The ALS AGM weekend

Each year we have a weekend event hosted by a different member society.

In 2018, we will be back in Birmingham (where we used to hold our annual event before we hit the road), celebrating our 45th birthday. This will be 18 – 20 May, and will include talks by local societies. Tim Robertson, the Director of the Royal Society of Literature, will be our keynote speaker.

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Are you thinking of attending an ALS Annual General Meeting but not sure whether you will enjoy it?  Why not read about last year’s event:

Edinburgh with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in 2017

This was hosted jointly by the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship and the Wilfred Owen Association. For those who didn’t attend an optional talk at the Camera Obscura, the weekend began with a walk through the imposing gate of Edinburgh Castle, a setting well known to, and used by, quite a few of ‘our’ authors. We had been invited by the Governor of the Castle to the Great Hall for an evening of music and verse about Wilfred Owen and the Great War. It was a moving experience, especially the piece played on the Wilfred Owen violin, made from wood from the grounds of the former Craiglockhart Military Hospital, and set the tone perfectly for the following day. This was spent at Craiglockhart itself, now part of Napier University and home to the War Poets Collection, and, for some time during the War, home also to Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, who met there in 1917 while being treated for shell shock.

Over coffee on the Saturday morning, we caught up with friends and browsed the publications of our fellow societies, before settling down to the day’s business. We were welcomed by Professor Andrea Nolan, Vice Chancellor of Napier, who talked about the role of Craiglockhart in treating what we now call PTSD. Linda Curry, ALS Chair, then introduced our new President, Claire Harman, who described the obsession with a writer that is necessary to writing a biography. She then introduced a subject dear to her, and to many ALS members: public libraries. Writers who become the subjects of biographies and who inspire literary societies have a band of what she called ‘ultra appreciators’, people well-placed, she suggested, to campaign on behalf of libraries, through individual society websites, through social media, through the ALS itself, and to the public at large.

The first of the day’s talks, by Professor Alistair McLeery of Napier University, looked at the First World War from a Scottish perspective, while musing on what exactly that might be. Both Neil M Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon wrote powerfully on the effects of war and poverty on local communities, and both eventually came to see that catharsis and hope may come with a sense of oneness with the land. Indeed, Gunn, a founding member of the Scottish National Party, pursued an almost mystical thread with his final work, The Atom of Delight – only the land endures.

The AGM followed lunch and a visit by many of the War Poets Collection. Linda Curry described the ALS’s new website and announced the theme for the 2018 ALSo, ‘The Unreliable Narrator’; while Cally Phillips, the new Newsletter Editor, suggested that she would like to change the focus of the newsletter so that it doesn’t simply tell members what has already happened. Linda also encouraged members to consider joining the ALS committee.

Finally, Dr Hazel Hutchison (the University of Aberdeen) talked about the soundscapes of war. She pointed out that there are no sound recordings of the First World War, although new technology meant that warfare had become unprecedentedly noisy. Poets responded to the desire to capture these sounds with imitative language and, perhaps, by doing so, helped to process the physical and psychological effects of war. This talk was particularly evocative as it was followed by more music and poetry, the ‘other’ soundscapes of war.

The day ended with dinner and more conversation – and, in the tradition of these occasions, readings by representative from many of the member societies, making it a most pleasant evening.

Next morning, those who remained went on a literary tour of Edinburgh, a city with no shortage of sights associated with ALS authors.

Warmest thanks are due to the Wilfred Owen Association and the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship for organising such an enjoyable weekend, and in such splendid surroundings.

Haworth with Bronte in 2016
Haworth has long been a second home to me, since I made my first visit back in 1974. It was therefore doubly exciting that we would be celebrating  the bi-centennial of Charlotte’s birth there.

The Parsonage was opened early for us, and the Baptist Church was the venue for most of the Saturday. Our first speaker was Juliet Barker, historian and biographer, on ‘Re-writing Writers’ Lives – Mrs Gaskell and The Life of Charlotte Bronte‘. Question time was very lively – particularly as we had a large contingent from the Gaskell Society!

The second speaker was Ian Dewhirst, retired librarian and well known historian on West Yorkshire and Keighley in particular. His talk was entitled ‘The Druggist and the Relieving Officer, and Other Writers in Haworth’. His natural sense of humour soon had everyone rolling in the aisles, as he described what a haven of cultural activity Haworth was during the time of the Brontes, not at all like the ‘bleak moors’ the area is often portrayed as.

The traditional Saturday evening meal took place at the White Lion, where diners gave their favourite readings. It had been an immensely full day, but very enjoyable.

On Sunday, some went to the Bronte birthplace at Thornton; some on a guided tour of Ponden Hall; and some on a guided walk to the waterfall.

I think everyone would agree that it had been a very rewarding weekend for all lovers of books and literature. I really encourage those who have not done so, to try an ALS weekend!

Other AGM descriptions:

Oxford with Barbara Pym, Nottingham with Dickens and Knutsford with Mrs Gaskell.

ALS weekends in Lichfield and Dublin