Cons, panels and awards

It’s been four and half years since I last went to a con. Next month, puppies willing, I may go to another.

Which is quite an event as living miles, and several large stretches of water, away from the con circuit, means that attending cons isn’t easy. Travelling is expensive, takes ages, and I always come back with a cold. But… how many times do you get a chance to go to an award ceremony where you’re a nominee?

For me, never. Until now. With What Ho, Automaton! up for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for best original short fiction, I’ve been invited to Capclave in Washington DC (Oct 12-14).

Naturally there’s a problem. Our farm-sitter brings her animals with her – two horses and, this year, two dogs. Asta and her older dog are great friends, but what happens when you throw the new dog into the mix? And then there’s Zen, our new puppy. He’ll only be 13 weeks old. Will he be picked on? Eaten?

So, we’ve scheduled two meets – first with Asta and her two dogs, then the foursome. The first has gone well. No one was eaten and all postmen in the Bagnoles area have been accounted for. Next weekend we have the foursome. Assuming it doesn’t turn into a threesome, I’ll book the flights and hotel the next day.

Not that my record at cons is particularly impressive. I’d never attended one until 2007, and, until then, had been under the impression that I knew quite a bit about SF and F. I soon realised that the average con goer knows far more about the subject than me. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that until I was on several panels.

This is the problem with working in isolation. I’d given up the day job in 1991 to write and farm. I meet more animals than I do humans. I spend most of my time in my head and, since moving to France in 1995, conversation in English is rare. And conversation in French even rarer. Imagine Jodie Foster in Nell, the film about the feral child found alone in a log cabin, and you have an idea of what I’m like on a panel.

Okay, not quite that bad, but I find that my internal editor which sits on my shoulder as I write – tutting at word choice and making me stop and think before I find the exact word, the most elegant phrase, pausing to mull over the best way to set up the next sentence – has sidled onto my shoulder when I speak as well. I used to speak at speed, not caring about word choice, confident that whatever word I needed would appear on cue. But, pulled out of work and the social circuit, my ‘natural’ speed has slowed and I have to take countermeasures – three pints of cider works very well – to silence my shoulder-perching editor and let the words flow.

One thing I have learned though is only volunteer for panels where I actually do know more about the subject than the average con-goer. And make sure I’m taken off those where I don’t. My worst experience was at Westercon in San Mateo in 2007. It was my first big con and I was happy to volunteer for anything. I’d been put on a panel entitled Experimental Metaphysics – State of the art quantum mechanical experiments can answer questions about the fundamental nature of reality itself. Philosophy is becoming testable. What’s up with that? What’s next?

Okay, I had no idea what that meant but I was up for anything. Until after my second panel when I realised just how knowledgeable everyone else was. I tried to get out of the panel but there were only three of us. I asked the moderator what the panel was about and three minutes later I still didn’t know. He said we’d have fun and mess with people’s minds talking about really weird science. It was only when the panel actually started and I again told him that I really did not have a clue about the subject that it dawned on him that I wasn’t a PhD science geek.

“You’re really not joking?”

“No! Me know nothing!”

By that time the audience had assembled. I think Larry Niven was in the front row and there was standing room only. We had 90 minutes to fill and one of the panellists was Nell, the feral writer from a cave in France.

I tried to switch films and channel Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener in Being There. It worked brilliantly. For five minutes. And then backfired.

I was too good. I was enigmatic to the point of genius. I spoke in a way that only a true genius could – hinting at a knowledge so profound that only a Vulcan could come close to understanding – and then only by mind meld.

I trotted out my one anecdote about time dilation. About how the experiment with two atomic clocks – one flown supersonically, one kept where it was – was not the first such experiment. How Elizabethan scientists had conducted a similar experiment hundreds of years earlier. And those two clocks hadn’t been out by a few microseconds. The difference had been minutes. How? Because the clocks were marked candles and one had been placed in an enriched oxygen bell jar and the other in depleted oxygen.

I was ready to retire then. I’d done my bit. Now please just let me nod sagely for the next 85 minutes while everyone else gets a turn. No such luck. Ten minutes later, a hand goes up in the audience.

“Yes?” says the moderator.

“I’d like to hear more from Chris.”


Lots of nodding from the audience. Yes, let’s hear more from him.

The moderator turns to me and sees the panic in my eyes.

I’m not sure what happened in the next hour. I’ve blotted it out and I think most sensible attendees have done likewise. I have a feeling I channelled Chance, Nell and possibly Basil Fawlty – curled up in a foetal ball whimpering. The only positive thing I can say is that no one, other than me, died.

Next week: Westercon again – my first and only time as a moderator on ‘The panel that wouldn’t end’.

Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! has just been announced as a finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.





Cons, panels and awards — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Panel That Wouldn’t Die | Book View Cafe Blog