Saturday, 23 June 2012

Worlds 2012, Memoir, Fiction & Truth (1)

Self or Truth?

I promised to catch up with the past week and I'm going to do so over the next few days by using the text I delivered as summing up yesterday morning. Other events may intervene or interrupt but this is the intention. The programme for the week can be found here and the earlier first blog here. What follows is a filled out version of the notes I made. Any later thoughts will be in italics and square brackets. These annual Worlds (I am tempted to say The World Series)  are Writers Centre Norwich events. They do the hard hard work. The city is still celebrating being named as a UNESCO City of Literature, thanks primarily to WCN.


The point of such conferences is to ask questions rather than to answer them. We know there are no definitive answers to the questions asked but hope that the conversation will reveal something worth reflecting on. 

In the official part of the conference, called the salon, two people provide 'provocations' or subjects which are then opened to the floor for discussion. The people round the table are writers from around the world, some very illustrious indeed. The provocations are from 15-25 minutes long. The salons are chaired by Jon Cook.

In the unofficial part, that is between the salons and the readings, people simply mix, continue conversations, get to know each other.

There are two essential elements to any such set of events: ideas and people. In the salon, following a provocation, the questions concerning ideas are: If so, then what? and If so, what about? In other words where does the idea lead us and what are the arguments against it? Both proposition and response tend to take the form, though not always, of  If so, as in... meaning references to books and articles, as and when useful.

The people element takes the form of Speaking for myself... This is fascinating because all writers are to some degree formed by personal experience and the response to it. This is where ideas get fleshed out and become events.  Now we have conviction, passion, plea and testament. The stuff of writing.


The first and most glaring question is the title of the conference, and it turns out that the original title was Memoir, Fiction and Self, which, after some thought was changed to Memoir, Fiction and Truth. This change, I suggested - and from now on the remarks constitute a subjective personal account or impression that I have tried to keep as accurate and complete as I can  - indicates a certain equivalence, or at least overlap, between the terms: self and truth, a proposition that could make a conference all by itself.

The question of truth in memoir and fiction was the first theme, led by Gillian Beer and J M Coetzee. Next post for that as also for the readings.

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