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.

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.

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. ❤