I ambled off to Octocon on Saturday after a good night out on Friday, where I had attended the 3rd Annual Fiction Slam put on by the local lit organisation, Over the Edge. I had no idea quite how it would go, but it was more or less like a poetry slam: that is, a short time to read with a focus on performance, and of course, competition. Among the judges was the multi-talented Emer Martin, who read a bit from her latest novel between the two rounds; a really engaging performer herself.
After hemming and hawing a bit, I decided to try to sign up to read and took “Rothko Red” and “Wixey” with me. There was a good crowd at the museum; Galway really is a writers’ mecca. I got chatting with Rachel Coventry, a local writer who read from her short story about a man who finds himself disappearing. All the stories were good: this is significant, as I’ve seldom been to a reading that did not have at least a few clunkers. I read “Wixey” first and was gratified to get some laughs; in fact I made it into the final three, much to my surprise. Rather good for my first time reading in Galway. The bottle of wine went to the young woman who read from her “memoir by a rabbit” which was a real hoot, and who will also be performing at the Galway Comedy Festival (sob! both Dylan Moran and Tim Minchin’s performances are long sold out).
I had an early train to Dublin, but as I live across the square from the station, I didn’t have to get up too early and once on the train, I fell asleep not long after seeing a deer running across a field (deer? yes!) and woke up at Heuston. I caught a cab to the hotel, checked in and then went down to registration. Gareth at reg immediately led me to Pádraig. Great to finally meet after knowing each other on line for so long. We had a chance to chat and to introduce me to Deirdre, his wife, before the panel he was on about meeting your heroes. Deirdre and I sat in the back and murmured various comments, including discussing whether it was worth laying money on the odds of any female names coming up in their adulations. Of course not: I did ask the question at the end, and I was struck by how the conversation immediately moved to crushes and fancying, including how attractive Tanith Lee is ‘despite her age’ you know.
This discussion led rather neatly into the women in genre/is it necessary? panel later, which drafted James Bacon at the last minute so that it wasn’t an all-female panel. The discussion went very well for the most part, keeping a focus on practical solutions and dispassionate identification of the mechanisms that keep labeling women as “other” rather than simply as people. There were a number of encouraging comments aimed at organisers to move beyond the default position of simply relying on the same old (usually male) friends and to actively encourage women to participate, as well as for women to overcome that reluctance and self-effacing behaviour that dooms them to non-representation. It takes a concerted effort on many parts to overcome these structural problems. And then of course, the last question to the panel came from a guy who said, “But it’s true that women mostly write about relationships and I just like action stories.” Sigh. Enough to make you want to strangle someone.
The rest of the time I spent mostly chatting with Pádraig and Deirdre and the other folks they introduced me to; I don’t usually go to cons unless I have something to do or know lots of people, so it was a relief that I had someone to hang out with. I met lots of terrific folks and I look forward to seeing many at P-Con in March (where I get to play “The Professor”).