A few weeks ago hundreds of geeks headed to Sheffield for Sci Fi Weekender (SFW) a science fiction convention that has become affectionately known as Geekcamp. Afterwards, they would have been left with merry tales and upset that it was over for another year as the con blues set in – BUT HOLD UP A MINUTE! This year things went a bit different and due to an emergency venue change (don’t ask) the annual Geekcamp was split into two parts which means for one year only campers only need to wait until October for their next dose of Geekcamp! It’s also the 10 year anniversary of the Sci Fi Weekender this year which makes it the perfect time for me to officially cover the greatest Geekcamp here at Just Geeking By for the first time.
An Introduction Of Sorts
I always struggle to fully explain Sci Fi Weekender, to find the right words to create the atmosphere and feeling that is unique to this particular convention. I’ve been to several others and none have come close to being anything like this one. After all, when was the last time you went to an event where pineapples, the sound of a jet engine, baked beans and the Lion King all had something in common?
Have I got your attention now? Good.
(And yes, I promise by the end of this article I will have explained what that all means.)
Instead of fumbling with words this time I’m going to take you back to the start of our first day at Sci Fi Weekender 10 part 1, on a bleary-eyed early Friday morning. Like many people we had travelled down the day before so we could get settled into our respective hotel and rest up before the main event started. This was a change from the norm as usually everything would be situated in a holiday park so you could literally just fall out of bed and into the convention itself. This time it was a bit more complicated and was a 10-minute drive for us from the hotel to the venue.
Despite the early time there was already a queue forming, and it was easy to tell from the t-shirts and friendly faces welcoming old friends that these were veterans like us – or as they’re known; Troopers. Every convention brings geeks together in masses, however, not all of them make you feel as welcome as Sci Fi Weekender and from our first one this crowd had made us feel like old friends. So even if I couldn’t pick out a familiar face just yet I felt at home.
Fast forward a bit to after picking up tickets and press badges, and we’ve headed off to get breakfast as the venue doesn’t officially open until 10:30. I’m standing in line for my much needed morning coffee, wearing my press pass and realising that oh crap I now actually need to put my big girl pants on and go out there, talk to people and do all that jazz. The nerves are settling in. The whole coffee machine thing isn’t helping as I’m notoriously clumsy so I’m currently imagining how much of a mess I’m about to make. Then the woman behind me speaks up and comments on my nails – my hastily put together the night before nails – and I clock her Deadpool t-shirt. Aha, a fellow Weekender! I don’t know if she will ever read this but thank you because that few minutes standing waiting for the coffee machine chatting with you changed my entire weekend.
That is the spirit of Sci Fi Weekender. Random interactions with fellow geeks that leave you with a spring in your step.
Sci Fi Weekender Opening Ceremony
The convention started with the traditional opening ceremony featuring the wonderful Arena 51 dancers. If you haven’t had a chance to see Arena 51 perform and you do then I highly recommend it – you’re in for a treat! From the first time I saw them I’ve been mesmerised by their routines and they get better every year. Their opening number was to Queen’s Flash, naturally, as two of the guests were Flash Gordon alumni Sir Brian Blessed and Sam J. Jones. The latter joined the dancers on stage after their routine to introduce the creator of the Sci Fi Weekender conventions, Jonni!
Jonni introduces each Sci Fi Weekender, and to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Sci Fi Weekender he took us on a trip down memory lane, opening his heart to tell us about the time he was trying to come up with a name for Sci Fi Weekender. The ‘W’ actually stands for Warriors rather than Weekender, although it does tend to become interchangeable. He explained that at the time he hesitated to use the term ‘geek’ because he didn’t want to offend anyone. Instead, Sci Fi Weekender ended up becoming known as Geek Camp anyway!
Thanking everyone for making Sci Fi Weekender what it has become, he informed the cheering crowd that there would be an announcement later that day about next year’s Sci Fi Weekender. The three massive guests lined up for Sci Fi Weekender 11 are Sophia Myles (Underworld, Moonlight), Paul McGann (Doctor Who) and Marina Sirtis (Star Trek)!
Authors & Author Panels
Directly after the opening ceremony was the first of various author panels organised by the wonderful Telos Publishing. As I had a prior engagement I missed much of this panel which was a real shame because what I did get to see was absolutely amazing. Hosted by Adele Wearing and featuring the best selling authors Adrian Tchaikovsky, and George Mann and indie author Lauren K. Nixon, the panel covered a variety of experience and areas which lead to some great discussion topics. The question section at the end was particularly interesting, covering topics about writing crime scenes, and Hollywood’s interest in adapting fantasy novels. If you ever get a chance to see any of these authors at a panel or chat with them for a few minutes I highly recommend it.
Along with Adrian, George and Lauren there was a range of wonderful authors, editors and publishers taking part in panels, available for signings and meet and greets. They were;
- David J Howe [Doctor Who, Horror Author & Editor]
- Sam Stone [Horror Author]
- Paul Finch [Doctor Who & Horror Author]
- Michael Rowley [Editor]
- Petter Sutton [ Author & Editor]
- Robert Harkness [Fantasy & Steampunk Author]
- Fi Angwin [Horror Author]
- Thana Niveau [Horror & Fantasy Author]
- John Llewellyn Probert [Horror Author]
Other panels throughout the weekend were:
- ‘Mixing it Up’;’ Robert Harkness, Fi Anwin, Paul Finch and Lauren K Nixon were talking about writing for different genres.
- ‘Women in Independent Publishing’ with Fi Anwin and Lauren K Nixon.
- ‘Shaping ideas into novels’ with Adrian Tchaikovsky, Paul Finch. Thana Niveau and John Llewellyn Probert.
- ‘Genre Fiction – Where to start’ with Fiona Angwin, Lauren K Nixon and Peter Sutton.
- ‘It’s all Horror to me’; John Llewellyn Probert, Thana Niveau and Paul Finch were sharing their passion for Horror fiction.
- ‘George Mann & Michael Rowley in conversation’ talked about the publishing industry, books, comics, and much more.
- One on One with… Panels with most of the authors who spoke about their work and their experiences with a particular genre. For example, Robert Harkness talked about writing Steampunk for YA, George Mann about comics and Adrian Tchaikovsky about Science Fiction.
It is such a great event for readers, and unlike any other convention, you really do get a chance to speak directly to the authors. There is no one ushering you away as soon as you’ve gotten your book signed. I had a lovely chat with George Mann about comic books and Hollywood which carried on from something he mentioned in one of his panels. As well as talking to him about the upcoming new board game tie in for his Newbury and Hobbs fantasy series (which you can read more about here!).
An “interview” with Sir Brian Blessed
I remember the first time I saw Brian Blessed. I was just a kid, and my dad was introducing me to Flash Gordon, a film that would become one of my favourites and along with Star Wars, would firmly start me on my track to becoming a geek. As Prince Vulcan emerged in all his feathered glory my dad was telling me that this was a British actor called Brian Blessed, and he was pretty excited about it. Now as an adult I’m guessing that it’s because he grew up watching Blessed in Z-Cars and having a British actor in a big American film was pretty unknown in the 80s. As a child, all I knew was that I was completely mesmerised by this massive mad with the booming voice.
Fast forward 15 odd years and I’m sitting waiting for the interview with Sir Brian Blessed to start, thinking that it’s fantastic that the organisers listened to the suggestion from the Sci Fi Weekender Facebook group to get the Dark Room’s John Robertson to interview him. The two of them together is going to be absolutely hilarious.
Well, yes, it was. Just not in the way anyone expected.
You see, if you’ve ever seen a panel with Brian Blessed you will have learned three things; he is even louder than you can possibly imagine, he is the most adult-rated guest at 1 pm in the afternoon ever and he interviews himself.
If you’ve not had the delight to meet John Robertson or seen the Dark Room then I’ll let you know now that John is not a quiet man. He is boisterous, he is bold and he is not afraid to interrupt someone – and he could not get a word in at all. It was absolutely hilarious.
After the panel, I was recapping it with my fiance, Chris, both of us trying to put into words what we just witnessed. The best way is his description of Brian Blessed; “he is his own gravitational force”.
That is exactly what Brian Blessed is and it is wonderful, awe-inspiring to behold and just a little bit scary. He is a force of nature, and his panel was one of the funniest and amazing memories moments I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
To give you a rundown of what was covered in the panel is near impossible, and I think if you spoke to ten different people every single one would remember something entirely different (other than the size of his you know what, which came up multiple times). The topic changed almost every few moments, and it was filled with amazing stories and anecdotes from Brian’s tremendous travels and life. This is a man that doesn’t believe in death or ageing, and I quite honestly believe that when the Reaper comes for him he’ll punch it in the face. Speaking of which; he’s literally punched a polar bear in the face. True story.
One of the funniest stories he told us was about a call from Stephen Hawking. Stephen called him for advice and explains that NASA wants to send him into space. Only Brian Blessed could turn around and tell Stephen Hawking that he might as well go ahead and do it as he’s going to die anyway. The whole story is told by Brian with the voices of his wife and Stephen Hawking, including Stephen laughing at his response which made it even more fun.
For me the best bit was listening to Brian recount a chat he had with Star Wars creator George Lucas. Telling us about how Lucas was explaining the scene in the Gungan City of Naboo where Qui-Gon Jin and his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi were seeking aid from Boss Nass to him, Brian stepped up to the front of the stage. He told us that Lucas was trying to tell him what he wanted, so Brian just improvised on the spot. Peering down at us from the stage just as Boss Nass did to the two Jedi Brian slipped straight into the role of the Gungan leader, and for that moment it was like being right there in the movie. As a massive Star Wars fan, it was simply magical and a memory that I will treasure forever.
There is no one like Brian Blessed, and there never will be. If you get a chance to see him at a convention then do so because it will be an experience of a lifetime. One thing that is for sure is that even though you know he is loud, you will never be prepared for how loud he is actually is. He went on BBC Watchdog to test the sound of his voice and he is officially louder than a jet plane. You can catch some of the panel in this recap of Day 1 by Wozza S on youtube.
Area 51 presents Fight Knight!
Each year at Sci Fi Weekender there is the Imaginarium, a wonderful evening of Science Fiction and Fantasy guests who have thrilled and entertained guests for hours. This time was a bit different as the main guest acts will take place in October at Part 2. So this time Area 51 put on a special show – Fight Knight!
Yes, that is an intentional misspelling and if you’re already groaning then you’re correct to do so 😉 Fight Knight featured the Knights from Knightmare Live in a special event designed for Sci Fi Weekender. Featuring three guests, John Robertson (The Dark Room), Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) and Ian Beattie (Game of Thrones), who each picked a Knight champion who would fight for them. It was essentially WWE but with Knights! So there was drama, and backstabbing alongside some fantastic choreographed fights. The guests really got into it too which made it even more fun as all three of them were really competitive! At one point when Ian Beattie’s champion was being booed for being too mean Ian turned to the audience and yelled at us; “I bet you’re all Ned Stark fans, aren’t you?”
It was a lovely family-friendly entertainment that could be enjoyed by guests of all ages and interests, with the choice of guests being really well suited to the whole experience. It was certainly corny at times but that was all part of its charm.
Including Doctor and the Medics!
Due to an all-day migraine and a lack of seating at the venue, we didn’t stay for the evening entertainment after Fight Knight which was a shame because there was some great entertainment lined up! Sci Fi Weekender favourite Professor Elemental started the party, followed by the incredible Doctor and the Medics known for their 70s hit Spirit in the Sky. Another familiar face at Sci Fi Weekender, Level Up Leroy, finished off the night with his nerdy music mix-ups until after midnight.
How many of my clues have you spotted so far? If you’re a bit confused; don’t worry you’ve not missed them. I did promise by the end of my recap that I would explain everything and that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of this post 😉 My recap ended up being longer than expected so I divided it into parts.
Unfortunately, that did mean that most of the clues ended up in part 2, so for the rest of the mystery you’ll need to head onto:
Cosplay finals, singing pirates and more!
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