Sunday, 1 November 2015

TitanCon 2015

Last month I attended the fifth TitanCon, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was the first TitanCon I'd attended, although I had gone to a fan "moot" in 2009 during the filming of the pilot episode of Game of Thrones. Several cast and crewmembers attended that moot, along with George R.R.Martin, and everyone had a great time (reports can be seen here, here and here, and you may recognise some of my photos from memes that have since sprung up online).

TitanCon itself started as a Game of Thrones-oriented event, although it's always had a strong literature track. This year, the international demands of filming for Game of Thrones and the growing expense of attending actors meant that none of the current cast was able to join us. Several crewmembers - most impressively Will Simpson, the show's senior concept artist and visualiser-in-chief - did attend and we were joined by returning actors Miltos Yerolemou (who played Syrio Forel in Season 1) and Aimee Richardson (who played Myrcella Baratheon in the first two seasons). With the GoT participation reduced, the literature track had to step up and it did in style.

The attending authors included Joe Abercrombie (The First Law Trilogy, The Shattered Sea, Best Served Cold), Sarah Pinborough (The Death House, The Dog-Faced Gods, The Nowhere Chronicles), Pat Cadigan (Synners, Fools, Mindplayers and numerous short stories), Peadar Ó Guilín (The Bone World Trilogy, The Call), Laurence Donaghy (The Folk'd Trilogy), Debbie "DJ" McCune (the Death and Co. series), Jo Zebedee (Abendau's Heir) and debut author Zoë Sumra (Sailor to a Siren). On the Friday evening (25 September) the authors read from their new books (or, in Joe's case, from The Heroes). Laurance Donaghy made a notable impact by reading an excellent and witty short story about God making an adoption application, which he'd only written the day before.

The main day of the convention was Saturday 26 September. I moderated a panel on Season 5 with Miltos, Aimee and Will. We discussed fan reactions to the divisive (putting it mildly) season, Will's feelings when the show won its glut of Emmy Awards and the circumstances behind Myrcella being recast (and maximum credit for Aimee handling that potentially awkward discussion with good humour and grace). Will also outlined the process how a sequence such as the Battle of Hardhome started with the script, was then expanded by his concept art and ideas and then turned into a detailed battle-plan on how to film it, before effects are added. He hinted that similar big scenes may lie ahead in Season 6, but was unable to say more.

Season 6 proved to be the main discussion point for a second panel later in the day, hosted by the mighty Peadar Ó Guilín (with myself as a guest). Due to the lack of actors currently on the show this was adjusted on the fly to involve the audience more and there was a lot of entertaining discussion about the divergence between the books and the TV series what plot points the upcoming season might develop further.

On the literature side of things, I attended an amusing panel about sex and how to write and handle it. The highlight of this panel was Joe Abercrombie reading a particularly...vivid sex scene from Morrissey's new novel.

There was also a quiz drawing on 1980s gameshow Blankey Blank pitting, which I did miserably at (although I did win membership of next year's convention as a consolation prize), but was hilarious, mainly for Joe Abercrombie winning a prize of George R.R. Martin's face.

Things wrapped up with a performance show put on by Brutal Ballet and then some karaoke and partying. A great time was had by all.

The Sunday was reserved for a special event: a coach trip around Northern Ireland to visit locations used on Game of Thrones. These included Ballintoy Harbour, where Iron Island scenes were shot for Season 2, and Portstewart Strand, where scenes were filmed for Dorne in Season 5. We also visited Larrybane Quarry, where scenes involving Renly and Stannis meeting in Season 2 were shot. The day was marked by a brutal rivalry between the two coaches, with escalating comments made on Twitter and Facebook. Things were wrapped up at Clandeboye Estate where the travellers on Coach One staged a brutal mock-Red Wedding on their Coach Two comrades. Then it was back to the hotel to watch the lunar eclipse. We took advantage of the coach's intercom system to hold a mobile panel on Aragorn's economic policies against the orcs post the War of the Ring (a topic much-discussed by GRRM recently), which was both random and fun.

There was no programming for the Monday, and with my flight not leaving until late the day was instead spent in the hotel bar with a surprisingly large number of other attendees. Comedy was invoked when an actual wedding party showed up, so one of our attending musicians decided to provide an appropriate soundtrack:

Overall, TitanCon was enormous fun. Belfast is a fun city (and unexpectedly great for burrito restaurants), the surrounding countryside is beautiful and the coach tour was a great way of both seeing the sights and also bonding with fellow attendees, some of whom went on to attend OctoCon in Dublin a couple of weeks later.

This was my first TitanCon but certainly won't be the last. With the chaotic shooting schedule of Game of Thrones likely to continue and the show likely to end in 2018, TitanCon is going to continue its evolution into a more general SFF convention for Northern Ireland, which is a good move. In 2016 it will likely be held earlier in the year (possibly early August) and I will certainly be attending.

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