Many years ago, I was on the bus with my husband, when a young girl tapped me on my shoulder and gushed that she absolutely loved my outfit. I blushed and glanced down to remind myself of what I was wearing. It wasn’t anything special. A white denim short dress with lots of stud buttons and knee-high leather boots. Oh, and I was carrying a frilly black and yellow parasol with a delicate, cane handle (because Chinese women are very sun-conscious).

‘Who are you meant to be?’ she asked.

I was completely thrown by her question. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my husband smirking. Then it dawned on me. It was the weekend of the Supanova convention, the bus I was riding was headed towards the convention grounds. She thought I was a cosplayer on my way to the exhibition.

I mumbled the name of a random anime character, the bus pulled over, my husband and I jumped off – to do our grocery shopping because that’s where we were headed, and I was dressed like that because that is what I normally wear.

It’s not an incident I’m likely to forget. My husband still brings it up every year when I’m cleaning out my wardrobe and I ask his advice over a particular item of clothing.

‘Remember the cosplay incident,’ he’d nod sagely and that would be enough to toss the questionable top, dress or skirt-that-could-also-work-as-a-belt in the donations pile.  

Part of me wished I had followed the band of cosplayers that day, but there was no time in my life for Supanova. I had just returned to uni to study animation and was still working as a pharmacist. I was both Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, propelling around blind corners at neck breaking speed and drawing up intricate plans to slow down.


Fast forward ten years.

There is still no time in my life for Supanova yet I am here. Stretching out my Rock On Kitty banner in a book stall I’d set up with two fellow writer friends Marissa Price and Emily Cooney. My picture book The Stolen Button had been released and I was here to promote it, along with my older titles. I am not in costume but if I was, I’d be Eliza Doolittle with a mouth full of marbles. 

Maleficent gives me a withering look because I compliment her horns and make a lame joke about spinning wheels but mostly because she is Hela from Thor: Ragnorak. I mistake Hufflepuffs for Slytherins (They are not as good-natured as they’re cracked up to be). I fake an impressed expression when a customer proudly shows me a signed photograph of her with a celebrity I don’t recognise. When she leaves, I ask one of my friends to identify the geriatric in the photo.

‘‘That’s Peter Capaldi.’ My face must still look blank because she adds, ‘‘From Dr Who.’

I knew these facts once upon a time, maybe not these specific details exactly. I gave up on the doctors after David Tennant. And I don’t really count Hufflepuff as a house seeing they were just the leftover kids who didn’t sort into the other houses. What I mean is that I once obsessed with intricate details about the characters and the worlds of similar tv shows and films.

Even though I sold quite a few books that weekend, I couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling that I’d lost something important along the way to adulting. I realise finally what it is when a Belle asks me what The Stolen Button is about.

‘It’s a dark fairytale set on the Silk Road. It’s about a young girl who disobeys her mother, runs away to the circus and gets lost in the mirror maze. There she meets a gypsy who offers to take her home in exchange for her belly button.’

I wait for Belle to nod politely before proceeding to flick through the pages and gush over the illustrations (because Leila Honari’s artwork is truly amazing).

‘I hate fairy tales with happy endings,’ she confides and launches into a rant about her favourite fractured version of The Little Mermaid. A lot of writers (and readers) are drawn to this tale, possibly because Disney has directly gone against Hans Christian Anderson’s original ending, leaving a lot of scope for re-interpretations. Also, as far as mythological creatures go, the mammal-fish hybrid never gets old. There are endless combinations. If the little mermaid is a top-half fish, would she eat all her children? Is morning breath not an issue because she already smells so fishy?

We’re in the middle of a lively discussion when it dawns on me. Belle will like The Stolen Button. All of the people who bought books of me today will enjoy the story. I know this as surely as I know my own tastes and sensibilities because I have found my tribe.

It does not matter that I do not know Peter Capaldi. The common ground between me, Belle, Hela/Maleficent and all the Slytherin-wanna-bes is a love of story.

You may think this is no big deal. A lot of people profess to love a certain film, book, game. But not everyone gets bedsores from spending three straight days in bed because they could not put a down a novel. And afterwards, mope about the house in a state of  mono no aware because the story has ended. Not everyone pulls a sickie because they’re binge watching a show on Netflix. Nor do they write fan fiction, draw fan art, cover their bodies in toxic paint in the name of role playing. All to enrich their experience of a particular story.

Finding my tribe fills me with a sense of contentment. Adulting remains the biggest, time drain of my life. Paying off the mortgage and raising children may be the responsible thing to do, but it comes with side effect of growing up. Curtailing activities that seem frivolous, extravagant and immature. I watch a five year old Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles giggle as he sneaks up on a fellow doppelganger. Bowser pretends to cower as a random Mario mocks stomping him. A cute husband and wife pair dressed in matching Ghostbusters outfits tell me that in preparing for Supanova, people had insisted the wife’s costume adhered to the 2016 film… because there were no female ghostbusters before this time. Riiight. Time to start planning my Supanova costume for next year.