Overcoming Anxiety: A Review of Octocon 2015

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This is a strange kind of article for ICN but it is based around a review of a convention held in Dublin and guest stars a few Irish creators so I am going to cite that as reason enough. This is a kind of second coming out for me. The first one happened when I was in my early 20s and it has taken me till my 30s to get to the stage where I don’t really care when people find out of I am gay. My second coming out was inspired by my weekend at Octocon where some of the time was spent discussing the topic of social anxiety and where I was amazed to learn certain people were sufferers. I won’t be mentioning any names save one as it is up to those people to decide whether they want that public. The name I will mention is guest of honour, and a kind of inspiration for this piece, Emma Newman. She discusses the topic of social anxiety on her blog and has inspired me to talk about my anxiety and mild depression.

I was always planning to attend Octocon as I have done so on several occasions in the past and have always found it to be an entertaining, informative and often inspiring weekend. I would also get a chance to catch up some friends that I don’t get to see as often as I would like. However, a few weeks before the event, my role over the weekend was changed. The lovely Carol Connolly asked if I would volunteer to do a few panels. Fighting my internal doubting voice, I agreed. Managing to completely cage the beast, I forgot about it for a few days. Then I got the panel list. “Forced Socialisation: Promotion in the Age of Social Media”. Ok. I can do that one. ICN does promotion. I know the moderator Janet O’Sullivan on Twitter. Should be fine. “Aural Fiction”. I listen to Big Finish Audios. I can talk about that. I don’t know any of the panelists.. erm… “Local Heroes: UK-and-Irish Made Comics…” Ok. Sounds like my area. Plus I know most of the panel. Leeann Hamilton. Michael Carroll. Rob Curley and, once again, Janet O’Sullivan. Don’t know John Vaughan, I’m the moderator. That’s a first… Then I had to do an “Upcoming Events” panel at the end of the con. Slight anxiety.

On the first day of the con, I attended the Opening Ceremony which was attended by both guests of honour: writer, and friend, Maura McHugh and writer Emma Newman. Spotting someone I know always does a great deal to soothe my anxiety and I managed to have a brief chat with Maura which enabled me to have a brief exchange with Emma Newman. Maura has the lovely habit of always introducing me to people at cons in case I haven’t met them before. This does wonders for me as I am terrible at first introductions and tend to gravitate towards people I already know. My first impressions of Emma Newman were strange considering what I know now. She was wearing a wonderful blue dress which was of an older vintage in style, some brown leather gloves and had a streak of grey going through her hair reminiscent of Rogue from the X-men. She had the look of an adventurer who might accompany a Time Lord on his travails through Victorian London. It was not too long after that that I had pleasure of being on a panel with Emma (“Forced Socialisation: Promotion in the Age of Social Media”) and I learned that the outfit, which she made, was her method of combating the trauma of attending a convention (she tries to make a new outfit for every con). Looking back, I wonder if my chosen outfit (jeans, t-shirt and jacket) fulfils a similar purpose. I really enjoyed the panel and felt I added something. I’d assumed the title related to socially anxious people being forced to socialised and the panel discussed that for a bit. Janet O’Sullivan did a nice job of keeping me involved. I had survived the first day.

The second day had me being more of an attendee as my panels were later in the day and so I was freed up to be audience member. I attended the “Bad Advice” panel, where creators gave advise and told stories of what not to do to get published, the “Study Into The Historical Impact of Time Travel” panel, where creators discussed time travel stories that worked, some interesting concepts related to time travel and how to write an entertaining time travel story and “They Shoot collaborators, don’t they?” where Maura McHugh interviewed Paul Bolger. He talked about working with Barry Devlin and why having another artist draw The Hound wouldn’t have worked for him. He also hinted at future collaborations (as soon as we know more, we will be talking about it). The day was going well. I was coffee’d up and not a huge amount of anxiety. That was until the “Aural Fiction” panel was getting close. I began to doubt my ability to contribute especially after the moderator, writer Peadar Ó Guillín, got us to introduce ourselves and we had Roger Gregg, who had worked on radio plays for RTE, Peter Newman, a writer who had his book turned into an audio book and co-writes and stars in The Tea & Jeopardy Podcast and Emma Newman, who presents and co-writes that same podcast and performs in the audio book versions of her books. I listen to Doctor Who audio plays… erm… All was well in the end as Peadar endeavoured to keep me included even when I didn’t think that I was qualified to answer a question. Also, the lovely Carol Connolly asked me a question from the audience which was soothing. (On a side note: I have since sampled The Tea & Jeopardy podcast and suggest you find time for a nice cup of tea and a spot of mild peril).

The “Local Heroes: UK-and-Irish Made Comics” panel had seemed like the lesser of all the evils as I felt this one was the one I was most qualified to be on. Even so, I was only mostly joking when I asked Michael Carroll if he’d like to moderate the panel (he had just moderated “…I’ll Print My Own Book!” which I would have loved to have attended but I was on the “Aural Fiction” panel). My doubting Thomas of a brain still can’t get around the fact that he considers me a friend. He is one of those people that make you feel at ease. He had even managed to make me feel good about the panel when he told me it was the one he was looking forward to. I had still managed to get myself worked up as I had learned earlier in the day that the panel was about 1970s UK comics (to begin with) which I told myself I couldn’t talk about. I think I use humour to cover nerves as I just joked on the panel that it was before I was born. The panelists made it easy work in the end and I had survived another day.

Some days you just don’t want to get out of bed. Mild depression kind of amplifies this. I had no commitments on the Sunday save the “Upcoming Events” panel so my little voice could easily convinced myself to go nowhere. I took the fight to him though. Maura McHugh’s Guest of Honour panel was on 1pm and I told my voice that I wanted to be there for my friend’s moment and to cover it for the website. I arrived at the convention and found Maura McHugh, Michael Carroll and more having a chat in the lobby. It was still one of those days and I so I had to force myself to go over and say hello. Mike, as always, made me instantly at ease and I managed to bring up the fact that I had brought some New Heroes books for him to sign and to discuss some of the things I enjoyed about Super Human which I had just finished. I ended up having an interesting chat with Maura McHugh, Leonia Carroll (another good friend of mine) and Lynda Rucker, who ended up doing a superb job of interviewing Maura.

I attending two more panels that Michael was on (“I Miss Star Trek” which made me miss Star Trek even more and “The Third Golden Age of Television” which also made me miss Star Trek) before attending possibly my favourite panel of the weekend purely from an emotive standpoint “Octocon at 25”. Panelists reminisced about organising previous conventions, past guests and some funny stories. It reminded me what a good convention is all about. People getting together to share their geekery. I had to follow that in the “Upcoming Events” panel. The people who weren’t watching the rugby had crowded in for the Closing Ceremony that was to follow. I think the previous panel had put me in a good place as I was in a joking mood. I booed MCM, joked that Maura McHugh was organising a, much needed, Galway convention which moderator Carol Connolly dubbed “McHugh Con” and managed to cover all conventions in 2016 (even those that are currently only hints and allegations). That largely covers the weekend.

So what was the purpose of this meandering article? I suppose it shows that a socially anxious guy can do stuff he thinks he can’t even if he has done before, that good friends are worth their weight in gold, and that if you want a weekend full of science fiction geekery, you should probably attend Octocon 2016! I do hope they get that Dublin gets WorldCon in 2019. I almost signed up to be a volunteer but, if the “Octocon at 25” panel thought me anything, that is where true madness lies.