Lessons from my Second Con: FantasyCon2014

FantasyCon2014 020Last weekend, I attended my second convention. FantasyCon, which was held up in York, was the first convention that required me to plan travel, stay in a hotel, eat out and return books because I couldn’t get them all home. It was also my first experience of the BFS FantasyCon, and my first time in York.

Last year, I wrote a little ‘what to know‘ post, based on WFC13. This year, I’d like to add to that post with a second list, of “be aware that’s”.

– Books

No matter what the convention, I’ve discovered that there will generally be books, being sold. The chance of a dealer’s room with a stall of books for £1-4 is fairly high, it appears. In many conventions, like the two I’ve attended, there were free books when you registered.

At WFC13, I returned from the four days with 30 books.

At FC14, I took back 16 books to the hotel, although they wouldn’t all fit in my suitcase. Therefore I returned from the four days with 11 books. I also took a book with me to the convention to be signed, which took up space.

Tip: When you pack, be aware that you will gain ‘swag’ such as books, and that you need space for them if you intend to get them home. Similarly, you may end up shopping for other items while there; especially if you want a souvenir from the area. Take a spare, strong bag (canvas or a fold-up shopping bag). If you know in advance that this convention includes free books; it might be worth taking an empty bag/another suitcase inside your main one — giving you twice the size of smaller bag to bring back items. 

– Clothing

In hindsight, I packed my clothing based on what I wore last year — completely ignoring the 2 month’s difference (thus weather differences) and the fact that York is 280 miles north of Brighton. Similarly, I didn’t think about suitable clothing for the journey — this year I had a 40 minute walk to the station, followed by 3-4 hours on trains: on an incredibly sunny day.

I also made the mistake of taking my “convention coat”, ignoring the fact it was September, not November, and that a floor length black heavy coat wasn’t really great for walking to the station on a hot day, followed by lots of hot train carriages.

On the same note, I wore a brand new pair of jeans — which, as it turned out, were a bit stiff and thus fairly uncomfortable for the first 2 days.

Tip: Look up the weather forecast for your journey (any train change areas too!) and try to prepare for both hot and cold weather. However, try to pack light where you can: thin layers beat thick coats. Similarly, wear clothes you know to be comfortable. I didn’t need my ‘extra smart’ top, either.

– Expectations

Something I hadn’t fully prepared myself for, was the cultural expectations of a seasoned event like FantasyCon. My only previous convention experience was a large event, with hundreds of well-known people, a large variety of attendees and very generalised panels.

I don’t know if the experience is  a one-off, or something I’ll continue to experience, but one thing that really hit me this time was the expectation that everyone knew about the popular topics (Dr Who, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings). As I don’t have a television, and I don’t read as much as I’d like (certainly not the books as varied as would be required to have sensible conversations with half the people at a specialist convention), I found myself in a group of ten people, perhaps having 3 or 4 different conversations, and being unable to contribute to any of them.

Similarly, some of the audience members, when asking questions at the end of panels, spoiled endings of films and books. One example was “we know that this is happening, as in movie 1, x happens and movie 2, y happens – would the panel say this is a theme emerging?”

However, I’d not seen the third movie mentioned, and only just seen the second one. I’ve also only read the first Game of Thrones books — so had to be careful where I listened in conversations.

Tip: I’m not sure what to suggest here, but be aware you may be spoiled; so I’d recommend catching up on any favourite shows or book series before attending, if you are worried about spoilers. Also, be curious about things you know nothing about — you may learn enough to contribute enough to a later conversation with someone else.

– Food

When you need to manage meals in a new town, it can be tricky to get a decent balance. We switched between meals out (weatherspoons), chips (most food places aren’t open after 11pm) and reduced sandwiches from the store by our hotel. We went to the store when we arrived, picking up breakfast (cookies/pastries) and snacks for each day (apple crisps, sandwiches, fruit pot, cereal bars, chocolate bars and mug soup). We also went to the local weatherspoons the night before the convention began, where I looked for three different meals I would like, to make it less stressful if we needed an evening meal at short notice.

When you only have a kettle, it can be tricky to manage cooking. Thus, we compromised; eating hot meals out on three days and snacky foods in our room on two. If you need ideas for non-cook foods, I’d recommend soups designed for mugs, cous cous, tinned food (& tin opener if needed), dried fruit, cheese triangles, breadsticks/crackers, and if you have time, cook some chips from carrot/sweet potato before you leave.

Tip: Be aware you won’t get a balanced meal every day unless you plan for it. There will likely be an evening you reach 11pm and haven’t eaten. Having snack food which is a mixture of healthy and not can give you  a back-up dinner if needed. Also be aware of your dietary needs and investigate the options in the area near the hotel. 

– Technology

Finally, I’d like to suggest everyone puts their phone on silent/vibrate during panels. To save your embarrassment as much as the disruption of speakers and ensure everyone can hear. Similarly, don’t spend the whole panel texting in the front row; it’s rude and can be off-putting.

I took my tablet with me on a couple of the days; mostly – with the idea that I could type up notes, check my twitter feed, or novel-write during lulls. As it was, I can’t type as quickly as I can hand-write, and it’s less disturbing to others to use a pen and paper. I wish I’d taken a spare notepad alongside my “convention panel notes” book, so I could plan blog posts and jot down novel ideas.

Tip: Take pens and paper/notepads. Be aware of over-using technology. Take care to remember the people around you, and the impact of your technology upon others.  

What do you wish you’d known at your first few conventions? 

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