IV. The Chalet School Conferences


Rosemary Auchmuty and I both wanted to continue the principle enshrined in the production of The Chalet School Revisited of working with the fans to produce scholarly work rather than perpetuating the traditional academic divide, as well as to stimulate a wider academic debate about the genre. We therefore decided to hold a conference to mark the publication of The Chalet School Revisited, on 3 December 1994, involving fans as speakers as well as participants.
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We were able to secure the Regent Street building of the University of Westminster as the venue, which meant that we were able to keep costs down to £10, and to use the University's facilities to advertise the conference to other relevant institutions. We named the conference Studying Girls' Popular Fiction, intending to have a broader remit than Brent-Dyer and school stories alone. However, in fact the overwhelming majority of those registering turned out to be members of Friends of the Chalet School (FOCS), and so the conference became more tightly focused on the Chalet School phenomenon.
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In terms of speakers, first we asked each of the women who had contributed to The Chalet School Revisited to lead a workshop or to speak, together with Ann Mackie-Hunter and Fen Crosbie from the FOCS committee. We also invited the critic Mary Cadogan, the academics Lynette Muir, Fiona Cownie and Anne McGregor, and the biographer Hilary Clare, all of whom were involved in FOCS, and the modern girls' school story author Anne Digby. The final programme was as follows:

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For organisational purposes, we asked delegates to select four workshop choices in order of preference before registration, and we then attempted to ensure that every delegate was able to attend at least one of their first two choices. The workshops were as follows.

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Over 150 delegates attended the conference, the overwhelming majority of whom were women. Most completed a feedback form, from which the following extracts are taken.

What did you like best about the conference?

Any criticisms?

Any suggestions for improvement at future events of this kind?

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Some delegates also sent separate letters, from which the following extracts are taken:

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In all, the most common points delegates made were about: the friendly atmosphere and the opportunity to meet other women; the desire for a longer conference, perhaps residential; the desire to attend more of the workshops than was possible; and the desire to attend another conference the following year.
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As a result, on 9 December 1995 we held a second Bettany Press conference: A Celebration of Girls' School Story Writers, this time in conjunction with the fan organisation The New Chalet Club. The conference was again held at the University of Westminster, this time in the School of Law in Red Lion Square. We restricted the advertising to members of the fan networks, since we knew that there was sufficient interest to fill the conference venue to capacity (around a hundred people), and that the fans had not had another opportunity that year to meet en masse. The programme was as follows:

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The workshops were:

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In April 1997, over 120 women attended the third conference in Birmingham. This time it was organised solely by The New Chalet Club, with both Auchmuty and myself attending as invited speakers only - we had achieved our aim of working with the fans to produce scholarly work rather than perpetuating the traditional academic divide.
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