My first impression of the convention was immediately coloured by the holiday park it was set in. Having never been before, the scaffolding and the scruffy nature of the surroundings, as well as the grim weather, set me up rather quickly for failure, but that promptly changed with the friendliness of the staff and the excitement of the attendees.
Our accommodation was plain but comfortable, if a little tricky to find being on a large complex, but the on-site facilities were excellent and the shops well-stocked. I was surprised to see that the dealers section was out of the way from the main convention and situated next to one of the talk halls, but also featured diverse and interesting vendors, including those for tabletop gaming, props and costume. There was a second dealers section dedicated to Clothing items that was also particularly popular. Though I looked hard, I couldn’t spy a single piece of merchandise that was fake – a total revelation after being used to the stalls upon stalls of dodgy merch at the bigger conventions.
The talks themselves were interesting and fun, the vast majority of the interviewees seemed happy to be there and the interviewers asked great questions, and seemed to be well versed in knowing when to hand over to the audience. The thing that struck me most about the guests was the variety – SFW clearly put a lot of effort into getting in guests from across the realms of fandom, and one of the elements that impressed me the most was the authors talks. Darren Shan in particular was a fascinating speaker in a very well conducted interview – his advice was excellent for any aspiring writer no matter the genre they are looking at going into, and I learned a thing or two in the process.
Likewise, the Artyfakes prop demo proved just as popular, and judging by the repeat attendees, was just as informative the second time around. I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which they would openly discuss and congratulate the audiences own creations, as well as methods for improving them.
The theatrical troop that SFW had to entertain the attendees were also fantastic, all of the costumes were inspiring, and their appearance in the show on Saturday night was brilliant if a little brief. The rest of the show however, excluding the excellent Dark Room, to which I haven’t laughed at anything quite so hard in many years, was a little lackluster. The gentleman with the Theremin and the incredibly distasteful buttocks prop was clearly a little too much for the audience to handle, causing many to walk out and miss the aforementioned brilliant Dark Room afterwards.
What I do notice about SFW in particular, was the far higher caliber of cosplay displayed at the event, but despite this there was little stand-offishness, only a desire to share knowledge and enjoy costuming together. The type of attendee was generally middle aged, probably owing to the high ticket and accommodation prices, as well as the transport needed to get to north wales, however this added maturity meant that there was an absence of aggression or insecurity that seems to be present in the atmosphere of some of the bigger city-bound conventions. Indeed, the parties during the evenings though full of fun and antics, were not marred by the usual presence of ambulances or drama.
Ultimately, there were a few bad bits, there were mostly good bits, but unlike the overpopulated, over-merchandised ‘staple’ conventions of 2017, Sci-Fi Weekender was utterly unforgettable.
Photography (c) Danielle Starkey / Starkey-studios