Not the Flying Scotsman

City of Wells

I’m way behind with everything other than setting up the English programme in Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool (I’m behind with that too, but don’t tell anyone), so this blog and several other projects have been neglected for a while. To put that right (a bit), I thought I would make a note that back in January I was lucky enough to be present at one of the Flying Scotsman weekends hosted by the East Lancashire Railway, and to have tickets for the train. These weekends were to celebrate the first outings for the locomotive following a decade-long refurbishment. Large crowds made getting clear pictures of the star of the show difficult, but it meant that other equally impressive machines were not so hemmed in by photographers. Above is City of Wells, which normally lives on the Worth Valley Railway, here leaving Bury station. And below is a photograph of the crowds that followed Flying Scotsman wherever it went.

Flying Scotsman

A Grand Tour Amongst the Icebergs: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Arctic Adventure

Whaleship Hope of Peterhead

On November 13th (6.30-8pm) I’m going to be giving a talk at the University of Liverpool about Arthur Conan Doyle and his 1880 voyage to the Arctic on the Peterhead whale ship, the S.S. Hope. Doyle’s journal of his voyage, during which he acted as ship’s surgeon, was published by the British Library in 2012. He would later draw on his experiences in the Arctic in stories and in a factual article in Strand magazine in 1897. Doyle was one of many young doctors who had visited the Arctic on whale ships over the previous century or so, but at a time when Arctic tourism was growing in popularity, his voyage can also be seen as an alternative grand tour for adventurous young men who preferred frozen seas to the Mediterranean.

You can book a place though the university’s online shop here.

Continuing Education Courses 2014-2015

Continuing Education 6

The new academic year is beginning, and that means a new set of Continuing Education courses is beginning at the University of Liverpool. Quite a few courses are brought together under “themes” this year. We’ve linked up with the Liverpool Gothic Festival to offer a series of courses called Other Worlds: Gothic and the Supernatural, there’s a series on The Grand Tour (I’m giving a talk on Arthur Conan Doyle’s journey to the Arctic on November 13th) and on Liverpool: Ideas and Culture.

Registration has already opened, but I wanted to highlight a few of the literature courses coming up soon. From October 1st Dr. Katharine Easterby is running a 10 week course on Burning Books and Dr. Diana Powell has one on Jail Birds, covering prisoners in literature in the early nineteenth century. From October 2nd there is a course on Reading Kate Atkinson, with Dr. Shirley Jones, and Read the Shortlist, covering the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist, with Dr. Hana Leaper. Booking information is here.

New this year to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day on October 14th at the Victoria Gallery and Museum, is a collaboration between History and English. This includes lectures on women in science by Dr. Claire Jones and on Lovelace’s father, the poet Lord Byron, by Dr. James Bainbridge, as well as lunch, and a visit to the special exhibition The World in a Particle. To book a place on Ada Lovelace Day, go here.

Full details of these and many more courses and events can be found on the University of Liverpool Continuing Education website.

From Liverpool’s Greenland Street to Greenland’s Liverpool Coast: William Scoresby, Whaling, and Exploration

On April 17th this year I gave a public lecture based on my research on William Scoresby Jr, Liverpool, whaling and exploration at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. This was the first in a series of public talks exploring whaling and Liverpool as part of the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival. The video below is a recording I made while I was speaking combined with the slides from my talk. I’ve also included links below to the audio on its own.

If you want to listen to the talk without the slideshow, the mp3 is downloadable from here, or you can use the audio player below.

This public lecture series was organised as part of the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival by Claire Jones of the Department of Continuing Education, University of Liverpool.

Moby Dick on the Mersey, a Marathon Reading in Liverpool

This is going to be keeping me busy for a while. Moby Dick on the Mersey is a marathon reading of Melville’s famous novel, taking place at the Merseyside Maritime Museum from the 4th to the 6th of May 2013. I am organising it through the University of Liverpool’s department of Continuing Education, where I look after courses in English. The reading will take over 130 readers 26 hours, and we are arranging other events alongside it, including a series of talks and lectures about Liverpool and whaling, Herman Melville, and the novel itself. With a bit of luck we will also have a Moby Dick ale brewed for refreshment.

Continuing Education in Liverpool: English Literature Courses 2012-13

The registration period for the English literature courses I run in Continuing education at the University of Liverpool is almost over for those starting in September and October. This year’s CE programme is excellent across the board, but I’m especially pleased with the English courses. The catalogue can be downloaded from this page. All current courses are listed here.

Lunchtime Literature Lectures in Liverpool 2010-2011

If you live or work in Liverpool and feel like spending your lunchtime doing something interesting, you could do worse than attend these lunchtime lectures at the University of Liverpool. They are organised (by me) through the Centre for Lifelong Learning, and cover a great range of topics, from Shakespeare, to crime fiction, and contemporary poetry. All the lectures are delivered at 126 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, opposite the Catholic Cathedral. They all start at 12.30 and are around 50 minutes long.

18 October, 2010: Nature and Rural Life in Contemporary Poetry. By Andy Jurgis.

Nature and rural life are again important themes in poetry following on from earlier poetic traditions. This lecture will include reference to major figures Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and Gillian Clarke (Wales) alongside key Scottish poets John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie. 15884 engl 942

19 January, 2011: Patrick O’Brian. By Mary Weston.

What can you do with Patrick O’Brian’s books but celebrate them? In this lunchtime lecture we’ll pull out some of the best passages from the series: Naval battles, natural history, espionage, love, and most of all friendship. 15885 engl 942

24 February, 2011: Environmental Writing Today:  Including Mark Cocker, Kathleen Jamie and Robert McFarlane. By Andy Jurgis.

There is a growing interest in developing the genre of environmental non-fiction. The lecture will include reference to the prose writings of poets Gillian Clarke and Kathleen Jamie, alongside the highly regarded nature writers Mark Cocker and Robert MacFarlane. 15886 engl 942

16 March, 2011: J.D. Salinger and the Catcher in the Rye. By Mary Weston.

Why do so many of us identify with Holden Caulfield? Are we all outsiders? Why do The Catcher in the Rye and the Glass family stories still speak to us, after half a century and more? 15887 engl 942

13 April, 2011: Shakespeare. By Esme Miskimmin. 15888 engl 942

4 May, 2011: Golden Age Crime Fiction. By Esme Miskimmin. 15889 engl 942

All lectures cost £8.

To book a place for any of these, or to see the range of courses on offer, visit

Continuing Education in the Centre for Lifelong Learning
University of Liverpool
126 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L69 3GR
0151-794 6900
Office open 9.00 am-5.00 pm (you may leave a message at other times)
Enquiryline: 0151-794 6952 (24 hr answerphone)
Fax: 0151 794 2544

Malcolm Lowry Centenary Exhibition and Book

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Malcolm Lowry, author of Under the Volcano. His home city of Liverpool will be commemorating the event with an exhibition at the Bluecoat Arts Centre between September 25th and November 22nd. Ahead of that though comes the release of a book about Lowry and Liverpool co-edited by poet Helen Tookey and Bryan Biggs. Helen writes:

It includes twelve new pieces of writing (critical and creative) and some fabulous images from artists who have been influenced and inspired by Lowry. You can buy it from the well known online bookshop whose name begins with an A, or indeed from Liverpool University Press’s own website (click here). Meanwhile, preparations are in full swing for the centenary exhibition Under the Volcano at the Bluecoat, which will include visual art, film, and fascinating archival material relating to Lowry – described by biographer Gordon Bowker in his essay for our book as ‘probably the most neglected genius of modern English literature’. [Read More]

Helen is also running a short five-week course on Lowry at Liverpool University, in the Continuing Education department entitled Voyaging Under the Volcano: An Introduction to Malcolm Lowry. For more information visit the Continuing Education English webpage or contact the Centre for Lifelong Learning t Enrolment ends on Monday September 21st.

Continuing Education Courses in Liverpool

If you’re based near Liverpool and have an interest in reading and books you might like to take a look at the Continuing Education catalogue at Liverpool University. These courses have a good friendly atmosphere about them and are often quirky and interesting. There are still spaces left on a couple of one day only courses coming up soon:

STELLA GIBBONS’ ‘COLD COMFORT FARM’. Sat 29 Nov by Dr Lisa Regan. Enrolment closing date Thur 20 Nov.

‘Literature or . . . just sheer flapdoodle’? Revisit Stella Gibbons’ funny and enjoyable classic tale to experience Flora Poste’s foray into the Brontëesque world of the eccentric Starkadders’ farm, replete with wry wit, comic characters and romantic match-making.

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CHAUCER, SEX AND VIOLENCE. Sat 29 Nov by Dr William Rossiter. Enrolment closing date Thur 20 Nov.

Chaucer’s Tales include all aspects of the human experience but have also been blamed for modern tabloid culture. Explore this charge in context of the recent television series of the Canterbury Tales, starring Billie Piper, John Simm and Julie Walters.

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Here is the information you need to enrol.

Pitching Poetry

Last Wednesday I went to Ness Gardens on the Wirral to teach a poetry course based on the themes of gardens, nature, and Spring. I’ve been organising this kind of course in Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool for a few years now but this was the first time I’ve actually taught on one. I have to admit it was a great pleasure, but it also threw into relief the other teaching I’ve done recently. The students, who were mostly retired, were well-read and attentive, and more importantly willing to play the game. In my recent experience many modern undergraduates are a lot less prepared to accept the presupposition–even for the purposes of classroom discussion–that what they are reading is worth reading and talking about for its own sake. This doesn’t apply to all of them of course, probably not even a majority, but a a large enough number to have an effect on the way a seminar group works.

If my impression is right this is going to be quite a challenge for educators in the very near future. Not only has the authority of academics and institutions been eroded–with some justification–over the last 20 or 30 years, but the value of what they are teaching is no longer taken as a given. While scepticism can be healthy in some contexts, it’s not always so useful in a trusted educational setting. Students should certainly ask questions of their tutors–and the students on the poetry course last week were not soft–but if there isn’t some agreement on the fundamental value of what is being taught, a lot of time is going to be wasted doing sales pitches rather than teaching.

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