Interview with Jo Neal from Leeds Steampunk Market

Leeds steampunk Market
Jo Dee Neal – Leeds Steampunk Market organiser.

While visiting the Leeds Steampunk Market as part of the 1000 people who attended over the weekend, I managed to track down Jo Neal, the organiser. You may have spotted her as the tall, slim lady with the pirate hat and moving at a speed that not even a pair of hydraulic leg enhancers could catch up with. However, at the end of the day, I managed to pull her to one side and while we had a cup of tea (no cake as it had all sold out – thanks, steampunks), she told me all about what it’s like to organise the market, the people they have attending and how much she harasses people.

How long have you been a steampunk?
I only got introduced to this in Oct 2011 when I met a guy called Geof who was into steampunk and he’d been doing the different steampunk events and comic conventions and stuff like that. One day Geof said “We haven’t got anything steampunk in Leeds. With your skill of doing events and with all my contacts, we should do our own.”
So he did the first one, there was a fashion parade and performances and stuff.

That was in 2011?
Yes, October 2011 at Leftbank. That went really well and the traders after that were saying “That was loads of fun, when are we going to do the next one?” So (Geof) decided to do one the following March. He organised one for March 2012, but by that time Geof was busy with his work, because paying so much attention to the market affected his deadlines. So I got roped in to help with the admin, emailing and all the co-ordination and everything. Because I’m a bit of a control freak, I’ve kind of just taken it over. (He also got invited by a guy called Tobias to be involved with the White Mischief night down in London so with only five weeks notice, managed to put together a London Steampunk Market. Conveniently, Geof didn’t need to make a new logo as it was still LSM!)
These first two were one day events, but when I started on the one at the end of 2012, I suggested we needed it to become a two day event, because I had the traders that wanted to do the next one as well as more people getting in touch wanting to be included. I worried that I wouldn’t get them all to fit in, so that was why in October 2012, I made it a two day event. Then I could have some of the best traders doing both days and the rest of the people filling up the stalls over the Saturday and the Sunday. It created more flexibility for people being able to attend if they couldn’t make the Saturday, for example.
Interestingly, the two days became very different types of atmosphere. Saturday was more like a stock people shopping, whereas Sunday became more of a social gathering. It was more like a family day out, so it had a whole different feel to it. We moved to Armley Mill, for more of an interactive event, because the last location had become more of just a market. I wanted to do something else with more activities and things going on.

Did you accept all people who applied to trade?
What I have is quite a large database of people compiled by Geof from people that he knew and met from all different events, other people that have emailed asking to trade because they’ve got into the scene as well and then other people that have come along. What Geof did for the March event of this year, they made it an event where they selected people on a more curated basis. Geof went through the list at the beginning of the year and picked out the best and strongest steampunk people with the absolute best quality stuff because there’s so many people doing steampunk now, you have a really wide selection of people to choose from.
It’s lovely that people are all wanting to do steampunk and make things, but this is why we had to start off just selecting the known prime traders to start with; the people that are the best in their field and setting the standards. Then once they’d confirmed, we could start looking at getting other traders in as well.
All the people we have here are all the ones that we want. All the authors are good authors, with some great steampunk stories. They’re well known names within the industry.

When do you have to start preparing for the next market?
I only start responding to applications about three or four months before. From then it’s just continuously getting emails out to everyone to invite them to trade. Then it’s a case of harrassing them and nagging them because it takes ages for people to respond otherwise. Some people think that by not responding I take that as a no, but I don’t so I keep harrassing them asking if they can. So then if they say no, I can get offer the pitch to someone else.
Because of the nature and shape of the building, I can’t offer any cube-shaped pitches. Everyone has a six foot wide area.

Do you think you’ll have a good attendance?
I think we’ll be looking at around 600 people over the course of the weekend, which is wonderful. It’s great for Armley Mill because it’s such a lovely place, but gets missed off a lot off the main tourism stuff because it’s a bit off the beaten track. Many people in Leeds either don’t know it’s here or think it’s just an old Mill converted into shops like Salt’s Mill, but there’s the 1920’s cinema and it’s a full working industrial museum that does ghost nights and events. And the beautiful room upstairs that I put all the authors in can be hired for meetings as well.
One great thing is the different steampunk people I’ve seen here today that I’ve not seen at other steampunk events. I usually see the same steampunks at the Leeds events and at Saltaire. Because you get them coming over from Manchester, such as Louie and all the Cottonopolis lot. But I’ve seen different people here in different outfits that I’ve not seen before, so obviously the advertising and everything has reached much further field that we’ve hit before. There’s been some lovely outfits here today. For all of the work and all the stress, the end result of the whole day is wonderful.

What’s next?
Start to prepare for the Steampunk Christmas Fair.

You can find out all about the Leeds Steampunk Market by clicking on the link here: Leeds Steampunk Market

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