I hadn’t exactly planned to be a guest at Liburnicon. I’d been looking for an excuse to go back to Croatia, having enjoyed it so much last year. Mihaela suggested that I try Liburnicon, mainly because it is held in a seaside resort in August, which would give me an opportunity to see some of the lovely Croatian countryside. And, you know, spending August Bank Holiday in the Mediterranean sounds so much better than spending it in England. I had airline points, and promises of places to stay, so I went.
Of course I had forgotten how Croatian conventions work. The only one I had been to was also a Eurocon, and so atypical. Mihaela had warned me at the time that panel discussions were not common in her country. But when I got email from the Liburnicon folks asking me what I would like to talk about I replied on the assumption that they were asking what panels I’d like to be on.
Then I discovered that I would be giving a 50 minute talk on urban fantasy. And that I was listed as a guest in the convention advertising. In fact, being the only overseas guest aside from Jacqueline Carey, I had second billing on the posters.
Being British, I was embarrassed. I would have been so much more embarrassed had I known in advance that those posters were being put up all over the town.
Between then and the convention I persuaded the committee to let me do the urban fantasy thing as a panel with Jacqueline. After all, she has written urban fantasy. And she’s the person people would be coming to the convention to see. We did OK. We’ve both done con panels before. But we both agreed it would have been a better discussion with one or two more people.
I’m getting ahead of myself. The panel wasn’t until Saturday evening. The convention began on Friday night. It took place in a school, the kids being on summer vacation. Mirko and I drove over from Zagreb that evening, and by the time we arrived the place was hopping. The con had a pirate theme, and there were lots of young people in costume. It was also set up for a party. There was food and beer on sale, and a stage set up for live bands.
For some inexplicable reason, the Croatians love Irish music. The two bands booked for the convention were Belfast Food and The Shamrock. Both were apparently local. I now live in hope of finding a good Horslips cover band out there, because that would be awesome.
Jacqueline had a 2-hour program slot on the Friday evening, being interviewed by her local publisher and editor. The translations of the first two Kushiel’s Legacy books are beautiful — big hardbacks with fabulous covers. I hope they do well. Two hours was perhaps a little too long. A half hour reading might have spiced it up a bit, but that’s hard to tell. There was a lot going on that evening, and for most of the attendees the bands were a much bigger attraction than any of the writers.
Liburnicon is much more of a popular culture event than an SF convention. The committee had no money when they started, and didn’t think they could get away with charging a lot for membership, so they looked for sponsorship instead. That has allowed them to keep entry costs low while still bringing in guests. Full membership was just 50 Kuna (about $9), and you could get a one-day pass for less. I paid my own way there (with lots of help from my Croatian friends), but I did get a couple of nights free in the very nice Hotel Astoria, courtesy of the city’s tourist board. I recommend their breakfasts. They have some great sausages, and the cold meats selection included chorizo. The room was very comfortable, and I had free internet.
There are good things and bad about this arrangement. Liburnicon has a large, youthful attendance. It is able to put large posters advertising the event all over town, and have top quality guests from North America. Best of all, a lot of small kids attend. This year they had a pirate theme, and on Saturday afternoon the con put on a treasure hunt for the kids. I only caught the end of it, but it was a joy to behold.
The downside is that the serious SF fans can feel like they are a side-attraction. I understand their disappointment. I would have loved to have had much more involvement myself. But as the same time I am looking at the sheer numbers, and at all of the young people attending. I don’t have official figures, and anyway they are a bit difficult to interpret because some people will have come only for the concert, but my Zagreb friends estimate between 500 and 600 attendees, in a town with a population of under 8,000. We need more conventions like this.
Most of the programming was in Croatian, and most of the serious stuff was in the evening because getting people off the beach during the day is hard. So on Saturday Jacqueline went off with her minder, and I hooked up with Mihaela and her family for a trip along the coast to a beach. It was very relaxing, the scenery was awesome, and I even managed to get my feet wet. I haven’t actually worn a bathing costume since Kevin and I spent a day on the Barrier Reef in 2010.
This part of Croatia is not a place to go if you want quiet, secluded beaches — it is far too close to some big European cities, indeed Opatija was a favorite holiday destination of the Hapsburg emperors. That makes Opatija look like the small offspring of Brighton and Monaco. On the other hand, the weather was mostly fabulous, and the scenery is breathtaking. I wish I could have stayed longer.
When we got back on Saturday evening the first order of business was a fan fund auction. Mihaela has been to Australia and New Zealand as this year’s GUFF delegate, and she needs to raise money for next year. I don’t think that Croatia has ever seen a fan fund auction before, and people at Liburnicon certainly didn’t have the sort of money to drop that you would see at a Worldcon. On the other hand, Mirko proved himself a very able auctioneer, and a lot of fun was had. Goddess help me, Croatians have now been introduced to Johannes Cabal, and Ack-Ack Macaque. I hope I am allowed back.
After that we announced the winners of the 2013 SF&F Translation Awards. I was very pleased to have Zoran Vlahović in the audience, and of course I got happy emails from Karin Tidbeck and the VanderMeers soon afterwards. I do like giving people awards. My thanks to Liburnicon for providing a venue, and to Jacqueline for helping with the award ceremony. Thanks also to Davor Zic who provided a half-page spread in one of the national newspapers, Novi List, reporting on the awards. It is also available online.
As I said, the panel went well. We touched on a lot of topics, and I even got the chance to talk a bit of academic theory. I have done a blog post listing as many of the books and authors I can remember mentioning.
On Sunday the convention had planned a boat trip around the bay, taking in some of the spectacular islands in the region. I had my pirate outfit all ready, but on Saturday night Zeus decided to throw a major strop. The locals tell me that it didn’t class as a “storm” because there was no wind, but no wind meant that it stayed over us for hours. Anything that involves at least 5 hours of thunder and lightning is a storm in my book. Understandably, the cruise was cancelled, and I got in some different tourism in Rijeka, which I have written about here.
I gather from the Zagreb folks that the program schedule got a bit off track later in the evening, and the con staff definitely looked over-stretched. But given how young they were, and how sophisticated the event was, I think they did pretty well.
In summary, I wouldn’t recommend Liburnicon to traveling fans, because so much of the program is in Croatian and so little of it is literary. On the other hand, if you are a writer and get asked to go, jump at the opportunity. It is a really lively event, you’ll be asked to do very little, and the tourism opportunities are fabulous.
My thanks to Igor and his committee for making me so welcome. I hope I provided some good entertainment, and helped put Liburnicon on the map.
My photos of the event are available below.