What I Did on My Holidays 1: Nine Worlds. All the Fun.


Nineworlds only got started last year, and it’s already my favourite con. It’s just so much fun. Right from the start, the organisers set out to create a friendly, inclusive, safe space for everybody to do their thing, and it shows. Bronies, Whovians and steampunks mix with authors, editors and publishers.  There are academic tracks and panels and discussions; but for me this is very much a con for making and doing things, dressing up, and getting inspired. You can steampunk your nerfgun, learn to knit, participate in a writing workshop, taste weird and wonderful alcohols, LARP, strut your best costumes all day and all night, boogie and generally have a splendid time in a totally non-judgemental atmosphere.

Food for Thought

Mmm. Conan Doyley.
Mmm. Conan Doyley.

This year, the surprise hit for me was the the food geekery track. Brandy from the Robin Collective told us about their work, namely doing entirely bonkers things with food (in the best possible way). One recent project involved extracting moisture from famous locations and brewing historical alcoholic bitters (along the lines of the famous Angostura bitters). So, I got to taste a drop of essence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (or his study at least), which was flavoured with bitter orange for The Five Orange Pips. I might not have imbibed his Muse, but no harm trying.

If food geekery is your thing, one of the upcoming events from the Robin Collective (at time of writing) is a toast architecture dance party. Why has no-one done this before? See also the Experimental Food Society for more culinary shenanigans.

Magic potion. Looks blue. Tastes of chocolate and ginger. Changes colour.

Last year, we went to the steampunk gin tasting, run by a professional ambassador for Hendrick’s, which was an absolute hoot. (The steampunk crew are a jolly bunch, and always seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously.) This year, my partner signed us up for the Alchemist Dreams liqueur tasting. The alchemist herself, the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Ruth Ball, talked us through her creative process.

What do you do when someone asks you to make the smell of old books or to create the experience of Canada? The old book smell involved chemical analysis. The liqueur included hints of vanilla, and chocolate was in the mix too, as it shares chemical compounds with old leather. Waft the glass under your nose and you’re in a country house library. For Canada, a walk in the snowy woods, so you start with pine, of course. Then you want something that gives you the feel of cold. Mint is too overpowering, so how about something that gives you that sense of biting cold, the so-cold-it-feels-hot tingle feeling of ice on fingers? Pepper goes into the mix. It was more complicated than that, of course, but I was tasting too, and those are the bits I remember. It’s absolutely fascinating to hear how people from different creative disciplines approach their work, and the liqueurs were delicious (hic).

Ms. Ball sells her own blends (the Christmas puddingy winter warmer was lovely), or you can try your hand at mixing a whole new custom concoction. We all came away with a parting gift of a beautiful sapphire-coloured liqueur made with blue butterfly pea flower which changes colour to pink when mixed with tonic. That’s close enough to a magic potion for me.

These Are a Few Of My Favourite Things

I spent a fair amount of time sitting in the bar and chatting. But for reasons.

I joined a stitch-and-babble session in the bar with the very welcoming knitting group run by Sasha McKenna. She kindly loaned me a hook and some yarn and I ended up in the deviants’ corner with another crocheter, a sewing beginner making pretty fabric birds, a costume maker working on stripy ruffles for a steampunk outfit, and my friend Gaie Sebold who wanted a quiet place to sit and sort out things on her laptop. I had a wonderful time starting a Cthulhu finger puppet and just chatting with friendly new people who like making stuff.

Essential tea accessory (and veggie friendly)!
Essential tea accessory (and veggie friendly)! Photo from http://www.thegreatbritishdiet.co.uk.

The lovely Emma Newman makes no secret of the fact that she suffers from anxiety.  (In fact, she runs workshops on anxiety and writing, and they’re very helpful.) This year, she started the generous initiative of hosting tea parties for newbies and other anxious con-goers who wanted to find a few friendly faces. I work from home most of the time, and while aspects of that are great, it can sometimes get a bit isolating. After a while you wonder if you remember how to human properly. I dropped in to the tail end of one of these packed and lively sessions. I met interesting new people and I don’t think I put both feet in my mouth, and nobody ran away screaming.

I did make it out of the bar, too.


Deadly Knitshade is a hero of mine. I was lucky enough to catch her inspiring talk about her path from knitting newbie to urban yarnstorming ninja. On the way she started Stitch London, (a social group for all knitters) and Knit The City, a craftivist collective, and discovered amazing and unexpected street art. Who’d have thought of icing buildings like Shirley Miller? I love Ms. Knitshade’s idea that street art should be an unexpected present. All of her yarn installations come with little labels encouraging people to take them home.

The Fight Choreography for Writers session was quiet for the first five minutes, and then David A. McIntee gave us punters what we really wanted – graphic demonstrations of how to hit people with things, and what could go horribly wrong, as well as top tips on using fights to develop character. (A fighter needs to train, the second kill is harder because you’re dealing with the aftermath of the first one.) He also explained why you never fire a gun sideways (because you get hit in the face by the ejected casings).

I have to give a shout out to my writers’ group, The T PartySara Jayne Towsend, Gary Couzens, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Francis Knight, Esther Saxey and Richard Webb ran a How to Beat Writer’s Block session with different writing games designed to get people starting stories. I popped my head in to see how things were going, and they had a packed house.

I even *gasp* did some writing myself. Chris Farnell ran a sci-fi writing workshop, How To Invent The Wheel: Why You Should Write Sci-Fi About Existing Technology. The workshop centred on how to write stories about world-changing existing technology, setting the invention in an alternate history, a parallel universe, a post-apocalyptic place, or a completely invented fantasy world. People have been using the same objections to new technology for centuries: it will make people lazy, moral decline, job loss but as one participant pointed out, there’s never been a technology that we haven’t used once we’ve discovered it. Discussions were lively and the participants came out with some great work in the session. I still have it fixed in my head that to make these stories work they need to be about people, a specific set of relatable characters to really have an emotional impact.

Hip hip flask covers from Dragonswann Designs.
Hip hip flask covers from Dragonswann Designs.

The dealer’s room is always worth a visit (although there is definitely still room for more stalls, makers of cool geekery). It was nice to catch up with the lovely folks at Genki Gear, and check out their latest designs (Yay! Squids!) although I was too slow to get a con shirt in my size. Pro tip: if you want one, get it on the first day! Also, I had a wonderful time chatting to the lady running the Retrogreat vintage clothes stall about costuming with hot glue guns. There were lots of steampunk items, (so tempted by a dagger/one shot pistol that was a reproduction of an actual thing) and I think everybody of that persuasion also needs to know about Dragonswann Designs who make beautiful embroidered emblems, hip flask covers, and more.

Cons are some of the few places I get to dance like a madwoman these days. Francis Knight led the charge to the dancefloor when Rhapsody (warning: autoplay at link), the Queen tribute band took the stage. They were bloody brilliant. I headbanged my tiny steampunk hat right off doing a Wayne’s World to Bohemian Rhapsody.  There was an 80’s all cheese disco where the DJ soon got the measure of the audience, and we danced until our feet were sore. The rock disco was fun too. It’s not often I get a chance to dress up in my gorgon hat and  watch Thor rampaging around the dancefloor to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.

Did I mention the dressing up? The costumes are fab, and you get blue tokens to hand out to people to show your admiration.  Yay for Sharknado, Thor, Tron, the lady with the light-up thunderstorm umbrella, the alien and his pet space marines, and all the other folks in their best and most imaginative gear.

The only thing missing from NineWorlds was a ceilidh, but luckily there was one at Loncon.

So, these were some of my favourite things from Nine Worlds. If they’re not your cup of tea, you might want to have a look at the con programme for this year and see if they stock your particular brand of darjeeling. There were so many other things going on, that there’s likely to be something to appeal to every flavour of geek. If it sounds like your idea of a good time, you need to book as soon as you can to get the cheapest early bird rates for next year.

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