I was five days in Epinal at the Imaginales festival. It was a tremendous event. Full of colour and played out in a relaxed and informed atmosphere. What I really wanted to bring to the attention of anyone who cares to read, was the way the festival was organised.
This was no geek convention hidden away in a hotel. This was an event staged with financial backing as well as moral support from the city authorities. There was involvment from local schools, restaurants all over the city took festival meal tickets as part payment, adverts and banners were on every street corner.
The result was total inclusivity. The ages of people walking through the doors to wander around the stalls and author desks or attend panels ranged from 6 to 75. The festival was opened by the deputy mayor and she was there every day for an hour or so. I had people buy my books that had never read fantasy before but thought they’d give it a go because the promotion of the festival had sparked an interest. Mothers bought books for sons and daughters and decided they’d read them too.
The model for the festival was not complex. There was a small door charge. 2 euro, I think, which gave you access for that day’s events. Thousands turned up. Most to wander the stalls but a good number then listened to panels.
Now I might be being unfair to convention organisers elsewhere, but the impression I get from France is one of acceptance while in the UK at least, we seem to hide ourselves as if we’re ashamed of our passion for our genre. If we really want to bring ourselves to the attention of the wider reading population, we have to go out and encourage them to come in. It’s fantastic that Worldcon 2005 is taking place in a major exhibition centre but how much support has the city been asked for? I’m sure they’re delighted that WorldCon is bringing thousands to the city to spend money and enjoy themselves but are they doing their bit to increase participation among the local populace?
My personal experience of conventions thus far suggests they will do little, having been asked to do little. Please tell me if I’m off beam here because admittedly I do not know the inner mechanics but that’s the perception. And as all of us who have ever worked in advertising or marketing know, perceptions, real or imagined, are very important.
So, it’s out there… have your say. Perhaps you don’t want a sceptic audience coming through the doors. Perhaps you want to know you are among like-minded people. I’d love it because then you can challenge perceptions and maybe change one or two. I feel sometimes we exist in a comfortable cocoon and enjoy the feeling of being a minority that other people ‘just don’t understand’. I’m sure it makes some within the genre feel somehow that they own a secret that makes them superior.
WorldCon, indeed every convention, is a potential showcase for the genre. Too often they only ever preach to the converted. Let’s take on the Epinal model… at least try it out. Let’s open the cocoon and spread our wings.
Blimey. That turned into something close to a rant. I feel better now.