WorldCon, Days 2 and 3

Day 2
A quiet(ish) morning, but I did get a chance to check out the room in which we would be playing I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue in the evening, in order to confirm the tech facilities. It was apparent from a quick glance that the facilities weren’t suitable (despite several emails to the organisers before the convention), so I went to the tech desk. The person I needed to speak with wasn’t there, so they asked me to leave my number and someone would contact me.  It became an afternoon of meetings, during which no contact from Tech, and then I went to the Wildcards Dinner in the evening. Alas, Emma Newman and I had to leave the dinner early as we had to head back to the convention centre for the panel game. I got there early enough to ask Tech to come along and plug my MacBook into the sound system. I needed to be on the desk with the other panelists, but this wasn’t possible, and I had to stand apart from them at a podium. Also, they couldn’t connect my Mac to the sound system, so I had to transfer the files from my machine to theirs. The way to do this, apparently, was for the tech guy to shout for the (very large) audience to be quiet, before shouting “Does anyone have a USB key we can borrow?”

The game itself went really well, and the panelists (Mur Lafferty, Kameron Hurley, Daryl Gregory and Emma Newman) seemed to have as much fun as the audience. Watching the bemused expression on the American panelists’ faces when the line “We’ve had a letter from a Mrs Trellis from North Wales” got an enormous cheer from the audience, was priceless.

So, despite the tech issues (this was obviously a running theme, at least for my panels), it was a resounding success.

Day 3
Friday morning say the first in another succession of meetings, followed by my third and final panel (which went well, despite the panel being offsite. When I asked how to get there, it was “Leave the convention centre through the front doors, cross the road, climb the steps and walk 2 or three blocks until you find a small, yellow building.” – it was my first quest!)

A lunch with one of my favourite authors and favourite people in genre (where I tried reindeer for the fist time – spoiler: it’s delicious), and then it was time to head back to the apartment to get ready for the Hugos. This year I was accompanied by my oldest daughter, Verity, who looked amazing in her dress and high heels.

A fantastic set of results across every category, but I was particularly delighted by the result for Best Fancast (Tea and Jeopardy) and especially Best Novella (Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire). This means that last year a book I edited won both the Nebula and the Hugo, and this year a book I edited won both the Nebula and the Hugo. So, no pressure for next year, then!

I also briefly met Daveed Diggs (the original Lafayette and Jefferson from Hamilton) and Sibel Kekilli (who played Shae in Game of Thrones). And what’s more important, they met me! So happy for them!

Then onto the Hugo Losers’ Party which was held at Helsinki’s Steam bar, which was fab but loud and crowded.

WorldCon in Helsinki – Day 1

Helsinki, so far, has proven to be a dream. The amusement park was fun, the zoo funner, and I’m just about fine with making my way around the bus and tram system. We arrived here on Sunday and WorldCon started yesterday (Wednesday).

I rolled up to Registration at about noon, having seen no-one I knew since a brief encounter on the flight the previous Sunday. Within a minute of me standing in line I was joined by Liz Gorinsky, Angela Slatter, Lisa L Hannet and Haralambi Markov.

I headed to the nearest café to grab a bite and a drink, and ended up with a vegan pulled-oat-and-avocado-on-sometypeofbread, and a juice, and it was delicious. Between me starting the sandwich and finishing it I was greeted by 8 or 9 friends from around the world, which was wonderful.

Over lunch I spoke with an American guy who told me that the panels are (already!) really hard to get into, as they were filling up quickly and the con staff are really hot on fire safety (no pun intended, but I’ll let it ride) so they don’t allow overcrowding and rooms have a very specific number of allowed audience members. I discovered this to be true, later. Cheryl Morgan has some information on why this is happening.

Mid afternoon I headed downtown to meet up with the Australian contingent, and we quietly too over the pub. I left them to head back to the con centre to have a light dinner with Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart. “Light” dinner because all of the eateries in the centre appeared to decide that dinner time is an appropriate time for cafés and restaurants to close, and the one we chose (“chose” in this instance meaning “headed to because it was the only one with the shutters still open) had a very small choice of food as they were also closing and weren’t cooking anything new.

A little prep time next, and then I headed to my first panel of the convention – “Ready, Steady, Flash!” – which I was hosting. Peter Newman was one of the panelists, and I got to meet N S Dolkart, Karin Tidbeck and the amazing Nalo Hopkinson for the first time.

It was full when I got there. In fact, it had been full for a while, and the staff were turning away audience members half an hour before the panel began! The table was set up for four (there were five of us) and no roaming mic (though I’d specified one was needed). Luckily, I was able to do without a seat, and I’m quite a loud chap when needed, so I was able to do without a mic, but I can imagine other panels suffering with this set-up. The panel went really well, and several audience members came over at the end to thank us, which is always nice.

It was only 10.00pm, so I decided to head back into town to my digs, but my bus was still half an hour away, so I stopped off at the bar on the way out and chatted with some friends for 15 minutes or so before heading out. Very early, I know, but it was only Day 1 of a 5 day con, os plenty of time for late nights to come…

Today will be a very busy day, with meetings, meetings, a few meetings, and one or two meetings, and tonight I’ll be hosting a version of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which should be fun.

I didn’t take any photos yesterday, so here’s one of me, riding a tiger.

 

A tale of homelessness.

It’s so easy to ignore the suffering that goes on all around us. Among the easiest of these to ignore is the homeless. I do it. We all do it. Not always, but we do it. It’s easier to pretend we haven’t seen them, or that sorry-I-really-haven’t-time-to-stop.

Tonight I was stopped by someone who needed to get to a particular place. He told me his bag had been stolen, that all of his belongings were in there – everything he owned in the world. 6 pictures of his parents that can never be replaced, 4 pictures of the dogs he had to give up when he started living on the streets. His phone.

He needed £12 to get somewhere, where he was going to have a place to stay, instead of sleeping in the rain, again. I gave him the change I had in my pocket – about £3, and hoped he would be able to find someone else to help him out, too. He told me his story. And it was a sad story, and not one I’m going to repeat here, but trust me when I say you wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone. But like the bag, I couldn’t know for sure if it was a yarn being spun to elicit sympathy, or if it was real. And then he pulled up his trouser leg and his leg was beaten and discoloured and bloody and it looked like infection had set in a long time ago. I mean, a LONG time ago. I reached into my wallet and pulled out the only note I had left in there – £10. He would at least be able to get to the place where he could stay overnight, tonight. I implored him to go to a hospital to get his leg looked at. It was truly horrific. The tale about the bag could have been false. The tale about the circumstances that led to him becoming homeless could have been false. The gratitude in his eyes that someone not only gave him a small bit of money, but also *listened* – that was one of the truest things I’ve ever encountered. So was the hug we shared.

I hope that man gets to where he needs to go. I hope he finds the help he needs – socially and medically. He’s going to haunt me for some time to come.

We can’t fix everyone all the time.

We can’t always give money.

And we can’t always give time.

But sometimes we can.

Shooting Stars

The view from my seat onstage facing the auditorium.

The view from my seat onstage facing the auditorium.

Tonight I saw another Broadway show – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. It’s a show I knew next to nothing about before seeing it. All I knew was that it was based on a small chunk of War and Peace, and that it was recommended that you read the synopsis in the Playbill beforehand, so you know what’s going on. In fact, the opening number, Prologue, advised the same thing.

The staging was magnificent, with the performing area sneaking out, into, and through the audience in the auditorium, and with lots of seating on the stage, allowing some lucky audience members to get up close and personal with the cast as they performed. This blurring of the lines between performers and audience made for an interesting experience, and if you want to see the show, and if you don’t mind paying the premium, I’d recommend sitting at one of the tables onstage.

And what of the show, itself?

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My seat view, facing upstage.

The Great Comet is an opera, so you’ll need to recalibrate if you’re expecting a straight Broadway musical. Written by Dave Malloy and directed by Rachel Chavkin, it’s a small story. Natasha is engaged to be married to Andre, who is away at war (he certainly isn’t here). She visits her godmother, and finds herself seduced by Anatole – a handsome scoundrel who professes his love. But though the story is small, the personal stakes are high, and the score is filled with emotion from start to finish.

It’s difficult to pull out individual highlights, but I’ll try.

The absolute highlight for me was Brittain Ashford as Natasha’s cousin and confident, Sonya. Sonya Alone will be with me for quite a while to come.

Josh Groban is the show’s big name. His performance as Pierre grounds the show and he acts as its drunken, flawed conscience. He has relatively little to do in the first act, but shows what he’s made of in the second half. Pierre also acts as Groban’s unofficial audition for the role of Tevye in perhaps a decade or so, and I’ll be queueing for tickets for that!

Lucas Steele plays Anatole like an evil Disney prince, and I half expected him to belt out Agony at inopportune moments. Another great performance. Believable and real.

Denée Benton is ostensibly the star of the show, and the quality of her performance of Natasha would single her out for praise in any other show, but the sheer quality of the cast in this show means she’s just going to have to accept she’ll need to share the limelight.

The ensemble were magnificent, and sounded better than every other cast I’ve seen on Broadway, the West End or any other theatre.

It’s a complex show, despite the simplicity of the storyline, but it’s rewarding, and I can’t wait to see it again.

The one thing that always frustrates me about seeing Broadway shows is that every performance of every show seems to elicit a standing ovation. We’re rather more reserved in the UK and reserve standing for those performances that are extraordinary and rare. Standing for every show weakens the act, and means you have nowhere else to go for the truly remarkable shows.

Tonight I stood. And I meant it.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is playing at the Imperial Theater on 45th Street and is highly recommended.

A relaxing morning in London

(Note: images in this post are, for some reason, rotated by 90 degrees, and I’m too apathetic to change them).

 

So, I’m currently in London, looking forward to a signing at Forbidden Planet at 1.00pm (with Paul Cornell, Cassandra Khaw and Zen Cho). I stayed overnight at a Hilton near Holborn. As a frequent Hilton guest I got upgraded to a very nice room in the executive wing.

This morning, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I don’t have the kids around, and I took this from the inside of my door
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opened the door a crack and put it on the outside of my door.
I also did this to the inside latch-thing
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And settled down in the bath, put the laptop on a chair in the bathroom and started to watch some TV.
About 15 minutes into the programme there was a knock at the door.
“They haven’t noticed the room tag,” I thought, “they’ll go away.” and I ignored it.
They knocked again.
Next, I heard an almighty crash, and I jumped out of the bath and opened up the door to see this:
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Someone had opened the door and pushed so hard that the whole of the side of the doorframe came off (because it was connected to the latch thing).
I tried to call Reception, but the phone wouldn’t work. I tried calling the hotel on my mobile, but every time I pressed the right number the line cut off.
So, I pulled on some jeans and a T-shirt and went down to reception. I told them that someone had just tried breaking into my room and that they had a key, and that I was heading straight back up because I had a lot of computer equipment up there.
I got back to my room and someone came within a few minutes and put the doorframe back temporarily (they’ll fix it properly when I’m gone, later).
Then someone from Housekeeping came. It was them. I hadn’t noticed, but on the reverse side of this
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was this
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So, rather than saying, “Please leave me alone, I’m having a nice relaxing bath, while watching some TV.” what I actually indicated was, “Please come in and clean my room. If the latch is on, open the door with such force that it breaks the physical structure of the door frame.”
My bad.
But the amount of force it must have taken to do that! I pictured someone in Housekeeping clothes, walking down the hall, looking down at the floor, bumping into someone and self-consciously pushing their glasses back up their nose.
Holborn has a superhero, posing as a mild mannered Housekeeping assistant.
EDITED TO ADD:
On my welcome letter (yes, I was given a welcome letter) it told me that breakfast was served in the restaurant in the lower ground floor. I took the lift to the lower ground floor, but there was no restaurant access there, only kitchen access. I had to go to the ground floor, walk to reception and go down the stairs to the restaurant. Not a problem, of course, but if they go to the trouble of writing a letter, they could at least add “accessible from reception”, or “don’t try the lift, Sonny Jim, it ain’t gonna get you where you want to be.” Just an added niggle, nothing more.
So, that was my relaxing Saturday morning. How was yours?

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