Redemption Returns to Sheffield

 

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Royal Victoria Hotel, viewed from presumed location of original railway station

Redemption is a fan-run science fiction and fantasy convention, held in alternate years since 1999. The last two events in 2017 and 2019 have been hosted by the Royal Victoria Hotel in Sheffield, a venue with a very interesting history of its own, not to mention one that is conveniently local for me. The hotel was originally built in 1862 (at a cost of about £15,000), to serve the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (later the Great Central Railway), and its Sheffield Victoria Station (long since disused). Being rather keen on old railways, I’ve spent some time during both the most recent conventions trying to find evidence of the old station.

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War Memorial, restored to a position close to its original location

After a fair amount of wandering around the outside of the hotel, and its car park, I can report that very little of the station remains, although comparing modern and old maps as well as studying old photographs and drawings gives a reasonable impression of where the main parts of the station were (i.e. under the current annex building and car park), Some parts of the old station still exist, though possibly not always in their original locations. There are memorials outside and inside to railway staff who lost their lives in the First World War, and what appears to be an original tunnel up to that area of the car park where Platform 3 was once located.

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Stunning interior features of the Royal Victoria Hotel

The interior of the hotel, however, maintains many of its original features and has been undergoing a slow, but sympathetic, refurbishment on both my visits for Redemption conventions. This year I was allocated a particularly splendid room on the top floor, coincidentally right next door to my one of my favourite convention regulars.

Redemption 2019 broke slightly with tradition by taking place in January rather than February and so was a little down on numbers compared to previous years. We still had a packed programme of panels and other activities, although some had to be run by members picked at the last minute to stand-in for those who were unexpectedly absent; this meant that I was on more panels than I expected to be taking part in, and possibly had increased fun because of that.

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Photo of me in costume, courtesy of Terry Wilson

Panel topics included Cosplay: our first, best, and worst experiences; Combat in genre shows: with demonstrations of what is and isn’t feasible; How to write dystopias in a world that’s seemingly gone mad; LGBT+ representation in genre shows: with a big plushy flamingo to be passed around those wishing to contribute their stories. We also had talks (with much audience participation) on topics relevant to the setting, such as Railway Ghosts, and Sheffield locations used in Doctor Who – the latter should have been a walking tour of the places referenced but we had to stay inside due to the weather looking a bit iffy (at least for those from the south of England).

This year’s Guest of Honour was a long-time friend of mine, the academic and author Fiona Moore. It was great to catch up with her in person, especially as my chances of making it to any of her London events this year are looking increasingly slim, and I enjoyed listening to her being interviewed and taking part in various panels and other activities. I also bought her new novel, Driving Ambition,

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Working with the ‘extras’ in ‘Man of Iron’ (photo by Terry Wilson)

Last, but not least, it wouldn’t be Redemption without our staging of the by now infamous, never actually produced, episode of Blakes 7, ‘Man of Iron’. This year I found myself slightly short of cast members, so all non-speaking roles were played by a hastily assembled selection of soft toys, moved around our improvised stage area by myself. After the performance, some of us stayed on to discuss the episode and answer such burning questions as SPOILER ALERT ‘Where was ORAC in this episode?’; ‘Why would an invincible robot not be made to be waterproof?’ and ‘Why does the best sharpshooter on the team resort to using a block of wood as a weapon?’ /SPOILER ALERT

Overall, I enjoyed myself tremendously – winning the Hall Costume prize coming as a wonderful bonus – and I am greatly looking forward to the next Redemption, to be held – in another break with tradition – in late August 2020.

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