authors present signing copies. As I have a story in Dead Red Heart, it was an honour to sit among those authors, signing for people.

As if that wasn’t a big enough day, in the evening was the official Orbit/Gollancz Natcon Fifty Awards Ceremony, hosted by Grant Stone, awarding the local WA Tin Duck Awards and the national Ditmar Awards. If you’re interested in the results, get to Google.

Then there was a room party. We don’t… yeah, you know the score.

Monday:

I woke up close to dead. What a fantastic weekend. There were more panels in the morning and a closing ceremony, but my flight home was at 1pm. A bunch of us met for coffee and then we did the last rounds of the bar area saying our farewells, before Paul Haines and I shared a cab to the airport.

It was a tremendous convention and I’m glad to have been a part of it. Roll on the next thing. Meanwhile, I think I’ll sleep for a week.

I highly recommend you check out Cat Sparks’ Flickr album of the event to see some great shots of people and activities. You can find that here. I’m sure I’ve missed stuff – the hours wandering the Dealer’s Room, panels here and there that my mind has blanked out or drowned in expensive hotel beer, that sort of thing. Forgive me. Hopefully this has given you a decent idea of the con. I’ll post more photos and updates over the next couple of days as things come in.

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