Tomorrow I am off to Chester on a week long course organised by The Reader Organisation in association with the Royal Literary Fund. About fifteen other Royal Literary Fund Fellows will be there and, as far as I can tell, we will be spending rather a lot of time talking about poetry.
My feelings about this course are a bit like the feelings I had before going on a camp with the cub scouts when I was about nine. I am apprehensive. I don’t like being away from home for any length of time in case I turn into a pumpkin.
I have been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow for a number of years. In return for a stipend, you get your own office in a university or Institute of Higher Education where you are available one or two days a week to anyone in the college who wants to discuss their writing.
There are those of my acquaintance who have raised an eyebrow about the fact that I agreed to be a Royal Literary Fellow in the first place since I am an avowed republican. And I must admit I did have a few qualms about accepting the queen’s shilling.
In my defence I would cite a story my mother, herself an intensely republican woman - indeed a fervent supporter of Sinn Fein - once old me.
Apparently my great grandfather, a farmer in West Cork, once faced a similar dilemma after his wife gave birth to triplets and he received a congratulatory telegram along with a postal order for ten guineas from the King. Ireland was of course still ruled by Britain at this time.
They were extremely poor people and ten guineas was a very substantial sum of money in those days. Nevertheless, my great grandfather didn’t hesitate. He sent the ten guineas straight back. He wouldn’t touch the king’s money he said.
When I asked my mother what she thought about his action she was unequivocal. ‘Wasn’t he an awful eejit!’ she said.