God Bless Us, Everyone

Sunday, 24th July 2016

One hundred and fifty years after Charles Dickens visited Aberdeen, the international Dickens Fellowship came to the Granite City for their annual conference. Having been a member of judging panel of the short story competition that ran immediately before the conference, I was invited to two events that made up this exciting celebration of one of the world's best loved authors.

On Saturday lunch time, we were privy to a very entertaining conversation between novelist Ian Rankin and Radio 4's James Naughtie which touched on each other's recent reintroduction to Bleak House and the similarities and differences between detective fiction then and now. The two were both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious, not least when Naughtie referred to the particularly grisly end of one of Rankin's characters which the novelist openly admitted he had unwittingly recycled for his next work (completed at midnight that morning and very soon to be redrafted!) The conversation was inspiring and thought-provoking and I left the University lecture hall ready to get back into my abandoned novel.

During this event, the winner of the Dickens short story competition was announced. The winning story was 'A Necessary Evil' by JM Stein, and she received her award on stage from Ian Rankin. My fellow judges (Jeannette King and Wayne Price) and I agreed that the piece reflected the theme of 'conviviality' and, although not as overt in reference to Dickens as other pieces, it had a real Dickensian quality to it. 'A Necessary Evil' and several other pieces will be published in a short-run chapbook later this year by the Aberdeen branch of the Dickens society.

That evening we enjoyed a banquet in Aberdeen's Town House with the visiting society members. The sumptuous surroundings certainly evoked the period of Dickens, but somewhat more salubrious than the dank workhouses and bleak Victoriana that characterises much of Dickens' work. We heard again from James Naughtie who, having spent much time recently covering the US presidential race, gave us his "non-BBC-endorsed" opinion of real life Dickensian villain Donald Trump and, to close off the night, local lingo expert and world champion "diddler" Gordon Hay introduced members from England, Italy and the USA to a Doric retelling of the court room scene of The Pickwick Papers.

For more information on the conference and the events that took place this week check the website at: http://dickensaberdeen2016.co.uk/