I just spent a wonderful two days at LeakyCon London. For those of you who don't know – which I'm ashamed to say I didn't before I was invited to it – LeakyCon is a convention that celebrates the Harry Potter fandom, and just being a fan in general. It's described as "a place where fans can, finally, be their true selves. Where that’s the coolest thing in the world to be".
As someone who never exactly fit in as a kid, I loved the idea of this con, guided by the three principles of "friendship, community and love". I was thrilled to be invited by Melissa Anelli, who is currently webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron. She co-founded LeakyCon with Stephanie Dornhelm in 2009, and it's since grown into something quite extraordinary. This is the first year that LeakyCon has been held in Europe, so I had no idea what to expect. It was much, much bigger than I anticipated. It was held in the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, which is as grand as the name suggests. Floor after floor, room after room. There's also an enormous 'Great Hall' where most of the talks were held. There was tonnes of Harry Potter paraphernelia on sale, including beautiful replica wands, Hogwarts robes and potions ingredients. You were assigned a house upon arrival, and I'm proud as punch to say I ended up in Gryffindor. There seemed to be an abundance of Hufflepuffs . . . not that there's anything wrong with being a Hufflepuff.
Although LeakyCon is largely centred around Harry Potter, there are also plenty of opportunities to celebrate other fandoms and, most importantly, the love of reading. Waterstones Oxford Street even set up a stall there. I was invited to LeakyCon as part of LitTrack, or LeakyLit, which is co-ordinated by Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman. LitTrack celebrates literature in general, particularly YA literature. I did four panels over the two days I was there.
Friday 9 August
I arrived at LeakyCon at about 9:00 and met up with Ian Lamb from Bloomsbury's children's division, who was kind enough to keep me company for the morning. I was halfway through having breakfast and a coffee when this happened.
Yes, that's Hank Green.
So I sat there staring up at Hank Green in silent awe, trying to process the fact that he'd just breezed into the room (almost as if he were a normal person, or something crazy like that), until I finally plucked up the courage to say hello and tell him how much I loved his videos. And his brother's books. And being a Nerdfighter. He was incredibly friendly and modest. He was not only happy to have a photo taken, but even asked if he could have a copy of The Bone Season. I can't describe how thrilled I was. He was on his way to the Nerdfighter gathering, which had an enormous audience.
My morning having been made, I made my way up four flights of stairs to my first panel, 'Let's Make a World', accompanied by James Dawson (Hollow Pike, Cruel Summer), Laure Eve (Fearsome Dreamer), Matt Whyman (The Savages) and Will Hill (Department 19). We had a great discussion about worldbuilding that inevitably veered off into a wider chat about critique, showing your manuscript to other people, and much more. After that, at 12:30, we did a signing in the Waterstones Oxford Street room before the next, intriguingly-titled panel, 'Fear and Loathing in the Writing Process: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Terror'. I wasn't sure what to expect with this one – I'd originally assumed it was all about dystopian literature – but it turned out that not all of us had written dystopian novels; in fact, most hadn't. This time, Laure, James and I were joined by the wonderful Sally Gardner (Maggot Moon) and Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire), while Will and Matt did their panel 'Flesh, Delicious Flesh' next door. (A discussion about whether vampires or cannibals would win in a fight, apparently. It was decided that they'd be friends.) Our panel was moderated by John Green's assistant in the UK, Rosianna Halse Rojas. We talked about the fear of all writers that they're 'fake' in some way, or that writing isn't a 'real' job, and how we coped with writer's block. After that I was off home, but not before I snagged some bottled dragon heartstring from the market. No regrets.
Saturday 10 August
I arrived at LeakyCon incredibly early, so I had about three lots of breakfast in the President's Room to pass the time. This time I was accompanied by Ianthe Cox-Willmott from Bloomsbury. After that it was off to my first panel of the day, 'The Student Authors'. This panel was my first one with only one other author, Abigail Gibbs. Abigail is the author of Dinner With a Vampire, first in the Dark Heroine series, and was discovered on Wattpad when she was only seventeen. I never considered putting The Bone Season online, but it worked for Abigail and also, as I've mentioned before, for Sarah J. Maas, whose Throne of Glass books were up on FictionPress.com before being picked up by Bloomsbury. It was fascinating to hear about non-traditional publishing routes. Abigail is still battling her way heroically through an Oxford degree, so we had plenty to talk about. Then we were off to another signing with Elizabeth, James, Matt and Dawn O'Porter before the second panel, 'Who Needs School?', moderated by Rosianna again.
This panel was particularly interesting. We all talked about how we felt our backgrounds had influenced our writing lives. James had trained as a teacher; Matt was a dropout before doing a Master's in Creative Writing; Abigail and I had both studied English at uni; Elizabeth had done a PhD in folklore ('I think I've spent more years studying than most of you have been alive,' she said wryly). Matt had previously worked as a ghostwriter and agony uncle before becoming a novelist, and said that in spite of the moral ambiguity of ghostwriting, especially for celebrities, it's a good way for talented writers to get a foot in the door. It gives a voice to those who can't express theirs. James had previously written scripts for Say Say Girls and done other paid work, and said that sometimes it's good for writers to take breaks from their novels and branch out.
After the panel I went back down to the President's Room to meet Ianthe and say goodbye, only to see Evanna Lynch just casually sitting there with Hank Green and a bunch of other Harry Potter actors. I decided if I stayed a minute longer I might actually take up residence in the Grand Connaught Rooms and never leave, so I quickly headed home.
5 things I learned from LeakyCon
1. Matt Whyman is Pudsey.
2. There is a Les Misérables fandom.
3. Hank Green is a real person, not just a face on a computer screen.
4. JK Rowling founded a charity called Lumos that helps children in institutions.
5. I really need to read Harry Potter again.
I'd like to say a big "thank you" to everyone who attended my panels, asked questions, bought books or just said hi at LeakyCon. I feel very privileged to have shared this event with everyone, and highly recommend it to Potterheads, fans of things, or just people who love reading. Here's to the next one!