Continuum 3

I’ve taken a number of deep breaths, and over a week, to prepare myself for a con report. Here, in all it’s glory, is my report on the spectacular Continuum 3 (A warning: I will be listing people by their full name, mainly because I love the tone of formality, and also because listing a first name feels exclusionist to those ‘not in the know’. A second warning: the content is heavily writerly and self-focussed):

The leadup to the con was hectic in the extreme. A previous blog entry title, ‘I’ll stop when I’m dead’, sums up the atmosphere over here in Shadowed Realms central in those heady days. However, we almost had our preparation act together, as we were the most calm and composed at the airport of any of our interstate flights this year (geez! wasn’t that a clunky sentence). Perhaps it was the exhaustion, or maybe the inflight vodkas with lemon, but we died in mid air and didn’t really wake up until three days after our return from Melbourne.

We arrived Thursday night – a sensible choice which enabled us to suss out the Hilton layout before the con. We were also meant to catch Richard and Aileen Harland for dinner, but alas, with to-ing and fro-ing, we missed our chance. We did however catch a late night drink with them and planned out what became known as ‘THE SHOPPING TRIP’. Well, Ange and Aileen did. Richard and I just smiled and guarded our respective wallets from their lingering eyes. Ange and I enjoyed the wonders of a $17 Hilton Toblerone cocktail – regretfully over-priced and under nourishing compared to those at Conflux (Canberra) and Thylacon (Hobart) – and kept our con-going cocktail tradition alive in 2005 in the process.

With a sense of order restored, and my wallet feeling unexpectedly needed, we retired for the evening.

The morning started as a well-ordered drill. Everything was organised, to the extent that mid-ironing, a nice man presented us with a package. Our printers had reversed a disastrous stroke by couriering our revised and shiny bookmarks. The stage was set to impresss, so we ventured downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and to relax pre-convention. Perhaps the best value we get from conventions is the buffet breakfast. Fortunately our room deal came with brekkie, so we tucked in mightily.

After retrieving our con bag stuffing merchandise, we entered the convention foyer. Chaos ensued. At this point I’ll explain that our shiny new bookmarks, which were arranged weeks before the con, were presented to us just a day prior to our trip with one side printed upside down! Because of the delay, and then the fatal error, we were unable to send the bookmarks over to be inserted into the con bags. Instead we elected to do the deed ourselves half an hour before the registration desk opened. We believed the omens were on our side given the correct bookmarks made their way to our door just an hour before we needed them.

The committee were spread across the foyer in a random pattern of bag stuffing madness. It seems other inserts were required to be placed into the bags (presumably other people had printing difficulties too!), so the committee and volunteers were frantically stuffing and piling, stuffing and piling. Ange and I entered this mix, and 45 brutal, RSI-straining minutes later, had exhausted our supply of Shadow Box flyers, the original Shadowed Realms bookmarks, and the spiffy new ones. All were placed inside the Video programme, but hey, that was good enough for us.

Ange also had a chat with Hilton staff about our posters, and lo and behold we were able to stick ’em up. While thankful, I was puzzled as to why they allowed this when they were so damn uptight in other areas of the hotel. Oh well, good onya Dean (Hilton Banquet Manager guy)! Our posters dominated the foyer advertising (especially the uber A1 sized one – it was excellently cool). At this pre-rego stage, we met a number of the committee, including the gentlemanly Mick Piemontese, whom we have corresponded with (and virtually hung out with at the Southern Horror yahoo group). We also renewed our acquaintance with the delightfully unflustered Kirtsyn McDermott.

[I’ve struck a week-and-a-half-since-the-event blank at this point. Patience is required for my memory to return]

Okay, there was considerably milling post-bag stuffing and post-registration. At one point, we returned to our room with the feeling of ‘holy frig! there are so many people!’. We then heard from Mark Barnes (Clarionite contact number 1 of the con) who was holding a secret document for Ange. It turned out to be a copy of her con intinerary – her solitary panel, the Shadowed Realms launch (der, like we’d forget that after all the blood, sweat, tears, and more blood). We soon ran into tonnes of others, including Clarionites Nathan Burrage, Susan Wardle, Tessa Kum, Trevor Stafford, Anne Mok, and Lily Chrywenstrom. We also pressed the flesh in the foyer, with Ange handing out her evil little Redbacks to Deborah Biancotti (which gave me an opportunity to chat to Clarion tutor Ian Irvine standing nearby) and Kyla Ward. Also bumped into a bunch of others, including Sean Williams (all too briefly), the effervescent Cat Sparks, Clarion 04er’s Chris Barnes and Zara Baxter, Dave Cake, Richard (slipping into Guest of Honour mode) and Aileen, and later, Marty Young (AHWA prez).

As the crowd pressed in, we hitched a ride on the Clarion express (in actuality my first tram ride, as I’d only spent one day prior in Melbourne) with Nathan, Mark, Susan, and Tessa, and caught a bite to eat in the city. While enjoying the rather excellent cafe, the irrepressible (and considerably more conservatively hair-styled) Rjurik Davidson dropped in to complete the Clarion circle. Ange and I departed early to catch a tram (which took off in the wrong direction half way to the hotel!) and then another one, so we could see the Vampire panel.

That panel, one of the very few we actually attended (despite detailed drawn up plans, with maps!), was standing room only. Apparently 400-500 con-goers (the majority of whom turned out to be Neil Gaiman fans) will ensure many of the panels are standing room only. The discussion was good, although Ange and I did want to hear more from Richard – he seems to know a fair bit about old-school vampires and not the poncy Anne Rice wannabes of today.

[another blank]

Ange and Aileen hooked up shortly thereafter to go to on the Goat Brewery excursion. While no one knew what the hell the Goat Brewery was, the girls were game. In the meantime, I designated myself to catching up with people before the opening ceremony at 6.30pm. Somehow I ended up asleep in the room just minutes after Ange left. I also ‘somehow’ managed to miss the first half of the ceremony. Damn tired brain! As it turned out, Ange and Aileen had a groovy time at what ended up being a boutique beer manufacturing and consumption facility (posh huh?). Apparently much free beer was had, even when it wasn’t meant to be free!

Following the opening ceremony, handled with aplomb by Kirstyn, Ange and I did the Clarion thang again for dinner [I think – another blank]. Anyhoo… the first of my three panels was up at 10.30 that night. Along with Kirstyn and Paul Pouton, I discussed Horror Movies (Thrillers vs Splatterers). I was impressed with the turnout. Even at half to two thirds full, there were a good fifty odd (and perhaps very odd) people there. The atmosphere, like the other horror panels I’ve been to as an audience member at Swancon, Conflux, and Thylacon, was relaxed and interactive. I reckon horror fans rock! Needless to say, I felt the panel worked well, and mirth and zombies were smattered throughout.

After the panel, John Urbancik, from the Southern Horror group, and formerly from the US and the Horror Writers Association, introduced himself. We had a great old chat on all things horror and horror fan related but the hour was too late to carry the chat on for too long.

Day Two started again with buffet breakfast. From there, we ummm… [another blank]. Yes, I remember! Richard Harland’s Guest of Honour speech! How could I possibly forget (it’s late as I type this, and I’ve been poisoning weeds all day – I think I poisoned myself a tad too much). Before I continue, check out what I have coined ‘the debacle of Son of the Black Crusade’ on the Shadowed Realms news page, which involves Richard Harland, Martin Smythe, a defaced story, and Ange’s abduction by the Vilebusters.

Anyhoo (again)… Richard started his speech by writing three negative propositions as suggested by critics of fantasy. He steadily argued against the first two in the first half of his speech, leaving only ‘Fantasy is predictable and safe’ on the whiteboard. As he raised the topic of Vilewatch and their insidious messages, I couldn’t help myself – I had to put my hand up (in front of 100 or so people) and remind him of Vilewatch’s villainy in their handling of Ange and their attack on Shadowed Realms. Ange, who was acting strange (quiet, and very very tense), then spoke up. Boy! What a tirade! I never knew Ange was so pro-Vilewatch (all that hoo-haa about bars for protection and spotlights for warmth – it was torture dammit!). I was shocked, Richard was agog, and, well, best not to mention the look on the faces of those around us. Following Ange’s broadside, a sinister-looking figure strode into the ballroom and assaulted poor Richard! I’m talking throwing him from the stage and laying in the boot! I soon discovered this forthright rapscallion was none other than fictional character and alleged Black Crusade author Martin Smythe! Had I known, I would have shown him the colour of my kung fu… err… ninjutsu! In a masterstroke of comedic timing, Richard then staggered back on stage and concluded his speech by rubbing off ‘predictable and safe’. Nice one Richard!

Ange, who had calmed down once Richard had suffered his bruises (and knowing what she was about to incite), met up with Aileen, and the two disappeared off into the city for a day of shopping at the Victoria market. Meanwhile, I manned the Conjure table in the dealers room (which was a rather squishy affair) in Kate Eltham’s absence. Kate couldn’t make the con so I offered to help out where I could. While on the table, I almost sold a membership, gave out two forms, and had a good natter with Rob Hoge. All in an hour and a half. From there, I caught myself a bite to eat from the 7-11 on the corner and kicked back in the room to do some last minute Shadowed Realms launch tweaking. Later, I toddled down for a panel [dammit, one I cannot remember – one of the publishing ones].

At that stage, Mick and Marty nabbed me (along with Richard) for an impromptu planning session of the AHWA/Shadowed Realms launch the next day. After planning out the session, we had a good natter about all things AHWA, including the Australian Shadows awards, which I had previously commented on. Afterwards I returned to the room for more last-minute tweaking.

Soon enough, Ange sauntered into our room in a dashing full-length leather coat. Dammit! Aileen’s shopping spirit had possessed her, but for the price, it was a stylish bargain. From her report, the two of them had a great old time, particularly when they went in the wrong direction on the tram (“Oh look at that, advertising for Victoria markets. Oh, wait, that is the market! Again! Why are we going backwards?”). The fun continued when Richard was almost convinced his credit card footed the bill for Ange’s new coat.

From there, we did another Clarion dinner, and returned to catch the Voyager 10th anniversary party. Unfortunately, the party turned out to be two hours worth of speeches. Richer in terms of boredom and foot soreness, we slipped up to our room and changed for the Maskobalo. The end result for me was, well, not much out of the usual – except I had a mask which I wore for about a minute at the event. Ange however was simply spectacular in her hand-crafted Elizabethan-cum-gothic ball dress, which I’m proud to say she made herself. To complete her look, she carried an exquisite feather mask. The Maskobalo was an event worthy of her dress. It was spectacular, filled with hundreds of people (many of whom danced all night – the dance floor was packed), and dressed up in gothic macabre elegence. Speaking of macabre, the live goth band, Opera Macabre, did a groovy job although the guy without the shirt (who didn’t sing or have an instrument!) didn’t seem to serve a purpose except to gyrate like a peacock on ecstasy and wave his pole (I kid you not!) at people on the dance floor. Creepy, creepy man.

While many, including Ange, danced the night away, I teamed up with John U (that’s ‘urban sick’ for the uninitiated) to play a game of ‘hot chick, creepy guy’. This eye-spy game evolved into ‘yes/no’, which in turn (going by the level of alcohol consumed) turned into a game of ‘yes’.

Following the ball, which fittingly concluded at midnight, a number of us – primarily the Clarionite crew with Robbie H and John U in tow – ended up in our room for our first ever hosted room party (err… room gathering… according to Hilton policy). We wittled away the wee hours drinking wine and champaigne that Susan and Nathan took 45 minutes to procure from a bottle shop *somewhere* in Melbourne (geez! 45 mins! nothing suss people!). As we were winding down, a couple of guys knocked on the door – we had potential gate crashers! I was chuffed but we really were just a tired and drunk group at that point, and an injection of fresh blood/new faces was the last thing we needed. [another blank]. At about 3am we collapsed in bed.

Day Three (D-Day for us) started not well at all. Mick and I organised to meet before the panels opened to test the digital projector and sound equipment. Apparently, the tech guys were contractors and particularly hard to pin down. At this point I’ll state Ange and I sent through a bundle of emails to absolutely ensure we didn’t need special cables or other requirements to connect the laptop to the sound system. We were paranoid, and asked several times, but the answers were never really detailed or forthcoming. So, anyway, when I pinned down the tech guy, the projector wasn’t in the room to test (naturally!) although I was assured a standard monitor port would work fine. However, despite (or because of) the weeks of worrying and the numerous emails about the cabling – guess what? A special frikkin’ cable was required!!! Which the tech didn’t have. Nor did I!!! Dammit! At that point, weeks and months of planning and hard work threatened to unravel. We’d brought our own PC speakers (in the event of just such a catastrophe), but they just didn’t have the juice to do our presentation any justice.

I also discovered the HarperCollins crew had removed our full colour laminated posters for their shindig, and these said same full colour laminated posters could not be located the morning after.

Suffice to say I was mad.

The rest of that morning was spent by me tramming it into the CBD and wandering the city streets looking for a mini-jack to RVC converter cable. I homed in on Dick Smith, but they didn’t open till 11 or 12 and the launch was at 12. As my sense of panic mounted, I spotted a good old JB Hi-Fi and lo and behold, despite the odds against it, I came away with the exact cable I was looking for and returned to the hotel with an hour to spare. Ange in that time was going over her notes. An air of desperation clung to our room, exacerbated by the two hours sleep (damn room party!) and the last minute heart attack. However, we did keep it all together for the launch.

We rocked on down to ballroom 2 and were greeted by encouraging and familiar faces, such as the Clarion group who had turned out to support us, plus Richard, Kirstyn, and a host of others. I was given absolute last minute instructions on how to work the sound, but had it mostly under control. Fortunately Marty, Mick, Carl (Schaller), and Richard were first with the Australian Horror Writers Association launch, and the announcement of the flash/short story competition winners. I found out neither Nathan, nor I, made the shortlists, which was disappointing.

Then we were up.

The room was half to three quarters full, and several people were there whom we had sent multimedia invitations to – including Cat, Deborah, and Stephen Dedman. What was disappointing for me was the number of people who had received our personal invitations and responded enthusiastically but still didn’t show up. Going by the response to the invites, I expected the room to be brimming full of people.

Ange admitted later she was nervous to start. I know I missed the timing on our first slide because of the nerves. However, once we both hit our groove and relaxed, the presentation went off! To the chant of a strange Filter beat and a cool slide show, Ange made a series of announcements which should have rocked the socks of any short story writer at the con. I mean, how cool is this:
* Shadow Box – the charity e-anthology – open for subs and looking super cool.
* The Book of Shadows – Shadowed Realms issues 1-6 (a year of online horror) plus original stories in a print omnibus.
* Redback issue #9 – Shadowed Realms showcasing the hottest female writers of dark fiction in Oz – Susan Wardle, Deborah McDonnell, Lyn Battersby, Kyla Ward, Kirstyn McDermott, Cat Sparks, Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren, and KJ Bishop.
* Macabre: A New Era of Australian Horror – a landmark publication which will relaunch horror in Australia.
* And the big one: Shadowed Realms becoming a SFWA/HWA professional market from issue 8 by raising the pay rate to 8 cents/ word.

Then we cranked up the multimedia movie which launched issue 6 – featuring the winners of the AHWA flash competition: David Witteveen, Steven Cavanagh, and Joanne Anderton, plus some of the most prominent horror writers on the planet, Terry Dowling, Robert Hood, Richard Harland, and Poppy Z Brite. Despite my bias, I cannot relate how cool the launch was. I’m sure Ange and I will weave it on the web somehow for the perusal of those who weren’t at the con.

Both Ange and I were swamped by appreciative audience members after the launch. Me, for my technical whizz-bangingness, mostly by the Clarion dudes, and the lovely Kirstyn. I also met up with the keen intellect of Cameron Rogers, whom I was hanging out to meet, plus Matthew Farrer, who is a stalwart of the Black Library (novels set in the Warhammer universe) and one of the authors in Tales from the Sunburnt Realm.

I saw Ange was engaged in animated conversations with (in turn) Anna Tambour, Stephen Dedman, David Witteveen, and Marty Young.

Lunch in a scrunchy cafe with the Clarion entourage ensued, which enabled Ange and I to kinda sorta relax. Shortly thereafter though, we had to race back for the tail end of Poppy’s guest of honour speech as she and Ange had arranged to have a chat and do a little business.

That all took place while I ascended to the lofty position of panellist for the Reinventing the Creation Myth (Gods and Monsters) panel. I was woefully underprepared (in my mind) as all my energy had been directed to the Shadowed Realms launch. This was a daunting thing as my fellow panelists were Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Cameron Rogers, and Jenny Blackford (all of whom were witty, intellectual, razor-sharp, or all three). The other factor was the two hundred Neil Gaiman fans clogging the ballroom. It was certainly an experience. As best I could, I joked around, had a bit of fun, inserted a bit of intellectualism on the nature of fear (it’s a horror writer thing), and generally held my tongue in between as the audience were there for Neil. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would do a panel with such a popular GOH again as I really was just fodder to bounce off. Admittedly it was fun, and Neil is a wit, Jenny has some amazing historical insights, and Cameron digests things and regurgitates them in sharp, shiny words (that’s a compliment, trust me!). Also, watching Cameron and Neil have a verbal duel was intriguing.

Meeting Neil Gaiman on that panel was, for me, more par-for-the-course than gushiness. Unlike 98% of the people there, I hadn’t read any of Neil’s comics or books (although American Gods and Anansi Boys interest me), so it was a case of ‘g’day’ – handshake – on to business. I understand respect and admiration for the accomplishements of others, but gushiness, fannish worship (fannishness taken to an extreme) and the cult of personality I can’t understand. I also couldn’t comprehend the line of people waiting for Neil to sign something of theirs. It was literally fifty metres long whenever I saw it.

Following this panel, Ange disappeared off with the AHWA crew (Marty, Mick, Kirstyn, & Carl), while I hung about to catch the Australian Speculative Fiction panel. My interest waned in the panel as it was mostly novel based, and my current interest is short stories. I did however get the chance to slip Donna Hanson one of Ange’s spiders for her to pass it along to Kaaron Warren (trapped back in Canberra).

For me, it was then onto the Blogging as a Fanzine panel. It didn’t bode well when there were three panelists to one audience member at the start. Just when I was going to call upon the ‘bar rule’, a heap of people tumbled in. I have to say it was probably my most interactive panel, with heavy involvement from me, and the audience. For me it was an insight into fannish online culture, and also a chance to share some blog-related anecdotes. It was an intimate panel, but with at least 25 people in the room, still bigger than many panels I’ve been to at other cons this year.

I caught up with the Clarion crew kicking back in the bar, and later Ange and Mick who were relaxing after conducting some official AHWA business. I discovered a number of things came from the meeting, including Ange being asked (and accepting) to become an AHWA committee member.

With the con wound down, we popped into the closing ceremony, said goodbye to all the cool people, fortunately located our missing Shadowed Realms paraphenalia, and once more caught dinner with the Clarion circle of power (or the remnants, Mark, Tessa, and Trevor) plus Yunyu (the funky singer performer from Canberra) and her guy Stephen [another blank here, I hope it was Stephen]. Before and after dinner (and all the other Clarion shared meals), I shared some excellent conversations with all the guys, and as usual found Trevor a wealth of information (and I avoided being ‘Trevored’ into service! Yay me! ;]).

The evening ended with Ange returning early to the room, and Mark and I remaining in the bar while the others variously departed or disappeared or mingled. I was dragged into the periphery of one of the strangest conversations I’ve heard in a long time, involving Mark and Deborah B, and zombie babies. I was too wasted/tired/whatever to really contribute, but my memory tells me it was funny.

From there it was bed and clutching at sleep.

A scramble to pack our sprawled stuff greeted us in the morning, followed by another buffet breakfast. We had the chance to say goodbye to a number of people in the morning, including John U and his partner Mary, and Richard, who we found skulking in the foyer, burdened with a kick-arse flu. Ange had just enough energy to dispute the bill (and won), and then we wandered into the city for a couple of hours, grabbed a Gloria Jean’s coffee, returned to pick up our bags, and then trundled off to the airport.

Overall, Continuum 3 was excellent, and by far the largest con we’ve been to. Shadowed Realms was prominent enough to my mind. Kirstyn, Mick, and co, did a comprehensive job which ensured few hitches (except for our technical nightmare/near disaster, but I’ll say no more as that was an inability to communicate with the tech guys prior to the con). We renewed acquaintances with a plethora of nice folk, and met up with cool new people, or put faces to virtual names. All in all, a great time was had, and many successes achieved.

And now, we’ve been battling post-Continuum directionlessness. Issue 6 is online (read it now!), and our primary focus is gone, which leaves us with a multitude of little goals to achieve. Speaking of which, I’ll get back to those to allow this humongous con report time to gestate.