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Jade’s First CWWA Conference: Surveillance, Speculative Fiction and Starting a New Chapter

 

by Jade Hinchcliffe

A year after starting my MA (by research) in English Literature at the University of Huddersfield, I attended my first external conference which was hosted by CWWA at Northumbria University. It didn’t get off to the best start. I had just handed in my thesis 10 days before and was exhausted, I learned I would need to leave the conference early because I had a PhD interview to attend which I hadn’t had much time to prepare for and it took me six hours to travel to Newcastle because of Storm Ali. Once I arrived cold, soaked and tired at the station, however, things started to improve. Two lovely young women saw my confused expression as I stared at my map, outlining the route from the station to the hotel, and they kindly showed me to my hotel. This foreshadowed what I was to experience at the conference- an abundance of support, kindness and encouragement from people who went out of their way to welcome and inspire a new, inexperienced researcher. Unsurprisingly, I felt very nervous at the prospective of presenting a paper and then travelling back to Hull the next day for my interview especially considering the disastrous and stressful incoming journey! Thankfully, I was immediately reassured by my fellow presenters and soon relaxed.

After a good sleep, I felt ready for the day ahead and excited to meet new people and hear their talks. I was fortunate enough to attend the conference with my MA supervisor, Sarah Falcus, and some of my fellow colleagues from Huddersfield, Nick Stavris and Steff El Madawi, who also presented. The theme of the conference was “Writing Wrongs” and there were a plethora of diverse panels and presentations, expertly put together by Rachel Carroll and Melanie Waters, which reflected the exciting and varied research in this field. I firstly attended a panel on “digital voices” which featured discussions on feminist readings of Han Kang, blogging as a form of communication between writer and reader and issues that Mexican women writers face when publishing. I was very impressed by the speakers and the insights they gave us concerning the ways female authors communicate with their readers by using innovative digital practices. I also attended two panels on “mapping the city” and “rewriting female sexuality”. There were some very interesting discussions which followed these panels, that were sparked by the presentations, such as: how we interpret space as being private or public, how female writers are “writing the body” and ways of reading female autoerotic fiction. Although I was unfortunately unable to attend any more panels, I had the opportunity to hear Clare Hemmings’ keynote speech entitled “writing ambivalence: sexual politics and the speculative” and I learned a great deal about her research on Emma Goldman. I was also very pleased to be able to be at the book launch for Mary Eagleton’s Clever Girls and the Literature of Women’s Upward Mobility and Clare Hanson and Susan Watkins The History of British Women’s Writing 1945-1975. Mary Eagleton’s generosity, in allowing Clare Hanson and Susan Watkins to share her book launch, serves as yet another example of the way members of the CWWA support each other and are proud of each other’s achievements. Overall, I found listening to people’s research very interesting and was able to add to my never-ending book list!

I presented my paper, “Juli Zeh and the right to privacy and our bodies in a surveillance society”, on the “speculative fiction” panel with Susan Watkins and Nick Stavris. After I gave my paper, I was overjoyed that many people in the audience wanted to read The Method by Juli Zeh and was delighted to be asked to recommend similar contemporary texts on surveillance and dystopia. I found Susan and Nick’s papers, on post-apocalyptic fiction and time in Doris Lessing and Megan Hunter’s novels, highly insightful and it gave me ideas for future projects. I was particularly disappointed not to be able to attend the “eco feminism” panel as it covered similar themes to my panel, however I was able to speak to the presenters during the breaks and ask about their research. Being able to meet new people and learn about their work was one of my favourite parts of the conference and I felt more confident approaching people as the day progressed, especially after I had presented my paper and had gotten over my nerves.

At the evening meal, I had a lovely discussion with the women at my table who all gave me advice and encouragement for my interview, which was unexpected and very touching. When we all sat down for dinner, I noticed that there was a good balance of lecturers, early career academics, creative writers and postgraduate students who were all complimenting each other on their presentations and giving each other advice. I urge new researchers to join the CWWA and come along to some of the conferences and events to experience the supportive environment and gain the confidence to present. Attending and speaking at CWWA conferences also provides people with the opportunity to form new connections and to collaborate on projects. After the conference, I felt refreshed and motivated to go to my interview as I knew from attending the conference that I definitely wanted be a researcher and my conversation at dinner encouraged me to believe in my ability.

Since the conference, I have been awarded a studentship to study for a PhD in Media, Culture and Society with the North of England Consortium for Arts and Humanities (NECAH) at the University of Hull under the supervision of a leading surveillance expert and happily I have also been able to keep Sarah Falcus as my second supervisor at the University of Huddersfield! Recently, I became a CWWA member and I was also appointed as a steering group member for the Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network (PGCWWN), which is a separate organisation that is related to the CWWA which I learned about at the conference. I will be involved with organising the 2019 PGCWWN conference with the other members. Details of the upcoming PGCWWN conference and other events hosted by the PGCWWN and CWWA will be posted in the following months so, don’t just watch this space, get involved and share your research!

 


Angela Carter in 2017

by Heidi Yeandle

February 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Angela Carter’s premature death, and interest in Carter is consequently thriving. The Guardian is holding an Angela Carter Reading Group this month, and the ‘Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter’ exhibition is running at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol until 19 March 2017 (curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts from the University of the West of England, UWE, and Fiona Robinson, RWA). In line with this exhibition, an international conference Fireworks: The Visual Imagination of Angela Carter was held in January 2017 in Bristol, organised by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts and Dr Charlotte Crofts (UWE). A range of diverse publications have also emerged over the last few months, including Scott Dimovitz’s Angela Carter: Surrealist, Psychologist, Moral Pornographer (Routledge, 2016), Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (Chatto & Windus, 2016), Anna Watz’s Angela Carter and Surrealism: A Feminist Libertarian Aesthetic (Routledge, 2017), and Heidi Yeandle’s Angela Carter and Western Philosophy (Palgrave, 2017). There are still more publications in the pipeline: Mulvey-Roberts’ edited collection The Arts of Angela Carter: A Cabinet of Curiosities (Manchester University Press) is under preparation, and there is currently a call for book chapters for Pyrotechnics: The Incandescent Imagination of Angela Carter, edited by Mulvey-Roberts and Crofts. Bearing in mind the range of recent publications and events that celebrate Carter’s life and work, this piece discusses some of the developments in the current Carter world.

The availability of the Angela Carter Papers Collection at the British Library has resulted in a new wave of work on Carter underpinned by archival material: research notes, diary entries, and plans for novels and short stories. Sir Christopher Grayling’s keynote lecture ‘ANGELA and ME: A Bath Literary Friendship’ at the Fireworks conference in January 2017 was particularly revealing about the content of these papers. Reflecting on his friendship with Carter in the 1970s when she lived in Bath, Frayling recalled reading her notebooks and coming across conversations that he’d had with Carter. Carter’s account of these conversations was far from factual though; she had fictionalised and in some ways gothicised Frayling’s words, and these alternative dialogues feature in her published novels. With a number of recent publications referring to the archived material and commenting on its self-consciousness and unreliability (Dimovitz, Gordon, and Yeandle), Frayling’s reflection illustrates the veiled nature of Carter’s personal notes and the importance of not taking her words at face value.

Edmund Gordon’s 2016 biography of Carter demonstrates extensive engagement with the contents of the Angela Carter Papers Collection, but also references letters Carter wrote to friends and colleagues, as well as interviews with a range of people who knew Carter: family, friends, students, and ex-lovers. This publication therefore includes a range of new material, and is a useful resource for Carter scholars as well as wider readers. One particularly illuminating aspect of this publication is that it features extracts from the author’s interview with Sozo Araki, whom Carter had her ‘First Real Affair’ with in Japan (letter to Carmen Callil, Gordon 2016: p. 141), unveiling Sozo’s perspective on this formative time of Carter’s life. The biography also cites Sozo’s unpublished memoir, translated by Natsumi Ikoma from the International Christian University in Japan. Ikoma’s English translation of Sozo’s account is being published by Eihosha in Summer 2017, another exciting addition to the expanding body of literature related to Carter.

While engagement with both the archival material and the biography was central to many of the papers at the recent Fireworks event, the wide-ranging interdisciplinary focus of the conference paid tribute to both the diverse influences on Carter’s work as well as the influence she continues to have, as illustrated by the ‘Strange Worlds’ exhibition. With papers discussing Carter’s oeuvre in relation to cinema, surrealism, and the Gothic, as well as philosophy, theatre, and folk music, and examining topics such as the medieval influences on Carter’s early novels, the significance of tattooing, and the depiction of ageing to name a few, the event showcased the wealth of innovative research on Carter at the moment. It wasn’t just a literary event though, with talks from curators, artists, and musicians as well. For instance, Catriona McAra (Leeds College of Art, UK) discussed how Carter has shaped her curatorial strategies, and artist Kim L Pace reflected on Carter’s influence on her work, and showcased her film ‘Fabulous Beasts & Comic Bodies’, which includes Pace’s images alongside extracts from The Magic Toyshop (1967), ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’ (1974, in Fireworks), and Nights at the Circus (1984). Works by a range of contemporary artists inspired by Carter are featured in the ‘Strange Worlds’ exhibition, from Ana Maria Pacheco’s dominating installation The Banquet to Tail of the Tiger by Eileen Cooper RA, contradicting Gordon’s claim that Carter’s reputation is confined within ‘scholarly sarcophagi’ (Gordon 2016: p. 130).

It’s now 25 years since Carter’s death, and there is no sign of interest in her beginning to diminish: quite the opposite. Alongside new publications, exhibitions and art installations, a number of public events are on the horizon. These include a ‘Shadow Dance puppet workshop’, a Drawing Master Class inspired by Carter’s work on fairy tales, and a Folksong and Music Session inspired by Carter’s role in the 1960s Folk Revival. More information about these and other events is available at getangelacarter.com, a website related to the Bristol-based events commemorating the anniversary of Carter’s death, designed and curated by Crofts. In addition, Carter-related news and interviews are available at angelacarteronline.com, run by Dr Caleb Sivyer. These public events and websites are making Carter more visible and accessible for contemporary readers, and foregrounding her importance in 2017, and, it seems, for years to come.

 

Gordon, E. The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus, 2016.