Last weekend I had the pleasure of going to Olympia, a great big exhibition hall in Kensington, and attending the literary bit of a colossal Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. Downstairs there were sights that wouldn’t look out of place in that strange spaceport of Mos Eisley. Ramshackle stalls displaying all kinds of memorabilia and tat were being perused by beings in all manner of dress and disguise. We saw a great many little ponies, aliens, elves and Jake the Dogs jostling about in the cramped thoroughfares. Bewildered one-time stars of space shows and cult films sat at desks with felt pens ready to sign autographs and eight-by-tens bought by choosy obsessives.
And upstairs the cream of the UK’s Young Adult fiction writers, publishers and readers were gathering in a parallel and no less feverishly excited world. Stalls were laid out with shiny new paperbacks and there were posters, badges and freebies on offer. Lokis and Jedi and Spidermen sat in deck chairs reading novels about Goths and dragons and adolescents-with-issues. It was wonderful to be reunited with the formidable ladies from Firefly, publishers of my new novel. Firefly had what I certainly feel was the most colourful, sophisticated and classy-looking display of the weekend.
There were talks and discussions, readings and workshops. I myself gave a writing workshop with my one-time colleague, Julia Bell. (Time might have been too short, the acoustics strange and the number of students a mite too large, but all seemed to go well.) Signing afterwards for two hours, it was lovely to talk to people and sign their copies of ‘Lost on Mars’, and also to meet those who brought treasured items of my strange and varied backlist: I signed Doctor Who audio cds and novels, and proofs of novels I published many years ago. I love meeting people who’ve kept a far better archive of my own past productions than I have myself!
The whole thing was fascinating and fun. There were lots of funny moments and surreal ones. I loved glimpsing the hero of ‘Gremlins’, now middle-aged and looking lonely in his cubicle without his pet Mogwai. And heroes from Star Trek: Voyager, long-returned from the Delta Quadrant but still looking vaguely dazed. The most cheery and magical-looking of all the Sci-Fi celebs must be Sylvester McCoy, I think. We only glimpsed him from afar, but he really did look as if he’d dropped in from some universe much more way-out and fun than ours.
My favourite funny moment involved another Doctor Who star. Returning, late in the day, to attend the YALC party for writers and publishers, my companion and I waited for a lift on the ground floor. When the doors opened a vast stream of tired cosplayers came tumbling out. There seemed to be far more pouring out of the elevator than it could possibly contain. When my friend and I stepped aboard, only a few wilting souls remained, pressed against the walls. One of them was ex-Doctor Who, Colin Baker, looking mithered in his linen suit. There was a shortish woman dressed as something-or-other gazing up him in awe.
‘Is this lift bigger than the TARDIS, Doctor?’ she asked.
He gave a superior and huffy sniff. ‘It’s certainly SMELLIER!’
It was perfectly in character for his Doctor persona, but the poor woman looked rather crushed. He rushed to make amends, ‘Oh, but it’s a lift filled with lovely people, of course!’ But I fear it was too late.
It was one of those wonderful, charming, socially awkward moments that always seem to happen when someone from Doctor Who is in the house. I’ve no idea why that is, but I relish these moments when I witness them.
And even though we never saw hide nor hair of Comic Con’s headliners – Sigourney Weaver, Judy Blume or the bloke inside Boba Fett – it seemed like we’d had our share of classic moments.