In Which There's Some Rambling about the Diana Wynne Jones Con(ference) - So Many Books...
Jul. 18th, 2009
10:52 am - In Which There's Some Rambling about the Diana Wynne Jones Con(ference)
As I said in my earlier post, the conference was a huge success, and much credit to fjm and steepholm for their organising. I also said I'd write about it as sensibly as possible, hoping my brains would return enough for me to do a paper-by-paper account, as there were so many wonderful papers, in such a variety of areas. I don't think that's going to happen, unfortunately, but there is now a conference 'souvenir' on the webpage, where the abstracts of all the papers can be seen, along with photos and links to blog write-ups.
What I should be able to muster sufficient brain-power to do though, is the usual rambling about less intellectual matters - happily no less meaningful for being less intellectual.
...when I gave up on sleeping and woke up the computer, to find that DWJ's travel jinx had hit already, and hit hard. steepholm and I had arranged to meet Deborah and Allen on Thursday night when I got into Bristol, but their flight from Boston to London had been cancelled! As Deborah was giving a paper the first afternoon - in fact, the first paper - this was more than a minor annoyance for her, and disappointed though we were not to get to see them then, there was some worry as to whether she'd make it in time at all. Thursday morning when I got up properly it was to news of the Destruction of Dublin by Flood. Okay, parts of it anyway, but as the access roads to Dublin Airport were closed, the parts snafued were not insignificant.
Made it there anyway, and had arranged for Deborah to ring me on my mobile when they were up Friday morning, as steepholm had to drive off bright and early to deepest Devon to deliver his external examiner report. I'd packed all the bits and pieces I needed to bring to the con in my suitcase and was ready to go when Deborah rang - sounding remarkably together for the amount of sleep (very low) and chaos (very high) they'd had over the last couple of days. Luckily the bus going out to Frenchay Campus was right across the road from steepholm's, as the bag was so heavy I could barely drag it behind me at all. Just before we arrived, the person behind me asked if the bus went into the campus, and I asked, for the first of many times, 'Are you going to the DWJ conference?' Not only was she, but she turned out to be Martha Hixon, one of the editors of Exciting and Exacting Wisdom. When we got off the bus, I confidently directed her with a vague wave of the hand in the direction of the student village, while I set off even more confidently for the conference rooms (which I'd already visited with steepholm). My adventures getting there, which involved help from people who worked on campus, either baffled themselves or unbaffled but wrong, brought home to me the truth: THE WHOLE CAMPUS IS A TRAVEL JINX. I don't quite know how that works out when DWJ isn't involved (i.e. from the time it was built until the weekend of the 3rd to 5th of July 2009), but it's the truth nonetheless.
At long last I found my way to the rooms, and after receiving a run-down on the whos and wheres of the U.W.E. people around to help us out (and having had to make an unexpected organizational decision that yes, we really did want a screen up against the windows for people's Powerpoint presentations) I briefly met one of the DWJ listserve/LJ friends I'd been looking forward to meeting, and totally failed to cop on to who she was. Having looked over the entire list of participants carefully several times, I should have known there was nobody with the (Irish) name Ciara, while Kyra could be pronounced differently from the way I'd been saying it.
Then Deborah and Allen turned up, not quite having used up the sum of their travel jinx on the flight over enough to find the conference rooms easily, but still early enough that we got a chance to chat a bit before registration began properly. (I've known Deborah from the DWJ listserve for 10 years now (!) but never met her in person, so this was a real pleasure.) Doing registration was great, as it was possible to greet everyone without shyness or reservation since it was my job, and I probably got to talk to almost everyone, which wouldn't necessarily have happened with a group that size otherwise. But, of course, there was nowhere near enough time to talk to anyone - in fact my feeling afterwards was that it was like a - slightly longer than normal - wedding: there's a huge amount of organizing beforehand, there are things to be done during the time and they're all totally meaningful, and you want to visit with everyone properly and there's not a chance you'll be able to.
Of course it wasn't totally like a wedding, as - aside from the obvious reasons - you don't usually come away from a wedding with a bunch of shiny new ideas as well as new friendships. steepholm breezed in a few minutes before he was due to give the welcome to the conference, which I missed, in order to phone for Help for the various technical hitches that had already surfaced, but I managed to get the help done in time to catch Deborah's talk, as I'd been determined to do. And so began the con proper, in participant terms, as her paper was very interesting and inspired me to reread Hexwood and Dark Lord of Derkholm from the perspective of protagonist age she discussed. And so went the whole weekend. I managed to get to the talks of everyone I knew previously from the listserve and LJ (with just one exception, which is pretty good), and they were all wonderful. It was especially lovely that there were so many varied approaches and perspectives - I think this is where the con element kicked in, as opposed to a completely standard (academic) conference, but perhaps it was just the awesomeness of the people giving papers. The two Keynote speeches, by Nicholas Tucker and Sharyn November, were wonderful too, and added the new U.S. version of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland to my Must Get Now list.
And the conversation! So many wonderful discussions about the papers, DWJ's books, the sheer Hotel Babylonness of the U.W.E. campus, and the other books we loved. sartorias was much missed, but there in spirit whether she knew it or not, for her books kept coming up (in the Books We Love sense, so it's 100% clear this time!) again and again. Sherwood Smith fandom came up too; though I might have been the one who mentioned the incredibly in-depth knowledge her many fans have of Sartorias-deles and their presence on LJ, heads nodded emphatically in agreement when I brought it up. Other authors who came up often were Megan Whalen Turner and Dorothy Dunnett, (though I've already managed to forget whether to start with the Niccolo or the Lymond books).
Happily a number of people were able to stay around for dinner on Sunday night, though some hadn't managed to arrange it and were also missed. Inevitably there were so many of us that conversation was pretty much limited to a few in close proximity, but we were able to take over a whole corner of the restaurant so it wasn't as limited as it might have been. fjm and chilperic stayed the night at steepholm's, which was great, as it prolonged the socializing for us right through till Monday morning. And when the two main organizers understandably went to lie down before the dinner, chilperic and I got a nice chance to chat - even more books discussed!
I think that's more than enough, and the rambling about intersecting internet worlds will have to wait for the write-up of the Asterisks and Obelisks conference - hopefully coming soon.