At long last, here is the Gallifrey report. Sorry for the ridiculous delay, which means it is now only a month till the next convention... This report is very, very, *very* long. It contains swearing. If you have no interest in (a) Doctor Who and Torchwood, (b) Doctor Who and Torchwood conventions, or (c) what it's like to suddenly be famous for 3 days, then this post will be fantastically dull for you. I recommend you wait for the next one, or re-read a previous one, or just stare blankly into the distance for a while. So let's go! Who's still with me?? ...Hello?
Needed to finish my final draft of Spooks: Code 9 (because filming starts the following Monday) on the plane, which all went nice and smoothly. Rest of the flight didn't. We were an hour late taking off. Then the entertainment system broke down after 30 minutes, and the only thing that worked, was - yes - the little map thing. I am jinxed with plane video screens. There were also 3 screaming kids in my section, arranged around the area in a Triangle of Madness and Despair. So it was a long, long flight. Got my work done, then listened to my iPod for the rest of it.
Landed at LAX, which is short for Los Angeles Airport, er, Xtravaganza. Went to join the immigration queue, only to find what seemed like the entire population of China in front of me, for some reason. Queue must have been over a hundred feet long, 6 people deep, all of them Chinese. Luckily they moved us delayed BA passengers to a shorter queue, cause we'd already been held up for an hour. Went through the scary immigration interview thing ("why are you here? what do you want? ARE YOU A FUCKIN TERRORIST?? ARE YOU???? no? oh okay then, have a great time") and shuttle bussed my way to the hotel. Checked in, emailed my Code 9 draft off, had a quick look around, then decided to just sleep - I'd had hardly any sleep the past 2 nights, had been up since 8am that morning, and it was about 4am my time now.
Came out to the front desk to find a shaving kit. And as I was waiting there, Steven Moffat - The Moff - walked past. Didn't have my glasses on, so wasn't sure if it was him at first. Just as I realised it was really him, he recognised me. The Moff! Recognised me! He came over, shook my hand, said he really liked my Torchwood episode, and hey there's a few of us at the bar, why not come over for a drink? After I'd picked my jaw up off the floor, I babbled something about how he was a genius and I didn't have my glasses and jetlag and omg it's the Moff and haha and good lord, but he'd been in the bar for a while so it didn't matter that I wasn't making much sense. We chatted for a bit about how weird it was writing for Doctor Who for the first time, as a fan and a pro writer - me and the Moff! talking shop! - and then he went back to the bar. I got my shaving kit, dumped it in my room, and of course went right back to the fucking bar to see him and the others, on a Moff and Who buzz, jetlag forgotten. He's really funny and was exceptionally nice to me, bought me drinks, I chatted with him, several other people, and then started feeling fuzzy and dangerously tired. And still trying to get my head around the fact that I had just been talking with Steven Moffat about writing Doctor Who. I half expected the Daleks and Cybermen to come out and start singing and dancing for me.
Sat down to get my bearings, looked up, and realised that Salina and a few of the Torchwood gang were standing right there. These are the people who dress up as the Torchwood crew and do terrible things to each other with laser screwdrivers, all in public, it's shocking behaviour. Salina was instrumental in bringing me to the attention of the Gallifrey folk, which meant I could be brought over, so she is now automatically on the Cool List. I talked utter nonsense at them for a while, because I was making zero sense by this point. They pretended that I was talking in English, which was nice of them. It wasn't hugely late, but I had to crawl off to my bed, crying in pain from the sleep deprivation, and that was the end of Thursday.
Didn't sleep well Thursday night, only got 5 or 6 hours, so I was way behind on sleep catchup. This continued for the whole weekend. Normally I'm okay with jetlag, I just stay awake on the first day until it's bedtime wherever I am, and it all kicks in nicely. But for the first time, I just couldn't get the hang of it. A lovely breakfast helped, then I got cleaned up, and felt more or less human. My first panel was at 2pm, talking about upcoming TV shows and movies on DVD. I was worried that the panels would just be us talking while the audience sat in silence, like we were some sort of authority (I'm not), but these ones were more of a general discussion that we led, which was much friendlier and more relaxed. Went fairly well, got a few jokes in, I'm sure nobody knew who the hell I was, but they seemed to like me okay. Afterwards, someone came up to me and asked if they could give me a hug, because they'd liked my Torchwood episode so much. Free hugs! I could get used to this.
Hung around with my most excellent chums "the Torchwood Kids", which now seems to be their official name, and I think I talked a lot of nonsense. Met Paul Cornell outside the green room, who is a lovely bloke (Mr Cornell, not the green room), and just as enthusiastic and nice as the Moff and Rob Shearman, who I met later on. Started to feel like part of the gang, and able to talk to them as a peer, rather than a terrified newcomer. They were all incredibly welcoming and friendly to me, which I really appreciated.
Later on, I took part in the first autograph session. There was one every day, and basically the guests sit in a row at a long table, while people queue up and come to get things signed - if they don't want your signature, they can just skip along to the next person. I was a bit worried about this, as I was pretty much bottom of the league table, and nobody really knew who I was yet. I had visions of sitting there, alone and unwanted, watching everyone else sign stuff. But it was actually fine, people were interested, and wanted me to sign stuff (my DWM interview, Torchwood/Doctor Who cards/posters, someone even brought a copy of Severance).
It was such an odd experience, being on the other side of the table. I've been to tons of signings, I've been that guy, queueing for ages, trying to think of something cool to say to the famous person, and drying up when I got there, quaking. To my amazement (again, I'm pretty much nobody in the great scheme of things) some people were exactly like that with me - most were chatty, but some just approached in silence, trembling, barely able to speak. I'm just some bloke! I'm nobody! But because I am now "a Doctor Who and Torchwood writer", to people who don't know me I'm a different sort of person. It's such an odd feeling. But cool, because it made me feel incredibly confident and relaxed, as I tried to put them at their ease. One guy had even printed out postcards of Sleeper, which were very cool. Because my stuff had either just been on TV or was coming soon, I didn't have much actual stuff of my own I could sign, so I signed a lot of Gallifrey programmes and posters. Speaking of programmes, I was embarrassed to see that my bio was longer than the Moff's, despite me having a fraction of the career he's had, and was right next to his. But at least it was all correct, so that's cool. What was not cool? The Moff, when signing the programme, didn't want to deface his own entry, so he signed over mine. The cheek! Who does he think he is?? So I signed over his. And wrote "Damn you, Moffat" on a few. That'll teach him. Anyway. Next time I'll have more things to sign, there'll be DVDs of TW and DW with my episodes in, and Short Trips collections and the Doctor Who Storybook, no less.
After that, we had to go to the opening ceremony, which I didn't realise meant going up on stage in front of a massive crowd, and saying hello through a microphone. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. Because when you get up there, there are this many people looking at you:
Yeah, I know. And there were more outside of the photo frame, I couldn't get them all in. One of the things that still scares me is speaking in front of a lot of people, even if they've specifically come to hear it, and are friendly - it's still scary. I'm getting better at it, but wish I could control the fear. Muddled through it okay, then went and had a lovely dinner with several of the guests. And then Sophie Aldred walked in. Remember what I said about not feeling like a terrified newcomer? Out the window. Got introduced to her, and she hugged me, and I just fell to pieces. Immediately after that I met Sylvester McCoy himself, and I had no idea what to say. I love the 7th Doctor era, and Ace is incredibly cool, so I went a bit wobbly. I think I mentioned Tiswas.
On the first night, Paul Cornell usually hosts a version of Just a Minute, live on the main stage - you have one minute to talk on the given subject, without repetition, deviation, or hesitation. Tonight's one was going to feature the Moff, Rob Shearman, Sophie Aldred, and Sylvester McCoy - but Sylvester had just sat down to eat, and was still jetlagged. So they asked me, 5 minutes before the show, if I would take his place. No fucking way, I was about to say. But Paul had seen how wibbly I went when exposed to the Aldred Factor, and cannily said "well, Sophie's doing it..." I looked around, and Sophie was right there, saying "that's right, come on, it'll be really good fun", and being all charming and delightful at me, so somehow I found myself saying yes. And then minutes later, I was on my way to the stage, trembling, staring at the massive throng of people in the audience. Oh dear. I think I wet myself a little bit. I never *ever* volunteer for these sort of things, cause they terrify me, but sometimes you have to just go for it. The biggest thing spurring me on was the thought of looking back on the weekend and regretting *not* joining in - do you really want the story to end with "but then I got too scared and decided not to do it"? So up I went.
I'd never played the game before, or heard the quiz show, so wasn't familiar with all the strategies (i.e. cheating) that can be employed in such a deceptively simple game. I flubbed my first three attempts, and started to think it was all going wrong, but once I got going, I managed to get some laughs and interruptions in. I didn't stop shaking all the way through it, gripping my microphone like a drowning man, but it was brilliant fun. I think I'm proudest of my successful challenge to the Moff for "repetition and slight madness", in the middle of a particularly funny rant. Sophie, who had previously been protesting "oh but I've never played before and am just a silly girlie, aw shucks" managed to wipe the floor with all of us, and stomped around on our smouldering remains. But she's so lovely we were happy to be destroyed by her. Before it started, Paul told us that the actors *always* do better than the writers - I had scoffed at this, saying something like "yeah right, without US to put the words in their mouths, they are NOTHING", but the words came back to haunt me as we all had our arses handed to us, one by one. I managed to finish in last place, too. Next time, Aldred. Next time.
There's supposed to be video of the quiz online somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it yet - if anyone knows where it is, let me know and I'll link it up here.
Inhaled a couple of drinks in the bar afterwards to calm myself down, and happily chatted away with anyone and everyone. Around 11 or 12 I started flagging, the jetlag kicking in again, so I slipped away and scuttled off to bed.
Slept as much as I could, woke up horribly early and just lay there trying to pretend to myself that I was still asleep. Had another lovely breakfast - bacon, fried eggs, hash browns, toast, orange juice, mmmm - and shaved with the shaving kit the front desk gave me. Unfortunately, as is the case with most hotels, the razor they give you means you're better off shaving with a spork, and it sliced off most of my face. When the breakfast turned up, the guy who brought it tried his best not to look at my face as the blood ran down it. My reassuring smile just made it look worse, and he ran out of the room, tripping over himself to get away.
At 1pm I was on a Torchwood panel with Andy Lane, who wrote the TW novel Slow Decay, among many other things. We talked TW for an hour, had lots of cool questions, and it was a great laugh. No time for hanging around after that, I was straight into a Battlestar Galactica panel, which was very informative and fun. I didn't have a lot to say, my throat was starting to hurt from talking for 2 days solid, and I was knocking back as much water as I could. The constant talking and air-conditioning were starting to take their toll.
Had an hour's break, then on to the second autograph session, which I was getting used to now. Still a mad feeling, but undeniably cool. And funny, the amount of people who said they loved my episode of TW, but then said "sorry, you must get sick of hearing that now". To which my answer is: I am a writer. There are not enough people and words in the *world* that will *ever* make me get sick of hearing compliments about my work. It's a lovely, lovely feeling and I suspect all other writers are the same, unless they're mad. Imagine if some stranger walked up to you and said "excuse me, sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to tell you that you're bloody brilliant and amazing" - would you get sick of that?? No way! We face enough rejection, heartache and madness in this writing business, it's a nice change to be complimented unconditionally for a few days. The only danger is that you could easily get too used to it, and start believing you're a genius. If I start telling people I'm kind of a big deal, you'll know I've fallen into the trap.
Because most attendees knew who I was now, I had a lot more people to sign for, and a lot more trembling ones who didn't know what to say. It was all lovely and great fun. Sadly, the programme fight between me and the Moff turned ugly, and he started writing "too long" next to my bio, or "who?", or "z z z z z z". I retaliated by putting "too short" next to his, or just "boo!" on top of it. I hate to lower myself to his level, but it's the only language he understands. The monster.
Later, the Torchwood Kids very kindly took me out for dinner, which meant I got to see - drumroll - Outside Of The Hotel. It was a strange place, filled with lots of people who didn't know who I was, so I became frightened and withdrawn. I perked up a bit when we got to the destination, the Cheesecake Factory, although it was (a) not a factory, and (b) not made of cheesecake. Ignoring this blatantly false advertising, we went in anyway. Spent about 4 hours reading the first 18 volumes of the menu (they have 2 pages of cheesecakes), then we ate and drank and talked and had a great laugh. I was feeling the effects of jetlag again though, and had to chug a couple of coffees, so I was probably slightly bleary-eyed and rambly company for a while. When the desserts arrived, we got a bit scared by the forceful waitress. One dessert had sliced bananas on top, and she started going on and on about them - have you tried the bananas, the bananas are good, I love our bananas, I'm not sure where we get the bananas from, but they're the best bananas I've ever tasted, if you like bananas you'll love these, try the bananas, go ahead, try the bananas, you'll love the bananas - until someone tried a fucking banana to placate her. And she *waited*, to make sure the banana got chewed and swallowed, I thought she was going to get out a torch and check it had gone down properly. Once we reassured her that yes, the bananas were the best in the world, she went away. We were crying with laughter. And fear. The word "bananas" lost all meaning through repetition, it became gibberish. Oh blimey. Have you tried the bananas??
Back at the hotel, we commandeered a table and began drinking. Met up with some more lovely people, some of whom were too scared to approach the Moff for a photo. He was standing in the corner, pants on his head, shouting, and biting the heads off live chickens, as usual (it's some ritual thing, apparently). I insisted that he was perfectly lovely and harmless, and so some of the group went over to him. I'll never forget those poor, brave souls. And if we ever find their bodies, we'll give them a proper burial. I lasted a bit longer, but eventually the jetlag just got too much again, and I needed to be up early for my commentary, so I made my excuses, and crawled away to die quietly in my bed.
I'd forgotten about the Guest of Honour Brunch, which is at 9am - I was going to skip it, and sleep in, but found out that convention attendees buy tickets the previous year, to get the chance to have breakfast with the guests of honour. Including me. No way was I going to be that flaky guest who lets people down, so I got myself up in time and wobbled down there, desperately hoping there would be bacon and eggs. There were. Thank Christ. And tons of coffee.
So they sit you down at a table, one or two guests per table of ticket holders, and every 15 minutes or so, they move you to the next one. It's to give everyone a chance to sit with all the guests. Unfortunately Sylvester McCoy was in front of me, so every time we moved, it felt like I was kicking him off his table... Luckily for them, Sophie Aldred was behind me, so when I left each table, she took over. By this point it was really hurting my throat to talk, so I must have had about 10 cups of coffee. It was all very nice and good fun, and I ate a lot of bacon too. Mmm, bacon.
11am, and time for my live commentary on Sleeper. Was a bit worried about this, because 50 minutes is a long, long time to talk by yourself. There was a moderator there to prompt me if things ground to a halt, luckily, but in the end he must have got about 2 words in, because as soon as the ep started, I was off and running. A year of having to keep quiet meant that now I could talk about it, I just babbled non stop, cracking jokes, taking the mickey out of my own stuff, talking about deleted scenes, changed versions, behind the scenes stuff, anything and everything. I could have done it twice and said completely different things both times, it was great fun.
Met up with the mad pulp bastard Bill Cunningham for a quick drink, and Hayden Black too. Bill is a writer, a one man band and a jolly nice bloke, Hayden is a British ex-pat who is now making a killing with internet comedy shorts. Wish I could have chatted to them for longer, and also wish I wasn't so spaced out that I barely made sense. I may not have actually met them, but simply imagined the whole thing.
My final panel was at 2pm, concerning SF TV and film, and the writers' strike. I was surprised to see a late addition to the panel of Javier Grillo-Marxuach, whose blog I've been reading for ages now. He's a very cool guy, but I only got to chat to him briefly after that, as I was due in the autograph session afterwards. By now, I was an old hand at signing, and it all went very smoothly. Apart from, I'm afraid, the shameful programme war between me and the Moff, which escalated even further. Towards the end, I started crossing out the Hugo mention in his bio, so I think I came out of it with more dignity.
The last event of the convention was the closing ceremony, in which we all had to get up on stage again, one by one, and say something brief into the microphone. I babbled something quickly, thanked the Torchwood Kids for being so cool, and passed the mic onwards. Terrifying, once again, to be faced with hundreds of people all in one place, but good fun.
And then things descended into a jetlagged, drunken, space virus blur. I remember drinking beer. Two kind souls realised I'd forgotten to eat since breakfast, and gave me a pack of salt crackers, to replenish my flagging cells - thank you for that, you may have saved my life. I went into the sports bar for a burger and fries, only to discover that the fries came drenched in melted cheese and bacon bits. I love melted cheese and bacon, don't get me wrong. But I just wanted simple food at this point, and instead of a burger and fries, it looked like a bucket of melted cheese and bacon bits, garnished with a light sprinkling of burger and fries. I ate some of it, knocked back a coffee and some water, but was fading fast, and feeling a bit sick. Staggered to my room for a sit down, then got an attack of the shakes and thought I was going to throw up. Crawled under the covers, still dressed, trembling and shaking, couldn't get warm. Later I managed to get some sleep on and off, feeling like someone had punched me in the face.
Woke up a little bit better, but as if somebody had roughly sandpapered the inside of my throat. I was really annoyed at missing the final night's booze up, but I probably would have fallen over if I'd stayed any longer. Packed, staggered to the lobby, and sat over a large coffee until the Torchwood Kids came in from their own packing up (lots of outfits = lots of packing). We hung around for a while, talking more silliness (on my part, at least), and then they very generously gave me a lift to the airport. I had another coffee, some ice cream (all I could manage with my sore throat), then crawled on to the plane home.
When I got home, of course, the space virus mutated into its full, rampaging form, and knocked me flat on my arse for nearly 2 weeks. And that's where we came in.
I had such a great time there, it really was like being famous for a weekend, with none of the bad side effects. Because most people staying in the hotel are there for the convention, literally everywhere you go, everyone recognises you. I'd walk down the corridor, people would nod, wave, come over to say hello, shake my hand, tell me how much they liked my episode, it was surreal. And because I didn't want to accidentally ignore someone trying to say hello, I made eye contact with everyone I passed, and if they looked at me I'd make sure to smile or wave or something. Sometimes those people were just visitors who weren't there for the convention at all, and probably thought I was mad. It was such a bizarre feeling - if someone glanced over, I wasn't sure if they wanted to say hello, if they recognised me, or if they were just looking that way randomly. It completely changes the way you behave, because people are coming over, terrified of you, or in awe, or telling you you're a genius - there's an instinctive reaction to play it down, to make light of it, because I know that I'm no better than anyone else. I think if you're a famous actor and got that level of recognition 24 hours a day, it might drive you slightly crazy and paranoid. Which is why it was nice to be able to switch it off after the 3 days. Also, it was a friendly crowd, and a safe environment. The people are lovely, genuine, warm, and just want to enjoy themselves. It was one of the most positive events I've ever been to.
And purely from an insecure writers' point of view, with all our self-doubts and fears, it's a lovely feeling to have three uninterrupted days with people who really appreciate and respect what we do. That will keep me going for a long, long time. Here's to the next one!