After that April Fool post I figured that I owed P-Con a proper report too. Here it is.
Let’s start with the hotel, because that’s probably the worst of it. It is a lovely old building, and the Library Bar, complete with several bookshelves full of an eclectic assortment of old books, is absolutely ideal for convention social space. However, the lack of hot water in the showers was a major irritant, and not being able to serve food during the day on Saturday cost them a fair amount of money as well as good will. I’m hoping that with time the convention will lick the hotel into shape, because it is otherwise an ideal location.
Did I say “location”? That was the key to the weekend, really. The con was fine — nothing went badly wrong, nothing was spectacularly good, except the location. I’m sure it is possible to mess up a science fiction convention in Dublin. After all, it has proved possible to mess up a science fiction convention in New Orleans. But when you are in such a lovely location, who cares? Dublin is fast becoming one of my favorite cities, and the people are really nice too. (You do encounter the occasional person who really doesn’t like the English, but you can find that in Cardiff and Glasgow too.)
Having said that, the con went smoothly enough so it would have been enjoyable even if it had been in Blackpool. At under 150 people it wasn’t going to have any spectacular events, and as a generalist convention it didn’t go for any serious in-depth discussions. Panel topics varied from a light saber fighting contest to small press publishing and advice on writing techniques. The dealers’ room wasn’t much to write home about — the comic store across the road and Chapters had much better selections, and we all spent our money on Guinness or at Butler’s Chocolate Café anyway. There was no art show and no costuming, but I think they did have video at some point.
The biggest selling point of the convention, however, is probably the guest list. Irish conventions understand the value of a good bunch of high profile attendees. They can generally only afford one actual paid Guest of Honor a year, but they persuade a whole host of other high profile people to come, and they advertise them as “guests”. This year’s contingent included Charlie Stross, Kim Newman, Juliet McKenna, Chaz Brenchley, CE Murphy, Oisín McGann, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Eugene Byrne and Maura McHugh. Most of these folks had been before, sometimes as Guest of Honor. All of them said they were coming back next year, as did this year’s GoH, Paul Cornell. Occasionally an advertised guest will fail to turn up. Ken MacLeod and Liz Williams both had to pull out this year. But P-Con gets such a large crowd of big names that the loss of one or two doesn’t matter much unless it is someone you desperately wanted to see.
I do feel slightly guilty about plugging the event so enthusiastically. I have no qualms about plugging Finncon because it attracts 6,000 people so a couple of dozen foreign visitors isn’t going to make much difference. Adding a couple of dozen foreigners to P-Con will make a substantial impact on the convention, especially if they come with Expectations. You should treat P-Con as a relaxacon with a few panels and a great venue, not something where you come expecting a big regional convention experience.
Growing the number of Irish attendees, on the other hand, would be a very good thing. I was pleased to see a lot of young fans at the con, including students from a local university who run their own convention. I’m sure that there must be more than 150 fans in Ireland. After all, 500 of them came to see Neil & Amanda. It is just a question of reaching out to them. Obviously they won’t get Neil each year, but the guest list really is spectacular. The venue has room to grow. We were not using all of the function space and there were a lot of tourists in residence.
Something else that was interesting was the number of French people at the con. There were at least 3, possibly more. There were also a lot of European tourists in the city as well, thanks to the Euro working its magic. For a European fan looking to attend a con in the British Isles with plenty of big-name British and Irish writers, P-Con is a pretty good bet. You don’t have to change currency, you are in a major capital city with a good airport where people are used to foreign tourists, and many of the locals don’t count English as their first language either. The French folks at P-Con were probably living in Dublin, but if Mr. Lally could do a bit of marketing to the ESFS community I think we might get a few more folks from Le Continent attending.
At every con there are people who spend most of their time sat behind tables working rather than enjoying the event. I know that feeling, so here is a quick shout out to Brian Nisbet and Katrina McLean who seemed to be doing a lot of table-sitting. Thanks folks! Thanks also to Cuddles who was an excellent room mate. And that reminds me that, Euros aside, Dublin is probably just as easy to get to from Scotland as London is. It is probably easier to get to than Hinckley.
Finally I’d like to talk a bit about the sense of community that the convention has. That’s not just the guests coming back every year. You get a definite sense of the con regulars being a family. The memorial service for Frank Darcy, who chaired the con for a couple of years, was very moving, and Frank’s family is still involved in running the event. At the closing ceremony con chair Peter McLean came up with the lovely idea of presenting Friend of P-Con certificates to all of the past Guests of Honor. Certificates also went to Pádraig Ó Méalóid, who founded the con, Frank’s family, and to Feòrag who designed the con’s logo. Given how often the word “community” is used as an excuse for excluding people from fandom (as in “you are not part of our community”), it is wonderful to see a con that has such a strong and welcoming community spirit.
Next year’s P-Con will be on March 6-7 (which does not conflict with ICFA). The Guest of Honor is Iain M Banks. Ken MacLeod has also promised to attend.