The interblogspacesnets are already filled with reviews of the first SFX Weekender, so I'll do my best to keep this concise. For our two cents on the lodging & general environment, check out Anne's notes (and photos) earlier.
The SFX Weekender is a promising event that could, and should, improve with time and practice. Ultimately, we had a fantastic time this past weekend: good intentions and great people overshadowed a few pesky flaws.
You can stop right there, or press on to find some lengthier rambling after the jump. All, of course, from the bookgeekish point of view.
Three positives. Three negatives. The latter first, because it is always easier to complain than to praise.
1) The dealer room was a sorry sight. Abaddon/Solaris and Forbidden Planet were the only two dealers of note - and they were surrounded by an un-whopping half-dozen mom & pop tables. This sounds like a touristy sort of complaint, "I couldn't do enough shopping!". But the dealer room is more than capitalism. It is a place to browse, to get inspired and - most importantly - a place to kill time between events.
Without that mechanism for self-entertainment, you need a convention that not only provides continuous Mandatory Fun, but Mandatory Fun of exceptional quality.
SFX tried to have a lot going on - a screening room, a [lackluster] gaming 'zone' & the arcade all supplemented the agenda. They just weren't all exceptional quality. Unsurprisingly, the pub did a brisk trade.
2) Which leads into the second problem: Readings in a pub are romantic, but impractical. People have a right to drink and talk bollocks at the top of their lungs. But the authors, as guests, have a right to respect. Unsurprisingly, there's some tension between the two.
3) The third issue was the signing passes. I can understand their practical value at a media event - where people are used to paying exorbitant sums to get a signature from someone that once got hate-shagged by a vampire on a Joss Whedon webisode. With that in mind, a £30 pass is probably a ridiculous bargain. But book signings have their own decorum and tradition: you pay your way by buying a book. For the book geeks, this got expensive. And, ultimately, proved completely useless - never once checked.
Those all off my chest, what were the positives?
If you ever wanted to shoot the shit with Joe Abercrombie, share a pint with Jonathan Oliver or just hang out with Mark Charan Newton - this was the chance. With the limited distractions, the pub was the place to see and be seen (q.v. Whine #1). They were, to a man (and the rare woman), brilliant fun.
Editorial access wasn't bad either.
Editors and publicists are there to take care of their stars, but the savvy would-be writers had their pick of ears to bend. Imagine trying to take care of "your" writers, for-which-you-are-very-much-responsible, while also being stalked, shmoozed and wheedled by everyone in the crowd with an agenda and a manuscript.
Now, imagine doing all that with a smile...*
2) Great content.
China Miéville unfailingly steals the show, but Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan both gave him a run for his money. All three also shared new work - Miéville read a recently-published short story, Abercrombie & Morgan shared lengthy previews of unpublished work. Any one of the three would've been worth the price of admission.
The panels and discussions were also a treat - writers all seem to have very particular opinions, but, by definition, are blessed with the ability to articulate them.
3) Really nice people.
Frequent convention-goers know that there's just no percentage in being a dick. Cutting in line may get you a minute closer to Vampire Love Interest #9, but the person you just shafted is sharing a verrrrry small holiday camp with you for the next two days. Added to that, I think the horror of Pontin's created something of a "Blitz spirit". We're in all in this together / stiff upper lip / after you sir / oooh, is that Joe Abercrombie by the bar?
*I consider myself an impartial observer. I have no manuscript.