Everybody joins fandom in their own way.
Anna Raftery’s route was initiated by her dad. Her parents were separated: she and her sister Emily lived with her mother and saw their father on weekends. When she was 15, he told her he couldn’t see her one weekend because he was committed to attending a FILK convention; intrigued, she asked if she could go with him.
“I jumped right in,” Anna said.
Sixteen years later, the native Englander is doing a small tour of North America thanks to winning the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund (TAFF). Over the course of a month, she will be visiting New York, Toronto (where I met her), San Francisco, Las Vegas and Kansas City, where Anna will end up singing and announcing the winners of the Hugo fan awards at MidAmericon II.
(European and North American fandom sometimes seem to be, to use a well-known Canadian phrase, two solitudes. TAFF exists to help bridge the gap by, as its Web site says, “providing funds to bring well-known and popular [science fiction] fans familiar to those on both sides of the ocean across the Atlantic. Since  TAFF has regularly brought North American fans to European conventions and European fans to North American conventions.”)
Anna wasn’t exactly new to conventions: she had been going to Fan Expo media cons from the age of 12. However, the FILK convention was the first one where she was encouraged to participate more actively: she soon became a member of n’MC, a FILK choir, and began attending local anime and Harry Potter conventions. Two years later, Anna went to her first Eastercon (a national convention held in a different British city each year), and a year after that she attended her first WorldCon.
What drew her into fandom? According to Anna, it was the sense of community, the feeling that she had found a group of people who shared a love of the things that she loved. “Fandom is my family,” she said.
It also allowed her to get closer to her real family. She spent weekends with her father, for instance. In addition, the first con she programmed was a Harry Potter convention that her sister wanted to run to celebrate the release of the final movie: when, a month before the con, the programmer “flaked out” and quit, they had to take over.
The subject of entering the TAFF competition was first broached by friends at LonCon, where Anna was working on programming. At the time, she declined to enter: her father was in the hospital with cancer, and she didn’t want to leave the country. They kept bringing the subject up, however, and last year Anna realized that “this was a once in a lifetime event, and I didn’t want to pass the opportunity by,” so she entered the competition. In one of his final acts during a lucid moment before he passed away, her father voted for her in.
(In fact, her father read to Anna and her sister throughout their childhood; an important way of kindling a love of storytelling in Anna, who was dyslexic and didn’t read with confidence until she was 11 or 12. When she did start reading, he gave her books with strong female protagonists, such as works by Anne McCaffrey. “We Weren’t treated like children. We were treated like we were intelligent, like our opinions mattered.” The day before he died, the new Lois McMaster Bujold book came out; that night, Anna read the first chapter to him. She doesn’t know if he was aware of what she was doing, but she still thinks that, “That was a nice moment.”)
One of the things Anna would like to accomplish is to raise the opinion of FILK and FILKers in the general fan community. As she explained it, FILK has the reputation of people singing song parodies in hotel corridors late at night. Often, drunkenly. While there may have been some validity to that stereotype when she first started out, FILKers are now often professional singers who write their own original material.
She also mentioned that she would like to work with TAFF for the next couple of years to develop strategies to get more young people interested in fandom. (Hallway discussions and the occasional panel at North American cons over the last few years have revolved around the aging of science fiction fandom – which is generally regarded as a bad thing – and how to get younger fans. It’s unfortunate to see that European fandom is having the same problem.) She said she specifically wanted to develop ideas on how to make fan history interesting for a new generation.
Comparing fandom on the two continents, Anna suggested that European fandom was smaller than that of North America, which made it much more closely knit. (It doesn’t hurt that Europeans generally aren’t as geographically spread out as North Americans.) There were also differing levels of alcohol consumption, but, uhh, perhaps that’s a subject better left to another time.
Ultimately, Anna wanted people to know that no matter where you are located or what you’re a fan of: “our dreams are all the same.”