I spent a marvellous evening in Newcastle last week, courtesy of the Booker Prize Foundation and Newcastle University. For some years now, the Foundation has been working with universities all over the country on a project aimed at providing new students with a unique experience in their first year of university.
The way it works is that the institutions liaise with the Foundation to select a writer from recent Man Booker Prize shortlists, whose book is then given to all first year students, regardless of their department or discipline. So students may be studying Divinity, Pure Physics or English Literature – they’ll still be given a copy of the book, free.
They are either sent the book ahead of coming up or at the very start of their first term and asked to read it ahead of a visit by the author, generally in that same autumn term. The scheme, now in its eighth year, aims to introduce students to high quality, contemporary fiction, to provide a shared experience - and perhaps even to begin to break down some of the traditional barriers between the Humanities and the Sciences.
So back to Newcastle, where 300 plus students and a few local people from the city listened to Sarah Waters discuss The Little Stranger with poet and novelist Jackie Kay - who is also a Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle. Their discussion covered everything from the conventions of Gothic novel tradition, to the British class system, poltergeists and lesbian fiction. Fascinating stuff, as the subsequent questions from the students demonstrated.
I had read The Little Stranger when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and, reading it again on the train on the way north, I was every bit as spooked by it then as I was the first time around. Do read it if you haven’t already – and definitely before the film, which is now in production and will star Domhnall Gleeson of Star Wars fame, comes out!
We’re increasingly working with universities whose thought leadership puts them in a very special place at the heart of the community, as cultural and intellectual catalysts for city and regional regeneration. An excellent example of that this month was long-term client Plymouth University, who as part of the annual Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, partnered with the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability. You can read the extraordinary outcome of that partnership in our main newsletter copy.
Again looking to the future we are delighted to be starting work on a Virtual Reality project for a new client, XPONIA. This Swiss company’s work is set to change the way we see museum exhibitions and collections - welcome to the Museum of the Future….!
Another highlight of the month, as most of us were left shivering in a very chilly London, was the team’s trip to a very balmy Muscat in Oman to announce the shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. In the relatively short period of nine years, the prize has established itself as the leading prize for literary fiction in the Arab world. Watch out for the announcement of the $50,000 winner from Abu Dhabi on 26 April, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
That’s it from me for this month. I hope you enjoy all the news in our bulletin – more to follow next month!