Europa SF: Hi Mihaela, thank you for the possibility to make this interview with you! Let me introduce you to the readers first: You are an author, the vice-president of the Croatian SFera Society and a keen science-fiction fan, doing activities like being organiser of conventions – and the winner of the fan fund that is called GUFF. So, can you please sum up in a few words what this GUFF is all about?
Mihaela Marija Perković: Hi! Thank you for doing this interview! GUFF is the Going under fan fund, or it was for me, because I was the elected delegate when the race was southbound, last year. Trips and delegates go in both directions, so Australasians fans i. e. fans from Australia or New Zealand get to battle it out for a chance to visit Europe as well. This is the race that is currently on (and then GUFF stands for Get up an over fan fund) there are four fans running – Alison Barton, Samara Morgan, Gillian Polack, Shay Telfer – and, I must add, voting ends today! So read this interview and then go vote!
Europa SF: And where do you get the money from to pay the trip, accommodation and other travelling expense of the winner?
Mihaela Marija Perković: Money comes from the fans!
In order to become a delegate, first you must run for it. And I don’t mean literally – although I can see how that might be fun and funny enough to fundraise a lovely amount! must remember this! Then you must win the race, by getting SF fans to vote for you. Sounds easy? It is, until all the people willing to vote for you realise they have to pay to do so! (laughs) Seriously, the voting fee is not large – GBP5, EUR6, AUD10, NZD10 – but many fans donate much more with their votes. And not only in money – fans also donate their prized SF possessions for auctions at conventions and this is another way to raise money for the fund.
GUFF pays for the airfare and travelling expenses as well as the accommodation at con hotels. Fans are encouraged to share to keep expenses down, and I would encourage anyone doing the trip to do so, not only for the expenses, but for the awesome experience it is! It enables you to meet more fans, experience different fandom acitivities – in the suite I shared at Swancon last year there was a video editing workshop – and get to know people much better. That, after all, is the point of a GUFF trip – to exchange ideas and experiences in different fandoms.
In between cons, the delegate stays with local fans at their homes, many of them former GUFF winners themselves. I have had a wonderful experience of it, have met so many great people with whom I have been having conversations in my head ever since, wondering what I would choose to show them, or a future GUFF delegate, of my own home town of Zagreb.
Europa SF: So you have won and made the trip to Australia last year. What was the best experience you have made there?
Mihaela Marija Perković: Oh, I could not possibly describe just one – six weeks is a long time! (laughs)
For me personally, though, it was getting to go to Australia. It was a longtime dream of mine and I honestly did not think it would ever happen, especially after I had to give up my trip to the last Aussiecon for personal reasons. Getting into fandom ten years ago, I did not imagine in my wildest dreams it would eventually lead to one of my own dreams becoming reality. I had a grand time and I can only hope I was as interesting to all the Australian and New Zealand fans as they were to me. I met so many awesome and interesting people that I am selfishly daydreaming of an Australasian half-day at Loncon 3 so I can catch up with all of them.
For European fandom, I took away two things. (Besides all the awesome books, strange toys and Oz chocolates I will be auctioning at Loncon 3 and Shamrokon! So find the auction room!)
The first thing is that a con can be awesome and have four big name guests of honour even if the number of members does not exceed 350. I know many European cons – smaller Croatian ones certainly – think themselves too small or insignificant for such an arrangement. No such thing! Funding will continue to be an issue, of course, especially in Eastern Europe, but still – changing the mind set is a very good beginning. Because, this very valid point of view did not even occur to me before my GUFF trip!
The second thing is fan funds and fan funds auctions! This is an awesome way to connect with other countries’ fandom and I have no idea why we do not have it across Europe. I am, of course, working on it. More slowly than on the currently still non-existent GUFF website (laughs), but still. Turns out, it’s not as simple as it first seemed, but it’s on the agenda.
Europa SF: What about the nationality of the European candidates: Is there any country where most candidates come from or do you have many candidates from small countries also – and if, do you think, are there better chances to win if you are e.g. from the UK that shares its language with Australia?
Mihaela Marija Perković: Honestly, I did not expect to win at all and was quite shocked to find out that I did. I ran because James Shields, then administrator, suggested it and because I felt a bit guilty for criticizing the fund at Kontakt. Kylie Ding, who won the northbound race in 2012 and visited Kontakt, was the first GUFF delegate to ever visit a Eurocon. Because most Oz and NZ fans tend to aim for Eastercon, a UK convention. Hearing about this, and learning that GUFF calls itself a Europe to Australia and New Zealand and back fund, I found it a misnomer. And said so. If it exchanges mostly UK and Australian fans, it is decidedly not a European one. Eva Hauser in 1992 and James Shields in 2012 in a fund that has been running since 1979 is not much of a European presence.
I understand that it is a matter of money and fundraising – UK fans have the most funds and can raise more but since we now have internet, blog, social networks, cheap airfare and paypal as options as well as fan funds auctions at continental European cons, I believe this can be changed.
I found Australia very open and accepting about non-English languages. It is the only English speaking country where I heard Croatian immigrants of the third and fourth generations speaking fluent Croatian (which is not easy to do!) and where I actually heard lots of languages other than English spoken on the streets.
On the other hand, northbound delegates would worry about the language barrier – there are so many of them spoken all over Europe. There is still not very much information about national cons and fandoms available in English and this deters people from visiting. But I am glad to see this has been changing. Also, European cons are not famous enough to be appealing to northbound delegates nor do they all have programming in English. But more and more do. So, I talked everyone’s ears of about not only SFeraKon, but also about Finncon and Pyrkon, and Alcon, Swecon and Norcon. Eurocons move around the year, so getting northbound delegates to aim for it will remain tricky.
Europa SF: According to the rules everyone who has been active in fandom for at least a year can be a candidate. If someone who is not experienced in fandom, probably just one or two years into it and asks you if he or she should apply, would you just say “Give it a try, go ahead and good luck!” or recommend to wait and build up a network over some more years?
Mihaela Marija Perković: I would say go for it! Running the GUFF race is as good a way to build a network as any!
Europa SF: There is also the possibility that not a single person, but also two friends or a couple can win the GUFF. If two people familiar to each other win, isn´t there the danger that they will simply spend a lot of time with and talking to each other instead of socializing with the foreign fans?
Mihaela Marija Perković: I do not think so. There are benefits to travelling alone – loads of free time and more pressure to mingle – but a pair can make more contacts and experience more at cons. Also, it probably helps with the report making. (laughs)
Europa SF: I have heard rumours that in another fan fund, a toy sheep won! Would it be possible for the GUFF that another toy sheep or probably my fat cat who always gets so many Facebook-likes would be accepted as candidate or even win?
Mihaela Marija Perković: Absolutely! I invite you both to run next year. Together or separately, which ever suits you best! The sheep that won even has a DVD out – and I have been lucky enough to get this very rare copy of fandom and funds memorabilia donated to me in New Zealand. Now I have to decide whether to auction it at Worldcon or at Eurocon!
Europa SF: But although you made the trip, your work for the GUFF is still not done. What do you do these days for the GUFF?
Mihaela Marija Perković: I am touring all the SF cons I can, holding fan funds auctions. Since I came back from Australia and New Zealand, I have held an auction at all Croatian cons that have been held in the interim, with the generous help SFera president Mirko Karas as auctioneer and many wonderful donations by Croatian and international fans. I have been working with Kylie Ding on the northbound race – the voting for which ends today! – as well as on the GUFF site. I have also been trying to brainstorm ways to fundraise for the fund, outside the planned auctions at Loncon 3 and Shamrokon. I have also been working on my trip report.
Europa SF: And what do you hope for GUFF´s future?
Mihaela Marija Perković: I hope there will be more New Zealand fans running, I think that would be wonderful, especially in view of the fact they are planning to bid for a Worldcon in 2020. One I am dying to go to. As for the southbound race, I am hoping more non-English speaking fans and fandoms will participate more actively, not just with producing potential delegates but also with fan funds auctions and other activities. I will do my best to make that happen. There are many facets of fandom in Europe and quite a few fans would make great delegates. I am hoping to have beat off potential candidates with a stick next year!