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Easter in Bradford

Friday -Hour after hour we crawl. Endless lines of slow, lurching vehicles accompany us as we move tortuously northwards, eventually to be deposited at the Cedar Court hotel in Bradford. It’s cold in Bradford but registration and room allocation is easy. Only moments after our arrival we are signed up, checked in and dragging large bags of t-shirts and Beeblebears into the dealer room. We are jammed into one of the centre tables and have to trample our way across bodies and bags galore but we are focussed and strong and nothing shall stand in our way (well if it does we will shall say in the strongest possible terms, “Excuse me please, can we just squeeze past”). Nesa Sivagnanam appears almost immediately with a hopeful look in her eyes. She’s a woman that knows what she wants, and what she wants is Beeblebears.

We have so few. Alex McLintock has all the rest and we haven’t seen him yet. She’s not sure she believes us and prods about under the table just to check.

Upstairs I hear loud noises coming from the boardroom. Soon afterwards several Zulus leave the boardroom. Well that explains that then.

Later there’s a TAFF panel item. Theresa and I are there. Several audience members wait patiently expecting us to do something. The moderator, John Coxon doesn’t appear. We wait several minutes and he still doesn’t appear. We decide drastic action is needed and so begin talking about him. It does the trick. He arrives shortly afterwards to ensure he can talk about himself also.

John complains that he didn’t get any free beer at the Worldcon. Crystal, in the audience protests loudly that he got an abundance of free meals. John accepts this but assures her that food is not beer and therefore doesn’t count.

We were all introduced and then John probed us thoroughly as to our fan fund feelings and intentions. Theresa and I assured everyone in the audience that we loved them all and thought fan funds were fine and wonderful. We both pointed out what a simply super idea it would be if people decided to vote for us. The probing continued but at some point it mysteriously veered off into a discussion of the Worldcon rules about site selection. The panel threatened to run into the next hour but Doug Spencer, myself and Carrie were scheduled for the Milliways Frolics down in the main programme room and so we requested that John close the proceedings so that we may run away.

In the main hall the tech crew are frantically running around putting things on desks and moving items hither and thither. They’ve set up Carrie’s foley table and she has stationed herself behind it. My microphones are all ready and waiting for me.

The music starts and I edge my way toward the stage. Unfortunately I’ve given them the long version of the music and so it takes bloody ages to get going. I wait but Carrie is making eye rolling motions at me and is wondering whether I’ve abandoned her. I decide to go before the climax and wearing my tux, replete with gold sparkly bow tie and gold cane I leap onto the stage. I introduce the evening Max Quordlepleen style and begin to describe the end of the universe.

“And as the photon storms gather in swirling crowds around us” – Carrie waves two torches around.

“The skies begin to boil” – Carrie plonks a kettle onto the table and tech play the boiling water effect. “See where the light of infinity bursts in upon us” Carrie turns on a small wind-up lantern.

I’m trying not to look at Carrie as she’s demonstrating the end of the universe so that I don’t laugh and so make strange puffing noises into my microphone. I don’t entirely succeed. A few seconds later we finish off the universe for good with a party popper, some fairy lights and the room lights being extinguished. That’s the end of everything – except of course for the sweet trolley and a fine selection of Aldebaran liqueurs.

Next we call up some prospective Vogons. Well, actually I drag them up onto the stage and ask them desperately searching questions about administration. This is just a prelude as the real skills of a Vogon lie in their stamping, shouting and throwing humans out of airlocks abilities. There was some fine stomping and shouting and an extremely brutal airlock incident, but one person excelled and was recruited as that evening’s Vogon. She was a tiny little person but had a fearsome expression, a ferocious stamp, and a voice that could boil an ocean. A very useful ally indeed to have during a games evening, so I persuaded the Vogon to lurk at the back of the stage ready to pounce upon any miscreants. She came in particularly useful for ejecting Doug Spencer from the stage later on. He does enjoy himself rather does Doug and sometimes a Vogon is the only thing that will shift him.

Next was Runaround. There were fiendish questions supplied to me by David Haddock. Frankly though, some people just enjoyed the running around bit. Yes, Crazy Dave, I’m looking at you.

An example of one of the fiendish questions – The building that Douglas Adams was born in was built in which year?

Next, Doug Spencer took to the stage to fire off a bunch of devilishly cunning questions at we poor innocent fools inhabiting the first row. These questions were designed to expose our opinions on such weighty matters as our preference for the radio or TV version of Neverwhere or the film or TV version of Hitchhiker’s. Where we planted our arses on the line of chairs indicated our strength of feeling. Doug would then pick out some hapless victim and ask them to justify the position of their posterior. Eventually though I had the Vogon remove him from the stage and we played a game of Towels of Hanoi. Two teams endeavoured to move 4 towels of ascending size from point A to point C. A smaller towel could only be placed upon a larger one. There was a slow and confused start but one team figured out the solution and so shifted towels along at a brisk rate. This fine performance carried off first prize, which consisted of being pointed at and told you had won.

P1030003Lastly we had Disaster Area Stuntship. I handed out large numbers of A4 sheets of black paper and people manufactured a ship capable of sundiving. Instead of a sun though we used our ‘Light of Infinity’ that had played such a vital role earlier, during the end of the universe. A fascinating variety of stuntships were made. To prove their worth, the ships battling it out for the title of Supreme Sundive Stuntship were launched toward our Light of Infinity. There were many dismal failures and an alarming number of stuntships that flew backwards. However two came within singeing distance of our surrogate sun. One craft was a slim dart type affair and the other had been folded into a circle (of sorts) by Malcolm Hutchison.

Frantic messages were being passed to me now that tech crew were more than a little weary and would like to go to bed if at all possible. We finished up and retired to the bar. We were, however, very tired so had just one more drink and went to bed.

Saturday – Disaster – I was undone by physics! I had put a rather splendid chocolate egg on the window sill to keep it cool. Unfortunately the morning sun had other ideas and melted it into an unseemly mass. Oh well, consolation downstairs in the shape of breakfast – sausages, egg, bacon, mushrooms and lots of coffee. Doug and Julia joined us and we heard that there was a young lady of Devizes. This was a limerick of course, and it seems that Doug has a habit of reciting limericks during times when his partner might be expecting him to be whispering sweet nothings. Most disconcerting said Julia.

Bought a Womack and a Benford for Carrie and me respectively.

Then had a bath

Then had a Beeblebears’ picnic.


Then spent an hour on the ZZ9 dealer table.

Talked to Tobes and James Shields. Handed out Beam. James said that Irish fandom didn’t really do fanzines at the moment. Tobes said, “ah yes, they do lego instead don’t they.”

Another hour on the dealers table and then into the canteen-style dining room thing where we met up with Bill and Mary Burns, stuffed food into our faces and had a pleasant chat.

Doctor Who has become an Eastercon institution that is both hated and loved. Everything stops for the Easter broadcast of Doctor Who and we all attempt to crowd into the main hall to watch it together. I was convinced I would hate this shared experience but have grown to love it and adore witnessing my own appreciation of the program magnified by all those around me. There were also large amounts of jelly babies handed out courtesy of the concom. Very welcome indeed. Unfortunately there were problems with the internet feed. Many groans were heard from the audience as the gremlins snuck in and stole away vital seconds from the program – Deborah_c from tech tweeted

“Scariest Doctor Who Episode Ever. Content immaterial. Sorry, guys… “

A splendid episode that kept us hooked with the Doctor’s desire to learn something about Souffle Girl.

Exiting the Doctor Who screening we relaxed and chatted with Nicholas Jackson and Dave Haddock. Both of them are ‘doing things’ for exhibits at Worldcon.There are Banks things, Hitchhiker’s things and sciencey things. It all sounds quite intriguing.

Then Carrie went to an item on Law and New Technology – Carrie’s review – funnier than the title suggests. Sounds fine but I’m not doing any wailing or gnashing of teeth over having missed it.

Later that evening there’s a room birthday party for Julie McMurray. What seemed like several hundred people (but was actually about 20) all crammed into one hotel bedroom. I gave Julie my offering of a melted Easter Egg. She received it with much grace and suggested it was a fine SFnal offering conjuring up visions of some horrendous beast having emerged from it and now roaming loose amongst the unsuspecting conventioneers. Someone at the party had brought along a splendid green drink called Cloosterbitter. A sweet substance but with a fine kick inside that warmed your throat nicely. Yum said I and had another. I learned many things that night such as how many spin offs there have been from Happy Days (Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi although Yahoo Answers lists several more). Pat McMurray passed out on the bed.

The room party was only 20 yards down the corridor from our own room, so crawling back was a quest of only difficulty grading 1. Easily accomplished, and then falling unconscious once we had reached our beds was even easier.

Sunday – Aaaargh! Someone has stolen one of my hours. It’s an hour I needed for slobbing about and doing nothing. Instead I am showering rather than bathing and shovelling in mushrooms and sausages at a rate most unseemly. I rush to the dealer table so Alex can go off and check upon potential Art Show purchases. There seems to be some arcane ritual that involves forms, bidder numbers, visiting the room and negotiations with other bidders who also spend a lot of time visiting the art show to see who else has been bidding against them. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye (as my mother used to say for no apparent reason).pipsxebook_html_m1f8168b7

I spend quite a while at the dealer table today. Nice to be able to sit there, type on my laptop and chat as the world goes by. I write a little bit about the beer to send to the newsletter. It appears in issue #5:

Beer! Beer! Beer!

We are blessed with several beers at the convention which all complement each other rather well. There are some light drinkable little numbers such as the Clark’s Traditional and



the Clark’s Blonde. Both of them taste very blonde indeed and slide down the throat with much ease. These beers are nice but oftentimes nice isn’t enough and some actual flavour is required. A beer with character, attitude and taste. A beer that you wouldn’t want to take home to meet your mother (unless she was a mean, ass-kicking biker woman). Ruby Mild and the Chocolate Stout will fulfil these requirements. Ruby Mild has a strong dark taste with bags of character and the Chocolate Stout takes this and makes it just a tad sweeter. Mine’s a Ruby Mild please Jim looks hopeful as he peers into an empty bottle.

While I am sat in the dealer room I am also able to remind people that those nice Fishlifters are just over there and will accept TAFF ballot forms and donations to the fund. I see Liam Proven and suggest he votes in TAFF. He shouts ‘no money’

At 20:00 that evening there’s a panel in which I have an interest. It’s called 21st Century Fanzine Fan so has already scored many points in my psyche for putting the earworm,
21st Century Schizoid Man into my brain. Bill Burns, John Coxon, Sarah Groenewegen, Steve Davies and Mark Plummer are holding forth on what fanzines have been getting up to lately. It seems that fanzines are still around and are teetering on the edge of a fully fledged electronic existence. Just around the corner is a brave new world. It’ll be kind of like the old one but with a little less physicality, it seems.and flees from the room.

Hot on the heels of the 21st Century Fanzine Fan is the Fan Fund auction starring Flick, Claire and Mark, John Coxon, Theresa and myself. We have large amounts of weird things, clothes and books to offload on to charitable minded folks who have come along to throw money at us. The auctioneers begin to parade their wares and the happy crowd shout out their bids. Lots of Jesus action figures change hands and an invisible Jim (completely devoid of darting eyes). Theresa launches into bawdy wench mode and Flick leans back to me saying, “If the TAFF vote were now then she’d win this.” Theresa did a fine job coaxing money out of the bidders and passed around a collecting tin for people who wanted to see Fran do something with cats. I’m not quite sure what Fran is expected to do but lots of people paid pots of cash for whatever it was. It’s quite possible they didn’t know what they were giving us money for either but the generosity was certainly not strained. Thank you, thank you everyone who gave so generously during the Fan Funds auction. We raised over 800 quid which was split equally between TAFF and GUFF.
We sit around in the bar that evening. We’re drinking beer and speaking of mighty matters, both worthy and wise. Dave Haddock trumps all previous conversation by whipping out his latest acquisition from the dealer room. He slaps it on the table and admiring noises increase in volume as its full wonder is revealed. For this is a book and it is no ordinary book. It is a book where future humans explore the emptiness of existence. There are 4 stories all with such delightful titles:


Armadillo of Destruction

Aardvark of Despair

Clam of Catastrophe

SMS is immediately attracted by this book and gazes wonderingly at it. We wonder many things including the possibility of similar stories featuring different animals. We and he ponder different countries having their own animal that features a national trait. I think the Badger of Queuing was a favourite in the GB stakes.

That night, the last ones in the bar are me, James Shields, Tobes, Malcolm Hutchison, Carrie and then Liam popped in for a bit.

Tobes says to Liam, “Vote in TAFF, I’ll even give you the two quid, and make sure you vote for Jim you bastard!”

It will be interesting to see whether this exhortation will have achieved any results. I suspect not (it didn’t, there was no Liam Proven vote in the TAFF election).

Monday – Breakfast.

Someone walking by sat on Carrie’s toast. Most peculiar behaviour.

“Sorry” she said, extracted it from her bum and put it back on the plate. I’m not sure that’s entirely adequate. I’m sorry, I’ll just nip off and toast you some more seems to be the required response there.

Jan van’t Ent won the Doc Weir award. I’ve voted for Jan every year. It’ll be quite odd now trying to figure out who to vote for. I may even have to do some thinking. Appalling what is expected from one at Eastercon.

SMS – talked to me in toilet. This is not done in The North and shocked me to the core. “How is it down your end,” says he. I glance down into the urinal. “Well, it’s full of pee” says I. SMS is an enthusiastic fellow. I suppose I should be grateful he didn’t try to hug me in the toilets (that is even more definitely not allowed in The North).

We are in Bradford and therefore by special decree we are required to partake of a splendid curry. Carrie and I clamber into a taxi and ask the driver to take us to Akbars. He tries to baffle us by asking which one. We tell him, the biggest, the best and the nearest. Soon we are entering the wildest, noisiest most chaotic seeming Indian restaurant I have ever visited. We can see through into the kitchen and it looks like one of these 1940’s films depicting steamship engine rooms. People rush hither and thither seemingly in a life or death struggle with machinery and steam. In the restaurant waiters are rushing by and a man who seems to be impersonating the side of a barn bellows at each and every one of them. Amidst all of these someone asks us what we want to drink. Excellent! this is the kind of thinking I can get behind. “Bring me Cobra” says I, and they do. This noise and chaos should be a kind of hell for me. Restaurant dining, I believe, should be a quiet and peaceful experience. I should be able to whisper sweet nothings to my partner as gentle jazz wafts across the open spaces and waiters shimmer in and out of existence as I require them. We are eventually seated and there is a permanent draught from the mad flurry of waiting staff rushing to yet another table with a fizzing candle as the PA system blares out the most recognisable tune of all time. I should hate this cacaphonous madness and yet am quite enjoying the experience. It all seems like a show that has been put on for my benefit. Performing waiters, strange experimental discordant music and fizzy things being rushed through the building as if they were a lighted bomb. The show is fast and furious and they top it all by bringing the most amazing creamy curry with a depth of flavour that goes on and beyond and round and around. It is flavour that hints at everything and yet brings enough full blooded mouth appeal to satisfy the most insatiably curious of palates. To partner this curry is a naan bread that could house Mum, Dad, 4 children, Auntie Ethel and dirty Uncle Bertie. This naan is brought to our table impaled upon a spike to warn any other naans what could happen if they get uppity.

Afterwards I am very full and very happy. A cab takes us back to the hotel.

Tuesday – We pop over to Leeds to see Sarah Mooring and hand over the Dave Mooring memorial book. She feeds us excellent coffee and we catch up on her life and times. In return I force my fanzines upon her. It’s delightful to see Sarah again after so long. She brought back so many happy memories of Leeds Group from the 90’s. We meet her partner, Floren. It’s fascinating hearing her speak a stream of Spanish to him (for ‘tis his native tongue) and end the exchange with the only word recognisable to me, “sweetie”. I also enjoy the clinky, clanky lift going up to her flat. The lift is a nostalgic, atmospheric and fear inducing experience that I find most pleasing.

Later we clamber back into the hire car and go home.

How To Format Your Fanzine For E-Readers

Me and my Kindle, we go everywhere together. We travel together, we bathe together. We even go to the toilet together. The vast majority of my reading material is on the Kindle and I get a little miffed, indeed almost petulant when I can’t get the thing I want to read on my Kindleand have to settle for cumbrous paper stuff instead. However there are forces at work. I was recently quite delighted when the Hugo voting package arrived all ready to be transferred to my ereader of choice. Obviously they knew I wanted it in this format and vast armies of volunteers slaved throughout the winter evenings to make it so, just for me. I was even more delighted when Mark and Claire began producing an ebook version of Banana Wingsand were happy to email it directly to my Kindle as soon as it was ready. This means that every now and again a Banana Wingspowered by pixie dust and fairy powder will appear magically before my eyes when I open up the Kindle. Of course the magic is actually technological gubbinses, but it is magic nevertheless.

However, thinks I. There are many other fanzine editors out there not producing ebook formatted zines. So, my plan (hopefully not an evil one and definitely not very cunning) is to write a piece here showing how to convert your fanzine to ebook format so that we folks with Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, iPads etc will be able to read it on our device of choice.

I’m a terribly obvious fellow and so have chosen the obvious thing to do. That thing is to ask a FanEd to give me his or her files so I can go through the process of creating a zine for ereaders.

I put out my appeal and Rob Jackson tentatively stretched out his toe looking for just a little immersion into the waters of ereaders. I grasp that toe firmly and give it a good

tug. Rob is exactly the sort of FanEd I was looking for. You only have to look at hispipsxebook_html_70093f78 fanzine, Incato see how much he glories in the look of a zine and its layout. Colour photos abound and there’s all manner of pictures, headers and general razzmatazz all over the place. I needed to interact with someone who likes this sort of thing to better understand what goes on in the mind of the FanEd. I, myself am a simple soul and like a very simple layout but my wife tells me I’m a freak and my own FanEd impulses cannot be trusted. Maybe working with Rob will help me figure out how big a gap needs to be bridged before I can persuade people to produce ereader fanzines.

So, Rob sends me his beautifully formatted, double column Word files. First problem is that I’m using a Linux machine. I can read the Word files but cannot convert them back to single column format which is what I need if I’m going to convert his files to read on my Kindle. Carrie (for ‘tis she) leaps to my rescue brandishing a bona fide copy of Microsoft Office and a laptop that will put up with that sort of nonsense. I throw the files across to her and she deals summarily with each one. A little later they return to me reduced to single column and ready for me to convert into a file that can be read by an ereader. My usual process at about this stage would be to shove it through my word processor, check that everything is in more or less the right order and then save it as HTML so I can continue to edit it in a web page editor. At this point you’ve possibly just written me off as some perverted weirdo. We are building a file for ereaders and I want to start playing with web pages. That’s just crazy talk. However the program we will be using to convert the file is Calibre (free download available for most machines) and Calibre understands HTML quite well. Therefore if there’s any fine tuning to be done then HTML markup language is the way to go. I realise however that not everyone enjoys larking about with pointy brackets and the like so I wonder if there is a way we might be able to avoid the HTML editor. I load up the Word files into my word processor and save them as .odt files (Libre Office, Open Office and most of the open source word processor packages will use this format). I then start editing the files. There is a glorious cover image by Harry Bell and I import this into the word processor and then save it out again as a jpeg (it could, of course be any picture file but my personal default is usually jpeg). Calibre will want a picture file to be the fanzine cover image. Next there’s a file with the contents page. I delete those contents so that Calibre will be able to build its contents page from everything that I mark as a piece of header text. I slot in the guest editorial about trying not to kill Nigerian families and remove the footers and headers. I agonise over changing the size of the picture at the end of the ‘Fun with Faans’ article. It is a wide picture that will look far too small on the portrait view of a 7 inch screen. I can’t really alter it too much without messing up the ratio and making the picture look squashed. The fanzine is going to look better in portrait mode but this picture is certainly going to be too small to show up any detail. Next there’s the ‘Gift of Memory’ article which is fine until we reach the photos. Carrie has tried to separate them out for me but I’m still finding photos scattered hither and thither with a variety of strange captions claiming that a single female is Terry Hughes and Arnie Katz. Fandom is a splendidly varied place but sometimes physics steps in and tells us that certain things just aren’t possible without the Key to Time, the Power of a Collapsing Star and the Psychic power of the Krell. I anchor all the pictures to a character and make that character its description. I also indicate no wrap for every picture as Calibre will insist that text doesn’t flow around pictures no matter how much you might want it to do so.Uncle Johnny’s Weird Dream’ is easy as that is just plain text and then we have the LoCs. I remove headers and footers and mark the main title, ‘Circulation’ as Header1. Looking back at the contents page I notice that Rob has an additional contents list for the art credits. I figure that if he wants a list for the art credits then I should see if it’s possible to provide that. I delve into the help files and find something that may offer a halfway solution. When you are converting books in Calibrethere is a table of contents section

pipsxebook_html_14987d7band you can enter Xpath expressions (Xpath is a language used to manipulate XML files) to alter the behaviour of the program when it builds the table of contents. It can do up to 3 levels of contents so you can have chapters within chapters. I add the expressions //h:h1 and //h:h3 to 2 of the ‘Table of Content’ levels. I then put a little title on all the photos and artwork saying something like, Artwork by Alan Hunter and mark it Header 3. This will then slot in a second level link to the artwork in the table of contents so that between the chapter headings there will be another level as if they were chapters within chapters. The zine has been altered quite a bit by this jiggery pokery. I wait with bated breath to see what Rob thinks of it. It is quite possible he will hate it. He’s created this thing and I’ve made it into something similar but not the same.

And so Rob received the files and first transferred the epub edition to his phone. I must admit, I hadn’t thought of reading a fanzine on a phone but I suppose it’s quite possible. He seemed pleased with the experience although made mention that it had made ‘quite a dogs breakfast of the photos in the ‘Gift of Memory’ Suncon article.  

I also sent the ebook version of Inca to his Kindle and this was apparently much more pleasing. So I feel I’ve had quite a good response here. There are sacrifices to be made to adapt fanzines to the small screens of most ereaders but Rob Jackson seemed happy with what it did to his fanzine when it was converted to ereader format.


A word processor

Calibre (the conversion program)


If you have more than one column then convert your word processed file back to single column.

Format the art and photos so that they are anchored to a character (the character should be part of a sentence describing what the photo is or one that names the artist or photographer). In Microsoft Word the anchor option is a little hidden. It’s a hidden text option. Navigate to the view tab of Tools : Options and tick the box that says object anchors. After you have done this you will see a small anchor near your picture when you select it. Just grab this anchor and place it onto the text to which you are anchoring the picture. Of course, you may find different methods of holding down the picture to a particular piece of text.

Make each picture ‘no wrap’. Calibre can’t flow text around pictures so best to get this sorted at the word processor stage and it will make the conversion easier. In Microsoft Word you would probably choose the ‘Top and Bottom’ text wrapping option. This lurks under the advanced tab on your text wrapping options.

Make sure your text is formatted similarly throughout so that the document has a nice consistent look.Remove any page headers and footers. The document is going to look quite different as an ebook.

Make all the titles into header1 text. Highlight the text and then use the drop down box in your toolbar. Calibre will read these as the beginning of a chapter and so start a new page. It will also put that title into the table of contents. These will be links so that the reader can click on their chapter/article of choice and be transported to that page.

Save the file as an odt file or if you’re using Word then save as a .docx or a HTML file.

Import your file into Calibre using the ‘add books’ button.

Convert the book using the convert button. This will take you through a series of

pipsxebook_html_m415ffecoptions. The first page you are presented with is the metadata page. You can fill in the title of the zine and author name here. You can also add your cover image here too. There are 2 drop down boxes at the top of the page to the right and the left. One is to choose the input format and one to specify output. There are many other options you can play with to fine tune the conversion but I usually just choose a couple to tweak. With Rob’s zine I added a couple of bits of markup to the ‘Table of Contents’ section. I put this //h:h1 in the space for level 1 TOC and this //h:h3 in the space for level 2 TOC. This will cause Calibre to search through the document for any text marked up as H1 (H1 is all the chapter headings that you converted into header1 text) and putting it into the table of contents as a chapter and then within those chapters it will look for level 2 chapters marked up as H3 (these are the little bits of text describing the artwork that you marked as ‘header3’ in your word processor) and will place them in the table of contents also. I used this to place the artwork and photos on the table of contents.

When I’m producing mobi files I will also go to the mobi output section and tick the box that says put generated table of contents at the start of the book instead of the end. I’m a little baffled as to why the default is to place the table of contents at the end of a book.You will probably do all of this twice, once to create a mobi file and once for an epub.

Then you’ll need to get them onto your reading device. I was a little surprised that Rob had only put books onto his Kindle by using the Kindle store. He’d used his Kindle very seldom so hadn’t really got around to experimenting with it yet. I wrote out a little guide explaining how to get documents onto the Kindle which I have reproduced here.

How to get files onto your Kindle

We have one, no two main ways – among the ways we can put files on your Kindle are:

Treat it as a USB drive. You’ve probably got a USB cable with it. Plug one end in your computer and the other end in the Kindle. It should show in ‘My Computer’.Open it up and you’ll see some folders. One of them will be Documents. The .mobi file can be dropped in there and you will see it the next time you open your Kindle.

The other is slightly more complicated but immensely more wonderful and magical. Go to the Amazon store – log in.Go to ‘your account’ and then navigate to ‘Manage Your Kindle’.In the box at the side you will see an option called ‘Personal Document Settings’.You will see a menu come up. At the top it will probably say something like ‘Rob’s Kindle’.There will be an email address at the side of this.This is the address that the person will need who will be sending things to your Kindle.

Further down you will see‘Approved Personal Document E-mail List’

You will need to enter my email there using the ‘add a new approved email address’ option so that I can send you the file.

Enter the address, and click add address.

Next time your Kindle connects to your wifi then you should receive the fanzine.

Obviously your Kindle name may be slightly different (unless you are using Rob’s Kindle) and you may add a different address. Anyone who wishes to receive my fanzine on their Kindle then follow the instructions above, send me your Kindle email address and my zine will appear, as if by magic upon your Kindle ereader. There may be ways to do similar things with other devices. Please write and let me know and I’ll pass that information along.

Novacon 41 – I Was There

Pips09_html_7bed5c9eIt’s on the same day as the ZZ9 AGM

Obviously the Novacon committee are trying to usurp that fine old institution, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha by scheduling their convention on the same day. I’m sure it was that way around. Most definitely.

I arrived in Nottingham on Saturday at around lunchtime. The trains had done their thing and transported me from Cambridge without a hitch, mishap or screaming mental torture. Well done, train thingies, more of this kind of behaviour please.

I find the tourist information office and enquire the way to the Park Inn. He looks at me strangely, I know not why. I ask again and we flail around for a while trying to establish some context. Eventually he realises I wish to walk there and so points at a road. ‘It’s up there’, he says. Excellent, says I. There are many fine buses says he. Not for me says I and depart with a friendly wave and a cheery smile and my knapsack on my back. It sounds like I should be singing at this point but out of deference to the people around me I refrained from such extreme cruelty.
About 40 minutes later I arrive at the Park Inn.
Noel Collyer is outside the hotel, reclining on a bench and mopping his brow. This is probably the right place. I reconnoitre the area checking out local supermarkets, Lidl and Tesco. I note several restaurants including a cool looking kebab shop and spectacularly fail to visit any of them during the weekend. I return to the hotel and Eve Harvey awaits just inside the door ready to offer such delights as a badge, a readme and a booklet containing writings by
the guest of honour, John Meaney. I collect 2 of everything and enquire at the reception desk about my room. A very flustered but delightful receptionist attempts to uncover this jealously guarded information and eventually tracks down the facts. It’s a no, try again later, situation. This bothers me not a jot. I know there’s beer and conversation in the bar. I shall be content.

Pips09_html_m26b9441Doug Bell is in the bar so I wrestle him to the ground (metaphorically) and force my fanzine upon him. My fanzine is actually a podcast of interviews with Taff candidates, Jacq Monahan, Warren Buff and Kim Kofmel but I had it transcribed, shoved a few pics in it and made a paper zine. Doug accepts the zine and moments later Christina Lake appears. Christina has been steeped in fanzine fandom so long now that she can smell a fanzine inside a bag from the other end of the room and is drawn inexorably toward it. Some might say she was drawn toward Doug but I’m sure it was the zine what done it. Christina’s arrival marks the end of a program item and a wave of people surge into the bar. These waves sweep back and forth across the building all weekend like the sea washing up and down upon the bar. The single program stream creates a very predictable movement of people. It’s quite comforting really to have some idea of what’s happening and to get a handle on times, events and places. An Eastercon, for example, will have many moments for me where I feel quite lost and disoriented, flailing about in the dark. This latest wave fills up all available spaces and increases our social group at the end of the bar. Pat Meara is here and Ron Gemmell appears, flourishing his first fanzine in twenty-five years. Now that’s impressive procrastination. Eat That Duck 3 contains a tale of, accumulating knowledge of Swedish written by Lucy Huntzinger, an island hopping, Eurocon attending, travelogue from Ron Gemmell and a goshwowohboyohboy piece about Cornwall from
Christina. The fanzine in précis says, learning Swedish is hard, a Swedish Eurocon is fun and Cornwall has some jolly nice walks. There’s also a duck and a ship on the cover which you can colour in if you should get the urge and almost everyone did get that urge but
there were no colouring pens to be had in the building, not even for ready money. How tragic life can be sometimes.

It was then that Flick accosted me, demanding to know why I wasn’t at the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha AGM. I have my excuse all ready. Carrie is attending the AGM and will bring back information about the proceedings at midnight. Surely if Carrie is there then I don’t have to go too. She decides that this is sound reasoning and so allows me to live. Flick is looking particularly good and is wearing a long flowing dress that looks astoundingly elegant. The room is, in fact, bookended by 2 very elegant women with Caro being the other, over by the conservatory in a similarly beautiful dress. I am delighted by this penchant of the ladies of fandom for bringing out the posh frocks for conventions. It adds a real touch of glamour to the proceedings.

Another program item begins and the bar empties out once more. I enquire about my room. Reception are more practised now and can fire back the answer almost i immediately. No, not ready, try again later. I have to console myself with another beer and a pleasant chat with 2 more people notably absent from the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha AGM, Ian Brown and Helen Cross. Helen is making a sock with the aid of 3 pointy sticks and some yarn. It all looks mighty suspicious. The process looks far too complicated to be just a sock. Obviously strange voodoo rites are at work here and I watch quite fascinated to see who is to be struck down by the sock of doom. They’ve ordered pizzas and once I’ve wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth I realise that I’d quite like one too. Then the hurricane that is Lilian Edwards whirls in upon our tranquility and regales us with semi coherent tales of current events. I adore Lilian and am always pleased to see her but this time it feels a little odd. I’ve become accustomed from her Facebook updates to picture her at some continental pavement cafe with the sun shining down upon her while she samples interesting and amusing foodstuffs. She will either have just given a lecture somewhere exotic or be about to do so. Lilian in Nottingham doesn’t feel quite right at the moment. She’s moving too fast for my mind to focus. Probably best if I try not to figure out what’s going on in my head. It’ll only confuse me. The pizza is magnificent and seals the deal on my bothering to track down food without. I eat, drink, chat and am content.

Later I begin to feel weary and investigate once more the possibility of gaining access to my hotel room. This time I get a keycard and some esoteric sounding instructions for putting said card in a lift and performing arcane rites. Helen and her many pointy sticks may be up for such things but I make for the fire escape steps instead and am inside my room moments later. I lie down and am soon fast asleep. I awake a couple of hours later feeling quite bright and refreshed. I arm myself with pen, paper and coffee and begin work on a LoC for Ron Gemmel’s fanzine. The flakmoppe mentioned on page 7 has caught my

Pips09_html_m64f1b2f8attention and I feel that I must explore this further. I duly explore
it, finish coffee and head back into the convention to give Ron his
LoC. Then as if to underline what it says in bible, ‘he that giveth
unto the zine writers shall not lack’ I receive two more fanzines:
Procrastinations from John Coxon and iShoes from Yvonne Rowse. As with my zine, both of these are A5 and without staples. This is obviously the shape of things to come. None of us can be arsed with staples anymore. John Coxon also gives me a computer. Very generous thinks I until he tells me that it actually belongs to Dave Haddock.
Apparently he borrowed it to go around North America with him on his Taff trip. He obviously felt sorry for the computer and felt that it needed a holiday. What a nice and thoughtful chap. BTW does anyone know why the hell Chris Garcia refers to John Coxon as ‘The Rock’. I don’t think he looks particularly like a rock. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to be asking this. Do I really want to know what happens inside the mind of a Chris Garcia? I take the computer and promise to give it back to Dave.

Procrastinations 9 has some interesting moments in it. The Taff cadidates are all in there, writing about their heroes. I enjoyed Warren Buff and his bunch of philosophers but found it a little more difficult to connect with Jacq’s painters and Kim’s librarians. Other writers in the zine included Dave Haddock who wrote about Iain Banks and his war upon factual inaccuracies, Chris Garcia paid homage to 2 fannish heroes and a wrestler and John Coxon wrote of the late Steve Jobs. The letter column has far too much of comics and films based upon super heroes for my liking but still nice to see some familiar names in there.

iShoes is a different beastie altogether. It’s mostly a collection of Yvonne’s blog writings and short book reviews but in this zine we do get that very human picture of the Yvonne that we’ve come to know and love. Her anxiety for her family, the anger and frustration caused by what we’re doing to the planet and her delight at finding something decent to read. What is missing from this issue of iShoes though is Yvonne’s playful sense of humour. She’s delightful to talk to and has a whimsical sense of humour but the playfulness didn’t really come through in the fanzine.

I wrote my LoC for iShoes but couldn’t come up with anything for Procrastinations and still haven’t. Hopefully inspiration will strike soon.

There are a number of fannish institutions that I haven’t yet experienced and I have a mental tick list that I’m working through. Last year I went to Corflu at Winchester and tried and failed to do the Astral Pole. This year I decided I would finally get to see a Sorensen production. I mentioned this to Doug Spencer and he looked worried. ‘This one will be your introduction to these things?’ he asked. I answered in the affirmative and he shook his head sadly. ‘It’s not one of our best’ he said. Thus encouraged I turned up all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to appreciate the action. Ian wibbled a bit about records that had been number one at some time or another and apparently that’s what we would have won if he’d done that but, in fact, they’d done something else altogether so we watched that instead. The whole thing was seamlessly (ahem) held together by stunt Peter Weston (sometimes spelled Hari Seldon) appearing every 10 years to tell us what life should be like in that decade. This Novacon was the 40th anniversary of the very first one and we tracked through the years to see just how far we had deviated from the psychohistory Weston plan. The answer was very far indeed. There were no fanzines on cassette tapes or flying cars and jetpacks. Where did we all go wrong? Julia Daly sang of the Little Brum Con. Doug Spencer was part of a skit in which he played a stuffy old professor called Professor
F J Mendelssohn and we saw a return of the miming Wilkettes not so much jiving as quivering a bit. All jolly fun and topped off with the famous hit, ‘Grumpy Brummy People Running Cons’. Another fannish tick box well and truly ticked I ambled back to the bar to get myself rat onna stick or whatever other late night delicacy might be available. The readme had promised late food and I was very much looking forward to wrestling some of it down my throat. Unfortunately, of the food there was no sign. I enquired hopefully
and my hero went off to find a bacon sandwich for me. I decided that I loved her fervently, although I felt a little guilty when seconds later I spotted an Alison Scott and many other hopefuls being refused such delights as I had just experienced. The food had been available from 2300 until midnight which just happened to be the time that the
program item ended. Much unfortunateness and much wailing and gnashing of teeth was there. I was inclined, at first to blame the hotel but looking at the readme there was no set time for the late food. It merely said late. It seems likely that this was a detail
that wasn’t nailed down and so slipped away from view. It’s a tough life for a conrunner.

Twas then that Carrie arrived bringing the latest exciting news from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. David Haddock had been voted in as president over Robert Newman and Richard Gray. David is 42 years old this year so had decided to celebrate by making a bid to become either President of the Galaxy or President of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. For better or worse he has landed the latter role (the galaxy might have been easier). We pass the information on but few are interested. Preisdents, schmezidents. Who needs ‘em.
It’s a fun little group we’re in consisting of Doug Bell, Christina Lake, Ron Gemmell, Clarrie Maguire and Timothy Maguire. Myself and Carrie are starting to become more than a little tired by now and I struggle to remember who said what, to whom but I do recall that Doug
has developed something of a fascination with the concept of the “Mexican Road Trip”. Apparently “Mexican Road Trip” always has to have quotes around it as that makes it more dangerous and exciting. There needs to be fast cars involved in this road trip and
maybe some smuggling. Doug muses on the idea of smuggling something across the border in Pinatas. What could we smuggle? ‘I know the very thing says Doug. We smuggle sweets across the border in Piñatas. No one would ever expect that.’ He has an ingenious mind that Doug Bell. The conversation takes a turn for the weird as someone espouses the wonders of Iggy Pop. He is described as ‘undead but fit’. Hmmm, he does look as if he died some years ago but as for fit…

The conversation goes on but at around 3 o’ clock or so Carrie and I are flagging somewhat. True Blood is being discussed and referred to as undead gay porn (now there’s a category I haven’t yet seen in the library) but we’ve had enough and bid everyone a good night as we totter along to the fire escape and then up to the room.

Only hours later we’re awake again and tucking into those luscious bacon, egg and mushroom calories at the breakfast table. Helen Brown and Ian Cross are sat to one side of
us and Nik Whitehead, Richard Crawshaw and David Carlile are sat on the other side. Carrie has stuff to talk over with these people in connection with the last Eastercon, Illustrious. I reckon Carrie is in serious danger of becoming one of those conrunner peeps you know. She keeps getting drawn in that direction. I like Nik, Richard and David but this is not a conversation for me. For whatever bizarre reason, it seems I’m far more interested in the progress of the multi-coloured sock being knitted by Helen. It is a thing of wonder
indeed. After breakfast we enquire somewhat optimistically at the reception desk whether it’s possible to have a late check out. We’re gobsmacked when she says, certainly, no problem. We haggle and settle upon 14:00 as our check out time. We can now take it easy, showering and ambling downstairs in our own sweet time. It would have been nicer if someone had told the cleaner we were checking out late. She got rather persistent about wanting to get into the room but we finally persuaded her (with the help of an old Jedi mind trick I
picked up around the back of Tescos) that we were not the room she was looking for. Downstairs we went, to stash our bags around the back of reception and then did some more relaxing in the bar. All jolly fun. We join Dave Lally who tells us how long he’s been waiting for dinner and we order some of our own. Ours duly arrives and still there’s no sign of sustenance for Mr Lally who is fast wasting away. Dave singles us out for the ZZ9ers that we are and mentions that he has something special in the basement for us.
There’s a Dave Lally place down below, it seems and it contains flickering images in a darkened room. He tells us that Douglas Adams makes a brief appearance at the end of a tape about the 1979 Worldcon. This sounds enticing and we promise we’ll pay a visit later.  Our food then arrives and we devour it with vim, vigour and much delight. Dave looks on hungrily. He then explains at length to a passing member of staff that his food seems to have disappeared into some kind of time warp and that maybe rather drastic measures should be taken to retrieve it from whatever dark and hopeless abyss it may have descended into. The member of staff is thoroughly confused but takes the useful course of ignoring most of what Dave has said and just orders some more food. This does the trick and within moments he’s happily munching down upon a considerable amount of carbohydrates. We wander off but later we do descend into the bowels of the earth and sure enough there is Dave Lally and several other dark and mysterious figures watching a BBC video of the 1979 Seacon.
I’d love to watch this alongside some of the older fans as there are many faces I’m sure we should recognise and it would be fun watching it with people who could put names to the faces. That video is obviously part of a BBC science fiction night as it runs on into an SF version of some talking heads book show programme. Ian Watson is there as is Douglas Adams. This is the special exciting thing that  Dave was telling us about. It is quite a treat but, unfortunately the show ends before Douglas can get much of a word in. I was fascinated
by the footage of the 1979 Worldcon though so if anyone has a digital
version on file then I’d love a copy.

Carrie and I decide we’re going to view the closing ceremony, that isn’t actually a
closing ceremony because Novacons never close (no, I’ve no idea why). We particularly want to see the Nova awards so off we go and bag ourselves a seat. There’s a raffle, everyone and his dog is thanked for everything and much homage is paid to John Meaney, the guest of honour who seems to have had a very jolly time indeed. I suspect we may see him at more conventions in the future. Steve Lawson steps down as chair and there’s a new committee for next year which seems to consist of Tony Berry who has forgotten whether there’s anyone else running Novacon with him. We take note as we intend to pounce upon him later and ask desperately searching questions. The Nova awards are next and ‘Head’ by Christina Lake and Doug Bell takes first place as the fanzine of choice for Novaconees. My own offering, ‘Pips’ struggles into joint 14th/last place alongside ‘Plokta’ – hmmm.
After the ceremony we lie in wait for Tony Berry. We have a cunning plan we say. Next year wouldn’t it be a simply spiffing idea if we held the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha Annual General Meeting in the basement bar of the Park Inn Hotel during Novacon. He looked a little glassy eyed at us
but I’m sure we spotted a discernible nod so that’s that sorted then (well, as long as the committee sez aye). Next year the ZZ9 AGM is at Novacon. Seems a jolly idea.
More chatting and drinking and then we’re piling into a taxi which will whisk us away to the train station. Then there’s train whisking from Nottingham to Waterbeach and then we collect our bikes and toddle off to our village in Cambridge.
Convention done, mission complete.

Corflu 29 – I Wasn’t There

Pips09_html_m5091fIt’s Friday evening and time for me to climb into my magical convention box that will transport me thousands of miles away to another continent and the semi mythical Vegas. I log in and am greeted with a godawful blast of noise and lots of fast moving images. Reeling from the shock I manage to focus a little and figure out they’re trying to get me to buy something. I don’t know what it is but I reckon I probably don’t want to buy it.

The noise dies away and the image changes to something much more blurry and very much quieter. Five people are sitting behind a table facing me. They nod occasionally and pass something that looks like a stick of dynamite backwards and forwards along the row. This looks highly dangerous to me and seems to be pushing the concept of desperate fun just a little too far. However I determine who they are and realise they’re all quite sensible people and it’s entirely possible that they know what they’re doing. From right to left we have Claire Brialey, Steve Green, Jacq Monahan Marty Cantor and Rob Jackson. Funnily enough there’s no sound and it’s kind of eerie. It is soon explained to me in the chat box that there’s no sound so I settle back happy in the knowledge that it’s someone elses problem. Curt Phillips shows no such complacency though. He puts on his bat cape and swishes up to the phone. Moments later thanks to the magic of the telephone wires someone at the hotel is bustling through to inform the Corflu Glitter revellers that problems are afoot and tech wrangling is called for. And so it comes to pass that Tech Bill is called, all is fixed and well and we’re just in time for Claire to announce that she’s winding up the discussion so people will have time to do whatever they need to do between panels.

In the chat room there’s been quite a buzz of discussion. The hot topic is who’s going to stand for Taff in 2014. The worldcon in the UK seems to be quite an attraction and several people are hankering to attend. Lloyd Penney seems interested and Curt Phillips has already declared. Kat is interested too but it seems she’s got something called a double whammy and that’s going to hinder her somewhat. I hope it’s not contagious over the internet whatever it is. Randy is one of the few people in the chat room who’s not going to stand but I reckon that’s only because he’s won it already. I wonder if anyone has ever had the cheek to stand again for Taff after they’ve won it. It would take a lot of balls to do such a thing.

So, there’s the fan fund panel and it’s all jolly fun. I watch the Vegas fandom thing for a while but I’ve no idea what’s going on or who everybody is, so kinda lose interest after a while.

The chat room is always lively tho and that’s really the feature of this virtual convention in that we interact more comfortably with the other chatroom members than the people actually attending Corflu. The people in the chatroom are operating in the same way we are and we can all share the same frustrations with the strange not quite connected connectedness.

We’re wanting to connect with the people at the con. It’s the main attraction. It’s why we’re here but it still seems so far away. The concensus of opinion is that it’s better than having no connection to the con at all but it’s still a long way away from being a satisfactory experience. However, I think we can all see the possibilities and see just how good it could be in the future.

I go to bed I get up, I doze on the sofa, my body clock goes to pieces.
Vegas is 8 hours behind me here in Cambridge UK so this is going to be quite a perplexing weekend. I watch the video of the opening ceremony and am confronted initially by an Arnie Katz who is obviously a fraud as the real Arnie Katz only exists in line drawings and fantastical anecdotes created to frighten young fans. This imposter continues to try and pass himself off as Arnie and even has someone called Joyce

Arnie Katz and the Holy Podium

working along with him to try and make it all seem more plausible. They welcome us all and thank everyone for being wonderful and make plans to run off to South America with the takings from the convention. Terry Carr’s disembodied head appears and later Dean Martin’s disembodied head pops in for a quick chat. I need to do more research here to find out what the buggery was happening but disembodied heads at opening ceremonies sounds very jolly indeed. Maybe we can crowbar a few more zombies in there next time. From what I gathered during the chat it seems Andy Hooper (as it so often is) must take the majority of the blame here. The whole notion is taken just a stage further by the appearance of a fake Chris Garcia asking us to chop his head off so he can properly experience disembodied head fandom. Curiouser and curiouser.

There was the traditional lucky dip to choose the guest of honour for the convention. The winner was Claire Brialey. We didn’t get to see it but I can just imagine the look on her face when it was chosen. This was a very popular choice indeed.

There were awards handed out at the opening ceremony such as the bestowing of an honorary membership to the Vegrants for Andy Hooper who said he would do his best to uphold the values of the Vegrants as soon as anyone could figure out what they were. The other honorary membership went to Robert Lichtman. Then everyone was sent out to dinner in readiness for later Corflu fanac.

So, I’m enjoying it so far. I sit in my convention box watching the world go by. The world barely notices me but, most of the time there are other people in the box with me and we turn to each other for amusement as everyone ignores our presence and various tech difficulties manifest themselves.

Hurrah for Corflu – even with the frustrations of attending virtually it’s still great to be here.


Corflu Sunday

Before the banquet we spent a lot of time looking at the podium waiting for something to happen. This led to us forming a cult which worshipped and revered the podium and we did praise it to the highest.

7:17 johnnyeponymous: I like podium!
7:17 johnnyeponymous: MMMMMMMMM… liecake!
7:17 asfi235: Mmmm, podium
7:17 jimmowatt-2: Podium wants to be friends
7:17 PatVirzi: Chocolate podium!
7:18 DianCrayne: The ubiquitous glitter podium!!
7:18 PatVirzi: Featuring Mike, and Mike.
7:18 jimmowatt-2: Perfidious performing podium
7:18 Cartiledge-1: Podium with chitlings anbd grits

The fans ate a hearty meal but no offerings were made to the holy podium. Beware it may become angry with thee.

Claire has a thing going on with random cards and fistfuls of notes. She is reminiscing about fandom and Corflu and throwing in a whole bunch of name checks to various folks. She has a splendid speaking voice and although nervous seems to be enjoying the experience. Claire’s role today is to start the attendees on the way to an emotional climax. It seems she wants to be Eve Harvey when she grows up and Pat Charnock and Geri Sullivan. Claire gives Attitude a special mention as the first fanzine she began to receive regularly. Another card is chosen and she tells us of Murray Moore and the Egoboo salute. Then there are mountains, a beaver in the bathroom and she finishes her GoH speech to rapturous applause.

Pips09_html_m3dd692bbArnie Katz, Andy Hooper and the Podium
Andy Hooper steps up to do his thing with the Faan awards.
He vanishes behind the podium for a peculiarly long time and we worry that it has assumed he was an offering and absorbed him into the innards of this sacred structure. He emerges later saying something about reading certificates. Of course we’re not fooled. We know he was taken down into the underworld and fought his way through countless horrors to return to us with the Faan award certificates.

Easiest win was best fan website – Bill Burns efanzines site won that and no one at all was surprised.
Lloyd Penney didn’t get the letterhack award, which I think he was a little disappointed over. It was Robert Lichtman who came in first place in that one. In an aside Robert also made a splash at this convention by paying around 220 dollars for some AToM art over the internet. There was some debate over whether virtual attendees could bid in the auction and it was decided they could if they had bought an attending membership. Robert had done so and his bid was accepted.

Best perzine – Mike Meara, A Meara for Observers
Best single issue or anthology – Randy Byers, Alternative Pants
Best Fan Artist – Steve Stiles
Best Fan Writer – Mark Plummer
Best Genzine – Banana Wings
Fan Face number 1 – This award is a number crunching exercise totalling up the number of votes people get in all the different categories and Mark Plummer was the winner in this category.

Corflu XXX boom chicka wah wah in Portland Oregon was confirmed as the Corflu for next year.

And so – Corflu comes to an end and people begin to drift away. Lotsa folk gathered in the chatbox such as Katster, Doug, Christina, Dave Hicks, Peter Sullivan, Graham Charnock, Dian Crayne, Lloyd Penney, Chris Garcia and Geri Sullivan. A jolly bunch of people and twas good to share the virtual space with you all.

Thanks go to Gary Mattingley for the Corflu photos and also to Nelson Cunnington for the Novacon 41 photos.
I’ll be fascinated to hear from other people about their virtual con experiences and their projections for the future. What do we need, what do we want and what would we like as regards technologies to bring the concept to life. I shall explore these concepts further in the next issue.

Bye for now



I’ve been doing some running lately.

Oh no, I’ve just lost at least half my readership. I remember reading a quote about equations. It was something like, for every equation you use in a book then half of your readership will be scared away. I was convinced that this was something that Isaac Asimov had been told and he related in his autobiography. Google tells me otherwise. It seems Stephen Hawking produced this little gem, in his book, A Brief History of Time. However I have chosen a non mathematical way of chasing you all away. I know of very few fans who do any running but I have met quite a number who have struggled with the tricksiness of their own heads, so maybe we have some common ground there. I’ve found this running business to be a fascinating experience for what it does to the inside of my head and if there are any of you left still reading this I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

Over the years I’ve often thought that this running lark might be a jolly fine thing to do. It’s easily accomplished, should be really good exercise and it’s absolutely free. So every now and again I would don shorts and training shoes and off I’d go. A couple of hundred yards later I would be huffing and puffing and aching and hurting in all sorts of places. My brain would be screaming at me to stop before I died. I knew those messages were ridiculous as I’ve seen vast numbers of people run more than two hundred metres so surely it couldn’t be fatal. I would push on a little further but the pain overwhelmed me and I would be found clutching a lampost, fighting for breath and feeling thoroughly useless and ridiculously unfit. I was sure that this reaction must be psychosomatic despite what seemed like so much physical evidence so would try again and again and just find myself clutching yet another lampost feeling pathetic. And so things continued until I discovered something called Parkrun. Every Saturday morning for 09:00 large groups of volunteers mark out a 5 kilometre route, and runners turn up to run the course. You get a bar code by registering on the web site and the volunteers will time you and provide a finishing tag. You then take the barcode and finishing tag to the scanning team and the results are then published on the Parkrun website. A marvellous resource indeed and completely free but of course I worried and dithered for along time before I went along to give it a try.

pipsxebook_html_m78605689I mean this was 5 kilometres for goodness sake. That’s a long long way. Surely I could never run that kind of distance. Armed with this mighty multitude of negative thoughts I turned up to give it a try, confident that if I found it too difficult I could just give up and go home. This plan was immediately scuppered when I encountered a friend and work colleague there who assured me that after he finished he would wait by the finish line to cheer me in.


I started near the back of the field and was cheered to find that we set off quite slowly and the people around me were doing quite a gentle little trot. Excellent, thinks I. This pace will suit me nicely. Then after a kilometre the pain hits. I can’t breathe and I know my face is contorting madly as I strain desperately to try and get some air into my lungs. It seems that it doesn’t matter how wide I open my mouth I just can’t get any oxygen in there. I’m now swaying from side to side with my mouth agape doing a fine impersonation of a great galumphing hippopotamus.

pipsxebook_html_m57f54f8dMy mind screams at me to stop before I die. I keep going. My heart starts thumping and I feel a pain there. See, says my brain. You wouldn’t listen to me and now you’re going to have a heart attack. I ignore the pain and carry on. Now the muscles in my legs are starting to do strange twanging things. I imagine tendons being stretched to breaking point and snapping abruptly leaving me with useless floppy limbs. I reject the floppy limbs scenario and keep going.The brain then realises that it needs to get more sneaky if it’s going to get me to stop. Maybe you could just rest for a bit Jim. Surely just a moments rest wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Possibly a rest might help and then you could run faster after you’ve recovered. Tempting indeed but I realise these are brain tricks. At that point one of the volunteers shouts out the time we’ve been running. I start doing calculations in my head trying to figure out what speed I’m going and extrapolating my finish time if I actually do finish. This keeps me occupied for some time and I pass the 2 kilometre marker. This is a revelation as I realise that I haven’t died yet and the pain hasn’t gotten worse. What’s even better is that I’m now breathing fairly evenly. There are still scary wheezing noises emanating from my mouth but I no longer feel like I’m fighting for every breath. This buoys me up a little and I push on to 3 kilometres with only muted screaming noises going on inside my head. Then the doubts come flooding back in. Three kilometres is only a little over halfway. That strange twanging feeling at the back of my knee has made itself known again. Maybe if I keep going it will just snap and I may never be able to walk again. I picture myself negotiating the rest of my life in a wheelchair. It all feels so vivid and I’m convinced that the reality will be realised in only a few seconds if I don’t stop now. I try distracting myself with numbers again but it isn’t working. I’ve slowed down from a trot to a totter and look close to falling over. A volunteer asks me if I’m OK and I try to look brave and assure them that I’m absolutely fine. They ask if I’m sure and I reply in the affirmative. I obviously don’t look OK. Then something magical happens. I encounter the 4 kilometre sign. This sign means there is just one kilometre left. I start counting down. These are manageable numbers now. The end is no longer an unobtainable goal. I count up to a hundred and that means there are only about 900 metres to go. I count to another hundred and think aargh, these numbers aren’t going down very much. It’s still a long way to the finish. However, thinks I. Maybe I haven’t been entirely accurate and possibly instead of 800 metres left there are only 750. In fact while I’ve been thinking about this I could have run another fifty metres so there could only be 700 metres left. No that’s silly you’re just kidding yourself. I argue back and forth about how much I’m deluding myself as regards the distance left to cover and then all doubt is vanquished as I see a sign telling me that there are only 300 metres to go. Hurrah thinks I surging forward and then rapidly running out of steam as I find that 300 metres is still quite a long way. Eventually I stagger across the finish line and collect my finishing tag. I lie down on the grass feeling totally exhausted but elated. My mind told me that it couldn’t be done. It was absolutely emphatic about it and yet it had lied. I had reached the end and although I ached and hurt, I was not injured and I was now a 5 kilometre runner (albeit a 5 kilometre runner who was walking like a drunken cowboy). This was a distance that I never thought I would attain. I’ve been out running quite a bit since then and the battle against my brain still happens every time. It was particularly prominent recently when I started to run 10 kilometres. My brain said this was a ridiculous notion and threw many obstacles into my path. I would say that I stepped deftly around these obstacles but I think it is probably more accurate to say I staggered and stumbled my way through until I reached my 10 kilometres. I’m more confident about my running now but the brain still occasionally wins through. If it can’t stop me it tries to suggest I should rest this week and run a little slower so that I can make an extra special attempt next week. It’s a tricksy little bunch of neurons that brain thing.

I wonder if I should have a bash at a half marathon?