A booksy gathering in Hull

Last month I went to Hull for the weekend.

I enjoyed an interesting guided tour round Hull city centre – obviously this is a loved city with a spirit of independence and creativity – but the reason for my visit was to attend the AGM of the ALS, as a member of the CMYF.

I’ve probably mentioned the CMYF – Charlotte M Yonge Fellowship – before. (She was a Victorian novelist – I’m a committee member.)

These days if you are a fan of an author or a TV programme, you get on the net. There you can register with a forum, follow serious or less serious Facebook pages, subscribe to Youtube channels and podcasts analysing every last detail of Harry Potter (or whatever), write and share fan fiction, etc etc.

But a few decades ago, there was none of that. The older generation, if they loved an author, formed a Society. These societies typically had and have regular magazines and annual gatherings.

And there are still a lot of them. Some are very small and localised (the Walmsley Society commemorates Leo G Walmsley, a writer of stories based in Robin Hood’s Bay) some are enormous (Trollope, Tolkien…)

They have websites, and many of them have been getting into online book discussions etc during the pandemic.

The Alliance of Literary Societies (ALS) is their umbrella organisation. Its website is here: https://allianceofliterarysocieties.wordpress.com/ and here you can get in contact with fellow fans of … well… Jerome K Jerome, Arthur Ransome, George Orwell, Malcolm Saville, Siegfried Sassoon, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy…)

The ALS supports books and libraries in general, as you’d expect, and once a year, like all proper organisations, it has an AGM. Any member of any affiliated society is automatically a member of the ALS, and thus entitled to attend. Societies take it in turns to host, and obviously use the opportunity to showcase their own author(s).

Next year the AGM will be hosted by the CMYF, as part of our celebrations of her bicentenary, so I had an extra reason to go to this year’s event, with two fellow committee members, to see how it’s done. We were hosted by the Philip Larkin Society (hence Hull where he was University librarian for many years while obviously writing the poetry for which he is famous.)

Due to covid the AGM was cancelled in 2020, and only took place online in 2021. So it was interesting to see who would be willing to show up. As expected there were a considerable number of Larkin fans, but I have to admit that considering the ALS claims to have over 100 member societies, not that many were represented. (More next year, perhaps?) Apart from Larkin and ourselves, the main players seemed to be the Trollope Society, the (Gerard Manley) Hopkins Society and the Edward Thomas Society.

(I’m sure Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen have their societies; in fact I was once given a year’s subscription to the Austen Society; but when it comes to the ALS my experience is that the society celebrating Anthony Trollope is by far the biggest player.)

I expanded my knowledge of Thomas’ work by buying some notelets; won a book by Mary Webb (1881-1927) in the raffle; listened with interest to a learned lecture about Philip Larkin’s early authorship of girls’ school stories under a female pseudonym/persona (yes, really); and noticed the oddity that when an admirer of author A meets an admirer of author B they often end up discussing author C.

I’m not sure how interesting I’m making this sound, but I had a great time. The fact that I’d done my homework, read some Larkin beforehand, and discovered that I really like his work, obviously helped. His poem “Aubade,” about the fear of death (though atheistic of course!) is wonderful. Also his poem “Toads,” basically complaining about having to do a day job. (“Why do I let the toad work / Squat on my life?”)

This poem becomes odder when you reflect (and we learned) that he was very plainly brilliant, innovative, and dedicated in this day job, deserving to be remembered locally for his contribution to librarianship alone.

There was a tour of his workplace, which I opted out of, preferring to join a very small congregation celebrating High Anglican communion in a very old church currently full of scaffolding.

Next year, Winchester, and we have to persuade all the Larkin aficionados to read “The Heir of Redclyffe” and “The Daisy Chain.”

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS I know that I owe everyone an apology for letting the blog slide, and I will try to get back into it. Life has felt a bit busy, and I hope most would agree that as much of my limited Authorship Time should be spent on getting on with “Tell Me Your Name,” aka the fourth Tale from Ragaris.

1 Comment
  • Judith+Leader

    2nd July 2022 at 6:28 pm Reply

    Thank you for your interesting blog, and please don’t apologise, it was most interesting and it would have good to be there. I have never belonged to anything that has a group like yours and I hope next year goes well.

    A bit pathetic I am afraid.

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