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Archive for February, 2009

Byron Conference 2008

In July 2008 I attended the 34th International Byron Conference which was held at St Andrews from the 14th to 18th July. As usual it takes me 6 months to a year to get around to writing anything about it!

 My only point of comparison for this event was the Exeter Trollope Conference. The Byron Conference was a very different sort of event. In part the reason for this is obvious – the Trollope Conference was a purely academic affair without any participation by the Trollope Society, whereas the Byron Conference was both an academic affair and a social occasion. This is not to say there was no socialising at the Trollope Conference! But nothing along the formal lines of the grand dinner, complete with Pipe Band and formal speeches, which concluded the Byron Conference. Obviously there were people at the Byron Conference who came mainly for this social side (I am not being critical here merely observing) and many of these clearly knew each well from years of attending annual Byron Conferences. This is not to say that it was cliquey, and meeting Conference goers was one of the most pleasurable parts of the experience. (more…)

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St Hilda’s 2007

I spent the weekend of 17th to 19th August at the annual St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend in Oxford. This is the third time I have attended – my report on the 2006 weekend can be found below and includes a general introduction. The following report is wholly subjective – in no way am I attempting a conscientious ‘report’ on the various lectures; and all conclusions, inferences and speculations are mine alone.

 Overall I have to admit that I did not enjoy this weekend as much as the two previous ones I attended – this may have been to do with the fact that some of the people I most enjoyed talking to were not present this year, the fact that a number of the lectures were not especially interesting to me, the fact that my mood was deteriorating, or even the fact that the weather was mostly miserable. These factors may of course have interwoven and fed off each other!

 The weekend kicked off with dinner on Friday night and an after-dinner speech by Simon Brett. Brett, a writer of mainly comic mysteries (among many other things), is always very good value,and his various parodies are almost designed for this sort of occasion. Re-writing Under Milkwood as a mystery for instance; very, very funny. It seems effortless but must be enormously difficult. Other highlights included Agatha Christie’s will and a letter written by T.S. Eliot when he was working in a bank.

 The weekend proper began, as usual, on Saturday morning. (more…)

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St Hilda’s 2006

Another old conference report.

Another very belated entry this time on the subject of the St Hilda’s Crime and Mystery Conference 2006, which was held, as usual, at St Hilda’s College, Oxford in August 2006. It is quite difficult to describe St Hilda’s ; an excellent attempt is made at…

http://www.crimespreemag.com/sthildas.html

I went in 2001 but for various reasons, financial and medical, had not been back until last year. The Conference takes place at St Hilda’s College which is a little way out of the centre (as is typical of Oxbridge women’s colleges), but in this case is compensated for (unlike say Girton at Cambridge) with a really delightful setting – it feels very secluded and the river runs in front of the college’s main building. The Conference itself is a very unique sort of event; lots of writers attend but there is no sort of class or status distinction made, everyone mingles together. All the panels are in front of the whole Conference; there are no sub-panels or divisions. The lectures/talks obviously vary a great deal ; some are more lecture-like, some more talk-like. There is always a general theme for the weekend though this allows for a good deal of latitude. There is no feeling of compulsion about anything and one can always skip a particular panel – I tend to do this once in order to allow myself to recover and have some quite time. The Conference as a whole is a strange amalgam of the serious – some really brilliant papers – and the light – there are always some comic speakers. But it works. Who attends? An amazing range of people. Lots of mystery writers. Americans who build it into their holidays. St Hilda’s alumnae. Mystery fans of many kinds. I would judge that a majority is female. But you just never know who you will meet or where the conversation will go. My personal highlight this year was a late evening discussion with Luci (a real mystery expert) and her partner about Nalgo activism in the 1980’s, what had happened since Unison was formed, the political trajectory of certain Trotskyite parties over the last 10 years and various mutual far-left acquaintances (mine are all from way back but some are still well-known). Not at all what I had expected!

Back to the Conference itself. (more…)

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Trollope Conference 2006

I have decided that although my old blog (http://nickhay.blog-city.com/) will remain in a read-only format I will transfer a few posts here before the end of February. The selection is fairly arbitrary but there aren’t many ‘amateur’ reports on this Conference around!

 

>>Way back in the heatwave of last July (2006) I attended a Conference about Trollope at the University of Exeter. This was a big step for me as social contact is always difficult and I knew that there were only 2 people I knew – from Trollope-l – attending; I say knew but I only knew them through the net prior to the Conference – although I have come to the conclusion that one can get to ‘know’ someone through the net just as much , if not more than, in physical space. Neither of those people – Ellen and Clare – was to be resident. But I found the whole experience a great pleasure. Meeting Ellen and Clare was a highlight, but all the people I talked to were kind and pleasant and delightful. It was an odd experience in that the majority of those attending were women, the majority were American and the majority were academics – I think I was in a minority of one as an English, non-academic male! (which is probably a salutary experience). I have no doubt that there was networking going on but I was happily oblivious to it – I would have been an irrelevance in any case! So for me it was a great pleasure. I did suffer later over the few interventions I made because as always I played them back in my head as me making a fool of myself but this cost was well worth paying.

And of course there were many fascinating papers and discussions! Ellen has written of some of these far better than I ever could at…

http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/ExeterConference.html

  I will try not to go over ground which she has covered – better than I ever could. I agree that the opening address by Robert Polhemus on The Lot Syndrome was one of the most fascinating talks of the Conference. I was definitely inspired to go and read his book although I have not done so yet.

(more…)

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Mysteries of the Year 2008

(Another transfer but pretty relevant and recent…..)

Delayed due to illness but here it is.

My reviewing for rte means that I can for the first time provide a reasonably contemporary list of the ‘top 5’ new mysteries which I read in 2008 – and as I love a list here goes…..

1) Reginald Hill – A Cure for All Diseases

2) Laura Wilson – Stratton’s War

3) Andrew Taylor – Bleeding Heart Square

4) R T Raichev – Assassins at Ospreys

5) Robert Barnard – Last Post

I can also cheat by having a special award for Debut Novel of the Year which goes to Aly Monroe’s Maze of Cadiz. Just falling outside the top 5 was Ann Cleeves’s White Nights.

A few comments. The number one is no surprise! A new Dalziel and Pascoe is pretty well guaranteed to be number one for me and A Cure for All Diseases is an absolute classic. However the rest of the list is generally a lot more surprising. Laura Wilson’s Stratton’s War came as a real discovery to me as I had not liked the previous book of hers that I read; interestingly both it and Bleeding Heart Square are ‘revisionist’ approaches to the Golden Age mystery era of the 1930’s and 40’s. Both are excellent. R.T. Raichev, a writer wholly new to me, on the other hand produces a contemporary homage to the Golden Age mystery and does so with wit, erudition and brio. Robert Barnard, a true living great, produced in Last Post a highly enjoyable book but one which would not have made this list were it not for the remarkable and shocking twist which he pulls out of the hat in, literally, the book’s last paragraph; something only a thorough master of the craft of writing mysteries could do. Aly Monroe’s Maze of Cadiz is a ‘stunning debut’ combining charm and fascinating historical detail.

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My Blogging Philosophy

This is something I wrote in July 2007 but reading it back it seems quite as valid now as the day I wrote it and will explain my philosophy of blogging to anybody who is starting here….

Another diary blog, covering in haphazard form the past few months. I have in fact at various times during these months felt capable of blogging, if only at a rudimentary level, but have desisted because I have felt that any blog should reach a certain standard, and also because I felt I should not blog unless I was living a ‘full’ intellectual life, in cyberspace at least. This is quite clearly an absurdity and a result of the false imposition of external judgements. If blogging helps me to cope with depression then it is, of itself, a good and useful thing to do irrespective of the intrinsic quality or otherwise of the blog. This is both a general and particular rule. General in as far as it applies to all blogs and answers those who from positions of privilege and self-satisfaction condemn the practise; if blogging helps people to cope with life, to extract even an ounce more satisfaction or enjoyment from their existence, then it is worthwhile. As it clearly does so it is therefore worthwhile. Which does not mean that the content of all or any blogs, including this one, is worthwhile or good. The good for the blogger, and for those who may or may not read the blogs (blogee?),  are quite different and separate. In fact it is clear to me that a blog like Ellen’s is worthwhile, to say the least, in terms of its content; that it enhances the minds, and therefore lives, of those who read and appreciate it. So there are distinctive goods for both blogger and blogee. But the possibility of good for the blogger is one which should not be underestimated. It might be argued that this could be achieved through a private diary, but the public nature of blogging is qualitatively different in this respect. Regardless of whether a blog is read the blogger is always aware of this public nature and is therefore shaping their self-revelation. It is a test of honesty. No doubt everyone fails the test, and it is better that they should do so. However the very act of attempting the test may well have psychological value. Which is quite enough about blogging for now.

I have completely failed to live up to the precepts outlined above; that is I have not used blogging as any form of psychological treatment. The truth, which has been vividly brought home to me by the onslaught of two lengthy episodes within the last eight months, is that my particular form of depression takes the form of silence. A silence both external (I cease to communicate) and internal (as thought shuts down).

Despite this I remain wholly committed to the principles outlined above whatever my own adherence to the practice.

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Moving Blogs

I am contemplating moving Blog sites as I cannot see the point of paying for something when I can get at least as good a service for free!

The problem of course is the large amount of material which I have posted on my existing blog. The solution would seem to be making a payment which will preserve that blog in perpetuity (or as long as the provider remains in business) . Well I shall see. Let’s have a look at how this works first.

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