Fairly early yesterday afternoon, my friend Pádraig posted on FB to say that after a sudden turn for the worse, Iain Banks had died early yesterday morning. I didn’t repost until I saw it confirmed elsewhere, because although there was really no chance Pádraig was wrong, I was still holding out a tiny thread of hope.
Honestly, I have no business being so saddened by his death. I met him at a small convention in Belfast over the course of a weekend, and was completely charmed by him. I still, horrifyingly, haven’t read any of his books. But he was such an incredibly delightful man, so full of warmth and laughter, that it was impossible not to feel as though I knew him. That seems to be a common thread through those who met him briefly, from what I’ve been reading online in the wake of his death.
Anyway, so another friend, Nicholas, reposted his 2007 Mecon report, and I thought that was a good idea, so I’m reposting mine (albeit edited down, because it was very long. And still is, but less so now.).
Photograph here by Malcom Hutchison, featuring Iain, me, and Michael Perkins. I have no idea at all what we were roaring with laughter about, but we were sure having a good time. :)
I had a handful of particularly favorite bits, the first of which was our esteemed guest of honor, Iain Banks–who is a tall Scotsman with a rather dignified look to himself until you get close enough to see the twinkle in his eye, and then you suspect the dignity might be a bit of a front–giving his GoH speech. Whilst pacing back and forth as he spoke, he stepped in something red and sticky, and was somewhat distracted by examining the heel of his foot, which he twisted up behind himself to look at, and while hopping around, said, unexpectedly, “If I was a baby, I could smell my own heel!”
natural20/Brian was sitting next to me, and while everybody laughed, he and I thought that was *particularly* hilarious, and nearly had tears running down our faces as we gasped for air through laughter. Furthermore, we spent the rest of the day wheezing, “If I was a baby,” at each other, and dissolving into hysteria again. So that was definitely a good bit. :)
Let’s see. Starting with Friday night, then, the pub quiz team I was on covered itself in glory by coming in dead last a second year in a row. We’re lulling them all into a false sense of security so we can come back and obliterate them, that’s what it is. While the quiz was going on, the con organizers came by and slipped pieces of paper into guest hands, so people would know what panels they were on. Paul, on my right, got one, and Leah, on my left, got one, but I did not get one. After a while, when the quiz was over, I said, “Um?”, and was told that since I hadn’t answered the email regarding which panels I’d like to be on, I hadn’t been put on any.
That was sort of the point at which, “Um?” became the functional word for the actual convention part of the whole weekend. The email hadn’t gone out until Wednesday night or so, and it’s true, I hadn’t gotten to it, but I’d figured I’d just be put onto panels anyway. I’m a novelist, after all, and they knew that, so it seemed reasonable to expect I’d be put onto appropriate panels. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. They said, “Just show up to whatever you want,” and I sort of went, “Um, okay,” though shortly thereafter Paul, outraged on my behalf, made them actually sit down and figure out panels for me, which mostly meant I volunteered for things and they wrote them down. Sadly, a list of panels with their panelists was never posted anywhere the attendees could see it, so nobody had any idea at all who was going to be on any panel, which can dramatically affect whether you want to *go* to one, so that was kind of a problem.
Worse, by the end of the weekend it sort of felt like a lot of the con had been the Paul, Catie And John & Leah Show, as J&L had actually answered the email, and Paul had not only answered the email, but then thought better of his choices and answered it a second time, resulting in being on some totally inappropriate panels (which he removed himself from) but not on any appropriate ones (so he put himself on those ones, which kept him fairly busy). And, as ianmcdonald also hadn’t answered the email, he wasn’t on any panels either, and I’m not sure Alistair was on anything aside from the novel-writing panel, and the only thing Iain Banks (the guest of honor, for heaven’s sake) was scheduled for was his GoH speech on Saturday, we felt a bit as if people must be getting very tired of us.
Also somewhat frustratingly a lot of the panel topics were very generic (and, as one of the attendees said to me, seemed heavily focused on telvision and comics, which was fine, but not really what they’d hoped for), and since nobody knew until we got there what panels we were *on*, we hadn’t had any time to prepare for them. So we went into panels going, “Well, um, let’s see what we can wing.”
MeCon is, as a con, quite small and therefore extremely inclined (because everyone *fits*) to sit in the bar chatting, but there was really an awful lot of that going on. So by Sunday morning, after Paul had sat on a panel entirely alone, we’d sort of decided to stage a revolution and hijack a panel, so we went around to all the guests and said, “We’re hijacking a 4 o’clock panel, are you up for it?” and everyone said, “Yeah!”
Previous to that, though, we had the novel and short stories writing workshop, which I only just now realized that had I not volunteered for it, Alister would’ve been sitting on alone, too. Furthermore, since nobody had seen Iain Banks on a panel all weekend, I went and asked the con folk if he was scheduled for the novels panel, which seemed rather like a natural fit. The guy I asked didn’t know, so I just went and asked *Iain*, who said, “I’ve no idea! No one’s asked me!”
So, feeling rather like the inmates were running the asylum, I said the panel was in a few minutes in the second room, and that if he’d like to join us he’d be most welcome to. And he did, and I think most of the attendees showed up for it. It was actually a fantastically fun panel (they were all *fun*, don’t get me wrong, the weekend was highly enjoyable all around, but not at all organized), and included such gems as Al demonstrating how he typed (pounding away with his index fingers and kicking his feet wildly), Iain demonstrating how *he* typed (pounding away with his index fingers, then when they got tired, his middle fingers, then when they got tired, his nose, and then, outrageously, standing up and making as if to drop his pants, explaining, “Of course, I usually hit two or three keys at once when I do this…”), and then me saying gosh I touch-typed and it wasn’t very dramatic at all except for I had the most awesome chair/keyboard in the whole world, and I knew it was true because every writer who’s ever seen it has gone THAT’S SO COOL! :)
There was a point about fifty minutes in when the room next door had a burst of laughter, and Iain said, “Oh, no, they’re having more fun than we are, quick, everybody laugh really loudly,” and everyone *did*, and then burst into applause, and then laughed more. It was great. :) But the whole thing was going quite well, really, with questions from the audience and plenty of commentary on our different writing styles (as in the process, not as in the work itself) and we were going along great guns, and it got to be a few minutes past the hour, and they threw us out of the room.
So after that we basically retired to the bar, where we lurked in anticipation of the 4 o’clock hour when we would implement our plan of hijacking a panel. It was actually pretty funny, with all of us getting rather excited about the whole prospect, and at four we scooped up everyone we could, said, “Come with us, we’re hijacking a panel!” and went downstairs with no idea of what we were going to do, but by God we were going to do it in full force with every pro in the house. :)
The poor guy whose panel we hijacked took it pretty well. The topic had been supposed to be about dead authors telling tales, and he was clearly surprised when dozens of people swept into the room. He said something like, “Wow, I didn’t think so many people wanted to talk about this!” And we, quite cheerfully, if perhaps not entirely kindly, said, “We don’t! We’re hijacking your panel! We’re going to do something else entirely!” He looked rather bewildered, but pleasantly so (an expression he never fully recovered from), and said, “Oh, okay,” while the pros all sat down around him or in the front row of the room.
We ended up having a general Q&A, which was actually so successful that I can’t help thinking it’s probably a *great* way to generally end a small convention like that one: get all the pros on the panel and just let ‘em talk and answer questions and behave like goofballs and have a good time. We heard some really funny stories:
Iain Banks’s brush with fame: he’s one of the knights in the big battle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and John Cleese said hello to him :)
Alistair Reynolds’s somewhat less delightful brush with a fellow who was buying his book: “Would you like me to sign that?” Al asked, having waited all his life to be in this situation. “I wrote it!” “You did not,” said the man. “I did!” Al said, but he was in running shorts and a t-shirt, and had no ID to prove himself. “You did not,” the man said. “He doesn’t live here.” “I do live here!” protested Al. “You do not,” said the man, and everyone at the news shop was starting to stare by now, and poor Al slunk off and didn’t buy another newspaper for months.),
and Ian McDonald’s Muppets, and it was all really quite fantastic. We felt that it’d been quite the success, and it was a really good note to end the panel part of the convention on.
(x-posted from The Essential Kit)