Does the idea of spending a weekend in a great house somewhere surrounded by writers fill you with dread? How about facing up to a long lecture on the meaning of apricot sponge in the work of John Tripp at 9.00 am after a night in the bouncing bar? Maybe an open forum on the way the publishing industry works? Or a discussion on the work of one of our literary greats. Welcome to the literary conference. How they used to be. We love these things in Wales.
You sign up and spend three days in a shared room somewhere deep in the greenness. Fellow delegates, for this is what you are now, join you for huge breakfasts of kippers, muesli and fried eggs. You study your day programme. There’s a choice first off – women in the nineteenth century industrial novel or a lecture on the works of the folk poets of Gwynedd. You choose and slumber. After an hour there is gentle applause.
At coffee you fill up on biscuits and discuss with your fellow travellers the fate of short fiction in an age of television and the power of poetry on the internet. There is a bookstall run by someone you’ve seen somewhere before, you are sure, a man with a beard. He stocks books by delegates and a stack of second hand stuff you’d never look at anywhere else. With nothing else to spend your cash on you find yourself buying. Get your copies signed. Why not.
Mid afternoon there’s a literary walk through the local woodlands. Appropriate poems are recited by the walk leader. Half way along it starts softly to rain. At 6.30 there’s the keynote speech. A London novelist driven in by limo to talk about her latest book. Copies cost £25. You don’t bother. Dinner is chicken with lumpy mashed potato. There is pudding but so sticky you can’t get it out of the bowl.
In the bar later is a poems and pints session. The poems flutter and drone. Almost every delegate appears to have brought something with them. Folded sheets are produced from back pockets. Files are unbagged. Pamphlets taken from under arms. The pints make things bearable. You drink far too many.
The following morning almost half the delegates fail to get to the first lecture. There’s a summing up after coffee at 11.00 am. You spot people leaving at 10.45. It’s been a great few days. You’ve met and mingled and got a hold on how the world works. Money well spent. In your car boot are copies of signed poetry booklets you’ll never have otherwise bought. You are replete. The sun comes up. You drive to meet it.
Watch out for the Academi’s next conference. It won’t be anything like this.
A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 12 December, 2009