• Lee Murray

First convention: a chemistry experiment

While I was running about frantically sorting last minute details at the national science fiction and fantasy convention, others were enjoying their first-ever convention experience. When you’ve been to a few, you tend to forget that first-time euphoria. Mark English reminds us what it’s like:


A chemistry experiment by Mark English

Precursors: 1 x Convention, 1 x newbie attendee.

Method: Combine on Friday, agitate mildly Friday night, mix wildly Saturday and Sunday, allow to settle on Monday.

Expected result: Alcohol, some saltiness, stratification of contentment layered with education.

Some stories start at the beginning, have a middle and then an end. The lead up to this, my first convention, started many years ago when I first dipped my virginal toes into the murky depths of SpecFic. So I can’t start there. Though the convention had a closing ceremony, the ideas from the Con, the people you meet and the experiences keep rolling in – so I can’t start at the end. So the middle it will be.

I had no disappointments. The crumpled paper schedule I had printed off from the website, though on occasion at odds with the board in the entranceway, was back to back vivid yellow scrubbed over names and rooms. Mythology, gender, punks, one talk about making a space mission, podcasting, horror, Guest of Honour speeches – I planned an entire weekend of moving from room to room.

Each room bustled with names I had only seen on Twitter, Facebook, or the back covers of horror novels – and here they were all around me. It was such a pleasure to finally put names to faces to people. People who were SFF fans, and people who were writers.

I come to writing from a science background, with a romantic view on mythology, and an icing of cyberpunk; but here were people who were steeped in these topics, debating them – some even had degrees in them. And all were so friendly and happy to share their knowledge – I wished I had prepared some questions! There were times in between that swilled with tea and chat, and yet more fun and discovery (deep dive on mythology, having a connection to land, what really constitutes a ‘tea’, and the joy of sharing extruded chickpea snacks).

Each talk I went to was a gem with something to learn; ideas for improving writing, narration, character building (fictional not personal) and open discussion of the social themes and exploration that underpins science fiction. The highlights for me were the podcasting, psychology for writers, political conflict and world building, AJ Fitzwater GoH speech and the mythology panel.

I can happily say I have come away with a sense of the warmth of the SpecFicNZ and SFFANZ community, and inspired to get back on the writing horse (true, I have a horse that writes for me).

Actual result: Huge wodges of education, inspiration, excitement at identifying names and faces, and just a hint of post-talk euphoria.


Thanks so much for stopping by, Mark! And a reminder – next year’s convention, LexiCon, the 38th national science fiction and fantasy conference, will be held at Taupo’s Suncourt Hotel over Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 2-4 June, 2017. The Guest of Honour is Seanan McGuire – not to be missed!


Mark English BSc (Hons) PhD had always dreamed of being a space scientist even before he knew what it meant. After completing his degree in Physics with Astrophysics he continued into a PhD that covered the design and build of an experiment for the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan. The flight time was so long that by the time the spacecraft arrived at Saturn he had changed jobs and emigrated to NZ where he continued in an IT career. Mark has been interviewed for TVNZ news about his role on Cassini/Huygens, and has presented on the subject many times for a variety of organisations from kid’s clubs to the Royal Society. He has been the treasurer of SpecFicNZ at one point, and is a published author of speculative fiction. Find him on Twitter

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© 2018 by Lee Murray