Irrelevant Reviews: The Cat Who Series

When I was growing up, I’d often spend the night at my grandmother’s house on the weekends. There were plenty of benefits to this: strawberry ice cream was served nightly at 7pm, there was a cherry tree in the back yard, the guest room featured a typewriter concealed within a roll-top desk, as well as a heated waterbed…and plenty of books to read.

A large portion of these books were from The Cat Who series, Lillian Jackson Braun’s cosy mystery series about a mustachioed journalist named Jim Qwilleran, who solves mysteries with his two Siamese cats.  They always had a fond place in my dusty memories, so imagine my delight when a tall stack of them were for sale at the local library for 20p a pop! I bought them all, of course.

2-o

Series author Lillian Jackson Braun with one of her own Siamese cats.

As it’s a lengthy series of fairly cookie-cutter books, I’ll be reviewing the series as a whole.

What Fired Me Up:

The books are quick and very readable, making for light reading or a good palate cleanser. The antics of Koko and Yum Yum are sure to delight readers of all ages, and prove that cats have always been cats. Qwilleran’s upbeat yet dogged personality is endearing, and he’s refreshingly human, frequently making mistakes and suffering small clumsy injuries. It’s also fun to read books written and set in times before the digital revolution. I guess these are vintage mysteries now?

The protagonist also doesn’t actively seek out the nefarious deeds he ends up uncovering. It’s fun to watch him attempt to just enjoy journalism, but seek out justice when something seems a little too easy.

What Fizzled:

I can understand how this flew over my head when I initially read these books as a child, but the series has a lot of product-of-its-time style sexism. Another thing I didn’t remember from my first pass through this series is the constant references to Qwilleran’s mustache. Its tendency to tingle like a Spidey Sense in a world otherwise devoid of magic or supernatural goings on took me out of the narrative each time, as did the constant stroking and touching and general hyperawareness he had for it. Maybe I’m just showing my ignorance. Facial-haired fellows, a question for you: how many times a day do you think about your mustache? It’s for research.

Verdict:

While they’re not groundbreaking in any way, even at the time, and haven’t aged particularly well in other ways, they’re still fairly enjoyable little reads. Their brevity and lighthearted approach, as well as gentler setting, can prove an easy salve for a frantic, sometimes cruel world. I’m not as heavily invested in them as I was when I was a child, but I do still recommend them.

Want To Read Them?

You can pick up some of these fun little books on Amazon.

Want More from Me?

Check out my other reviews here.

StabCon South: Playin’ Cards and A-Shootin’ Dice

stabcon south logoLast month, I had the great pleasure of attending StabCon South’s springtime event at the Jurys Inn in Southampton.

What is StabCon South?

The southern variant of StabCon, a regular, long-running event in Stockport (Manchester for the less geographically inclined).

The focus is on board gaming. There’s no panels, no workshops, just good ol’ fashioned worker placement. Oh, and quite a few tabletop RPG one-shots. And a sci-fi ship crew simulator!

Where did we stay?

StabCon is local to us, so we didn’t bother with accommodation. However, being located in central Southampton, and in a hotel to boot, there were lots of very affordable options for out-of-towners. We ran into people who had travelled from as far away as High Wycombe, and also Isle of Wighters in for the weekend.

You also had the option of just not leaving the event! It ran 24/7 from 11am on Friday til 11pm on Sunday. A true test of endurance for any self-proclaimed gamer!

Which characters did we cosplay?

With a strict focus on tabletop RPGs and board gaming, there isn’t a cosplay element to this event. So we went as boring ol’ us. Womp womp.

Was there anything to eat?

With the venue being located in central Southampton, close to London Road, there’s a plethora of options. There’s the restaurant in the hotel itself, which is exactly what you’d expect: a bit overpriced, but damned convenient, especially given the dismal weather this weekend. But go a bit further afield and options abound: MexiGo, Starbucks, pubs, Subway, etc…

Verdict:

We’ve been several times before, and it’s a great, low-key way to spend a weekend. It’s also an amazing opportunity to dabble in a hobby that frankly can be a little intimidating and have a high cost to enter. Everyone contributes to the available games and helps with teaching newbies, so it’s a good way to try out new games.

If you’re interested in attending, the next event will be in June, with a focus on extremely long, crunchy games. The next standard Stabcon South is in October, with more information here. You can keep up with them on Facebook, and pricing is generally £15 for the entire weekend.

Additionally, the original Stabcon is coming up, and you can find more information here.

Wellies, Whovians, and Worbla: Your Guide to Sci-Fi Weekender 2018

What is Sci-Fi Weekender?

Madness descends upon a quiet, seaside holiday park in northern Wales, just a short drive from Pwhelli and near Snowdonia. For three days (Thursday-Saturday, missing Sunday which I found odd for a ‘Weekender’ event but hey ho) all the main structures were taken over by stages, computer gaming stations, vendors, cosplayers and board gamers.

In the evenings, shows and concerts abound, merging traditional festival style performances with geek culture.

They’re gearing up for their tenth year running, and you can find out more information on their website.

Who was there?

The Retro Computer Museum in Leicester had a gaming station set up where you could try out all sorts of consoles, from Atari to Commodore to PS1, and even Pong. You can find out more about them and how to support their work here.

The Galactic Knights were also out in full force, giving demonstrations and running orc boot camps for attendees. They’re a cosplaying group of the highest caliber, focusing on sci-fi and fantasy primarily.

Telos Publishing, one of the event sponsors, was out in full force, with several of its authors giving talks and selling their books.

Skaro was strongly represented, with hordes of Daleks running amok. The evening was also full of talented performers, such as Area 51’s dancers.

Where did we stay?

On site! As SFW takes over an entire holiday park, you never need leave the premises. There’s plenty of decent accommodation, several small shops, a pub, and other restaurants to choose from.

We did pop to Pwhelli for some loo roll and a towel, which isn’t included in your accommodation. So be mindful of that. No kitchen roll, either. If we could do it all over again, I probably also would have brought space heaters and draught excluders. It was brutally cold and the heaters in the flat could only do so much. The windows were so draughty that you could watch the curtains move.

All the ventilation is probably lovely during the summer, which is obviously peak time for this holiday park, but in March it makes for some rather crisp mornings.

Which characters did we cosplay?

The partner and I made a couples’ cosplay as Lone Star and Princess Vespa from Spaceballs. However, as Vespa’s dress is a bit short on fabric, and most of it is gauzy sheers and lace, I took a miss on trotting it out, so the partner followed suit in frozen solidarity.

Others’ cosplay was absolutely amazing. The Warhammer armour was larger than life, and someone had put together a very well articulated alien-from-Alien costume. Lord of the Rings and Star Trek were well represented, and there were Doctors and Daleks in spades, though Star Trek was oddly sparse.

The level of craftsmanship was stunning, and really inspiring.

Was there anything to eat?

As mentioned above, there were several restaurants on site. Starbucks, Burger King, Papa Johns, a fish and chips shop, a full pub, and hot food counters in the mini markets made for a wide variety of choices.

We chose to make use of the full kitchen in our flat, however, and self-catered (when we weren’t running the oven with the door open to provide a little extra warmth!).

Verdict:

The partner and I were a little underwhelmed, possibly by being previously spoilt in Atlanta, with its plethora of high quality, serious business cons. As some content seemed to not happen and was not well sign posted, it can be a little hard to find one’s footing as a first timer. The board gaming was a little small, and the guest list wasn’t the most impressive.

It also seemed to focus slightly more on the nightlife aspects, such as the DJs and concerts, which the partner and I aren’t really into, being prematurely OAP in our taste in entertainment. So there wasn’t a whole lot for us to do after about 6pm, which made for some chilly, early nights.

Normally for a con, this wouldn’t be an issue, but SFW also lacked the sort of frantic schedule that leaves you satisfactorily worn out after a long day of panels, workshops, and speakers.

This feeling of being underwhelmed seems to so far be a trend in the UK con scene, which I’ve touched on previously. Again, I’m not suggesting that this sort of events management is easy, but at the same time, much smaller cons like WHOlanta, Treklanta, and CONjuration all seem to pull off a much more cohesive, jam-packed, exciting programme.

The partner and I have discussed this at length, and can’t seem to pinpoint what it is that seems to take the wind out of the sails over here. If anyone had any theories, I’d love to hear them.

Social Media Scheduling for Writers – TweetDeck

social media scheduling tweetdeck

In this third instalment of my social media scheduling series, we’ve got another well-known contender. We’ve covered SocialPilot and Social Booster. Next up is TweetDeck. This review is being done with authors in mind.

Overview:

Focused purely on Twitter, this site allows you to schedule, monitor, and analyse your social media presence. It offers a clean, easy to navigate UI and just enough features to be useful without a lot of clutter you don’t need.

What fired me up:

I love the UI, and the ability to search hashtags and set up columns to monitor them. It’s not quite as organised or broad in scope as Hootsuite (for example, you can’t have different tabs to organise your streams) but it provides more oversight than either SocialPilot or Social Booster. It was also quite easy to schedule several

What fizzled:

The obvious initial hurdle is that it’s only for Twitter. If you wanted something to juggle multiple platforms, this isn’t the site for you. Additionally, with their hashtag monitoring, the stream updates in real time, which means you can be reading content and it’ll suddenly jump down the feed, buried by an avalanche of new tweets. A minor annoyance, but if you already have any sort of difficulty scrolling content, this isn’t going to win you over.

I also wish it was a bit tidier and organisable. But that’s probably more down to personal preference than anything else.

Verdict:

If you only use Twitter, this is a great way to corral everything you need. Excellent for someone that’s just beginning to dive into the world of social media marketing, and needs a little help staying on top of things. However I feel it would be easy to outgrow TweetDeck and need something meatier.

Reviews for Writers – Social Booster

social booster social media scheduling

This is the second instalment of my series about social media scheduling. My first candidate was SocialPilot. And now we’re moving on to Social Booster. I’ll be exploring the free options, as well as trialling their entry-level paid account. This review is being done with authors in mind.

Overview

Although to a lesser extent than SocialPilot, Social Booster is still set up for someone working in an agency managing social media for clients. You get this feel from the emphasis on teams and analytics, as well as the less than robust free version. The design is minimalist and uninspired and not terribly intuitive.

The lowest level paid version is very affordable at $86 a year billed annually, slightly more if you’re month to month.

What fired me up

SocialBooster has a greater ability to let you monitor your feeds for content and responses. It’s not as comprehensive as Hootsuite’s, but it’s significantly better than SocialPilot in this regard. You have an inbox of Twitter mentions, posts, and replies. This makes it easy to see at a glance what you need to respond to. However, it still doesn’t seem to have Hootsuite’s hashtag monitoring features. Their paid versions do offer keyword tracking.

You can also set up a schedule that automatically slots posts into the next available time slot. this makes it faster to do a daily post, for instance.

I also liked that it would occasionally email me with new responses to my posts.

What fizzled

The free version only allows ten (!) scheduled posts. This limitation is exactly what I was looking to avoid in shopping around, so it’s a huge black mark against an otherwise decent piece of competition. The lower ranks of the paid versions only allow 50 scheduled posts, which still feels limited for a paid service.

The UI can also feel a bit labyrinthine to navigate, and it isn’t always obvious how to access various bits, especially if you’re just starting out with it. It isn’t as clean as SocialPilot, but it also has more to show. And it doesn’t give you the unnecessary or hide what you’re working on based on your mouse location, like Hootsuite.

There is one thing I found aggravating about the auto schedule feature. If you delete an autoscheduled post, it will bump them all up. This resulted in several posts going out a day too early.

Verdict

It’s pulling ahead of SocialPilot quite easily, at least in terms of a personal account. The same features that give it an edge in this realm probably also make more sense in a professional environment. However it still falls short of replacing Hootsuite.

Reviews for Writers – SocialPilot

socialpilot social media scheduling

Social media scheduling is a life saver. HootSuite drastically limited the amount of scheduled posts a free account can have at any given time. I’ve previously talked about how HootSuite was my personal saviour, but unfortunately their pricing levels are a bit steep for me to pay to continue using it as I’d previously been for free.

Now, this isn’t to say that I’m not happy to pay to play. But when the free option gives you three social profiles and 30 scheduled posts across all three profiles, and the next level up is ten profiles for $20USD per month, along with plenty of other features which I feel to be unnecessary for where I am personally, it does sting a bit. I could happily stay with HootSuite if they introduced a cheaper, more entry-level option. But they haven’t, so I’m shopping around, to the benefit of my poor, poor readers.

Image result for help me i'm poor

My first candidate is SocialPilot. I’ll be exploring the free options, as well as trialling their entry-level paid account.

Overview:

First and foremost, SocialPilot is for B2B social media scheduling. Most of its features, while seemingly robust and well-implemented, will be fairly useless for an individual trying to build an author platform. It has helpful tools like account grouping and team/client support, bulk scheduling, and at the higher end, some analytical tools.

What fired me up:

Not a lot, if I’m honest.

The user interface for creating posts is far superior to Hootsuite’s:

post ui

It’s clean, intuitive, and doesn’t vanish if you dare to hover your mouse elsewhere on the screen. That last part in particular really irritates me about Hootsuite.

You also have the ability to browse curated content, and select from popular articles on certain topics. This is similar to Crowdfire’s suggested posts, except you have a little more to choose from. Hootsuite, as far as I can tell, does not have this feature.

RSS feeds are another option, but admittedly one I never really got into and thus don’t know much about and don’t use. If you have any suggestions on using RSS feeds, feel free to pop them in the comments below.

What fizzled:

I did notice a tendency for SocialPilot to delay posts by up to fifteen minutes. For many people, this may not matter, but I’m of the opinion that if I wanted it to go out fifteen minutes later that’s when I would have scheduled it.

Additionally, even when trialling the entry-level paid version I didn’t get access to analytics. And it lacks the one thing I like about Hootsuite the most: the monitoring feature. I couldn’t see any way to replicate the hashtag monitoring feature I use to keep abreast of the frankly exhausting number of writing related Twitter tags, as well as a few Instagram ones I like to watch.

Verdict:

SocialPilot is a very easy to use social media scheduling tool. It has a pleasantly straight-forward UI and has been very well developed. However, for my personal use, I find it works better as a supplement to a free Hootsuite account rather than a replacement.

Keep an eye on this site, as this will be the first in a series of posts examining the pros and cons of more of Hootsuite’s competition.

Itchen to Write — The Art House

the art house, one of many writing places i've found

I’m a firm believer in the “going to work” school of thought when it comes to writing…or for that matter, any home based work. The gist is that you have a dedicated space which is only for work, and thus when you go to this area your brain gets into ‘work mode’. This is why I never write on my desktop PC. I can’t. My desktop is a Fallout Machine. That’s the place where I waste eight hours building a replica of my house in Minecraft. I’ve tried producing writing there. It doesn’t work.

The amazing, Atlanta-based writing group 10 Days Before… did not introduce me to the idea of commuting to write, but it did show me what I could do in the ‘write’ atmosphere. My highest ever word count was 2200 words in an hour, and that was achieved at one of 10DB’s write in events. It sold me on the concept of hunting out places to go to write.

So off to Google I go, trying every search term combination I can think of to try and find reviews of local watering holes written from a creative point of view. Which places have power outlets? Which have just the right amount of background noise? Which are too loud to hear yourself think? Where’s the wifi? Who’s been to these places and tried to write there?

I found the results sadly lacking. Outside of New York City and London, no one seems to have compiled any sort of ‘best places to write in X’ type pages. So this is what I’m going to set out to do here. I’m going to go to random places in the Itchen Valley area–specifically Winchester, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, and Southampton–and write there for a few hours to try and get an idea of what it’s like to be there as a writer and how the place functions as a creative space.

My first stop is a well known landmark in Southampton’s cultural scene…

DSC_0535

The Art House. An eclectic cafe on a Mission from God™ and fighting the good fight. From their website:

We are a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company, a gallery, arts venue and cafe which has been running since January 2008 in Southampton, UK.  The Art House was founded by the four directors, Bik, Jani, Ziggy and Nina and is staffed mainly by volunteers.  We have three main aims:

– To promote the Arts.
– To enhance our local and global community.
– To encourage positive, healthy & sustainable living.

I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s an interesting atmosphere, full of bright colours, local artwork and crafts, and the occasional Doodle Book lying about. They also offer low key music, not too loud, and are just busy enough during the day that you can get some stimuli without being overwhelmed. They also offer free wifi, and a quiet space during the day, which demonstrates a commitment to giving people a creative space.

doodlebookA taste of the decor, and a Doodle Book!

They stay busy, playing host to local musicians, a storytelling group, and even the local Makers scene. What this means for us hermity writer types is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in so many different scenarios and soak up information on a broad range of topics. Maybe even discover a new hobby?

The staff are friendly and welcoming, as well as largely volunteer-based. They’re happy to help newcomers and lone travellers settle in, and the place is a magnet for solo questers. It strikes me as a venue which strives to be a safe place for everyone.

DSC_0533The food is very good, and almost entirely vegan, with many gluten free options. I had
some nachos while I was there, and an England’s own brand of cola, Fentimans. The prices are on par with a restaurant in the city centre, believe my nachos were around £5-6, total was around £8.

They also offer a lower cost option in their Magic Hat Tea Bar. This is a self-serve, by donation alternative to expensive drinks out. It’s part of their belief that public spaces are vital to mental and emotional wellbeing, and the lifeline this can give to those who are struggling financially…as a lot of writers and other artistic types are.

“Wow! I’m super stoked to go support this amazing business!” You chirp, eyes large with optimism. “Where is this magical place?”

Ah, well, it’s conveniently located in Southampton’s city centre. They’re on Above Bar Street, close to the Guild Hall. Easily accessed by rail or bus, though parking a car nearby can be an endeavour unto itself. As a nondriver myself, I can’t comment on this aspect, but I hear tell it’s a beast.

Opening time information, pulled from their website:

Tuesday 11am – 10pm
Wednesday 11am – 10pm
Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday 11am – 10pm
Saturday 11am – 10pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm.

Lunch is served 12 – 4pm and supper is available 6 – 9pm

So what’re you waiting for?! Get out there and absorb some of the local flavour!


What’re your thoughts on writing in the field?

Do you have a venue to suggest for this project?

Let me know!

 

Places to Write — The Art House

the art house, one of many writing places i've found

Why do we need writing places?

I’m a firm believer in the “going to work” school of thought when it comes to writing…or for that matter, any home based work. The gist is that you have a dedicated space which is only for work, and thus when you go to this area your brain gets into ‘work mode’. This is why I never write on my desktop PC. I can’t. My desktop is a Fallout Machine. That’s the place where I waste eight hours building a replica of my house in Minecraft. I’ve tried producing writing there. It doesn’t work.

The amazing, Atlanta-based writing group 10 Days Before… did not introduce me to the idea of commuting to write, but it did show me what I could do in the ‘write’ atmosphere. My highest ever word count was 2200 words in an hour, and that was achieved at one of 10DB’s write in events. It sold me on the concept of hunting out places to go to write.

The search begins…

So off to Google I go, trying every search term combination I can think of to try and find reviews of local watering holes written from a creative point of view. Do they have power outlets? What about just the right amount of background noise? Which are too loud to hear yourself think? Where’s the wifi? Who’s been to these places and tried to write there?

I found the results sadly lacking. Outside of New York City and London, no one seems to have compiled any sort of ‘best writing places in X’ type pages. So this is what I’m going to set out to do here. I’m going to go to random places in the Itchen Valley area–specifically Winchester, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, and Southampton–and write there for a few hours to try and get an idea of what it’s like to be there as a writer and how the place functions as a creative space.

My first stop is a well known landmark in Southampton’s cultural scene…

the front of the art house, one of many writing places i've found

The Art House

An eclectic cafe on a Mission from God™ and fighting the good fight. From their website:

We are a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company, a gallery, arts venue and cafe which has been running since January 2008 in Southampton, UK.  The Art House was founded by the four directors, Bik, Jani, Ziggy and Nina and is staffed mainly by volunteers.  We have three main aims:

– To promote the Arts.
– To enhance our local and global community.
– To encourage positive, healthy & sustainable living.

I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s an interesting atmosphere, full of bright colours, local artwork and crafts, and the occasional Doodle Book lying about. They also offer low key music, not too loud, and are just busy enough during the day that you can get some stimuli without being overwhelmed. They also offer free wifi, and a quiet space during the day, which demonstrates a commitment to giving people a creative space.

doodlebook at the art house, one of many writing places i've foundA taste of the decor, and a Doodle Book!

They stay busy, playing host to local musicians, a storytelling group, and even the local Makers scene. What this means for us hermity writer types is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in so many different scenarios and soak up information on a broad range of topics. Maybe even discover a new hobby?

The staff are friendly and welcoming, as well as largely volunteer-based. They’re happy to help newcomers and lone travellers settle in, and the place is a magnet for solo questers. It strikes me as a venue which strives to be a safe place for everyone.

How’s the food?

loaded nachos at the art house, one of many writing places i've foundThe food is very good, and almost entirely vegan, with many gluten free options. I had some nachos while I was there, and an England’s own brand of cola, Fentimans. The prices are on par with a restaurant in the city centre, believe my nachos were around £5-6, total was around £8.

They also offer a lower cost option in their Magic Hat Tea Bar. This is a self-serve, by donation alternative to expensive drinks out. It’s part of their belief that public spaces are vital to mental and emotional wellbeing, and the lifeline this can give to those who are struggling financially…as a lot of writers and other artistic types are.

Where you are is where it’s at…

“Wow! I’m super stoked to go support this amazing business!” You chirp, eyes large with optimism. “Where is this magical place?”

Ah, well, it’s conveniently located in Southampton’s city centre. They’re on Above Bar Street, close to the Guild Hall. Easily accessed by rail or bus, though parking a car nearby can be an endeavour unto itself. As a nondriver myself, I can’t comment on this aspect, but I hear tell it’s a beast.

Opening time information

Pulled from their website:

Tuesday 11am – 10pm
Wednesday 11am – 10pm
Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday 11am – 10pm
Saturday 11am – 10pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm.

Lunch is served 12 – 4pm and supper is available 6 – 9pm

So what’re you waiting for?! Get out there and absorb some of the local flavour!


What’re your thoughts on writing in the field?

Do you have a venue to suggest for this project?

Let me know!

 

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.

6358989580283025521660462734_giphy201

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.

DSC_0483
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!