SF Fandom’s Roots in Bradford – a fascinating article in the local press.

On Sunday October 14, 1951, 44 people gathered at Pat’s Cafe, Dudley Hill Top, Bradford. The photographs of this event show a gathering of earnest-looking (mainly) men in their demob suits, arranged on wooden chairs. It could be a working men’s club committee, perhaps, or a union meeting.

But it was actually the first proper, organised meeting of science fiction fans in the north, and is now considered to be one of the early sparks that became the flames of a worldwide fan movement that today sees huge conventions held around the world…

Click here to read the whole fascinating story from The Bradford Telegraph and Argus, by David Barnett.

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Pre-booking Rate Rise Imminent!

A quick reminder that the cost of pre-booking an adult attending membership for EightSquaredCon, the 2103 Eastercon, will rise to £70 on 1st February. An adult supporting membership becomes £35. Junior, child and infant memberships remain the same, at £25, £10 and £1 respectively.


EightSquared Memberships On The Door

Since Easter is a busy time of year, we appreciate that people may well wish to only come for part of the convention. Other folk may find their plans change at the last minute and want to come along without pre-booking.

Full weekend memberships will be available for £80 on the door.

Day Rates
Friday: £15 (refundable if a full adult membership is then purchased)
Saturday: £30
Sunday: £30
Monday: £15

Junior memberships
Friday: £5
Saturday:£10
Sunday:£10
Monday:£5

Child £5 per day

All Friday memberships will be upgradable to full membership and consideration will be given for people arriving after noon on Monday.


Code of Conduct, or, How to Make Sure Everyone Has A Good Time.

We want everyone at Eight Squared Con to have as enjoyable a convention as possible. Crucially, nobody should be subjected to threatening, harassing or unwelcome behaviour.

As a committee we have extensive experience of running and attending fan and workplace events. We know that for the most part conventions are safe and welcoming environments where instances of inappropriate behaviour are rare. However ‘rare’ is not ‘unknown’ and we are aware of such incidents at recent UK conventions. Our behaviour policy is a clear statement of how we hope to ensure that such incidents don’t occur, and how we will deal with them if they do.

Inappropriate behaviour can involve actions or language that are or may be criminal offences. Behaviour which is less serious in purely legal terms can still be profoundly distressing for the people who experience it. Unwanted touching, persistent unwelcome attention or taking pictures of someone against his or her objections are all examples of inappropriate behaviour. Equally, while we want to encourage open and vigorous discussion, abusive, hectoring or intimidating language can be very upsetting and is also inappropriate.

In discussions of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour it’s often said that a convention should be a ‘safe space’. This can be ambiguous, because ‘safe’ means different things to different people. Is a ‘safe space’ one where you can express yourself as you want to, while being safe from harassment or prejudice? Or is it somewhere you are safe from behaviour or attitudes that upset you? Consequently, there can be times when what one person feels safe in saying or doing may make someone else feel unsafe.

The key to making a safe space work for everyone is respect for others. We should all understand that other people may enjoy conventions in different ways to us. We should remember that we all have boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. We should accept that somebody else is entitled to have different boundaries to us.

The most practical step we can all take is to be aware of our own behaviour and that of others, acknowledging that at times our sense of (or sensitivity to) other people’s boundaries may not be what it should be. Conventions are exciting events where we often sleep too little and drink rather more than we otherwise might. It’s easy to forget how we can come across – or even not to think about it in the first place. So we should all be aware of our own behaviour and how we might appear to others.

Remember to respect boundaries. If you want to take a photo of someone, ask. If they don’t say yes, don’t take a photo. If you’re talking to a writer, don’t monopolize his or her time in the bar or during the Q&A in a programme item. If you’re trying to sell your convention or your book, then talk to the con committee about the best time and place to do this. Don’t go around hustling other con members at breakfast! (Yes, we have all seen this happen.)

If you are trying to get to know someone better and they don’t seem as interested in you as you are in them, please don’t push it. In particular, be mindful of context and surroundings. Behaviour that’s fine in some situations may be very unwelcome in others. For instance, there’s nothing wrong in principle with flirting at a convention. However coming on to someone when the two of you are alone in a lift or empty corridor can make them feel very uncomfortable. Try to ask yourself what you would think if you saw someone doing what you’re about to do. Would you think that it looked ill-advised or likely to cause offence? If so, don’t do it.

If you see someone who looks unhappy with someone else’s behaviour, then check that they are OK. Obviously, this does not mean wading into a situation in a way that makes it worse. Alternatively bring the matter to the Committee’s attention; you can do this by finding a committee member (we will have distinctive badges) or by contacting Ops.

If you see someone you know personally behaving in a way that seems to be making someone else unhappy, have a discreet word. If you think a friend’s sense of what’s appropriate might not be 100% (see above on the effects of too little sleep etc.) then – quietly and politely – have a word. You could well nip an awkward situation in the bud. If you wish to do this with a Committee member’s support, find one of us (see above) and explain the situation

Specifics

In an ideal world such guidelines should go without saying. But for the avoidance of doubt here they are.

– Unwanted or unwelcome touching is unacceptable. We shouldn’t have to say that groping is wrong, but it has happened. Less blatant forms of unwelcome touching also go on. No matter how friendly the atmosphere, don’t assume everyone wants or welcomes a hug or the offer of a backrub.

– Unwelcome attention need not be physical. If you’re taking a photograph of a particular person, ask first.* If they aren’t comfortable, don’t take a picture. If they are wearing a no-photo badge, respect it.

*Events such as panels are different. Even then, though, be considerate of the panel members and audience: please don’t stand up in front of the panel and take picture after picture. Yes, we’ve all seen that happen too.

If an announcement is made at the start of a programme item asking you not to record it, please don’t disregard it. Some of our speakers or panel members prefer that what they say is for the audience rather than the world at large and we ask you to respect this.

– Your fellow con members are people, not objects, so treat them as people. Men – you won’t make a woman feel comfortable by conducting conversations with their chest. If you want a close look at what someone’s wearing, ask if they mind first. Above all, what someone is wearing is their outfit, not an invitation. We will give very short shrift to anyone who tries to justify unwelcome behaviour by saying otherwise.

– Convention committee, staff and helpers are all unpaid volunteers who are doing this to help make a good convention for everyone. If you’re having a problem with the convention, we want to do what we can help resolve it. But we are not here to be shouted at, abused or insulted. The same goes for hotel staff. If you have a problem with the hotel, speak to us or the hotel management.

– Unwelcome attention and harassment can take place online these days. Abusive texts, emails, Twitter posts or the like from one attendee to another or to a member of convention staff will be taken just as seriously as if the behaviour was face-to-face. Cyber-bullying is no more acceptable than the traditional sort.

We will do our best to resolve problems as quickly and as amicably as possible. However, we will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour. If an incident is serious or if a member engages in repeated inappropriate behaviour we have the right to withdraw membership and require a person to leave the convention.

In particular, we cannot allow anyone to pose a risk to other members of the convention or indeed themselves. If such a situation arises and cannot be resolved that person will have to leave. We have a mutual agreement with the con hotel; if either the Committee or the hotel management requires someone to leave the convention or premises, so will the other.

If this all sounds rather serious we emphasize that we very much hope and expect there will be few if any such problems at EightSquaredCon. We don’t anticipate having to take sanctions against anyone attending. But we do want to reassure our members that if need be we can and will protect them. By far the best thing we can all do is bear the above guidance in mind. This should ensure that everyone at Eight Squared Con has a happy and enjoyable convention.

We look forward to seeing you in Bradford!

The EightSquaredCon Committee

19th January – please note the clarification that inappropriate/aggressive behaviour online will be considered equally unacceptable. Our thanks to those who suggested that we make this point explicitly.


“It’s a Literary Festival but not as we know it, Jim!”

The Distinctive Breadth and Depth of SF Convention Programming.

As well as regularly attending conventions, I’ve long been involved with non-genre literary festivals thanks to working with The Write Fantastic and also as a committee member for my old Oxford college’s Media Alumnae Network. Consequently I have observed how very different the approaches to programming will be.

I’ve often noted the astonishment among fans and writers used to non-genre events, when they first come to a speculative fiction convention. They’re used to top-down programming structured around publishers’ schedules and offering one or two writers per slot the opportunity to publicise their current book. That’s not a criticism. Such programming is assuredly valuable for readers and writers alike and I always enjoy hearing a talented author share their enthusiasm for their work, fiction or non-fiction, as I sit in a quietly attentive audience.

But it’s rare to see a handful of writers talking more generally about their writing, about the themes and topics which their broader genre is currently addressing, about on-going developments in their particular literary area, comparing and contrasting their own work and process with each other and with the writers who’ve gone before them. It does happen occasionally, particularly with crime writers, but it’s still nowhere as prevalent as it is at SF conventions. I often feel that’s a shame, because audiences so clearly appreciate such wide-ranging discussion. It’s rarer still to see a fan/reviewer taking part in such panels to broaden the debate with their perspective whereas such participation is an integral and valuable facet of convention programming.

The dialogue between panel and audience that so often develops at a convention almost never happens at literary festivals. There will usually be an opportunity for Question &Answer but non-genre audiences so rarely ask such detailed and interesting questions as SF&Fantasy fans. Friends with me at Cheltenham some years ago when some bloke asked PD James and Ruth Rendell, ‘Where do you get your character names from?’ pretty much had to shove me under my theatre seat to stifle my exasperation. Especially since the smirking chap clearly believed that he’d asked something wholly original and challenging…

Then there are the fact-based strands of convention programming, where fans and authors alike share their knowledge and expertise, on everything from creative writing to science in all its ramifications from high-level mathematics to computing to cutting-edge bio-chemistry, astrophysics and more, or on historical, linguistics, political and psychological scholarship, to name but a few of the disciplines which underpin the ever-broadening scope of fantasy fiction.

Then there are the visually creative disciplines that have always been so integral to speculative fiction, from the fine art borne of imagination and providing inspiration to writers and artists alike, to comics and graphic novels. Then there’s SF and fantasy in film and TV, not forgetting audio drama, resolutely enduring from the early days of radio to new Net-based incarnations. Then there’s the fun programming, including but not limited to games and costuming events, ranging from the admirably serious to the enjoyably daft.

I have been asked more than once how on earth do SF conventions manage to put on so many streams of wide-ranging items. I have explained that it’s this participation which makes SF conventions so different. From their earliest days, conventions have been fan-led events. Readers and writers alike are encouraged to get involved, exploring their shared enthusiasm for this multi-faceted and outward-looking genre. I’ve pointed out that those going to SF conventions pay for memberships rather than tickets. People aren’t buying a seat to passively attend a performance. They’re investing in the funding of a collective enterprise, run by volunteers for fellow enthusiasts.

We’ve already posted about our general programming philosophy and our particular interest in having as broad and inclusive participation as possible.

As we address the programming detail for EightSquared, this is your chance to get involved, either to offer your perspective or expertise as part of a panel, or to pose the questions which you’d like to see debated as you sit in the audience. Now’s the time to flag up those Sfnal, fantastical, artistic or dramatic things which you’d love to know more about. Incidentally, everyone can volunteer and/or offer suggestions, from fully-paid-up weekend-attending members to those planning to come and buy day memberships on the door (and we’ll be posting those rates on our website shortly).

So have a think and let us have your ideas and suggestions via the Programme Volunteer and Suggestion Form. We can’t promise to include everything or everyone. There are only so many hours in a day unless someone can supply us with a TARDIS or a time-turner for every convention member. But the more ideas we have to consider at this stage, the more chance you will have of a programme offering you something new, different and interesting in Bradford over the Easter weekend. Not writers trying to keep a straight face as they explain where they get their character names from.


EightSquared’s Costume Event – The Mirror Mirror Ball

What’s the most Frequently Asked Question about SF conventions? It’s “Will there be people wearing Mr Spock ears?” Or dressed as Star Wars storm troopers, or Doctor Who, or any number of other characters from film and TV, up to and including (with that particular glint in the questioner’s eye) Princess Leia as a slavegirl?

No, we say, you’re missing the point. We’re there to discuss the on-going development and discussion of speculative fiction, in books and film, TV and in the ways that narrative is emerging as a force in other media. We’re considering the relationship of humanity with technology through Science Fiction and the complexity of human nature through portrayals of the supernatural and the fantastic and our interaction and reactions.

Right, the questioner nods. So why are there photos of you dressed up as a space admiral, ceilidh dancing with a giant rabbit at Illustrious, the 2011 Eastercon? Because yes, okay, costumes are part of conventions. While they’re not so widespread here in the UK as they are in the US, masquerades and hall costumes have long been part of Eastercon. Why? Is this, the really doubtful questioner will ask, another manifestation of speculative fiction as a refuge from reality? Is it – shudder – yet more escapism?

If it is, what’s wrong with that? Escapism, I mean. Not in the sense of ducking reality, heads stuck in the metaphorical sand. In the sense of stepping outside our usual preoccupations and distractions to reach a place where we can pause, take stock of our own lives, and look around us to consider the big picture and bigger questions from new and different perspectives. Isn’t what speculative fiction is all about?

Costuming can surely be part of that. How does the old proverb go? “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” (And yes, I know the joke that follows it. After that, who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes.) But that’s not the only such proverb. How about ‘Dress maketh the man’ (or woman)? Ask any actor, amateur or professional, how vital the right costume can be to really understanding a dramatic role. Ask anyone who’s ever worn a uniform how different the reactions they get from people around them can be. Thinking back to Illustrious, the reaction I got dressed up for The Admiral’s Ball was as nothing compared to the reactions when people saw me walking through the hotel in my martial arts gi, hakama and black belt. On the other side of that coin, turning around and unexpectedly finding myself face to face with a HALO Master Chief at the SFX Weekender was an illuminating experience as I considered just what makes those guys so scary. Yes, of course I knew it was someone dressed up. That’s not the point. What if they were real? What if… the eternal question of SF&F.

I’m not a dedicated cosplayer. There will be those who can answer these questions and expand on this debate far better than me, and please, you’re very welcome to do so in Comments. I for one will be very interested in your perspectives.

For my part, I’ll put on a fancy dress for an evening every now and again to have fun – and what’s wrong with that? You know, I have long suspected that what really irritates these people who dismiss the whole spectrum of speculative fiction as “not serious” is the sneaking realisation that we can discuss the eternal verities and philosophies of life just as thoroughly as the most earnestly sombre literature – and we can do all that while entertaining ourselves with vampires and faeries and wizards and dragons and rayguns and rocketships. We have a lot more fun than the literary puritans and that really winds them up.

So if you fancy dressing up at EightSquared, as well as the usual hall costume competition, we’ll be delighted to welcome you to The Mirror Mirror Ball. This Eastercon is about exploring past times and other worlds, alternate presents and possible futures, near and far. So come as your chosen alter ego from your favourite parallel universe, historical period or alternate reality of choice. (Or just come along to see what other people are wearing.)

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Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. The Ambassador.

Illustrious; Eastercon 2011

Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. One of several Admirals.

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Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. Admiral’s Aide: Close Protection.

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Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. Admiral’s Aide: Priority Communications.

All photos courtesy John Dallman and used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing. You can find more of John’s photos of the Illustrious Admiral’s Ball here.