The Royal Literary Fund hosts a summer party in London to allow its Fellows to meet each other as well as representatives from the university they’ve been appointed to. It’s one of those occasions when writers feel properly pampered - and we get to talk to each other.
One of the nicest things to happen to me has been being chosen as a Fellow. I spent two very happy years at Teesside University and now I’ve been given another post at the University of Lancaster, starting in October.
It’s a very unusual kind of job. The Royal Literary Fund has a long history of supporting impoverished authors - dating back to 1790. Coleridge was one of their beneficiaries, and Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce were all helped out at one time or another. But more recently the Fund has moved away from just giving charitable donations. In 1999 it set up an innovative scheme that would help to support authors more widely while also providing a much needed service to students in universities.
During the nineteen eighties and nineties there was increasing concern about the levels of literacy in higher education. By licensing the rights to the Winnie the Pooh books, money became available to put writers into universities to help students with their academic writing. It’s a brilliant idea. The universities benefit and the writers benefit.
Without my RLF appointment it would have been very difficult to finish the Katherine Mansfield biography so quickly. The university supplied the research facilities and I had the security of a regular income while I wrote the book. Working with students was also hugely enjoyable. So, on a summer evening in London (a bit warmer than the wild north) I raised a glass and said ‘thank you very much’ to the Royal Literary Fund and my employer - Winnie the Pooh!