Geekfest 2013 – The Lowdown

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This past weekend saw the first ever Nineworld Geekfest Con, held in London.

The Con was billed as a celebration of all things geeky, and an excuse to have a really big party, and it was held in two hotels at London Heathrow airport – the Renaissance and the Radisson.  I was impressed by the fact that a Con without a track record was able to secure not one but two major airport hotels.

Though I was looking forward to the Con, with it being new I was expecting a few hiccups.  I have to say I was impressed with the level of organisation.  And the amount of choice.  There were so many tracks running, we were all spoilt for choice.  There was a creative writing track, a Tolkien track, a Dr Who track, a Geek Feminism track, a video games track, an LRP track, a board games track – to name just a few.  it was impossible to do everything.

There were some comments about the cost.  I think possibly this is relative – I’m used to London prices, where everything is more expensive anyway.  Although the Con itself wasn’t that expensive – depending on when you booked, £75 could get you a weekend ticket to just about everything, which I thought was reasonable.  The hotel cost no more than I paid for my hotel room at the Brighton Cons I have attended the last few years.  The room was decent, the air conditioning worked, the bed was comfortable.  Yes we had to pay for parking, but £10 for 24 hours didn’t seem overly expensive considering we pay £6 or more to park the car in Croydon for an afternoon of shopping.  Yes, the hotel bar was expensive.  But £5 for a glass of wine is not uncommon in a London hotel bar.  Sometimes bars are subsidised at Con hotels.  Genre Con-goers seem to have the ability to imbibe a lot more alcohol and yet still remain well behaved and less aggressive than your average non-geek after a few pints.  If the hotel manages to figure this out, maybe a deal will be struck for next year.

The T Party Writers’ Group had arranged to do a critiquing workshop on manuscripts that had been submitted in advance, and this was scheduled for 1:30 on Saturday afternoon.  Since we drove up to the Con on Saturday and hit traffic, we didn’t have much time to do anything else before this was on.  So hubby went off to the “In Conversation with Chris Barrie” programme item and I sought out the workshop.

We’d had seven submitted manuscripts split into two crit groups – one group dealing with historical and other-world fantasy and the other group (my group) critting the stories with more contemporary settings.  The crit session went quite well and no one ran off screaming after their crit, which is always a relief.

We finished earlier than expected and I was hoping to catch the second half of the panel on women in the Whedon universe.  But sadly this panel was so full they were letting no one else in, so I went off to take a look around the dealer room instead.  I caught up with Hubby here, who spent a happy half an hour spending money on the stall with all the old D&D modules.  I was distracted by many geeky t-shirts and jewellery, in the end deciding to spend my money on a pretty dragon pendant from the Pagan jewellery dealer I see at pretty much every Con I go to these days.

We left around noon on Sunday, and I left wishing I could have caught a few more panels.  But with so much going on, I think everyone came away wishing they could have seen more.

Buffy singalong. Picture credit: Nineworlds Geekfest

Buffy singalong. Picture credit: Nineworlds Geekfest

The highlight of my Con experience was the Buffy sing-along in the Saturday night, where we all gathered round a chap playing piano and went through every song featured in “Once More With Feeling”.  And because we finished faster than expected, when he got to the end of the music book, he started again from the beginning.  You can see me singing away in this picture – I’m there near the front in the pink t-shirt.  The t-shirt actually says ‘horror writer’ on it and has an image of a cartoon grim reaper on it, but sadly you can’t see it in the photo.  I let down my Buffy fangirl credentials by having to refer to the lyrics at some point for most of the songs.  There were some die-hard fans that knew every word.

There was a lot of Cosplay at this Con, and even if you don’t participate in this yourself, it’s fascinating to see the array of costumes, and see if you can correctly guess the geek reference.  Some of them were obvious to me – Dr Who characters; Marvel characters; the Alien.  Others I suspected were Manga characters, and these I am not as familiar with.

GeekFest made a point of making this Con accessible to everyone – regardless of gender, creed, orientation, physical ability, or anything else.  Children were welcome – there were many families at the Con.  Any item that was deemed to be for adults only was clearly labelled as such in the programme.  It was a Con where you could be who you wanted to be, not necessarily who you were born as.  The name labels were blank so you could fill in whatever name you wanted to be that particular weekend.  Many people stayed in costume – and in character – all weekend.  There was an LGBT track running all weekend.  There were even gender neutral toilets.  I have a lot of respect for the organisers for this.  This was a Con where everyone was welcome.  You could wear whatever you wanted, be  whoever you chose to be, and be accepted and welcomed, without the labels of ‘geek’, ‘freak’, ‘weirdo’ that so many of us have to deal with for being in some way different from what society perceives as ‘normal’.

In summary, this is a Con I thoroughly recommend for anyone who has any remotely geeky tendencies.  Next year’s Con has already been confirmed at the same venue, 8-10 August 2014.  Tickets are available, so book up now before the price goes up.

Fellow geeks, I shall see you there…

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