Fun and discoveries at ‘Conflux9’ in Canberra for 2013

Hi and welcome back to The Green Castle!

Within the past week, I’ve had the  chance to attend the annual ‘Conflux’ convention for Speculative Fiction, held in my home city of Canberra, Australia.  Although usually held in early October, this year Conflux9 was on Thursday 25 – Sunday 28 April at the Rydges Capital Hill hotel, which is located between the suburbs of Forrest and Manuka in the city’s Inner South.  The different time of year was also to make it easier to combine with the longer-running NatCon that is traditionally held in April and in various cities. This year being Canberra’s own centenary year, the two cons merged to form a super con. 🙂

This year’s convention theme was: ‘Steampunk, Junk and Angels’ -which was played out in various ways throughtout the four days of activities and in the striking design of the program book’s cover art…and in concentrated forms at the Steampunk High Tea and Masquerade dance in the ‘Junkyard Cathedral’. The Steampunk theme was also pretty eveident in various panel sessions and the launch of Richard Harland’s latest Steampunk novel, Song of the Slums.

Conflux9 -‘the con’ from here on in – really was a great four-day event that offered a wealth of story-telling, many chances for social gatherings on small and large scales, panel sessions covering a wide range of Speculative Fiction topics and themes as well as various aspects of the story-telling craft, a very friendly and informal atmosphere and of course daily chances to discover and buy lots of fantastic new books. 🙂  How informal? Well, how many major awards ceremonies do you know of or get to go to that happily accommodate jeans&t-shirt kind of clothes…and that’s after a full day of being busy with whatever activities you chose to try out then heading straight to the ceremony venue? 🙂

More assorted features of the con: annual Art Show, Interview with International Guest of Honour (Nalo Hopkinson from Canada), the entertaining Opening and Closing ceremonies, a major award ceremony on the Saturday night for presenting the national-level annual Ditmar Awards, a Cocktail Reception, a Market Day that expanded the range  of merchandise stalls, plus various book launches and the traditional end-of-con ‘Dead Dog Party’ on early Sunday evening.

A personal highlight: as a member of the Canberra Speculative-fiction Guild (CSfG),  I was very keen to make sure I was at the launch of the group’s newest anthology, Next, on the Friday night. Although I don’t have a story in the Next anthology, I’ve been following the project’s progress as have so many Guild members; and while I enjoy book launches in general anyway, this event had both an additional personal interest and also some additional inspirational value. 🙂   This launch presented the tangible end results of about 1 1/2-years’ work since the previous collection (i.e Winds of Change, launched at Conflux7 in 2011), many personal creative breakthroughs and a general achievement by the Guid itself, in continuing as a successful community group.  It was edited by Guild members Simon Petre and Rob Porteous.

The guest speakers who launched Next – i.e, the writers Richard Harland and Janeen Webb – both did a fine job of setting the scene and making the all-important declaration. Rik and Leife, two of the CSfGers represented in the anthology, did energetic short readings of their respective stories.  Once the launch was declared Official and more wine and nibbles were consumed, a substantial portion of the contributing writers lined at up the Signing Table, checked their pens were reliable and it was time for the audience to do some keen autograph-hunting,  to personalise freshly-bought copies. 🙂

Interview with International Guest of Honour: Nalo Hopknson, interviewed by writer Justine Larbalestier:  the audience reaction suggested that everyone attending this feature event was really pleased they did make a point of being there, as the Guest f Honour gave so many interesting and funny stories about her background of life in the Caribbean, New York then Canada, her process of gaining recognition as a writer, experiences of the famous Clarion writers’ workshop, publication of first book and general matters about story-telling, non-writer work for a a Toronto arts council, Literary and/vs Genre Fiction. She also gave some really good answers to questions from the audience and worked those into some of what she had already said, so the overall experience was very inclusive as well as informative and fun . And really, isn’t that ability of a writer  one of the classic gauges of personal value for attending such a session at any writers’ event? 🙂

Panel sessions: for a four-day event, there sure were lots of choices for panels sessions! 🙂  Some of my own choices included: Crime tropes, essence of Steampunk stories, self-publishing experiences and strategies, “putting the heart back into super-heroes”, alternative uses of magic and using history to inspire fiction. All the panel sessions I attended were rewarding in one way or another. Other panel topics/themes in the program included: Dr Who, conventions themselves, promotion, mentoring and the ethics of immortality.

Workshops were offered too, plus readings by authors and a ‘gauntlet’ session for story-tellers who felt a bit competitive. 🙂

Opening & Closing Ceremonies; Ditmar Awards: long-time Canberra writer Craig Cormick did an excellent job as MC of the  con’s Opening & Closing Ceremonies, with his light-hearted and creative approach that tied in with the con’s on-going thematic attachments to magic and characters, he engaged the audience right from the start, took care to cover the  ‘house-keeping’ matters and kept each ceremony “moving along nicely” for pace.

The Ditmar Awards, presented on the Saturday night of the con, were hosted by a different writer: Sydney-based Deborah Biancotti. She also used  a generous amount of humour to keep that ceremony progressing well.  Screens were set up to show Tweets of what was happening during the ceremony and there was an intriguing attempt to make a Lego model of SF writer Gary Wolfe.  A couple of lucky audience members even won an opportunity each to go up on stage and announce nominees for an award category and do the Opening of the Envelope and Reading Out the Name. 🙂 As the Ditmars are substantially based on fan votes, this was a great way to keep the awards connected to the audience full of fans, as well honouring the delighted recipients.  I’m very happy to report that CSfG members Shauna O’Meara (for art works) and Kaaron Warren (book and story categories) were among those collecting fine trophies designed by artist Lewis Morley.  Again, that ‘something extra’ that lasted through the con days, was very much a part of the Ditmars ceremony. 🙂 

Overall impressions? Inspiring, fascinating, informative, sociable and fun.

**Huge thanks! to the Co-Chairs Donna Maree Hansen and Nicole Murphy, the whole Conflux9 committee and hotel staff…and everyone who helped make it happen by simply being there and having a fine time. :)**

Note: for some extra samples of personal Conflux9 experiences, here is a link to the list of various personal ‘wrap-up’ blog posts by other attendees who have already contributed reports for the con’s official blog.