St Hilda's College Writers' Day 2018

25th March 2018
Professor Daniel Wakelin and Hannah Bowers present 'Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages'

Initiated by Nicolette Jones and the College Media Network in 2009, St Hilda's is the only College to have its own day of events at the Oxford Literary Festival. This year's programme was produced by Tríona Adams (Alumnae Events Manager and recent Chair of the St Hilda's College Media Network) and celebrated the work of alumnae, students and Fellows.

All of the prestigious authors and chairs who took part on 24 March are current members, Fellows or alumnae of the College. In 2018, we had an exceptionally impressive line up to mark College's 125th anniversary.

We began by welcoming Professor Daniel Wakelin and current graduate student Hannah Bowers. They told us how they and their team of contributors had gathered together some of the most revolting and remarkable remedies from the medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, to be published in  Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages. One such remedy recommended that a husband should wear the rear left foot of a wolf around his neck to make his wife love him. The highly specific ingredients might have been intended to imply expertise in the writer, but also show a lot of creativity!

Next, we heard from our Senior Research Fellow and award-winning biographer, Dr Lyndall Gordon, introducing new book, Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World. Lyndall identified and illuminated, for us, the gleaming chain linking novelists Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf as 'outsiders,' rejecting traditional female values both in their work and in their lives. 

Award-winning biographer, Dr Ann Thwaite, spoke of the journey from page to screen and the compromises made along the way. Ann's 1990 biography,  'A.A. Milne: His Life' inspired the film,  Goodbye, Christopher Robin,  for which she acted as consultant. In an interview with Nicolette Jones (The Sunday Times), Ann shared fascinating insights into the controversial character of Daphne Milne, A.A. Milne's complicated relationship with the illustrator E.H. Shepard and the crippling legacy of the war which led, in so many ways, to his creation of that eternal, innocent, untouched and sunny childhood landscape of the 100 Acre Wood.

We moved to Sheldonian Theatre where Tríona chaired a wonderful session by poet, Wendy Cope, with her new collection, Anecdotal Evidence, her fifth collection of poems, the first since Family Values in 2011. It includes poems on childhood, including Wendy's own school days, on love and death, and a group of poems commissioned for the Shakespeare anniversary in 2016. Also part of the collection are tributes to John Cage and Eric Morecambe, and reflections on Wendy's time as a student at St Hilda's.

Back at Worcester College, the auditorium was full when the Provost, Sir Jonathan Bate introduced award-winning broadcaster and author of Istanbul: A tale of three cities, Bettany Hughes. Bettany told the story of three great cities in one: Byzantine, Constantinople and Istanbul, in a session chaired by another alumna Claire Armitstead (The Guardian and The Observer.) This incredibly dynamic city dates back 8000 years and Bettany walked us through its fabled, protean city streets regaling us with stories of sultans and harems, of courtiers and courtesans, and of the sumptuous royal courts of Constantine the Great to that of radical socialist Empress Theodora who exchanged make up tips with Elizabeth I.

Finally, recent English graduate the actress and writer, Charlie Covell, discussed her runaway hit adaptation for Channel 4 of The End Of The F***king World and the fascinating process of adapting Charles S Forman’s series of graphic novels for the screen. Claire Armitstead asked the question which was on all of our lips 'Will there be a sequel?' The good news is that Charlie did not say 'No'...

Many thanks to our authors, chairs, the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, St Hilda's Media Network and the College Development Team.