Category Archives: Events

Peter Rabbit: Mischief and Mayhem, Henley River and Rowing Museum

To say that Phoebe has an obsession with Peter Rabbit is something of an understatement. She lives and breathes Peter Rabbit, be it the books, the TV series with Nimah Cussack that I enjoyed as a child and found on Amazon, or the Nickelodeon series which created the admirable Lily Bobtail to go alongside the traditional male characters.

She wakes up in the morning and tells me she’s dreamt about Peter Rabbit, runs around the house looking for the fierce bad rabbit, and shows me the best places to hide from Mr McGregor after we’ve stolen radishes from his garden. At the end of all this, she falls asleep cuddling Benjamin Bunny.

You can imagine then that when I saw that Henley River and Rowing Museum were running a Peter Rabbit: Mischief and Mayhem exhibition, with everything from original Beatrix Potter illustrations and vintage toys, to interactive exhibits ideal for tiny rabbit addicts.

We had a lovely day at the museum. The ground floor exhibition area had a fairly traditional museum display with beautiful original illustrations, vintage toys, first edition books etc. in glass cabinets, which would have the potential to be a little dull for your typical toddler, but the museum had added a lovely little reading area, colouring table and post office in which children could write letters to their favourite Beatrix Potter characters. They also had a shelf of cuddly toys based on Beatrix Potter characters so the little ones could choose a friend to look around with, Phoebe chose Squirrel Nutkin (or Scwerl Nutkah, if you will).

Upstairs, there was a wonderful hands on exhibit for little children. They could serve customers in Ginger and Pickles shop, peg washing on Mrs Tiggywinkle’s line, plant and harvest carrots in Mr McGregor’s garden, play in Peter Rabbit’s burrow, and play puppets with Mr Tod, Tommy Brock and Diggory Delvet in a puppet theatre.

The museum entry cost about £25 for two adults, with free entry for children. On the face of it, that’s a pretty expensive day out, but this gives you entry to the museum for a year, and I’m already planning to go back to check out their Wind in the Willows exhibition. I was really impressed by how child friendly the exhibit was so, I’ll be keeping an eye out for what else is coming up in the future.

 

The Genre Fiction Debate

corpus christi college

Image by Klovovi under Creative Commons license

Though each speaker(Gaynor Arnold and Elizabeth Edmondson, for, and Juliet McKenna and Anita Mason, against) spoke well, their arguments did seem to repeat each other regardless of what side they were arguing for, the main crux of the issue being reduced to, genre is irrelevant, it’s really a matter of whether the book is good or bad.

Gaynor Arnold’s speech stressed that from her perspective the genre and literary fiction have so much overlap that it’s very unhelpful to put authors into these categories. As an author she was quite concerned that her books would be read as historical fiction. She stressed that a book should be judged by, “is it a good book per se, not is it a good book of it’s type?”

Anita Mason argued in favour of retaining a distinction between the two, because she sees a genre novel as being governed by limitations which allow it to meet the criteria of that genre, while literary fiction is governed by nothing and is trying to do something different.  She cited Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake as a novel which is rooted in a genre (speculative fiction) but has all the qualities of a literary work, comparing writing to a wheel with literary fiction as the hub and genres as the spokes. The hub holds the wheel together and unites the whole, but it is the spokes which give the wheel its strength.

Elizabeth Edmondson used Jane Austen as an example of a literary author who wouldn’t be published as such today- she’d be shoved into romance or comedy which are very rarely considered to be “literary”. Edmondson speculated as to whether classing certain books as being literary fiction wasn’t just a marketing strategy from the publishers to set certain titles apart, a bid to elevate them to the status of literature without the test of time. It’s an interesting idea… one which brings to mind Penguin’s inclusion of Morrissey in its Classics series. Edmondson reminded the audience that though literary fiction may be considered more profound than genre fiction, profundity has a dark twin called pretension which can result in judgemental and reductive reading. “There are only good books and bad books, which can be thrust into many genres- lit fic is just one of these.”

Juliet McKenna was by far my favourite speaker, she is what the world might term a genre fiction writer and is damn proud of it. She sees literary fiction as attempting to reflect real life while speculative fiction introduces an element of other to discuss major ideas without the restriction of a “real life” setting. She argued that the unfamiliar worlds of speculative fiction need to create a clearer picture of the world that they are set in, as the reader’s mind won’t just fill in the blanks that the author has overlooked, so in this sense it is much harder to write speculative fiction well than it is to write literary fiction. I also liked her point about the increased scrutiny that genre fiction authors receive from their reads, the sci-fi and fantasy genres have very active communities built up around them who are incredibly invested in their genres.

The most interesting part of the talk for me was a brief discussion of the influence of metadata in publishing which came up as a result of an audience member complaining that an agent had rejected her novel because it sat across a range of genres. The influence of key words and tagging means that books in future should have the opportunity to define themselves more broadly and reach out to a more specific audience type that isn’t necessarily restricted by a generic categories.

The talk hasn’t revolutionised my views on genre vs literary fiction, I still think genres are useful categorisations for readers. I was a little disappointed that the whole panel was made up of women- even if it is as a result of the Hilda’s college connection. There can only have been two men in the crowd, probably because they saw the genre debate was among a panel of women and thought it would be about chick lit and this genre wasn’t really touched upon. Call me a gender traitor, but I think that putting a man on the panel might have shaken up the debate a little bit- it was a little too collegiate with everyone ultimately agreeing with one another.

A Day at Oxford Literary Festival… complete with thunder

I love Oxford in the rain. Even a little drizzle seems to clear the streets, and if you head off into the city’s many alleyways during a decent downpour it can feel as though you have the whole place to yourself. I got caught out in a thunderstorm while walking between talks at the literary festival today, and had a great time taking touristy pictures in the moody, semi-empty streets. I was pleased to warm up in front of the open fire in Christ Church College’s Great Hall after a little too long taking pictures in the hail and the rain- I was soaked through!

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The Radcliffe Camera in a thunderstorm

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The Oxford Martin School which hosted “Is the planet too full?”
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The Norrington Room at Blackwells Oxford- effectively the world’s best book cave

great hall fireplace

Drying off from the thunderstorm in front of the fire in Christ Church College’s Great Hall

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A full shot of the Great Hall, which Potter fans might recognise as Hogwarts Hall from the films

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Tourists sheltering from the thunderstorm under the Bridge of Sighs

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Broad Street

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Christ Church College Quad

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Christ Church College Quad in the thunderstorm

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The Bodleian Library luring in unsuspecting passers by…

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School children enjoying a talk about the most deadly inventions in the Blackwells festival marquee

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The Vaults Cafe looking inviting…

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Entrance to the Great Hall at Christ Church with vaulted ceiling and Narnian style lamposts

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The Sheldonian Theatre

Magical Books Exhibition at Bodleian Library Oxford

My exhibition leaflet

My exhibition leaflet

Yesterday afternoon I took a detour while shopping in Oxford to drop into The Bodleian Library’s exhibition of Magical Books. As with any Bodleian library exhibition, this did not disappoint. It was so exciting to see hand written manuscripts, art work and artefacts that some of my favourite writers created or were inspired by.

Along with the usual suspects like C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Philip Pullman who you would expect to see at an Oxford based exhibition of fantasy literature, there were some real gems that I hadn’t expected to see like medieval manuscripts on divination, the Rawlinson necromantic manuscript and, my personal favourite, the plates which inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.

We read The Owl Service when I started secondary school and I can remember how I used to get told off for reading ahead in lessons when we were meant to be reading along with the class. It’s the first time I’d really appreciated that a story was updating and twisting an ancient myth into something new and modern (even though the book was at least 30 years old by the time I read it). I think that this is where my love of fairy tale and myth inspired novels has come from so it was really nice to be able to trace out the flower owls like Alison did in the story.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to share any pictures from the exhibition here, but the lovely people at the Bodleian have made the entire exhibition available online for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to Oxford to see it.

Quote me on that… madness

Image adapted from original by NorbyPix http://www.flickr.com/photos/norbypix/

Image adapted from original by NorbyPix http://www.flickr.com/photos/norbypix/#

Call me mad if you will, but I am once again very excited to be heading into Oxford for Alice Day 2013. The theme this year is nonsense, so I should feel right at home. It’s lovely to live somewhere that has so many exciting literary events going on and The Story Museum is at the heart of a lot of these. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in Oxford.

Look what I found in Waterstones…

On Saturday I went into Waterstones, Oxford and found myself in the middle of a Regency style musical performance. I was a little annoyed that the crowd which had formed around the performers meant that I could get nowhere near the fiction books I’d planned to spend half an hour browsing, but when I heard Austentation (there to mark 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice being published) performing Greensleeves– which is one of my favourite folk songs- I quickly forgave the disruption!

Austentation Oxford

No chance of getting at those books without the right costume!

Art (and Alice) in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland seems to be very much in vogue at the moment, as evidenced by the exhibition at Tate Liverpool. You can check out some of the images on display on the BBC website. I’m afraid that’s all I’ll be able to do while this exhibition lasts, since as my operation and two week hospital stay starts tomorrow, little short of holding a nurse hostage is going to get me there.

I might just have to get my private Alice collection out to make it up to myself. If you’re very good I might share them with you.

For me the John Tenniel illustrations remain the best.

Treasures of the Bodleian

I recently visited an exhibition at the Bodleian Library Oxford which showcases some of the rare and ancient manuscripts the library owns. The exhibition will run until December 23rd 2011 and allows the public to view the treasures to decide which should go on permanent display.

You can see all sorts of wonderful things including a Shakespeare First Folio, a 1484 copy of Aesop’s Fables, fragments of lyric poems by Sappho, a draft of Frankenstein, The Kennicott Bible and original watercolours from The Hobbit. My favourite was Gregorio Reggio’s Herbarium which contains samples of plants collected around 1596. I just found it incredible that this has survived so long and is in such great condition.

I can’t post pictures from the exhibition here (without paying a £15 permissions fee) but do check it out on the Bodleian website and visit if you get the chance.

Alice Day 2011, Oxford

Some belated pictures from this year’s Alice Day in Oxford on Saturday. A great day out for all the family with activities like story telling, white rabbit petting zoo, plays, a geocache snark hunt, croquet, mad hatter hat making and of course, lots and lots of tea parties.

White Rabbit Petting Zoo

My boyfriend was confused because not all of the rabbits were pure white, though I was more concerned about the lack of waistcoat and timepiece.

Hookah Smoking Caterpillar

I bumped into this caterpillar when we went to view the bee hive at The Natural History Museum where the Red Queen was throwing a tea party and telling stories to all and sundry. It was great fun, and lots of people had brought their picnics. My boyfriend ran away when The Red Queen accosted him shouting, “Come on, come on, take a seat! We’ve been waiting for you!” The White Rabbit was also in attendance, and when I took the photo below was chatting away to a mother about how lovely it would be if we all had the time to sleep like her baby. I loved how well the actors stayed in character and interacted with everyone.

White Rabbit

I also had a good day on the book front buying a new copy of Alice in Wonderland with colour illustrations from The Alice Shop. The sales assistants were dressed in an amazing costumes and were giving away free bookmarks with the Alice Day guide which has come in very handy. It was great to see them really getting into the spirit of things, and they very kindly let me take this picture of them.

I also bought a copy of a craft book Everything Alice. I bought it from Waterstones but arrived a little bit early for the authors signing the books so didn’t get to meet them (though they’ve started following me on Twitter which is cool). The book is amazing and I’ll review it soon, but if I had the time again I’d buy it from the Alice shop who I later found were selling it. The Waterstones staff had done nothing special for the day beyond the author visit- no costume and the most half arsed display imaginable. When I asked when the authors would be arriving the staff seemed half asleep, so I just bought the book and left.

Another place which was marvellously into the spirit of Alice Day was George and Danvers on St. Aldates which had playing cards and rabbits galore, staff in fancy dress and a special Alice in Wonderland ice cream (no mock turtle, eggs which turn into Humpty Dumpty or jam tarts in sight) a delicious raspberry and white chocolate ice cream which just screamed eat me. I hope they start doing it all year round.

Eat Me

 

The Return of Harry Potter?

The Owls Are Gathering (photo by A.J. Hand)

Like myself, J.K. Rowling isn’t dead, but has been busy…

Unlike myself, she hasn’t been busy with house-buying paperwork and other trivialities (as far as I know at least) but has been twiddling her wand fingers to conjure up some more Potter related excitement. I’m sure that you’ll understand my excitement, and forgive my flowery language, when you check out Rowling’s newly registered website where Owls are gathering ready to deliver some big Potter news in 5 days time.

If you can’t wait that long for your next Potter fix, why not relive those heady days as a Potter virgin by reading through this great online journal.

In less exciting news, I’ve been quiet, but I’ve been reading, so expect more from me soon.