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The Man Booker Universities Initiative: Julian Barnes visits University of Hull

The Man Booker Universities Initiative: Julian Barnes visits University of Hull

As part of the Booker Prize Foundation university initiative, Julian Barnes, author of the Man Booker Prize winning Sense of an Ending, spoke at the University of Hull.  4,000 free copies of Sense of an Ending were given to first year students prior to Barnes' visit. Here Hannah Ackroyd, an English Literature with Creative Writing student at Hull, writes about the experience.


Poet Philip Larkin drew attention to the fact that Hull is the ‘end of the line.’ People don’t pass through Hull; they have to come to it. But come to it they do. It seems appropriate then, that the postgraduate creative writing students from the University of Hull, first encountered Man Booker winner Julian Barnes in the Mercure Royal Hotel; with a glimpse of the ‘end of the line’ train tracks through the window, under the watchful eye of Philip Larkin’s statue. This was Barnes’ first visit to Hull, he informed us, and he had seen the sights of Larkin’s grave, his archives and his sandals.

Barnes was not what I expected of a Man Booker winner, but, then again, I don’t know what it really was that I had expected. I was certainly surprised to encounter a very quiet, down to earth man, who appeared slightly nervous upon being faced with a room of eager students armed with questions and notebooks. The strangely informal gathering in such a formal setting was eased in with a serving of Yorkshire tea and scones, which saw Barnes becoming more comfortable in his responses, while still somewhat reserved. He offered a fascinating insight into how he writes, including the fact that he does not share his writing with anyone until he considers it ‘finished’ and that he never plans his novels completely from beginning to end.

After such an intimate gathering, the party moved on to Middleton Hall, the University’s 500 seat auditorium, which had sold out for the event. Staff, students and the public had turned out in force to discuss Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker winning novel, The Sense on an Ending. 4,000 free copies of the novel had been given out to first year undergraduate students at the University, which Barnes fondly referred to as his ‘biggest book club’. It was fascinating to hear how he had shaped the novel, what had inspired him and how he interpreted it. The opening of the session was led by questions initiated by Professor of creative writing, Martin Goodman, but it was then opened up to the floor, allowing the audience the chance to have their questions answered.

The evening ended, appropriately, where it began; with Hulls poet and the University’s head librarian, Philip Larkin. Barnes talked about how he had exchanged letters with Larkin, and sent him copies of his early novels; all of which Larkin claimed to enjoy. One eagle-eyed Hullian noted several ‘Larkin-esque’ elements in his Man Booker winning novel, which Barnes described as a ‘posthumous tribute’ to the man himself.

While Hull may be ‘the end of the line,’ the city’s literary influence stretches beyond the boundaries and draws in such notable writers as Barnes and, two years previously, 2003 Man Booker winner DBC Pierre. As a literature and creative writing student at the University, these one of the kind experiences can do nothing but enhance the quality of my studies and inspire me in ways that nothing else can. To have the opportunity to meet such prestigious writers is an experience I would not otherwise be able to have, and I feel so privileged to have these opportunities at the University of Hull.

Hannah Ackroyd