Yesterday I attended an inspiring conference at the University of Chichester, hosted by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairytales and Fantasy (an initiative set up by Professor Bill Gray). The theme related to the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, but the papers were wide-ranging, covering Scottish folklore, ecopoetics, film adaptations of Narnia, an Alice tarot, storytelling, and much more. I gave a paper on the late great Graham Joyce – The Kingdom of Dreams. It was good to honour this superb author who sadly died in September 2014.
The day kicked off with an excellent keynote speech by Professor Diane Purkiss on an obscure Scottish witch, Andrew Mann. As it looked into much familiar folklore of the Borders, dear to my heart (or should I say hart, as she focused on the witch’s stag-lord, who Mann called rather euphemistically, Christ Sunday) it fascinated me. Purkiss is an engaging speaker.
Then the panels got under way on the topics of: Material Wonder: Fantasy, Ecology and Language; Re-Imagining the Fantastic: Contemporary Adaptations of Fairy Tales; Gossip from the Forest: Spirits of Place in Fantastical Fiction; Crossing the Borders: Creative and Critical Explorations of Wonder (where my talk ended up); Aspects of Alice and Narnia: Adventures on Screen, Page, and Pack; The World’s Fantastic: Stories Global, Local and Fantastical. After lunch there was an excellent talk by master illustrator, John Vernon Lord on his versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This was followed by a fantastic story by Steven O’brien. After the afternoon panels we were treated to an hour of excellent storytelling hosted by Jo Blake Cave, with Joanne Coleman, Abbi Palache and Michael O’Leary. The day ended with a lovely dinner and some animated conversations. The delegates were diverse, intelligent and friendly. The atmosphere was warm, collegiate – there was a sense of kindred spirits connecting through their passions and expertise. A superb stimulating day, well organised and well attended. A real success, and a pleasure to have been part of.