Ten emails, two cups of coffeee. Organising a conference that brings together the Joseph Conrad Society (UK), the Henry James Society (US) and the Ford Madox Ford Society was never going to be easy. I have received well over 1,000 emails in the past couple of months and imagined they would stop as the conference dates (July 8 -12) grew closer.
US banks are averse to transactions in pounds sterling and geography - as my American wife reminds me - stops at the Canadian and Mexican borders. So I am inundated with requests for directions to Canterbury.
I had reckoned without human ingenuity and the academics' disease of not reading notices and ignoring booking forms on programmes. Among questions from eager attendees was: "I'll be in London for two days with my children before the conference: what could I do?" Leave them at home?
Twenty emails, five coffees. Email is not my favourite mode of communication. You need the memory of a computer and mine's more a crumbling cliff. Getting the programme together, I have scheduled in one chap who said he could not attend and forgotten two others (who naturally emailed me) who would have crawled to this magnificent occasion. Departmental secretary Sheila Sullivan is a heroine, providing invaluable support sorting the hiccups.
Ten emails. Looking at the programme, I am pleased: 130 conference paper proposals came in for 60-plus slots so that we had to extend to 90. The conference grew from three-and-a-half days to four. We were obviously pleased to get the academic "stars": Martha Banta, Pierre Walker, Jacques Berthoud, Z. Najder, Thomas Moser, Cedric Watts, Sid Reid, Max Saunders, Paul Armstrong. But we also wanted to accept papers by young scholars.
Writing the programme also stretched my mastery of jargon. I was pleased with the session on ethnicity/masculinity/the body in James and Conrad.
Five emails. Saturday is intended as a day of visits to Conrad's grave and his house in Kent. Timing is of the essence, so on a bright February day, Max Saunders and I did the tour and tried to work out how many minutes 110 hot, dishevelled academics require to disembark from the coach in Rye, make the assault on Henry James's elegant residence, Lamb House, and make their way back for the journey to Winchelsea. The owner of Oswalds, Conrad's final home in Bishopsbourne near Canterbury, has offered conference delegates tea. I expect it will rain.
Ten emails. Examining over. Better get home and start working on my paper on Conrad and Dostoevsky, which, like several others, has changed its focus.
The author is organising the 25th anniversary conference of The Joseph Conrad Society (UK) at the University of Kent at Canterbury from July 8-12. Society website is http://www.pmpc.napier.ac.uk/scob/conrad/conrad.html