Authors North Meeting in Hull, 26th March.
The Hull History Centre.
It's an impressive building. It reminds me of the whale skeleton I saw inside the Maritime Museum last time I was in Hull, but inside these ribs are specially constructed air-conditioned rooms. Not only temperature but the humidity are carefully controlled. The floors are thick concrete, and any pipes conducting water are stored within other pipes with a humidity sensor inbetween to monitor leaks. There are sophisticated fire alarms, bookshelves on runners which are so perfectly balanced that five can be moved along at once with little effort, a special cold room with a low humidity for photographs, brass staples instead of the iron sort which may rust, and folders and boxes made from acid-free cardboard so they do not start to crumble with age.
Hull History Centre: Entrance.
What, you may wonder, is so precious that it must be stored in such careful conditions? The answer is the archival material of certain celebrated authors who have an association with Hull including Stevie Smith, Winifred Holtby (author of 'South Riding'), Alan Plater, the poets Douglas Dunn, Roger McGough, Anthony Thwaite, Andrew Motion and, of course, Philip Larkin.
Archivist Judy Burg in the History Centre Entrance Hall.
Before our tour around the archives, we had a very interesting talk from Judy Burg. Judy has been an archivist at the University of Hull since 2003. For most of that time she has been working on the History Centre and was involved in the planning of this multi-million pound project. It is a unique collaboration between the University of Hull and the Hull City Council. On the ground floor is a room for local researchers, while above it, well out of the way of potential floods are the unique archives.
Larkin Statue erected at the Hull Paragon Train Station December 2010.
As well as papers and exercise books, the Philip Larkin collection contains artefacts such as his lawn mower (but not, says Judy, the famous hedgehog-killing one), and also his entire library at his death. It also contains seven out of his eight workbooks, and his many photographs (Larkin was a keen photographer).
The Larkin Statue will be part of the Larkin Trail - listing 25 places connected to Philip Larkin.
As a contrast to the archival works of Philip Larkin, which were exclusively on paper, Judy also described the way in which Stephen Gallagher's work has been acquired. Gallagher writes novels as well as screenplays and the archive of his work includes copies of files from his hard drive as well as the more conventional notebooks and their mixture of notes and photographs. His blog and website is also part of the archive.
In the future it is is expected that more and more of an author's work will be preserved digitally. Then it will be a case of deciding what is important (e.g. which emails are worth preserving) as well as making sure that the work is adequately catalogued and filed. Preservation of formatting, and access to that format is likely to be a problem, and there is some research ongoing into this. Judy also pointed out that there is likely to be an archival gap for some authors in the 1990s as writers began to work exclusively on their computers, and drafts which may have been kept, were not.
Judy Burg - University Archivist.
One of the most interesting points of the talk for me was Judy's description of an archive as being organic. The contents of an archive must be not self-consciously kept, she said. They must be what has been left behind by an author without the influence of a third party. However, the British Library does look into acquiring the work of what it sees as up-and-coming authors and has a project to keep such people within its radar.
After the talk and tour we had a particularly good lunch at the centre. This was followed by a group discussion on specific problems faced by the writers present, and how the staff of the Society of Authors (represented by Authors North Secretary Anna Ganley, Sarah Burton (our former secretary) and Lisa Dowdeswell from Head Office) might help.
Anna and the poet (photo by Sarah Burton).
We finished off with tea and cakes. It was a good day - not only to find out a lot of interesting information but also to meet a lot of authors living in the area around Hull.