Excuse the shameless attention-grabbing headline; I couldn’t resist the cliché. So, what on earth does the FORCE have to do with anything remotely Katherine Blessan-related? Well, sadly (or perhaps not so sadly) it’s nothing to do with George Lucas’ blockbusters.
FORCE is a Humber based regional network dedicated to raising the aspirations of young people through participation in higher education. Last autumn, as part of my involvement in Sheffield Authors, I was invited to participate in an event being run by FORCE at Hull University called the English Literature Festival. Being a Hull university graduate and knowing that Hull was the birthplace of Wilberforce, that great anti-slavery champion, my decision to be involved was a no-brainer. That decision culminated in two incredible days last week visiting my alma mater, Hull University, reliving my mostly positive memories of studying there, being bowled-over by the changes to the place over twenty years and masquerading as a well-known author.
She protests too much, you cry! No, really. Masquerading is putting too fine a point on it, as I wasn’t pretending to be something I was not – I have after all had a book published, which is no mean feat. Nevertheless, there was something slightly surreal about being a guest author at an event taking place in the very university where I laboured over the sexual politics of Lady Chatterley and the Love of Worker Bees, gazed at the incredible views from the 7th floor (if I remember rightly) of the Brynmor Jones Library, and bopped along to the sound of 60s, 70s and 80s cheese at the Student’s Union.
And the event itself, you ask? Several schools from the region had been invited to attend and those schools were spread out over the three days of the events. The majority of the young people seemed to be the brightest of the bunch, creamed from the top set English classes. However, there was thankfully an egalitarian approach to the event which myself and a few other guest speakers confronted with a quiet intake of breath when faced with a handful of non-communicative Year 9 girls, who had come for a panel on Romance and Friendship in literature. It seemed that none of them read any books or watch any films or TV dramas – ever!. Unless they were just keeping up appearances in front of their mates, of course. It made for a slightly awkward time for us as we didn’t want to be talking over their heads, but it showed the commitment of Emma Gale and her FORCE team to reaching the hardest to reach.
There were panels, workshops, lectures and author signings on topics as varied as indie publishing, career pathways, writing romance and science fiction and diversity in literature. My first thought was – are the students going to be interested in sitting and listening to adults talking about their passion? But most of the young people were highly engaged (apart from our Year 9 girls!). The best thing about it was the chance to break down some of the myths that young people might have had about a literary career by presenting them with people working on the ground in those fields. I would have loved the chance to attend an event like this when I was at secondary school.
From my perspective, it was great to meet other authors, as well as bloggers, publishers and those in academia pursuing literary goals. If there’s funding for it, I’ll be back again next year.