Friday 16 September 2011

24 hours in the Asylum

So, a week ago I headed up to Lincoln for Weekend at the Asylum, the UK and Europe's premier steampunk event. This was the third year it had been running and although it was my first visit, Pax Britannia had been there from the start, with guests at the inaugural event receiving either a copy of Unnatural History or Leviathan Rising as a gift.

I arrived at my hotel in good time and so headed off into Lincoln itself. The Asylum is located within the historic part of the town at the top of the hill. Close by are Bailgate, the Cathedral and the Castle. During the course of my walk I discovered that Steep Hill is aptly named and was delighted to see that the city was gearing up for a weekend of steam-themed goodness, with many shops bearing a sign that read...

I also encountered various ladies and gentlemen in elegant dress, looking like they had just stepped out of a Doctor Who Christmas special. By comparison, my 'Powered by Steam!' T-shirt looked like a very poor effort indeed.

Before I knew it, it was time to check in at the Asylum itself, ready to join the merriment surrounding the launch of Robert Rankin's latest novel The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age. It was here that I bumped into old steampunk friends Willoughby Chase and Herr Doktor*, and met a number of other first-timers, Esther, Vincent and James. My new friends had really entered into the spirit of the event, with Esther basing her look on the entirety of Alice in Wonderland, and it was several hours later that we parted company before we drank the bar at the Victoria Inn dry.

Fellow first-timers - James, Esther and Vincent.

Next morning I was up bright and early** ready to bring Pax Britannia to the masses when Weekend at the Asylum really got going in earnest. Major Tinker welcomed everybody in the Exhibition Hall and then proceeded to introduce all of us visiting authors to the indulgent throng. This was totally unexpected (at least on my part) but also totally brilliant because it really helped to break the ice. I was particularly pleased because Tinker referred to me as 'a Geek's Geek' which is probably the nicest thing anyone's said about me in a long while.

With introductions over, people started to visit my table - attracted no doubt by Pye Parr's fabulous banner - but before I knew it I was being author-wrangled upstairs to the Little Theatre to give a talk about my writing and the world of Pax Britannia, concluding with a reading from the forthcoming Time's Arrow and a Q&A session. The audience*** were most appreciative and included Wilf Lunn - yes, the Wilf Lunn from my TV childhood!

Wilf Lunn, the man himself - living TV legend and the original steampunk!

It was then back downstairs to flog my wares, with The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus selling particularly well. The rest of the day passed in a blur of fantastic costumes, appreciative fans, new converts, Penny Farthing races, chats with other steampunk authors****, and River Song look-a-likes. My new friends stopped by to provide a bit of moral support and also looked after my stall for a while so that I might take a look at the art exhibition***** which featured pieces by Herr Doktor and Arfon Jones' stuffed Womble.

Mr Vincent Shaw-Morton and Miss R R Hood.

'Womblus Wimbledon Vulgaris', discovered by Professor Arfon Jones.

As the day's events drew to a close - which included a costume competition, won by a young lady in jodphurs wearing something akin to Spring-Heeled Jack's jet-pack - the steampunks departed to take part in a sanctioned Guinness World Record attempt****** and the hall was emptied in preparation for that evening's Empire Ball. I was released from the Asylum******* as, unfortunately, my twenty-four hours were up. It was time to head back down south, my mind a-whirl with fresh ideas and my heart lifted by a host of new friendships made.

This bottle of toffee vodka and absinthe lolly were both gifts - so my thanks go to Professor T Bottom and Miss Emilly Ladybird.

Oh, and having met Ulysses Quicksilver himself at the steampunk event at Kew Bridge Steam Museum, this time I think I met my Steampunk Muse!

I've enjoyed steampunk, in books and comics and on film, for the best part of twenty years or more, before I even realised what steampunk was. I've been writing steampunk for the last five, but I've never actually 'done' the whole steampunk scene.

But since returning from Lincoln I've noticed a change coming over me. I've started checking out Victorian frock coats online and have even bid on a pair of goggles on eBay. That's right - steampunk, like a Bengal tiger, has well and truly got my claws into me now. And I don't think it's going to be letting go any time soon...

PS - If you've not seen it already, my vlog about Weekend at the Asylum is available here for your viewing pleasure.

* 'Old' meaning I'd met them once before.

** One of these statements might not be entirely true.

*** Who made up for what they lacked in numbers with their attentiveness and the quality of their many questions.

**** Amongst those I met were Raven Dane, Sam Stone, David J Howe and Toby Frost of Space Captain Smith fame.

***** Which included Vincent's steampunk rendition of Miss R R Hood - which went on to win the Ruskin!

****** Greatest number of steampunks gathered in one place at the same time, I believe.

******* For good behaviour I believe, although I really rather wish I hadn't been.

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