Hello again, after a rather long break. This summer, I had fake holidays (=conferences) and real holidays (= real holidays). After two months of June and July spent working quite intensely on my monograph (the final revisions of which I submitted at the end of July), I went to the International Bakhtin Conference in Stockholm at the end of July, disguised as a Bakhtin scholar (which I’m not). There, I was the discussant at a panel given by my colleagues Maria Nikolajeva, Eve Tandoi and Faye Dorcas Yung on Bakhtinian approaches to children’s literature.
Awful place for a conference.
The highlight of the conference (apart from a textbook example of mansplaining I had to endure from a charming middle-aged professor) was the re-enactment of Mikhail Bakhtin’s doctoral viva, in which Maria played one of the external examiners. All the genders were switched, so Bakhtin himself was played by a young female academic with absolutely spot-on facial expressions of weariness and annoyance at the objections s/he was receiving.
Can you imagine having your PhD viva re-enacted? Yeah, me neither. But then it certainly wouldn’t make such good drama. Despite Maria’s character’s insistence that ‘to refuse Comrade Bakhtin the title of Doctor would be ridiculous’, poor Mikhail only managed to get the equivalent of a Masters’, in part because of the non-political nature of his work. A female comrade from the audience (played by a male British Bakhtin scholar) had indeed bemoaned the shocking lack of references to Marx and to Lenin in the analysis of Rabelais.
The re-enactment (with “Bakhtin” in the middle, and Prof N. in yellow)
Stockholm was staggeringly hot – pretty much 30 to 33 degrees the whole week. I actually fell asleep in an aftenoon talk, which had never happened to me before. But this meant that we got more than the usual side-tourism done – we even swam almost everyday in the beautiful bay, including on the Baltic Sea side which was petrifyingly cold.
I then went on actual holiday. When you’re an academic, talking to other academics, there’s a kind of understanding that if you’re going away somewhere nice, it’s probably for a conference. So if someone tells you, ‘I’m going to Hawaii tomorrow,’ the correct reply is, ‘What’s the conference going to be about?’. Not so in August, when I managed to spend a week in the tiny village in the North of France where we have a small holiday house, and then a full two weeks in Rome.
My Roman holiday wasn’t tourism-only, though, as I’d decided to spend every afternoon working on the first draft of my next French teenage novel, and thankfully managed it. I’d been working on it for over a year, but very on and off – contrary to my English work, in France I don’t get contracts before I write a book, which means no deadlines – so writing them is always very low on my to-do list, even though I enjoy it a lot. This new novel is, contrary to my first two (very grim) YA books, a comedy.
What now awaits me as I’m back in Cambridge is a daunting to-do list, both on the fiction side and on the academic side. I’ve got several ‘Revise and Resubmit’ or ‘Revise with major corrections’ articles to, well, revise and resubmit. I have to do the index for my monograph. I’ve been contracted for two more books in the Royal Babysitters series with Bloomsbury, which I need to write between now and April.
The first one is already in my house, making friends with its older sibling Sesame
The first book, The Royal Babysitters, is coming out on September 11th and I’m going on a small promotion tour with a number of schools. I’m also doing a few festivals here and there, and going to Lake Leman next week for a big book fair, this time mostly for my French books.
I’m also bracing for what is going to be a heavy year in terms of teaching. I’ve taken on many new lectures, including in the fields I’m now branching into – sociology and philosophy of childhood and education – and I will also be teaching Creative Writing courses (on children’s fiction) at the Institute of Continuing Education in Cambridge. I’ll also keep supervising, though probably not as much as the years before as my teaching load is too big already. I will probably miss it a bit, as I’ve been enjoying supervising undergraduates more and more, and was particularly spoiled last year with some very bright, very motivated students.
I hope you all had a nice summer too, and leave you with what was, to me, the most stupefying thing in Rome – and a reminder not to forget about sensuality and beauty while in the midst of frantic term-time…