I've been a writer for many years, and a geek long before that, so the concept of the convention has always been on the edges of my awareness. I'd been to ostensibly similar events before, trade shows, educational lecture days, even Games Workshop's Games Days in my youth, but I'd never plucked up the courage nor the money to make it to a proper writing convention. So when the opportunity to attend Eastercon arose as part of our belated honeymoon discussions, I leapt at it.
In short, Eastercon's a four day con over the Easter weekend, focusing heavily - but not exclusively - on science-fiction & fantasy writing. Geek convention stand-bys like autograph-hunting and cosplay are downplayed except for at specific events during the weekend, and while I don't have direct experience as a basis for comparison it seems like it's laid-back by con standards. It's just as suitable to spend the weekend in the bar meeting people and chatting into the night as it is to attend any of the lectures or panels.
Since this was our first con, Jenny & I turned up on the first night pre-con knowing that there were few, if any, people we knew in the hotel until the following day. We retired to the bar anyway and played Carcassonne on the perfectly-sized tables, drinking cripplingly-expensive mojitos while all around us people reunited with friends and acquaintances from past cons.
The following morning we got into the swing of things; our panels weren't until the Saturday night, so Friday was entirely set aside for meeting people and stopping by at whatever program items we had a particular desire to attend. Luckily we quickly ran into aliettedb and were rapidly introduced to a number of her friends. We excused ourselves early afternoon to go to a reading by Emma Newman, who we'd had brief online interactions with as she was going to be on our panel later in the weekend, and upon emerging from said panel we found our way to the second hotel bar, in a glass-ceilinged atrium full of weird glass bridges over water features. There Emma introduced us to a couple of people, who introduced us to a few more, and a few more. As the day proceeded in much the same vein we realised the secret of Eastercon; the web of interconnections between people is so dense that even one starting point is enough to introduce you to hundreds of people, and everyone's so friendly that we ended up having long conversations with whole bunches of people we'd never met before.
We spent an afternoon nattering away to Anne Lyle, and I suspect we met Mhairi Simpson that day, too (since our encounters with Mhairi seemed to be the ongoing theme of this con), went to a couple of panels, out for a curry then crashed early. Meeting people - even delightful ones - is hard work sometimes!
Saturday was much the same - including opportunities to finally meet in the flesh my fellow Anxious Appliance members Martin Owton & the newly-bookdealed Laura Lam - topped off with Jenny & I taking part in the Publishing Outside the Box panel with Paul and Emma. It went fairly well, I think, given how late it was on a Saturday night; attendance was reasonable, and some interesting discussion was had between the panel and the audience.
Whoever scheduled the Zombie Biology panel for 10am on Easter Sunday deserves a medal; it was packed, and I was very lucky to have a whole panel of folks who knew more about the subject than I did. Lovely, they were, and the audience were both interactive and appreciative. Overall I had a whale of a time, and I'll definitely be up for more panels next con. Otherwise, Sunday continued according to form; more random introductions, a second - extended - meeting with the lovely Janet Edwards, and finally as Sunday night approached, we got around to the 'sitting and drinking with a bunch of writers and talking craft' part of the con, the only thing that I felt I'd been missing in the whole whirlwind of introductions and panels.
It's a crying shame that Sunday evening was overshadowed by the BSFA Awards speech. Eastercon 2012 was about far more than that, and it would be a great shame if that were its lasting legacy. Eastercon introduced us to the con experience, one which we can't help but want to repeat in following years; it was welcoming and friendly, discussed difficult topics as well as frivolous ones, and for the majority of the con appeared to be taking great steps towards inclusivity.
If that's the con experience we can expect, you won't be able to keep us away next year!