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14 October 2009 @ 08:49 am
I'm fairly sure I haven't attended a Dr Who convention in about 20 years, but when a convention was announced dedicated to the Doctor Who novels, which was going to take place in B's favourite Manchester pub, I didn't feel I had much excuse not to go.

The Lass O' Gowrie is a pub in central Manchester with a reasonable range of guest ales, decent (though not spectacular) food and a landlord with fannish tendencies... very fannish tendencies. We're talking a back room with walls decorated by panels from Doctor Who comics and original artwork by Adrian Salmon (Dr Who artist). I once started explaining these to some of B's work colleagues when I met them there for a swift half one afternoon but then decided that maybe this constituted obsessive behaviour.

The venue and likely attendence seemed to match pretty well. The pub was bustling all day without being crowded. I have a sneaky suspicion that there were more guests than actual punters, but hopefully money was nevertheless made on the beer and food (although we did overload the kitchen very rapidly at lunchtime and it shut down). the_ladylark (who I was pleased to meet in person for the first time) and I got fed in good time but that is because the_ladylark had the cunning idea of ordering our lunch before the start of pre-lunch session and asking for it to be delivered at the end of the session.

The two sessions before lunch were rather marred by microphone problems meaning it was really only possible to hear the voice of one person on each panel Dan Blythe and Paul Cornell respectively. This seemed to work much better in the afternoon although that may have been because the_ladylark and I made the effort to sit nearer the front. The main room of the pub is quite long and thin with a raised area at one end, where panelists sat, and the bar at the other and a kind of err... jutty-outy bit halfway down. This lead to a natural bisection of the room so that those at the "stage end" were generally sitting quietly listening to the panel while those at the bar end tended to be chatting. The natural consequence was that if you were in the bar end it was pretty tricky to hear.

The panels ranged from some pretty successful ones, I would say, on the value of books about Past Doctors, the extent of the novels' influence on NuWho and the differences between the Virgin and the BBC approaches to Doctor Who novels to ones which, while entertaining, found it difficult to say much about the panel topic: whether books were the natural home of Dr Who, and one on Dr Who Canon. This was odd because the two latter topics were ones you would have expected (on a casual viewing of, Gallifreybase say) to be particularly contentious but in both cases the authors and most of the audience were in sympathy with one argument ("Dr Who has many homes, of which the written word is one, oh I remember the target novelisations!" in the first case and "there is no such thing as Canon" in the second or possibly "Everything is Canon... ical... even The Fishmen of Kandalinga... and The Sinister Sponge... Yes, Human Nature really did happen twice. Did you know I got married on the set of Dimensions in Time just to annoy my wife?*"). Mindful of the opinions of my flist, I did ask the Canon panel how, if there was no such thing as Canon, they approached the question of maintaining continuity and consistency which did lead (I thought) to some interesting discussion of how you need to be respectful of other author's work in all media of Dr Who and should, as far as possible, try not to directly contradict anything and certainly not to directly contradict something out of ignorance. Cornell, I think it was, pointed out in particular that you didn't want to accidentally duplicate stories either, even if they'd appeared in a novel or under the aegis of Big Finish. Of course doing that deliberately is another thing altogether (*ahem* Human Nature *ahem*). Stuart Douglas (who triggered the whole collapse of Outpost Gallifrey (possibly) by arguing about Canon with its residents) absolutely refrained from heckling during the Canon lack-of-debate, but he said he'd only been allowed in on the promise of exemplary behaviour. In the end the panel discussion descended somewhat into speculation on whether Mags Halliday, who was reportedly watching via the live feed and texting people, had got dressed yet.

Interesting points raised or discussed by the panels included; the way that the BBC novels, by being less self-consciously "ground-breaking" actually enabled a wider range of story-telling; how much of the novels' influence on NuWho (e.g. the destruction of Gallifrey) was stuff that the series might have adopted anyway even without the novels there as a direct influences, since they were, in some ways just a reflection of how you would construct Dr Who as a very late twentieth/early twenty-first century tv show. Justin Richards came out and said that actually it wasn't the case that a story designed for one particular Doctor could be naturally reworked to include another and he admitted that that had sometimes caused them problems. Paul Magrs confessed to being the man who finally stopped the Past Doctor Adventures stating on the back which two stories they were set between; this was because he set Verdigris between two target novelisations and the continuity didn't work with the TV show. Simon Guerrier told what I thought, at the time, was an amusing Primeval anecdote although the fact that I can only half-remember it at three days' distance suggests it isn't so amusing out of context. It involved Jason Flemyng fanboying him when he turned up on the Primeval set (he was writing the first Primeval novel to feature Danny) and singing the theme tune to the Dalek movies at him - I mention this only because I'm sure I have fans of the "craggy love god" on my flist, even if they refuse to admit the fact.

Meanwhile the "cool kids" were in the snug (the backroom with the Adrian Salmon artwork). This definition meant the the set of cool kids was a rather interesting shifting phenomena including Paul Magrs, Justin Richards and David McIntee. Obviously it also included me, Brax and theladylark except when we were being fannish and watching panels. It was in the snug I had one of those moments where a random stranger goes "I read your blog. You destroyed outpost Gallifrey!". The random stranger turned out to be Ian Potter, who had first noticed the blog because I was one of the few people actually posting about Time and Relative Dissertations in Space when it came out (or in my case several months after it came out). Fortunately I had been nice about his essay on the way early Dr Who built fantastical worlds more through dialogue than set-dressing. I wasn't clear if he held the destruction of Outpost Gallifrey as a point in my favour or not.

One of the particularly nice aspects of the convention was the very informal pub atmosphere it created and the fairly high ratio of guests to punters meant that almost anyone you started talking to would turn out to have some role in the world of Dr Who. The end of the convention also very naturally led into everyone sitting around in the snug drinking together as people drifted away. I left earlier than I'd originally intended because I was feeling unexpectedly tired, which was probably just as well since man-flu hit me like a brick as soon as I got home. I've probably infected the entire Dr Who writer base with some terrible lurgy as a result of my attendance.

In short it was a really nice day, far, far more informal and relaxed than the conventions I remember from twenty years ago with no distinction drawn at all between guest and attendee (although I did notice that guests, rather charmingly, got hand-written notes saying "One Free Pint" written on torn up pieces of paper, but I didn't begrudge them it). There are, I understand, more such events planned at the Lass. The next one is likely to be based on Big Finish's output, which isn't so much my thing and, I would guess, might lead to a more crowded event, but hopefully there will be others beyond that and I'd certainly attend a second Novelcon.

*Simon Guerrier's wife must be a woman of infinite patience and understanding.

Who Daily HTML: <lj user=louisedennis> < a href="http://louisedennis.livejournal.com/128119.html">discusses Novelcon</a>
(Anonymous) on October 14th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
Oh I noticed the 'blog long before the Dissertations review.

louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on October 14th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
Do you read every blog out there that occasionally mentions Dr Who?

*refrains from suggesting Ian Potter may have too much time on his hands*
lonemagpielonemagpie on October 14th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
It was a fun day - and I did love the Special Pie!
louisedennislouisedennis on October 15th, 2009 09:24 am (UTC)
My pie was a bit of a disappointment, sadly, not the Lass's usual standard.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on October 15th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
I very much wish I could have been there, but first pessimism about how easy it was to get to Manchester and back and then work got in the way.
(Anonymous) on October 15th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
Wish you'd been there Mr Kilburn- it's the Gallifrey Slayer's interaction with your 'blog that brought me here.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 16th, 2009 09:42 am (UTC)
Manchester-Oxford by train is actually pretty reasonable (3 hours direct), the car journey (at the right time of day, I hasten to add) takes roughly the same amount of time, less if you're lucky and don't mind paying the toll...
parrot_knightparrot_knight on October 16th, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)
I've driven Oxford-Manchester in three hours before, which I'd somehow forgotten, having been distracted by other things...