• Lee Murray

Smashed avocado, fools, a book launch, and an award

Updated: Apr 15, 2018

A fancy name for my Conclave III report, plus the results of the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Awards.


Conclave III, the 39th annual science fiction and fantasy convention (30 March – 2 April, 2018) begins with an early morning pick-up and a laughter-filled road trip with my colleague Piper Mejia through foggy Matamata flatlands. The early start means we avoid the holiday traffic, but arrive ravenous. Piper knows a place where we eat yummy smashed avocado breakfast salad, turning up at convention venue fortified for an hour of reunions with colleagues and friends, first at the registration desk, and then at the Traders’ Faire.

Once again, I assuage my book addiction by buying a bunch of signed copies.


There’s still time before lunch to head upstairs for Guest of Honour Steve Wheeler’s Plastic to Prose workshop-presentation. The author of the Fury of Aces hard sci-fi series, he’s a knifemaker and swordsmith as well as being a model-making ‘junkie’. There are only a few of us attending the session, so we get an opportunity to handle the models, while Steve tells us about how he uses them to inspire and inform his work and ensure the technical authenticity that hard science fiction lovers demand. We discuss using craft as an innovative way to engage student writers. Steve has lots more to say, but Piper and I have to rush away for the launch of SpecFicNZ’s showcase anthology, Te Kōrero Ahi Kā.


Simon Petrie, Darian Smith, , Kevin McLean, Piper Mejia, and Grace Bridges

IK Paterson-Harkness, Jane Percival, and me.


Eight of the book’s contributors have turned up, including editors Grace Bridges and myself, so we discuss the status of the project and its role in engaging our local writing community. Afterwards there’s the usual herding sheep situation as we try to get eight writers to stand still for a photo, followed by a mass signing event and much borrowing of pens.


Then we’re on to Norman Cates’ WETA presentation to get the skinny on all the new techniques making our movie viewing epic. As is customary with Norman’s presentation, I could tell you about all the wonderful clips he showed us, but then I’d have to kill you, or Norman would, or WETA’s lawyers would have to engage a hitman. In any case, it was cool.

With Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Grace Bridges and Piper Mejia


Next up, was the Other Voices panel, moderated by Stephen Litten, where we are joined by Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body author Simon Petrie and Indiana fantasy writer, Laura VanArenDonk Baugh. It’s a lively discussion, with some great insights from my fellow panellists around the definition ‘other’ and the value of including marginalised and foreign-to-us voices on our reading lists. We discuss the vagaries of translation and the layering of culture that occurs when works are translated by a second voice. We touch on appropriation and the discourse surrounding Aboriginal and Māori mythologies. Panellists and audience members raise some seminal works from other cultures, including French, Italian, Japanese titles, which we all feel should be included on our must-read lists.


Daphne Lawless, Fan Guest of Honour and one half of the Cousins of Mercy filking team, gives an insightful and inspiring speech on the value of filking in community building, and the role of youth in perpetuating community. Both provocative and timely, the speech will be reproduced with Daphne’s kind permission on the SpecFicNZ website. Grab a coffee and have a read: I highly recommend it.


Steve Wheeler (GOH) talks hard science fiction


I spend the last hour before the meal-break in the bar catching up with a colleague, talking distribution and who to approach for a blurb for his upcoming book project. In the evening, we are staying off campus with a local friend, who takes us to Dominion Road for the ‘best Asian food not cooked by my mother’ that four people can eat for under $60.


On Sunday, we reprise our yummy smashed avocado breakfast salad, before joining a presentation by Karen Miller, author of the Godspeaker, Mage and Rogue Agent series as well as numerous tie-in novels in the Star Wars and Stargate universes. Hugely engaging, Karen’s answers to the Q&A are frank and informative. She’s a terrific speaker, a born storyteller, and she has us all enthralled.


Immediately afterwards, renown New Zealand fantasy writer Lyn McConchie gives an excellent talk about the periphery of writing, a primer for new and established authors on dealing with publishers and agents and maximising revenue from your writing.

There’s a quick change of rooms, and I join authors Simon Petrie and Mark Johnson for a panel on Fools in Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s good topic for April Fool’s Day, and the session is well attended by convention goers who provide some lively contribution from the floor. Mark and I have done extensive research ‒ we called for ideas on our social media feeds ‒ so using our Facebook cheat sheet, there is lots to discuss, including whether fools are forcibly comic, their role in the plot, the wise fool as a moral compass and foil to authority, and the fool-antagonist. The panellists are fortified throughout the hour with chocolate eggs kindly provided by the SFFANZ secretary, Lynelle Howell. Note to future convention chairs: writers will occasionally work for chocolate! Then I rush upstairs to catch a fascinating discussion on tie-ins by experts Karen Miller (Star Wars and Stargate) and Lyn McConchie (Andre Norton’s Beastmaster series and, more recently Sherlock Holmes).


Thank heavens for those chocolate eggs, because I miss lunch, stopping by to help out with the Sir Julius Vogel voting. The committee always welcome help from volunteers, or from anyone interested learning more about the voting process. Naturally, you’re not allowed to invigilate any category where you might have a conflict of interest, and everyone involved is sworn to secrecy regarding the results, but it’s a great opportunity to have a look behind the scenes at the work of the SFFANZ and the SJV committee.

There’s an additional treat in store for me when I make in back to the conference rooms: Darian Smith has baked me a cake as a thank you for some editing I did for him many eons ago. I had completely forgotten but, happily for me, Darian had not. The cake is peach and passionfruit and decorated with chocolate eggs, so it would have been rude not to accept it graciously. There is no time to stash it, so I take it with me to back-to-back Guest of Honour speeches by Steve Wheeler and Karen Miller. Fabulous speakers both, afterwards my brain is so boggling with information that I skip the next session in favour of a slump in a comfy armchair, a cup of tea, and a chat with Piper, Lynelle, and local fan personality Lorain Clark.


The last panel session of the day is my favourite of the convention. Featuring (Left to Right) Mark Johnson, SpecFicNZ president Grace Bridges, Laura VanArendonk Baugh and Starlight’s Children author, Darian Smith, it is a wonderful discussion on worldbuilding, with insights into how the panellists came up with their own worlds, how to keep the magic/science consistent, using worlds to highlight socio-political themes, the freedom and limitations of the author when writing in a fantasy world, and why it’s even necessary for writers to go to all the trouble when they have a perfectly good contemporary setting to work with. We are still talking world building forty minutes after the close of the session, leaving ourselves only a few minutes to change for the banquet.


Daphne Lawless (L) and friends entertain



The evening’s entertainment is provided by Guest of Honour Daphne Lawless, who sings some best-loved filks. My favourite is Fan Fiction Writer, sung to the tune of McCartney’s Paperback Writer.



SFFANZ Secretary Lynelle Howell looking glam!


Daphne’s performance is followed by the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, hosted by Norman Cates and Lynelle Howell with the trophies presented by the Guests of Honour. I am astounded when my crime-noir novel HOUNDS OF THE UNDERWORLD co-authored with my partner in darkness Dan Rabarts, wins the award for Best Novel against a field which includes fantastic work by JC Hart, Richard Parry, Lyn McConchie, and Darian Smith. Karen Miller presents me with my tenth Sir Julius Vogel Award trophy, Dan’s fourth, and our third award won jointly for a collaborative project. I blubber some thanks to Dan, to Jennifer and John at Raw Dog Screaming Press, our beta readers (Sandra Dusconi, Debbie Cowens, Grant Stone, and Simon Fogarty) our champions (Paul Mannering, Jake Bible, and Jeff Strand), the SJV committee (Lynelle, Norman and Jan), our editor Hanna JL Gribble, and finally to Daniele Serra for the gorgeous cover art. I’m a little overwhelmed so I hope I do not forget anyone. Whoops, I forget to mention Chrissy Rabarts and David Murray. (Please, no one tell them.)



Still in a daze, I am up again to accept Sean Monaghan’s award for Best Short Story, for Crimson Birds of Small Miracles (Asimov), and then again to present the award for Best New Talent to Gareth Ward, author of YA steampunk title The Traitor and the Thief. It is a wonderful result when six of our Te Kōrero Ahi Kā contributors come away from the ceremony with pointy prongs in the professional categories. A full list of the results is here.


Lyn McConchie and Laura VanArendonk Baugh take first and second in the Conclave III story competition, and Gareth Ward wins the masquerade costume title.


Cosplayer: Alan Parker


The awards completed, the celebrations are in full swing, but it is the end of the convention for Piper and me, as we have to back in Tauranga tonight. There are last minute photos and hugs and farewells, then we slip into the night, beginning our late-night road trip home, done for another year.

Me, Gareth Ward, Simon Petrie, Grace Bridges, Darian Smith, John Toon, and Jo Toon

Lynelle Howell, Jan Butterworth, and Norman Cates


Next year's event, the 40th national science fiction fantasy and horror convention, GeyserCon, will be held from 1-4 June, 2019 at the Holiday Inn in Rotorua. Guests of Honour include Jonathan Maberry and Kaaron Warren. Early bird registrations are currently open here.

Cosplayer: Benjamin Rastrick


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© 2018 by Lee Murray