The cafe at the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre in Newport, South Wales is light, airy and bustling. Not the sort of place you’d expect to find monsters, ghouls, robots and hobbits, even though Dr Who is a familiar face in this part of Wales these days. But the Riverfront played host to Space, Time, Machine and Monster – a literature festival celebrating all things fantasy, sci fi and horror last weekend.
I arrived in between sessions, so the crowd was not as large as it might have been. The atmosphere was one of polite expectation and a bit more cultured than I expected. I’m not sure why, but I had imagined I’d see on arrival a sea of teenage, black-clad fangirls and boys, like a throwback to an 80s heavy metal concert. There was the odd black floorlength coat to be seen (and speaker Gwilym Games carried his off very nicely!) but overall, regular jeans and sensible shoes seemed more the order of the day. I was also pleasantly surprised by the gender balance. Sci fi and horror in particular are often regarded as rather masculine worlds, so it was good to see a strong female presence at the event. (And a special mention here to Hannah who gave me a great book recommendation!)
At £30 for a day ticket, the festival was incredibly good value. I could have attended up to 8 events over the course of the day, which would have worked out at less than £4 per hour-long session. However, given the need to eat and drink at some point over the 9 hours I spent there, I decided to stick to just 6:
A Million Different Ways to Tell a Story
Tolkien’s Middle Earth: Fantasy and Reality
Arthur Machen, Master of Holy Terrors
Housekeeping in Alien Worlds
Writing for Games
Ahead of the day, the big draws for me were the Tolkien session and Writing for Games. I’m just finishing up a Coursera Mooc focusing on Narrative and Online Gaming with Lord of the Rings as the central text, so the Tolkien session was a must-see, especially as it was led by Dr Dimitra Fimi, a professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University who is an award winning scholar in Tolkien studies and also runs online courses on Tolkien. I also wanted to see if Rhianna Pratchett, who delivered Writing for Games, could provide any insights for my final course assignment, which was to remediate a medieval poem as a game.
However, (and I suspect regular attendees of these kinds of events will probably say “told you so!”) the big surprise was that the sessions I found most valuable and inspiring were A Million Ways to Tell a Story, by Yomi Ayeni and the Arthur Machen session led by Gwilym Games and Catherine Fisher. I’d intended to write a blog post about the day, but actually, the sessions were so packed full of interesting things, I have too much to tell you to keep it all to one post! So I’m going to cover each event separately over the next few days.
In short though: a brilliant, brilliant day, worth every penny! I hope it runs next year, and I might even come in costume, like the guy who turned up in Victorian red jacket, cravat and playing card decorated top hat!