It’s that time of year again.  Nine Worlds, aka London Geekfest has just concluded, so I fire up the scanner and scan in all my scribbled sketchnotes… whilst also using them as a prosthetic memory to help me blog about this event.

I’ve been trying a slightly different style this year, which is slower at chewing through sketchbook pages, and more useful for me as an aide-memoire… but, as it turns out, looks slightly less cool when scanned in.  Ah well.  I’m learning this new style as I go.

About Sketchnotes…

Throughout the convention I had several people say “I wish I could do that” .  To which, in almost all cases, I have to say “you can”.

I’m far from the best at sketchnoting, and I’m largely making it up as I go along. If you look at my notes, you’ll see that I’m not especially skilled as an artist – particularly not when I’m powering through scribbling whilst trying to keep up with people’s speech.

There’s very little technical skill involved.  I mostly do it as it helps me stay focused on what’s being said, and helps me remember it afterwards far more than just writing down words does. Treating words and scribbles as pictures probably shoves it through some different bit of my brain, and doing that helps me remember it all.

I’m not going to say that your first few sketchnotes will look any good. Many of mine look pretty awful – and I’m fine with that.  They still serve their purpose, and I share them because people seem interested in them. I do sometimes “forget” to share the really bad ones, but mostly I even put up the ones which didn’t work out.  Sometimes with some edits.

That said, I did go to a half-day workshop on doing this a few years ago. So I did get some advice and was given some confidence.  I’ve forgotten most of it, and I’m yet to try using some of the advice I got from it.  I’m still learning as I go.

So – if you wish you could do sketchnotes… my advice is to start doing sketchnotes.  It’s not the most helpful advice, but it’s the best I can do right now.

Maybe I should run a sketchnoting workshop sometime, or at least write a post about the things I pay attention to while doing it.

Meanwhile, on to the con report and sketchnotes…


Accessibility is a topic I care about.  Usually in terms of software, and largely as part of my day job.  LARP is also a topic I care about, although rarely as a part of my day job.

As somebody with an anxiety disorder and some memory issues, it’s also a personally relevant topic and something I tend to pay some attention to – and in a way that many people don’t.  It’s very easy in web accessibility to focus on blindness and screen-readers, for instance.  All well and good, but doesn’t help somebody with motor control issues or cognitive concerns.

So, this workshop was totally up my street. It began with a short talk on what accessibility is, and how it can be applied in a LARP context, and then lead on to a workshop where we had a bit of an idea-jam and stepped through a design process with steps focusing on accessibility.

It’s not a process I’d particularly thought about before, but I will start to think about in future. If you’re interested, the folks running the session have a website.

scanned sketchnotes - Access:LARP

Sketchnotes from the Access:LARP workshop.

For reference, the off-the-cuff LARP idea we came up with was a doctors surgery with multiple rival doctors… each of whom was a [blank]punk doctor.  So, one steampunk, one cyberpunk, one dieselpunk, etc… each of whom had their own specialities and skills. The PCs would largely be the staff of the surgery, having to determine deal with a stream of patients with ailments. Their challenge would come from trying to balance how well suited each patient was to each doctor against each doctor’s need to see more patients to earn their keep. We would use documentation to allow doctors to diagnose based on symptoms.

The process we went through began with some basic LARP design steps – who has what role in the game, how does the plot reach the players, and so on. From there, we moved on to the accessibility part – thinking about what difficulties our plot and theoretical gamespace could pose, and ways to avoid, ameliorate or recify those diffculties.  Not to make things easier for those with specific access needs, but to make them no more difficult.

Police and the Supernatural – Law Enforcement Professionals’ View of Urban Fantasy

This was a panel discussion about how well (or badly) law enforcement roles are presented in Ben Aaronovitch’s and Paul Cornell’s respective London Supernatural police series.

In general, I think it can be summarised as both series having their ups and downs.  Paul Cornell’s Hidden London series was praised for having the byzantine organisational landscape and interactions of law enforcement very well portrayed, versus Ben Aaronovitch’s River’s of London getting recognised for having the copper’s attitude and mindset pretty much bang on… although Peter Grant himself (the main character in the series) was singled out as not being a particularly good copper (an a “gobby probby”) – which I think is fair, as that’s the impression I get from the books, too.  I think that latter part is intentional, though. Lesley May was always depicted as being better at the job in the earlier books, and Peter was always just-about-good-enough.

Scanned Sketchnotes - Law Enforcement in SF & F

Sketchnotes from the Law Enforcement in SF & F panel

Deeds Not Words

At a previous Nine Worlds, there was a session on silent comics – comics either without dialogue or without words at all. At that session, there was mention from a creator about a work they were creating with a deaf protagonist and which used real sign language (BSL) in the artwork.

That comic is “Deeds Not Words“, and the first part of it is out now.  This session was delivered by the creators, and talked about the comic, the process by which it was created, the techniques they used and so on.

In particular, it included snippets of the reference videos used for the artwork, and discussion of the process of translating from those dynamic videos into static artwork in a way that works visually whilst retaining accurate and useful signed content… given that writing a series of signs in a single panel of artwork to convey speech is not exactly viable.

Scanned Sketchnotes - Deeds Not Words

Sketchnotes from the talk on the “Deeds Not Words” panel.

We picked up the first part of Deeds Not Words after the session. Having read it, we’re now eagerly awaiting part two.

Visions of an Interstellar Human Future

This was an interesting panel which didn’t quite go where I wanted.

We heard from the panellists about their views of interstellar futures.  We also heard about how they thought there might be interstellar humans and a bit about about possible human futures…  but the three key words in the title only ever joined the conversation in pairs.  It never really felt like it put all three together to discuss interstellar human futures.

I understand entirely why – it’s a tough topic to keep realistic, but with the panel that was present, I’d have liked them to try a little more on that front.  But after a slightly slow start, it did pick up to being an interesting panel, even if it stopped a little short of where I wanted it to go.

It also suffered slightly from being largely populated by authors with a vested interest in one of the three sub-combinations that did get discussed.

Not a bad panel, but seemed oddly pessimistic for the con and the topic. If I go to a panel titled “Visions of an Interstellar Human Future”, I don’t expect the theme of the panel to be “there won’t be one”.  Towards the end, they did start discussing what conceits you could employ, or which physical laws you could choose to ignore to make it possible, which I think would have lead to what I wanted, but time limits meant it stopped there.

Scanned Sketchnotes - Visions of an Interstellar Human Future

Sketchnotes from the “Visions of an interstellar human future” panel.

Grey Members of a Congregation of Nightmare

I nearly skipped this talk as it was getting on in the day and I was tired… but I’m glad I didn’t as it was excellent. It was a single speaker delivering a trimmed down presentation from an academic paper. When she read from the paper things were a little dry, but when her enthusiasm kicked in and she spoke more extemporaneously, her knoweldge and enthusiasm for the topic came through and carried her on.

The crux of the talk seemed to be on the difference between how heavy metal musicians and performances use the wolf howl to how horror films do.  In particular, how heavy metal uses it to draw a crowd together whilst horror uses it to invoke fear – and how the heavy metal usage is closer to what wolves actually use their howls for.

Scanned sketchnotes - Summarized in following text.

Sketchnotes from “Grey Members of a Congregation of Nightmare”

End of day one…

At that point, con self-care needs kicked in.  I spent a little more time chatting and socialising and then retired for the day.

I will follow up with Saturday and Sunday notes when I have the brain capacity to do so.