My 50th birthday was two days before we flew to Dublin 2019. I was juggling work, family, artwork commission, a presentation, fitting artwork into luggage, and the endless production line of convention signage. I barely had time to breathe, let alone anticipate it.
And then we went. And it was amazing.
So many good things happened to me personally at this convention, but also so many good things happened to other people. Or just happened. I had a small, personal moment of bliss strolling on my own through the dealers’ room and being briefly overwhelmed by the sense of good-natured community in all the people who thronged the room. Worldcon is the kind of place where you can strike up a random conversation in a queue and immediately find you have interests in common. (Which is lucky as there was a lot of queueing). Or look around and just enjoy people in cosplay; or geeky t-shirts whose obscure references you get, or don’t; or the random dragon wandering around the concourse; or the lady in the butterfly dress who donated a butterfly to our daughters; or the cheerful cyberpunk madman who took it upon himself to wrangle the queues.
It’s hard to convey the worlds within worlds. At any given moment there are at least 8 other things you could (and probably should) be doing instead. It should be stressful, but is more often like drifting in a warm bath of opportunities, each as appealing as the next, so that missing any one thing feels like a minor irrelevance.
One such opportunity was the workshop for the Belter creole language used in The Expanse (originally from the books but developed and codified in the TV show). I’ve done fan art of The Expanse, and this was a little jewel of a session, a crash course in another language (an invented one) delivered entirely in character in ‘Lang Belta’ by Hanne-Madeleine (Iro) Gates Paine and Kagan MacTane (@Paine_MacTane), with plenty of funny (and only mildly terrifying) audience participation. The two presenters even spoke to each other and cursed their computer in character. We visited them in the bar afterwards and got our names translated into Belter (Iyeng Kelarek and Dzhanet Kelarek if you’re interested). Such an unexpected joy.
Although I did the covers for the Souvenir Book and the Pocket Guide as well as lots of promo artwork ahead of the convention, this was my first time actually exhibiting original artwork (in the Art Show over at the second venue The Point, a slightly inconvenient 10 minute walk or tram ride from the CCD). I arrived on Thursday afternoon just after the show opened which was fairly flustering, but I had a lot of help getting set up from Janet, Niall, Nic and others. Not only did I sell lots of prints, I sold three original paintings/drawings, which frankly was more than I dared hope. (So much so that I’ve opened an Etsy shop on my return!) More than that, admiring all the other art, being part of that group of fellow artists, and even having a fascinating panel discussion with a few of them (Maeve Clancy, Rob Carlos and Kaja Foglio), was hugely fulfilling.
My wife Janet also had a display over at The Point featuring her Bayeux Tapestry recreation plus Tardis, hand-stitched at the original size using authentic techniques. It’s a shame that the full-size Tardis wasn’t able to be on display as planned, which might have helped more people find it! However she got lots of well-deserved praise for it; it’s wonderful.
The convention staff were also incredibly helpful and gracious. I was touched and honoured to be one of those who got a “Dublin 2019 Hero” medal (from Chair James Bacon and Sara Felix) for all the artwork I contributed – all the more so because so many volunteers gave selflessly of their time in the run up to the convention, and also during it. I felt quite lazy for taking the convention off! Incredibly flattering things like this kept happening throughout the con, like being unexpectedly ask to sign a batch of prints of my art work. (Ten minutes of giggling inwardly and pretending to be Neil Gaiman). Just walking around seeing my art on t-shirts, on covers, on Glasgow in 2024 materials was absolutely lovely. My lanyard said “Convention Artist in Residence” which is both a) untrue, and b) absolutely lovely.
Another personal highlight (and cause of giggling) was walking into the Philharmonic concert and seeing my Kraken image on the big screen with the addition of musical notes (Vincent Doherty’s idea, I later learned!) This was the first piece I ever did for the convention, back in 2014 when my friend Emma England asked me to contribute some art (and thank heaven she did). In all that time I never once imagined that the Kraken was playing the Samuel Beckett bridge like a harp. And yet it clearly is. So funny.
I also got a lovely note on my art show display from someone wanting to turn one of my paintings into a costume design (how great is that?) Someone else wants to make a quilt inspired by my Green Woman image.
Lots of people worked harder than me and contributed more than me at this convention, but I feel astoundingly lucky to have been a part of this fantastic event. To have been seen, to have been thanked, to have seen and thanked others in return.
The other other thread of the event was that we got to catch up with many friends in Dublin, and share an exorbitantly priced meal (whose bill is still being worked out to this day). Janet and I also snuck time in our schedules to visit the Book of Kells and The Long Room at Trinity College (it was booked out online but we turned up at opening time and they were still selling tickets at the door). This visit was another small, spiritual moment for me. Particularly the architecturally astounding Long Room, which is as close to a cathedral of knowledge as you’ll ever see (even if rather male-dominated). I’m not religious but it felt sacred and quite moving. And also fantastical, like an intrusion into our reality from a world made of story.
On the very last day of the convention I did the solo presentation about my art that I had foolishly agreed to do when Sara asked me a few weeks earlier. I barely had any time to write this before the convention and certainly hadn’t managed to do a run through. I was still inserting slides the day before! In the event I wasn’t too nervous. This was probably helped by the fact that although the venue was an Odeon cinema screen and therefore huge, there were only 7 people in the audience — including my wife, and our friend Niall who HEROICALLY came to see me despite having been up all night at the Hugo Losers party. This was still more people that I was banking on for a no-name artist in the graveyard slot on the last day. I focused on several milestone bits of art and on my development over the 4 or 5 years leading up to the con (although as Niall pointed out my narrative sort of falters at the point where I go “and then I decided to do a full painting, so I did”.)
So that was Dublin 2019. Or a tiny slice of one person’s experience of it. I didn’t even mention the Masquerade – part costume competition, part performance art – which is so deliciously mad and wonderful that it makes me happy it exists, even if I will never fully understand it. Or the touching closing ceremony. Or the “Glasgow in 2024” party with whisky and Tunnocks teacakes. Or Jeanette Ng’s firebrand speech at the Hugos. Or learning to use Whatsapp like some kind of young person. Or meeting Jim Fitzpatrick who did the iconic Che Guevara image. Or queueing in driving horizontal rain for Hugo Award Ceremony tickets with Janet and Liz.
And now I’m back, and working on artwork for the Glasgow in 2024 bid (by which time our daughters may even be old enough to come with us – Ulp!) and opening a new Facebook page and an Etsy shop and trying to hold onto some small part of the creative positivity I experienced in Dublin.