Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Mezzotweet: report from the M.R.James conference at Leeds

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, Saturday 28th March saw the conference M.R.James and the Modern Ghost Story at the Leeds Library. I attended as one of the plenary speakers, with a paper about the demonology of Canon Alberic's Scrap-book, which is rather a favourite topic of mine!

I'm going to be doing a full write-up of the conference for the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter, so I'm not going to review it in detail here on my blog. I'd love to share a few photographs though, and pick up on a few things I have been asked about.

The conference was organised by Professor Jim Mussell of the University of Leeds, Jane Mainley-Piddock (who initially approached me to ask me to take part) and Dr. Dewi Evans. At the end of the conference, which was hugely enjoyable, many people were asking whether there would be another in the future, so if you know one of these academics, make sure to get them drunk and extract a promise that there will indeed be another one!

The event took place at the Leeds Library, pictured left. I had only ever been to Leeds once before in my life, for the Leeds Book Awards 2011, for which The Glass Demon was shortlisted. So I knew nothing about the Leeds Library before I got there. Leeds has a "regular" library, the Leeds Central Library; this one is something different altogether. Founded in 1768, it is run by subscription (and is also a charity) and houses a large collection of books, many of them antiquarian volumes, in a gorgeous old building. It was the perfect setting for a conference about the ghost stories of M.R.James, which abound in creepy old books and unwary academics!

If you are interested in learning more about the Leeds Library (or indeed if you live in Leeds and would like to join it), you can find their website here:

The full conference programme can be found on the event's website, here:

It included three keynote speeches, from Professor Roger Luckhurst, Professor Darryl Jones and myself. In addition there were parallel sessions in both morning and afternoon at which a variety of papers were presented ranging on topics as diverse as the cinematography of M.R.James and adapting James's work into graphic stories. At the end of the conference there was a wine reception, followed by a showing of A Warning to the Curious, and a discussion with director Lawrence Gordon Clark.

Above: Matthew Kilburn talks to Lawrence Gordon Clark. 

Amongst other attendees I was delighted to see Will and Mike of A Podcast to the Curious, the brilliant podcast series devoted to the work of M.R.James. The guys interviewed me at the very end of the day, so there will be something from me on the podcast soon, no doubt alongside their impressions of this very enjoyable day.

Above: thrilled to discover that the guys from A Podcast to the Curious really do exist in real life!
You can follow them on Twitter at @MRJamesPodcast

One or two people asked about my books; of my six novels published to date, the "Jamesian" one is The Glass Demon, which came out in 2010. It was inspired by the true story of M.R.James and the lost stained glass windows of Steinfeld Abbey. M.R.James and his German correspondent Father Nikola Reinartz are mentioned in the acknowledgements to that book! I also write ghost stories, some of which have a Jamesian flavour. My prequel to MRJ's A Neighbour's Landmark, a story entitled The Third Time, recently appeared in the Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows Volume 2, and will be reprinted in the upcoming (and perhaps more affordable) Best British Horror 2015, out in May. 

You can find many of the tweets about the conference (including photos) by searching Twitter for #Mezzotweet! 

Finally, I would like to offer a huge THANK YOU to a Good Samaritan! On Friday, when I had just started out for the railway station at Dunblane for my journey down to Leeds, I managed to damage our car (I'm not posting details because what I did was too embarrassingly stupid, but nothing was hurt except my pride). Envisioning missing my train connections and either not making the conference or having to fork out for a new ticket, I was pretty much having hysterics at the side of the road when a complete stranger drew up, and having heard the sorry tale, offered to drive me to Dunblane station on the spot. This is a round trip of over thirty miles, and it was an incredibly kind offer. Without her assistance, I might not have been at the conference at all. So thank you very, very much, Mairi of Crieff! 

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