LFCC & YALC 2016: A Comparative (and informal) Analysis

LFCC's vendors at London Olympia, a major part of the event

Let me just start out by saying this: I’m lucky. I’ve gotten to go to five different cons, some of them twice, in the last five years. I’ve been to the infamous Dragon Con, as well as up and coming cons like Treklanta,  WHOlanta(formerly TimeGate), and CONjuration. I’ve had a great time at all of them, as well as getting a great sampling of different kinds of conventions. This is even more true if you include the three literary/publishing conferences I’ve attended: Publish15, the Atlanta Writing Workshop, and TLC’s Writer’s Day.

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And now I can add last weekend’s London Film and Comic Con as well as the Young Adult Literature Convention! That’s what this post is about.

I only purchased a one day pass. I did this because LFCC’s page was a bit lacking on firm schedule information when I bought my ticket. I don’t know what it is about convention websites, but they often seem to be a little disorganised when it comes to disseminating information on their scheduling and events. Maybe I’m missing something. It’s happened before. I also wanted to have a taster menu of what nerd cons were like on this side of the Pond.

amelia1No, not that one.

I followed my usual pre-con plan:

  1. Settle on a good cosplay idea well ahead of time
  2. Figure out how best to incorporate cargo space into said cosplay and stuff it with snacks so I don’t have to actually shell out for price-gouged food.
  3. Go over travel routes in meticulous detail
  4. Check the weather forecast for the day every day from the time it’s included in ten-day forecasts
  5. Put off actually working on the cosplay until the last minute and end up with a #CloseEnough cosplay

Who did I go as? Liv Moore, from iZombie.

Nailed it.

In retrospect, I probably should have gone with something a little more prevalent in the UK, as only one person recognised me and I had to wear way too much clothing.
PROTIP: Don’t cosplay CW characters except for winter cons cause all CW characters wear approximately five layers of clothing.

Go figure.

I will say this: entry into the con was handled very well, although it actually seemed to more heavily benefit those who showed up right when they started letting people in. The queue was absolutely massive, nearly filing the loading warehouse of the Olympia. But once the doors were opened, it took no time at all to get inside. And once we got inside?

OH MY GOD WAS IT BLISSFULLY AIR CONDITIONED. This was so far the best thing about LFCC, and to be honest, the comfort levels exceeded those of any con I’d been to previously. I was pretty disappointed that there was no badge involved, as I was looking forward to adding it to my collection. Ah well, c’est la vie.

So what did I do there?

Not much, if I’m honest. I began to understand why the FAQs were dominated by queries about autographs and photography slots, and why there wasn’t a lot of information about the event beyond the celebrity autographs/photo sessions and the vendors.

LFCC, in comparison to previous cons I attended, was sorely lacking in workshops, panels, activities, and other things to do. That being said, their board/video gaming area upstairs was TOP. NOTCH. Most cons confine their gaming to a single cramped room, which ends up getting overheated and overcrowded. They handled this perfectly.

They did have some talks, and their celebrity guest list was really fantastic, but, as with a lot of high profile talks, a large portion of them were paid entry. I’m not saying at all that high profile guests’ talks shouldn’t be paid entry, because they should. It helps offset costs by pushing them onto just the people who want to benefit from the guest talk, and it helps with crowd control issues.

But between that and the typical pricing for celebrity meet and greets, it didn’t leave a lot left over for those guests who were strapped for cash. Me personally, I believe that a con should be like a cruise. There should be a lot of premium entertainment available at a premium, but you should also be able to have a perfectly good time on just what’s included in your cabin price. And that’s where LFCC was a bit disappointing. The good thing is, this is a relatively easy fix, since they’ve clearly already sorted out their cashflow with the plethora of premium options.

I still had a good time. I still had fun.
I still have mad respect for the organisers for what they accomplished.

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Half the fun was seeing if anyone would pay me
£20 to drink my hot sauce. No one did.

And now onto the YALC!

The ticket that covered entry to both LFCC and YALC was only £2 more than just entry to LFCC, so I decided to hedge my bets and spring for both. I was further pushed to this decision by the fact that YALC offered a very well put together schedule as well as 1-on-1 agent pitching (not useful to me now, but in the future…). It was just simply more in line with what I expected from a convention. Panels, talks, workshops, scheduling, freebies.

And it did not disappoint. I enjoyed two of the free workshops, one on co-writing(a subject near and dear to my heart) and one on screenwriting(because God love me but I do love pain). The hosts were really fantastic, informative as well as entertaining.

I also sat in on one of the panels, Fear Factor, which featured a smattering of YA horror authors. It was here that I met what I’m sure will end up being one of my favourite authors: Dawn Kurtagich. I’ll admit I was drifting between the discussion on stage and my phone until I heard her mention three little words that are one of my dog whistles…

House of Leaves

She said it was one of of her inspirations and that she drew on it heavily in her book The Dead House. I put my phone away for the rest of the talk, and then powerwalked out of it at the end to go round the corner and pick up both of her books.You should, too. But not immediately. You’re mine right now. Sit down. Powerwalk out at the end.

Oh, and did I mention I got her to sign my books after? She’s a swell gal.

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So in summary…

I’m looking forward to next year’s YALC, but I think I could probably be just fine attending only YALC until LFCC has more to offer besides autographs and vendors.

I understand that every piece of a convention represents the culmination of months and months of blood, sweat, tears, and money from so many people, and I’m not trying to downplay what’s been done so far, and according to people who are LFCC veterans, they’ve already made huge strides. So I’m interested to see what the future holds for LFCC, but in the mean time, YALC has my heart. ❤

A Spider, A Robot, and A Dragon Walk Into A Bar…

[I realised that the play I saw a few weeks back would make great review-writing practice, hence the delay between viewing and posting.]

Four lucky writers had the chance to see their concepts workshopped into brief plays in Telling Tales, the collection of vignettes put on by a fantastic cast at The Berry Theatre in Hedge End. It was a one-off show displaying the results of a month of hard work on the parts of writers, techs, and actors. It was the culmination of a contest to invent new fairy tales for a modern world.

The directors heading up the production were Lewis Mullins, Lily Coull, and Daniel Hill. Music was arranged by David Lewington, Holly Scott was the production assistant, and Shaun Hobbs and Jack Anderson served as technicians.

Nine talented young actors brought the writers’ characters to life, often wearing multiple hats as the play transitioned from one vignette to the next. The intended audience was supposed to be children, but I saw no reason why that couldn’t be interpreted as  kids from ages one to one hundred!

The set design was wonderfully simplistic and whimsical. Its roughshod, carefully strewn chaos filled the stage without filling it, calling to mind the more minimalist spreads of Marzolo and Wick’s I Spy picture book series. The main colour scheme was very cool, teals and greens, and there were books supplied by Oxfam hanging from above, giving the appearance of them floating. Towards the wings were piles of crumpled up pages and stacks of books and other miscellaneous debris. I felt this really spoke to the trial-and-error process of writing.

The opening scene is a delight, immediately captivating the audience. It is a flurry of motion as the actors flitted around, grabbing books and leafing through them before showing them to their colleagues. It was a perfection introduction, as it embodied every time I got excited about a book and couldn’t wait to talk to my friends about it. The way they captured the passion of reading in such a simple, easy to first fashion was remarkable.

I also have to give props to the tech team for including Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” in the play’s soundtrack.  I have such a soft spot in my heart for that song and it’s one of those that can instantly brighten any mood my brain  can throw at it.

The literature handed out before the show was simple but effective, and included one essential tool for getting through the lull before the show and the car ride home: a cootie catcher!

A what? Well, some people might know them as Fortune Tellers, or even just that thing from that one episode of South Park…

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Yeah. That one.

But I grew up hearing them called cootie catchers because kids are as weird as they are expensive. And the program came with one! It was themed, with symbols and snippets from the different stories being told. A great way for kids to remember what they saw and to give them a fun souvenir as well!

This was in addition to a page with the crew credits and a blurb about each story and its author.

Speaking of the individual stories…it’s about time we got to the meat and potatoes of the play!

Draco the Dragon

In this short story based on a game the author used to play with her children, a young girl tries to hide a dragon that eats colours in her room.

It is a dialogue-lite piece that very effectively uses the simplistic set design and benefits from the very enthusiastic and animated performances of the cast. The concept is fresh and original and would translate into a wonderful picture or colouring book to teach children about different colours.

Memorable line: “I will miss you, despite all your chaos.”

Processes Of Life

In the next piece, a scientist builds a robot designed to count all life in the world,  and is then sent out to perform its task. The robot meets an eclectic variety of characters, such as an ornery frog, a volcano, and a fussy hen.

The dialogue is very witty and engaging, and as this was performed two days after the EU referendum, was eerily relevant in revealing the scientist had run out of funding due to a sudden financial crisis.

This piece teaches some very valuable lessons about challenging assumptions and putting people into boxes based on a limited understanding of their existence. A fantastic way to approach dialogues with children about bigotry they may encounter in the world.

Memorable line: “We both breathe air!” “That would make us breath-ren, right?”

Little Ava and the Spider

This story shows a young girl who tries to stay up all night to watch the stars. She believes this will keep them from disappearing with the dawn. A spider in her room tells her stories to make her sleepy.

Ultimately, we come to realise this need to ensure the stars don’t leave is her way of grieving, as she is told by the spider that everything needs an end. It is a story of accepting the loss of death, and whilst materials to help children and their parents grapple with such a hefty issue are greatly needed, it became an awful lot to unpack in the course of a fifteen minute mini-play.

Memorable Line: “I’m going to watch the stars to make sure they don’t go away.”

The Door To Nowhere

The finale to Telling Tales was about a young girl living with her aunt. She discovers a secret door, and when she confronts her aunt about it, her aunt reveals the key, which was a gift from her parents. She goes through the door, and finds herself in an altogether different world that she must navigate.

The second half, after she passes through the door, was visually stunning, and given the prep time and budget involved pulled off some truly astounding effects. It also gave us a strong, female protagonist and good dialogue starters about gender roles. On the down side, the music volume was occasionally too loud to actually hear the dialogue, which could have been a particular problem for young children, whose hearing is generally more sensitive.

Memorable Line:”What kind of princess fights pirates?”

Curtains’ Close

Overall, I felt that this was a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment for children of all ages(including those that have children of their own!), and brilliantly executed. The addition of the fortune teller supplement to keep fidgety hands busy gives attendees a souvenir to keep the stories fresh in their minds and serve as a momento. I would highly recommend seeing it, except for the fact that it was a one-time showing!

Vikings and Chinatown, in Eastleigh!

Last night, The Point in Eastleigh, together with Tec Hub, hosted its first Board Game Café, and enjoyed healthy turn-out and no hiccups!

I made a precarious journey there via an extremely delayed train and with my heavily laden bicycle serving as my packhorse. Male, female, young, old, and everything in between–this event proved the universal appeal of board games beyond the old family standbys of Monopoly, Scrabble, and its ilk.

It was worth the effort, as I was able to sink my teeth into games I already knew as well as two that I didn’t. One of those was called Chinatown, a negotiation-based property building game that, while I wasn’t amazing at, seemed very fun and like something I’d definitely want to try again.

Word on the street is that the response was positive enough that these events will become a regular thing, which would be fantastic, both for myself and for the local community.

This inaugural night also featured Ruddy Vikings, the debutante card game from Rounded Squarish. I purchased a copy from the developers, who were present to show off their delightful little gem of a game.

Here’s what the packaging looks like:

outer box top

SYNOPSISBOX

It’s simple and effective, about the size of a Fluxx box. When you lift off the lid, you’re presented with the rules, but not in the manner to which many of us are accustomed. They’re printed on the box bottom, so no more losing the rules. If you have the box, you have the rules.

 

As to the actual contents of the box…you get one play mat with space for four players, a deck of player cards, and a second, much smaller deck of cards that affect the entire game.

BOX CONTENTS

So here’s the playmat, laid out flat for all to see. I’m told the shield resembling a Pokéball was totally done on purpose. I can also confirm that the mat is, in fact, waterproof!  HOWEVER THE CARDS ARE NOT. So please sleeve your cards if you’re careless with drinks(or your friends are).

PLAYMAT

Now here is the mat in terms of game play:

playmatdiagram

As I said, room for four players, colour indicated by that of the shields on the sides of the little viking longships.  Interestingly, the carvings of menacing beasts, such as dragons and snakes, on the prow of the ship allegedly protected the ship and crew from the terrible sea monsters of Norse mythology.

Now on to the cards! There are two decks, and the first of those are the Town Cards. These are cards whose effects apply to the entire game for a round.

TOWNCARDS

The second, beefier deck, is the individual players’ cards. Each player is dealt an opening hand of five cards. There are five different types of cards:

CARD TYPES

From Left to Right: Vikings, Gods, Chance, Defences, Buffers.

Vikings are used to attack other players, which is the main mechanic of the game. God cards allow for extraordinary actions to be taken, such as two attacks per turn(as opposed to the usual one per turn). Chance cards make things happen, such as countering other players’ attacks, or giving yourself bonuses. Defence cards are played to the mat where I previously indicated, and help protect you from other players’ Vikings. Buffers help your Vikings overcome other players’ Defences.

Overall, I found the gameplay very accessible. This is a great game for introducing children to card and board games, with a fun concept, amusing artwork, simple rules, and quick, easy play. I’d definitely recommend supporting these guys further, as the game was born of Kickstarter.

I’m really looking forward to future Board Game Cafés, and hope it turns into a regularly scheduled thing. Thanks to Marcus Pullen of Blue Donut Studios, Adam Carter-Groves, and Ben Cooper for arranging a great night!