Panel Parity – what we achieved, and how we did it

(This was originally posted on 6th May, and an amended and extended version was posted on 8th May).

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog post explaining why Eight Squared Con was committing to gender parity on panels and what we meant by that. We said that we would seek to avoid panels where one gender was in a minority, and would do so by aiming to have a sufficiently large pool of programme volunteers that itself represented the broad gender parity seen at Eastercons in recent years.

So, how did we do?

This graphic depicts all our multi-person panel items. In other words, it doesn’t include single-speaker talks, two-person interviews, or ‘event’ items such as opening and closing ceremonies. That leaves us 73 panels that we consider we were seeking to achieve gender parity on.


In numerical terms:

  • Of the 3 6-person panels, one was balanced; the others were predominantly female.
  • Of the 46 5-person panels, 32 were balanced. 6 had one man and 7 had one woman; one was all female.
  • Of the 21 4-person panels, 13 were balanced. 4 had one man and 4 had one woman.
  • All 3 3-person panels were balanced.

Now, one of the first things to observe is that although we achieved gender parity, we didn’t quite do it the way we originally envisaged, i.e. by having as equal as possible a gender split on each item. (By ‘equal as possible’ I mean that changing the gender of one participant would not affect the overall balance. So a 5-person panel is balanced if it has a 2:3 or 3:2 split; a 4-person panel only if it has a 2:2 split.)

In practical terms, it became clear that this would be extremely difficult. Even with a very large pool of participants, as discussed below, there are some topics where you have more prospective panelists of one gender than of the other. Equally, there are practical constraints such as avoiding programme clashes or times when a particular person isn’t available that have to be taken into account. Some sorts of items are harder to assemble a panel for, either because there are few people attending the convention with those particular interests, or because certain sorts of item (in particular, those with an element of performance, such as panel games) attract fewer volunteers.

However, there is another way of looking at gender parity that is, I suggest, as valid or perhaps even more valid than parity on each item. That is striving instead for a programme that is no less gender-equal than one where the panelists had been selected from an equal pool of men and women without any consideration to gender at all.

One can calculate the statistics for this (hands up if you remember the binomial theorem). If we’d allocated in this manner, we would have expected 29 of our 46 5-person panels to be balanced, and 2 or 3 of them to be all-male or all-female. Instead, as noted above, we did rather better than this, with 32 balanced panels and only one single-gender one. For our 21 4-person panels, we’d have expected a random allocation from an equal pool of men and women to result in only 8 balanced panels, and 2 or 3 to be all-male or all-female. In fact we had 13 balanced panels and no single-gender ones.

Moreover, if you count panel slots (i.e. seats on panels) we had a total of 341; this is a bigger number than our number of programme participants (190) because many people were on more than one item. Of those 341 slots, 169 were filled by women and 172 by men.

So, in our view we succeeded in our overall aim. The programme was balanced in terms of the number of male and female participants, and the majority of individual panels (49 of 73) had parity. We could not always avoid panels with a single man or woman, but we only had one single-gender panel. Above all, we had more gender-equal panels than would have been expected by a truly gender-blind allocation from equal numbers of men and women.

How did we achieve this? In large part by doing what we intended and getting a wider pool of participants than has tended to be the case. With 190 people on programme, we had about a quarter of the adult attending membership taking part. Given that the overall attendance at Eight Squared Con was about 40% female, our programme participant pool was also fairly evenly split. We made every effort to reach out to potential programme participants, and used a detailed volunteer form to ensure that we had as much information as we could about our volunteer’s interests and the sort of items they wanted to be on.

Now, this discussion has all been in the context of panel parity. I said earlier that I’d excluded programme items with only one or two participants. But there is one area outside panels that we should acknowledge we could have done better on, and that was on individual talks. Setting aside those talks arranged by other bodies, and Guest of Honour items, we had four items presented by a single speaker. All four of those speakers were male, and if I was looking to move beyond just panel parity at conventions I’d seek to ensure that we made sure that men and women were more equally represented on talks too.

Overall though we had a lot of feedback at and after the convention suggesting that we’d managed to run a varied, full and diverse programme that attained the high quality standard we’d set ourselves. Indeed, by making us look more carefully at the composition of each programme item, and by leading us to go out and find as wide a possible pool of participants, we believe that striving for panel parity actually improved the quality of the programme as a whole.

2013 BSFA Lecture – Guest speaker Dr Louise Livesey

The BSFA Lecture was the brainchild of then British Science Fiction Association Chair Tony Cullen. Tony thought there was a space in the Eastercon schedule for a history lecture, equivalent to the George Hay Memorial Lecture, the science lecture that the Science Fiction Foundation sponsors. In the evolution of the idea it broadened out a bit, and it is now (generally) an arts/humanities lecture, with a bias towards history. The intent is to being someone that you would not expect to see at an Eastercon, or someone speaking on a subject that you would not expect to hear them talk about. Lecturers are given a remit to speak “on a subject that is likely to be of interest to science fiction fans” – and it is explained to them that this means absolutely anything they want it to mean!

The first lecture was held in 2009 at the last Bradford Eastercon, LX, and was delivered by Dr Shana Worthen (University of Arkansas at Little Rock), who spoke on ‘Visualising Time in the Middle Ages’. Since then we have had Dr Nick Lowe (Royal Holloway, University of London), and Dr Gideon Nisbet (University of Brimingham). Last Year Dr Marc Morris spoke on ‘Regime Change in England, 1066′. This was the most successful BSFA Lecture yet, drawing over a hundred people in the audience.

This year, the series branches out into the social sciences. Dr Louise Livesey is Programme Co-ordinator of the MA in Women’s Studies and Tutor in Sociology and Women’s Studies at Ruskin College Oxford. She is an activist as well as an academic, and works hard to bring the two activities together as much as possible. Mostly recently she has been working on activist/academic engagement with Oxford Brookes University’s Tale of Two Cultures conferences and speaking at events as diverse as Slutwalk Oxford, Oxford Reclaim the Night and One Billion Rising Oxford. She is also a playwright, performer and former blogger at The F Word.
Her lecture is titled ‘A Highly Political Act: speech, silence, hearing and sexual violence′. This complements other parts of the programme of EightSquared that focus upon diversity issues, and we hope for a sizable audience ready to engage with the topic. The lecture will last about thirty-five minutes, and there will then be some time for discussion afterwards, before we have to make way for Doctor Who, and then Louise can be found in the bar for a while after Doctor Who.

We’re already planning next year’s BSFA Lecture – or rather Lectures, as we hope, as well as the Easter Lecture at Satellite 4 in Glasgow, to present a BSFA Lecture at Loncon 3 in August.

The BSFA Lecture takes place on Saturday at 5.00 in Main Programme.

Tony Keen on behalf of the BSFA

Getting to Bradford for EightSquaredCon, Eastercon 2013

For those of you who have a satnav or GPS, here are the post codes of the main hotels we’re using:
Cedar Court: BD5 8HW
Campanile: BD4 6SA
Midland: BD1 4HU
Jurys Inn: BD1 2DH

Getting to the Cedar Court by road
The Cedar Court is just off the roundabout at the end of the M606. Follow the signs to ‘Eastern Ring Road’ round to the right and the road to the Cedar Court is the first exit on the left past the traffic lights (there are signs to ‘Cedar Court’). The hotel itself is the first entrance on your left. If you are coming by a different route, you should follow signs to Bradford and then to Staygate in order to get onto the appropriate section of the Bradford ring road.

If you are coming long-distance from either the North or South, the simplest route is to take the M1, head for the M62 at J42 and then take J26 off the M62 to get onto the M606. Note that there are extensive roadworks on the M62 (putting in new speed cameras) and you may need to allow additional time.

By Train
Bradford has 2 stations, Bradford Interchange (BDI) and Bradford Forster Square (BDQ). Bradford Interchange has regular fast services to and from Leeds (25 minutes), Manchester Victoria (60 minutes), York (60 minutes), Selby and Huddersfield. Forster Square has local trains to Leeds, Ilkley and Skipton.

In most cases, unless you live locally, we recommend getting a train to Bradford Interchange and then getting a bus or taxi to the Cedar Court. Bradford taxis are both abundant and relatively inexpensive, and you should be able to get to the Cedar Court for about £6.

By Coach
Coaches to Bradford generally end up at Bradford Interchange or Forster Square, and you can then follow the same solution as for trains, getting a bus or taxi to the Cedar Court.

By Bus
Assuming you are at Bradford Interchange train station, you want to catch a 845, 846 or 847 bus to Staygate in order to get to the Cedar Court. Other Metroline buses may also go past the hotel. Note that you will need to walk from the bus stop on the main road to the hotel.

By Air
Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) has a variety of national and European connecting flights. The airport is located to the north-east of Bradford (postcode LS19 7TU) and has a regular bus service (747) into Bradford.

Convention Bus Service
From Friday, 8:30 am, we will be running a minibus service between the overflow hotels and the Cedar Court. Note that the Midland Hotel is near to Bradford Forster Square station, so you may be able to get on the bus at the hotel.

Our Programme Goes Up Online – via Sched

Following on from the release of our programme yesterday we’re pleased to announce the launch of our online programme at

We’re using Sched, which allows you to view the programme and details of individual items. From the ‘Schedule’ tab you can select a variety of view of the programme, including a simple list of items, a detailed list with descriptions and participants, or the ‘grid’ view familiar from our programme guide.

Sched also allows you to set up a personal account, which allows you to build your own personal timetable of items you want to see. It’s accessible from a computer, tablet or smartphone, and will be updated to reflect amendments to our programme.

If you’re on our programme, you’ll have already received an invitation to create an account; this will allow you, if you wish, to add details to your profile so that our members can find our more about you.

We’ll still be providing a printed programme guide and paper notification of programme changes. But we’re aware of the demand for an online programme, and we hope that what we’ve put together meets this need.

Preview our Programme

Our programme is now available for preview via our web site. Please note that there may be minor changes between now and the convention, especially to details of who is on which item, but this is now pretty much what we will be running with.

We will have an online programme accessible via computer, tablet and smartphone. This will be going live soon, so watch for announcements!

TheoretiCon 2023 – where will Eastercon be in ten years time?

No, I’m not talking about towns or hotels. I’m thinking about organisational and other issues which I’ve encountered as Chair of Eastercon 2013. I have considerable experience in organising one-day events and have been involved in volunteer-run organisations for about thirty years. However this is the first time I’ve been a conrunner and it’s been interesting and highly informative. Indeed, one reason I joined the EightSquaredCon Committee was I know how much you only learn from the inside of such a project. Even so, I have been surprised by the complexities of organising an Eastercon.

I’ve chatted about this with Michael Davidson, Chair of Satellite 4, Eastercon 2014, prompted by the unusual situation of me chairing this convention and being a Guest of Honour next year. While he and his team have run the very successful Satellite conventions in Scotland, this will be the first time they’ve run an Eastercon. As with me, his experience thus far has prompted thoughts for the longer term.

A conversation with Steve Cooper, Co-Chair of Loncon 3, the 2014 WorldCon in London, indicates he is similarly looking forward. Every UK WorldCon has seen an influx of new blood and enthusiasm into fandom. It’s in all our interests to see these newcomers welcomed and encouraged to take convention-running forward. So let’s consider some issues which could usefully be addressed to sustain this fine tradition through the next decade.

At this point, you may wish to settle in with a tea/coffee/beverage of choice to hand, because this runs long. I meant what I said about complexity.

In 2023, will TheoretiCon’s committee be entirely drawn from current conrunners? There are significant advantages to this. They will know all about the Great Aspidistra Controversy of 2016 which makes accommodating the Aspidistra Affiliate essential for smooth running. Or having attended every intervening Eastercon, they will know that the Aspidistra Affiliate’s historical entitlement has had its day and can plan accordingly.

Then there are all the nuts and bolts details of running Tech, Ops, Gophers, Green Room, Newsletter, Registration, Art Show, Art Auction, Dealers’ Room, fan tables, a Gaming Room and/or LARP, deciding whether or not to provide a crèche and how best to manage the potentially infinite complexities of programming not just to accommodate readers, writers, film and TV fans but to fully include fanzine fans, filkers and costumers. Then there are the guest speakers, some by established tradition, some specific to each convention, as well as announcements and presentations related to various genre awards to be scheduled. Membership and accommodation bookings must be recorded and confirmed, in person or online, via email or post. Everyone needs badges.

That’s alongside securing public liability and other insurances, and hammering out contracts to secure accommodation at the main hotel and with overflows, followed by subsequent liaison on every detail from ensuring mushrooms at breakfast to bacon sandwiches late at night. The institutional memory of experienced conrunners is an invaluable resource for tackling all these things and I’ve no end of reasons to be thankful for the EightSquared Committee’s collective and extensive knowledge.

A convention these days needs a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, all regularly updated. In the past few years, online, downloadable programme apps for smartphones and tablets have gone from being a novel add-on to a routinely expected resource. Though none of this does away with the need for traditional flyers, Programme and ReadMe booklets. Perhaps paper publications will have gone the way of the dinosaur by TheoretiCon but there will be new challenges by then. Will the whole programme be streamed live to the Web with hundreds of virtual members alongside those attending in person, interacting online and asking their questions by Skype? What will that demand by way of technical skills, equipment and funding, and what will the legal and social implications be? How will TheoretiCon’s committee set about finding members with the requisite know-how to help out?

Or will TheoretiCon be a disaster because a comparatively inexperienced Committee have been unable to call on any such expertise. They’ve been doing their very best to re-invent the wheel but have still ended up with something which runs as smoothly as a hexagon. Even though that hasn’t happened because of burnout or bad feeling – I’ve been impressed by the extent to which fandom mostly avoids these inevitable and recurrent problems in volunteer-run organisations – but simply because real life has got in the way.

TheoretiCon’s keenly anticipated programming strand on Gardening in SF&Fantasy is a high-profile casualty. It’s been a feature of Eastercons since 2017 but Monty and Alanna who always run it cannot come. Monty’s aged mum breaks her hip the week beforehand while Alanna’s teenage son has been dumped by his girlfriend and wants to join the French Foreign Legion instead of sitting his A Levels. The only person with the specialist kit, the contacts and the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, to step into this particular breach is Pippa and her employer has just sent her to West Virginia for two months.

This year has confirmed to me just how much successive Eastercons rely on the availability and goodwill of a comparatively small group of people who are the driving force behind so many con committees. I don’t mean the volunteers who respond to each year’s call for help. By the end of a weekend, up to a couple of hundred people will have lent a hand and conventions couldn’t manage without them. However I suspect this involvement of so many people during the actual event masks the way relatively few core individuals have the key skills and experience to put bids together and to manage all the preliminaries. These people have jobs and families outside fandom and stuff happens. How might we increase their numbers before some crisis shows just how brittle a system this is? What are the barriers to younger fans getting involved and what could be done to remove those?

This raises other, related issues. Seeing the same names time and again helps perpetuate the wide-spread misconception that some underlying organisation oversees Eastercon from year to year. I have lost count of the times I have explained to someone’s considerable surprise, that Olympus 2012 has no formal connection with EightSquaredCon 2013 and we have no formal connection with Satellite 4, Eastercon 2014.

When I explain how the bidding process limits forward planning to no more than two years – and we are a one-year bid because no one came forward in 2011 – people are astonished. Sometimes, bluntly, they’re annoyed, as they realise their assumptions based on one year’s experience are meaningless. When they realise there’s no mechanism to ensure feedback which they’ve offered in all good faith is passed on. Or they’re more seriously concerned because there’s no guarantee that something like one Eastercon’s policy on harassment will apply the following year.

When I explain the financial exposure that Committee members take on personally, people are aghast. It’s another widespread misconception that conrunners are repaid for their efforts with free membership and even accommodation. Not in the least. We pay all our own expenses just like any other member, plus the additional costs of travelling to committee meetings, making site visits and so on. Chairing EightSquaredCon will end up costing me about twice as much as simply attending an Eastercon. That’s not the issue here; I knew this when I took on the role. But a great many people are wholly unaware of this.

That’s not all. Committees pay non-refundable deposits to their chosen hotels. That’s where pre-support membership money comes in useful, if you’ve been wondering. Otherwise Committees put their hands in their own pockets, to be repaid assuming the convention stays within budget. There are financial clauses in these contracts relating to function space and related hotel services. The details of such agreements vary but generally stipulate that such facilities will be free or at a reduced rate only as long as the Convention reaches a certain threshold of spending on food and drink over the weekend or of accommodation booked and paid for in the main hotel. Otherwise, the Committee are personally liable for paying the full hire rate for those function rooms and potentially, other costs. An Eastercon is an example of what lawyers call an unincorporated association. Legally, it’s no more than the sum of the committee, all of whom are liable – both collectively and individually – for any money it ends up owing. This rarely happens in practise – but rarely isn’t never.

Must TheoretiCon be run by established conrunners in their forties and fifties because they are the only ones who can take on this sort of financial risk? How likely is a hotel to discuss hosting an event expecting anywhere between 800 and 1000 people, with a budget of tens of thousands of pounds, with a group of twenty-somethings unable to offer any sort of financial guarantees, burdened with student loans, high rents and insecure jobs? How likely are those twenty-somethings to negotiate such contracts when they’ve yet to work in a day job where they learn such skills?

How can we promote a mix of age and experience on convention committees? Because an influx of new blood isn’t only desirable on the organisational side. If Eastercon programming is to remain relevant and vibrant, conrunners need to know about younger fans’ enthusiasms, interests and concerns, as they interact with speculative fiction in new and rapidly changing ways. Would providing specific children’s and teen programming encourage family attendance? Would a crèche be a significant lure for couples with small children? American conventions sometimes offer such facilities but they are measurably bigger events. Will the benefits for an Eastercon justify the outlay and organisation required? How can a convention make such decisions in the absence of solid information on who wants such services? How can they get such data?

Or will TheoretiCon 2023 be that year’s trading name for the annual event run by Eastercon Ltd, or Eastercon Registered Charity No:12345, or some other business/legal framework? If the current system of pass-along donations became some sort of central fund, that could potentially address the financial exposure question. Other advantages could follow, as people increasingly rely on electronic payments but banks and other financial institutions are ever more wary of fraud. If you’re not aware of the Saga of EightSquaredCon’s Online Payments, click through and read this blog post on the topic.

However setting up any such on-going organisation would present many other challenges and concerns, not least the requirement for people to take on longer term, formal responsibilities with legal implications, along with the need for a constitution, an AGM and audited accounts, just to start with. If a change creates more problems than it solves, it’s no kind of solution.

Or will TheoretiCon be sponsored by publishers? What effect might that have on a convention’s programming and the balance between commercial and fan-based interests? Eastercons already benefit from genre imprints’ support, ranging from the donation of free books to hosting launch events and offering editorial perspective and expertise on programming. But if marketing and accounts departments with no specific interest in SF&Fantasy are being asked for a direct subsidy, what return would they expect in terms of high profile spots for their own authors or even dictating Guests of Honour?

Fan involvement and interaction is what makes SF&F conventions so distinctively different – and to my mind much better – than the general run of literary festivals. Still, perhaps we can look to them for inspiration. What about looking for sponsorship outside the book trade? Theakston’s sponsor the Harrogate Crime Festival and Macallan have sponsored the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards. Doesn’t SF&Fantasy have a long and (mostly) honourable association with real ale and whisky?

On the other hand, it’s all too apparent that the literary festivals now sponsored by national newspapers have lost any local flavour, dominated by London-centred media priorities and current best-sellers. SF Conventions by contrast include writers at every stage of their careers, in or out of contract, best-sellers and niche favourites, as well as supporting the small presses and shorter stories which have largely disappeared outside our genre.

Can creative thinking among SF&Fantasy fans find solutions to conrunning’s financial challenges without compromising the unique character of our events? Perhaps a Kickstarter model of funding conventions will be successfully established by TheoretiCon? Could that be extended from simply securing initial finance to covering an entire convention budget? Do we just want to wait and see what happens? Or should we consider our options now, looking for consensus on a way forward?

Or will TheoretiCon be the last Eastercon? Thanks to the blowback on Twitter, Facebook, and whatever 2023’s hot new social media might be. When the absence of gardening programming sees a rash of online claims that this convention is blatantly Anti House Plants! Abusive messages from people not even present bombard the committee with personal attacks. Conspiracy theories abound over Monty and Alanna’s absences. The discredited rump of the Aspidistra Affiliate seize their chance to bring up old grudges, proclaiming they will host the inaugural GardenCon in December. Meanwhile a new group stirs up more trouble, under the guise of The Militant Wing of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Since they cannot make the unremarkable truth heard amid all this uproar, the Committee walk away from fandom. The 2024 and 2025 Committees look at the unprecedented chaos and disband. Why commit their own time and money to organising an Eastercon for this sort of return?

I exaggerate for comic effect, but actually, no amount of jokes can make this amusing. Some notably unpleasant incidents in recent years have demonstrated how scope for spitefulness is vastly increased by social media. It’s all very well saying don’t feed the trolls, and in general, that’s good advice, but in these instances, dignified silence can leave those under attack feeling thoroughly exposed and even abandoned by the fan community. Furthermore, what do potential conrunners think, seeing such abuse met with an apparent lack of rebuttal? The days are long gone when such a row would be confined to a hotel bar or reception, with at worst, a few hundred appalled onlookers.

But we can’t wish Twitter and Facebook away. Why would we, when they’re such invaluable means of communication for fans and conventions? However, isn’t it time to discuss strategies to counter destructive behaviour, before a comparatively few people inflict disproportionate damage?

Or will TheoretiCon be the last Eastercon simply because TheoretiCon II 2024 will be held on a May Bank Holiday weekend? One of Eastercon’s strengths is how it moves from place to place, drawing a subtly different membership as people’s travel time and cost considerations change. Would some variation in the date have a similar effect, bearing in mind how many people simply can’t commit to an event at Easter?

Parents or anyone working in education with annual leave tied to the academic timetable can find this very inconvenient. Even where such limitations need not apply, Easter is a popular time for families to get together, especially those with far-flung members. I’ve had a good many conversations with people regretfully explaining how this stops them coming along. Latterly, as we’ve been sorting out programming, I have been struck by just how many people cannot stay for the full weekend. Though holding the event in May runs into the examination season and there are other, different potential problems with August. Once again, the question soon becomes complex. But the issue still warrants discussion, surely, without prejudging the outcome either way?

So where will Eastercon be in ten years time? I’ve posed a good many questions and there are assuredly more I’ve not thought of. Please bring those to the discussion we will be hosting at EightSquaredCon, with a view to continuing the debate at Satellite 4, in order to see fandom as well placed as possible to capitalize on the success of Loncon 3.

Juliet E McKenna
Chair, EightSquaredCon

Hungry for Knowledge? EightSquared’s Menu of Fast Facts and Longer Lectures.

Enquiring minds wish to know – well, all sorts of things really. It’s the impulse behind so much speculative fiction. Our genre’s abiding central question, whether scientific, historical, political or social, is ‘what if…?’

Accordingly, Eastercon has a long-established and impressive tradition of presenting guest speakers to the membership. This year Dr Louise Livesey of Ruskin College Oxford will give the BSFA Lecture; “A Highly Political Act: speech, silence, hearing and sexual violence”.

One SF writer noted that ‘if you read Nature long enough, your dreams will start to carry footnotes to other dreams’. Dr Henry Gee has been on the editorial team of Nature for a quarter of a century. In the SF Foundation George Hay Memorial Lecture, he will offer an insider’s view of this leading international journal of science.

As EightSquaredCon honours J B Priestley, we are delighted to welcome Lee Hanson of the J B Priestley society. He will re-introduce us to Bradford’s very own and perhaps unjustly neglected early SF author, and discuss Priestley’s inclusion of new technologies in his fiction, his interest in time theories, and his friendship with HG Wells.

We’re also remembering Alexander Bogdanov, science fiction pioneer, philosopher, physician, Lenin’s friend and rival. He explored the idea of automating society. The West calls this cybernetics and it fuels consumer culture. But in the Soviet Union, Bogdanov’s philosophy was discredited and suppressed. With pictures, video, short readings, and no small amount of handwaving, Simon Ings explains why Bogdanov, not Wells, is the true founder of modern sf.

For the mathematically inclined, Dr Nicholas Jackson gives another of his popular talks, on Pure and Applied Mathematics. It seems all pure maths turns out to be useful eventually, with even its abstract branches proving to have important applications in chemistry, physics and biology.

Maths fans should also keep an eye out for the panel on The Clay Institute Problems. In the year 2000, the Clay Institute offered $1,000,000 for the solution to seven different problems on the frontiers of mathematics. Michael Abbott, Nicholas Jackson and Susan Stepney discuss which problems, why, and what progress has been made. Vince Doherty, Liz Batty, Tracy Berg and Joan Paterson will similarly discuss ‘What’s Big in Microbiology.’

Acclaimed SF author Ken MacLeod has said “History is the trade secret of science fiction” and you’d be hard put to find a fantasy writer who’d disagree. But is the line between fact and fiction in history becoming blurred? Countless movies have formed our impression of a Roman city – all gleaming marble and tall columns. But were all Roman cities alike? What’s the difference between an amphitheatre and a Colosseum? Tony Keen will take us through the ancient streets, and tells you what you could expect to see in Rome or Londinium.

Professor Edward James will address the facts underpinning the fictions so beloved of epic fantasy fans. Were the original barbarians who invaded and settled much of Europe in the first millennium AD really muscled, semi-naked, and well equipped with weapons but overall, a bit short on grey matter? Where have these stereotypes come from?

Still got an appetite for learning more? Excellent. In our Fast Fact Talks: Ideas To Go, we pay homage to the global TED Talk phenomenon with our own TED-style presentations on big ideas.

There will be two sessions over the weekend, each with three speakers, where experts and thinkers from among our membership will expound on a topic of their choosing for 15 minutes. No panels, no questions, no gimmicks; just great people on inspiring topics.

Too old for the crèche? Too young for the bar? Eastercon and Junior Members.

We are delighted to announce that children’s and young adult novelist Francesca Barbini (F. T. Barbini), author of the science fiction series Tijaran Tales, will be running a writers’ workshop especially for younger writers. You don’t need to bring anything with you, but if you’re between 11 and 18, come along for tips, techniques, guidance and advice.

Across the weekend, we’re putting together a programme to interest members of all ages. Indeed, teenage con-goers will be among those discussing recent films, TV and gaming on panels. With regards to books, we have two panels particularly worth noting; New Classics for Old Fans, where young adult readers recommend some of the latest good books in the field, while Old Classics for New Fans will see some of those who have been reading Young Adult books since before the term was invented recommend early examples, however they were marketed at the time.

We now have volunteers, including more of our teenage members, to staff the Games Room, under the overall supervision of David Cheval, who is also running the LARP. If you’re interested in taking part in that, don’t forget to check out the Ithica LARP homepage and sign up.

As well as the Doctor Who broadcast on Saturday evening, there will be a full video programme running through the weekend.

The volunteers who’ve organised ‘Cyberdrome’ at past conventions wish to take a break this year. So do keep an eye on the Newsletter for informal junior fun such as the recently proposed Paperchain Competition. Details to follow at the convention.

EightSquaredCon’s Entertainments – Zulus, Music and Magic

As SF and Fantasy increasingly looks beyond its traditional European focus, we are delighted to announce that the convention’s opening night will see Zulu Tradition take to the stage in the Cedar Court.

From Kwa-Zulu Natal to venues worldwide, this vibrant troupe are rekindling the spark of Zulu culture and heritage, through song, dance and drums. They specialise in traditional Zulu warrior song and dance compilations. Imagine a youthful mixed gender Ladysmith Black Mambazo with high energy kicks; the raw power of acappella voices; the enchantment of the story; the pounding rhythm of the African drums and the energy of the dance.


Zulu Tradition have performed internationally in Africa, Europe and Russia. They first hit national TV in the UK in 2010 and in South Africa when they performed at the first ever UN sanctioned Nelson Mandela Day at the British Museum. They also work with schools all over the UK on cultural understanding and racial integration projects via workshops including music, dance, art, culture and language. You can find out more via their website and also at the panel before the performance where group members will talk about their heritage, their act, and their cultural work.

On Saturday night, EightSquaredCon’s costume event, the Mirror Mirror Ball, will see trad-goth band Witching Hour in the spotlight, providing the live music. Now a two-piece band consisting of Alys Sterling and Trevor Barnes, Witching Hour’s roots go back to 1991 and a series of gigs in legendary venues like Powerhaus in London, and Cafe Transylvania in Birmingham. They have played support for bands such as Dream Disciplines and London After Midnight.


In 2006, playing a private Halloween party started a new chapter in the Witching Hour story (yes, that is Tim Burton in that photograph with Trevor and Alys). The band’s back catalogue is now available on iTunes and CD. Promo videos for She’s Alive, Your Cries and Carnival of Souls can be found on YouTube and recent gigs have included spots at The Purple Turtle in Camden, a goth festival in Birmingham and playing in Madrid with The Eternal Fall. 2011 saw their second album, Raven, released. Learn more at

Incidentally, Witching Hour are very happy for people to record their live performances and post them on YouTube and the like. So feel free to bring your cameras and phones along.

To complete your Saturday night, we’re very fortunate to have a performance from John Lenahan, magician, comedian, novelist and the original voice of Red Dwarf’s Talkie Toaster. The first person to be ejected from the Magic Circle in 85 years, for exposing the truth behind the 3-card trick on TV, John is one of the UK’s most sought-after magical entertainers. He first came to this country for a short visit from his native Philadelphia and somehow never made it back. Since then he has appeared on prime-time shows for the BBC and ITV, as a presenter, entertainer and hoax-buster. He’s appeared on stage alongside Jack Dee, Victoria Wood and Lenny Henry.


John has also built a career as a fantasy novelist, drawing on his professional skills to create a highly successful podcast introducing his teenage hero Conor and the Celtic-inspired fantasy world he gets tangled up with. That’s Conor, obviously, not John. Hopefully. Though he is a magician. Who knows what could happen? Assuming we’re not all swept away to Tir Na Nog, you’ll have a chance to learn more about John’s writing, beginning with “Shadowmagic” through the course of the convention. You can find out all sorts of things about his other talents at (Do check out the video clip about the Puppy Scam).

Your mission should you choose to accept it – EightSquaredCon’s Games Room

We find ourselves without a games room coordinator at this late stage and so are seeking one or more volunteers to fill this role. The duties are not onerous; the coordinator is responsible for ensuring that the room is locked up, keeping track of any games which have been lent, and a certain amount of encouraging/assisting people to play games.

This adventure is suitable for one or two mid-level characters, at least one of whom should be at least partially nocturnal.

Please contact info@eightsquaredcon if you would like to volunteer for this role.