Nevil Shute's Seattle
The 7th Biennial International Nevil Shute Norway Conference, Nevil Shute's Seattle, was first considered after the 3rd international conference, UK2003 in Portsmouth, England. The first cycle of Shute conferences had been completed. The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. It was back to the States for the beginning of the second round of conferences. Cape Cod was the choice, although my vote went to Seattle Ƹfor strictly personal reasons). I had family in Seattle and frequently visited. Even though Cape Cod was the choice for 2005, the possibility of a future Shute conference in Seattle was brewing and stayed with me until the next round of conferences.
Mike Meehan, my eternal wingman, and I brainstormed about Seattle possibilities over the next couple of years but tabled discussion until it became a reality, which was after the terrific York 2009 Conference. Mike drew the initial conference logo and John expanded on it. Mike was the airplane specialist and John, the boating expert. Between the two of them, the logo was perfected. What a team !
In late 2009, Nevil Shute's Seattle was officially launched. Communication with Seattle was quick but finding the best vendors at the best price was the challenge. Good thing I love challenges! A worldwide recession was making everyone nervous and knowing that people would be spending their money on a voluntary (but vital !) event coloured every action taken. Hotel/conference venues, excursions, state taxes, unpredictable weather, local taxes, meals took on an even more urgent consideration.
Once John Anderson had wrapped up York 2009 duties, Team Seattle went into high gear. Mike, John, Alison Jenner and Joost Meulenbroek were the core group but many others offered suggestions and ideas. Many Pacific Northwesterners contacted me to offer assistance and suggestions. Local folks know their city best and I appreciated all of them. John was the Financial Advisor, as well as the creator and manager of the dedicated conference website.
As with OZ2007 and UK2009, John's websites were informative and complete. He did a terrific job. Throughout the planning, Alison assisted in more ways than I can list. Her perspective as both an educator and Shute expert were invaluable. Joost generously promoted the conference in the Foundation Newsletter each month. Both Joost and Alison were also responsible for finding our Banquet Speaker. David Dawson-Taylor kept the Foundation website up-to-date, posting updates as quickly as he received them. Sadly, Mike Meehan lost his battle with cancer in December 2009 and didn't live to see the conference. In spite of this, Mike's imprint was everywhere.
Unlike Alice Springs in 2007, having contacts in Seattle made planning an entirely different experience and it was a joy. A major difference was David Shumate, a local Shute enthusiast who contacted me with the offer to assist with the conference. Assist, he did !
My first trip to Seattle was in May 2010. The goal was simple; Check out hotel/conference venues, tour companies and excursion options. David and I met for lunch at The Museum of Flight and he came armed with a load of materials. David had done extensive research about the places Nevil Shute visited in the Seattle area and made a map with the locations pinpointed. The only problem we had was trying to squeeze in as many location visits as possible. A day and a half for excursions wouldn't be nearly enough and we needed a variety of sites. That was where a great tour guide would come in. Considering most of our participants were coming to Seattle for the first time, Downtown Seattle was the only place to hold the conference. It would cost a bit more than being in an outlying area, such as the airport, but the experience and location were more than worth the price difference. Being able to walk to restaurants, shopping, Pike Place Market, theatres, museums, etc., as well as being on the Free Shuttle Bus route were all part of the decision-making process. Seattle wasn't going to be inexpensive and we made every effort to put as much information as possible on the dedicated web site.
John updated the web site as information became available. When the Red Lion was chosen and our special conference rate was set, that special link went up, as did general information about Seattle. Regonline was used again for online registration and handling credit card payments. Registration went live some five months before the start of the Conference.
After emails to 20 hotel/conference venues and visits to 8 Seattle hotels, it wasn't difficult to narrow the decision down to four, and then two. When I went back in August 2010, I made the decision to hold the conference at the Red Lion on 5th Avenue. The location, the price, the comfort, attention to details, the food and the staff were why Red Lion was chosen.
I was able to meet and wrap up the tour company during the first visit to Seattle. When Carol, our tour manager extraordinaire, saw the list of our desired destinations, she exclaimed, "You'll need a week to go to all these places !" I told her we had a day and a half. Thus began the tricky business of putting together the excursions. Certain places, like Boeing and the Museum of Flight, were non-negotiable. Others, we would drive by. Trying to make everyone happy is always tricky and this was certainly an omni-present thought.
Deciding which locations to include in our day and a half excursions was excruciating! It was an embarrassment of riches but eventually the itineraries were set to include locations that would hopefully appeal to everyone.
As mentioned earlier, Alison and Joost were responsible for our Banquet Speaker, Joelle Anthony. Both had read her book, "Restoring Harmony", and both noted she dedicated her book to Nevil Shute. Having a young author who was influenced by Shute was a terrific idea, especially because one of the Foundation's goals is to bring Shute to younger readers. That she wasn't too far away was also very fortunate.
Seattle is, arguably, home of the best-read people in the world.
Having the esteemed Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle feeds the hungry readers. It was fate or plain old great timing that Parallel Motion was published a couple of months before the Conference. Knowing the author would be at the conference. I contacted Elliott Bay and asked them if they would like to be the official launch of Parallel Motion. They said yes and John Anderson gave his first author talk and questions and answers at Elliott Bay. Seven conference participants came as did several local book enthusiasts.
When I arrived in Seattle on September 10th, it was sunny and the sky was blue - and it was 89 degrees F. It was the beginning of two weeks of gorgeous weather, the best two weeks in 2011. I may have mentioned that before but it made the conference SO much better. Heather, who suggested holding the Conference in late September, gets full credit for the fantastic weather we enjoyed throughout the conference !
When I checked into the Red Lion on Wednesday on the 14th, it was clear they were ready for us. There were several issues that had to be sorted out before the conference and the major one was food and drink. Nearly everyone stayed at the Red Lion and as with the past two conferences, a full hot breakfast buffet was included in the room rate. Having breakfast included in the room rate was a "must" because it makes everything easier. The bill is easier to figure out and there are fewer bills to deal with. After the conference ended, the restaurant staff thanked me, on behalf of our group, for being a great group.
Coffee/teas breaks are essential at conferences but since there was so much food at breakfast and lunch the coffee/tea break was just that. Someone mentioned the break snacks were "sparse at best" but others appreciated we weren't wasting food. At past conferences, there has been a lot of food waste because of the big meals and it was a calculated decision to pare back the morning breaks. Since OZ2001, there has been a tradition of having scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam (Devonshire Tea) at each conference break and this tradition was continued in a limited way. Lunch was supposed to be a simple meal but the price difference between a very small meal and the three course ones we had was minimal. Some folks thought there was too much food and perhaps there was. The difference in the meals was so great for so little money ($1 or $2 per person) so the meals were chosen.
Registration - It was great to see old friends and meet new ones before the conference formally began and handing out Registration Packets made it official. Most folks were able to pick up their materials during this time.
58 registered for the Conference
35 attended Full time
16 attended Part time
7 Guests for the Conference Banquet
8 local guests (from tour company, other venues, The Red Lion)
46 from the USA
2 from the UK
6 from Australia
2 from Bulgaria
2 from Canada
This casual affair was the first activity for conference goers. The Reception is a great way to renew old friendships and begin new ones. First time participants commented how welcomed they felt and how quickly the "newbie" feeling went away. That is the goal and since Shutists are friendly people, it wasn't a surprise. However, it was very gratifying to know how comfortable everyone felt. After a short period of time, people began to realize this wasn't going to be an ordinary week. There was wine and appetizers to nibble on as folks gathered in the 5th floor restaurant. The food included a special homage to Jack Donnelly's cooking in "Trustee from the Tool Room". Fish fritters were served on a bed of white rice. Think about it (refer back to the book if necessary). The Welcome Reception was a lot of fun and could have gone on all night.
Side note: After the brilliant UK2003 conference in Portsmouth, Conference Manager Steph Gallagher said the conference would have been a success even if all she had provided was round tables and chairs. How right she was ! Every conference is memorable for many reasons but the best part is talking with each other. At OZ2001, many forced themselves to go to bed each night because the conversation was so interesting. Sleep took on a new meaning after the unforgettable former Board Member, Newsletter Editor, Historian Richard Michalak uttered the profound words, "You have the rest of your life to sleep!" Too right, mate ! This has been the case at the rest of the conferences and no one has ever been sorry for being sleep deprived. One can only imagine what the Centennial in 1999 must have been like.Film show.
Sunday evening continued with a showing of the film of "Lonely Road". It is so special and it can only be shown at these gatherings. It was a very nice way to end the first night. In the past, various Shute movies have been shown over several nights but this time, Lonely Road was the choice. It is always a tough call. Sometimes, everyone wants to see a film. Other times, one or two are interested. There was a great turn out for "Lonely Road".
The first full day of Nevil Shute's Seattle began with a welcome from Heather Mayfield, Nevil Shute's daughter. Heather was the perfect way to begin our conference and she set the tone for a successful week.
Our first speaker was Fred Erisman and his presentation was "Nevil Shute and the Visitors from Outer Space". Fred is always interesting and this presentation was no exception. He gave us a lot to think about. A bonus was Fred bringing his youth fiction books. Folks scooped them up quickly.
Fred was followed by a video recording of a talk by Mike Morrogh of Shrewsbury School entitled "Nevil Shute and Shrewsbury School". Mike's excellent presentation gave us great insight to Shute's life at Shrewsbury, some of his writings and a look at a formative part of Shute's schooling.
After lunch, Alison Jenner presented "Lifelong Learning in the works of Nevil Shute" showing, with many examples of how Shute's characters engage in all kinds of learning experiences. Alison is an educator and there isn't a better person to have given this thoughtful presentation.
The day was rounded off by Shoshana Knapp -"Legacies, Loyalties and Love: From A Town Like Alice to Trustee from the Toolroom". As on previous occasions, Shoshana offered masterful and fascinating analysis of these themes in Shute's novels. She certainly ended our first day of presentations with a bang.
Promptly, at 8:30 on a warm sunny September day, we departed on our full day excursion. After a tour of some required Seattle sights, our first stop was at the Ballard Locks where Lake Washington meets Puget Sound. There was an opportunity to see the locks and the salmon fish ladder. Then it was on to the Wooden Boat Center which houses some venerable examples of wooden boats as well as some Native American boats. Next stop was the University of Washington, with a walk through the impressive campus, to look at the Kirsten Wind Tunnel which is not normally open to the public. Fascinating for the engineers and friends of engineers but less so for some of the non-technically inclined. After getting our box lunches, it was back on board for a visit to the Museum of Flight. The MoF is housed in a wonderful new building with a superb exhibition of displays, models and real aircraft dating from World War I to the Space Age. The energetic among us made the detour to view Air Force 1 and Concorde across the road.
The final stop was at Weyerhauser to look at their Bonsai Collection. We saw just how much care, attention and hard work goes into these specimens. some of which are over a hundred years old. It was a full day but had something to interest everyone. Side Note: Some local Shutists believe Sol Hirzhorn may have been modelled after Mr. Weyerhouser or Mr. Blodell.
"An Evening Without Mike Meehan"
After York 2009, Mike was battling cancer and unsure if he'd even live to see Seattle 2011, much less attend. Mike had already contributed so much to the Seattle conference and would be with us. One way or another, Mike was going to be present and so "An Evening Without Mike Meehan" went on the schedule. Those who knew Mike may have been aware of how much he had contributed to the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. His enthusiasm was infectious and it was fortuitous he had just retired when he attended UK2003. Mike was able to channel his energies into Shute research with John. Mike assisted with various gatherings/conferences, whether they were the "InBetweenies" in England or Alice Springs, York and Seattle. Mike, John and Andy Burgess were the original Shute Dust Pirates and I was honoured when I was named an official Dust Pirate.
Mike died in December of 2009. On Tuesday 20 September in the Elephant and Castle Pub, we celebrated him. 28 people attended. More than half had never met Mike but wanted to join in the celebratory tribute to one of the most decent men who ever lived. Sounds grand, yes ? He was more than grand. We ate, drank, shared stories and toasted Mike. All who wished to speak had the opportunity. Knowing Mike was not a requirement. Mike would've loved it but he would have been embarrassed. He liked to be behind the scenes, not the center of attention. A great time was had by all.
The second day of presentations. This began with John Douglas, a first time Speaker. John came to the conference via the Tri-State Nevil Shute Book Society (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York). His presentation, "Nevil Shute and the Literature of the Fantastic" gave us examples of fantasy in the novels, comparisons with science fiction and how Shute's novels relate to other genres. It was a thought-provoking talk, much appreciated by the audience.
After coffee break John Anderson presented "Triumph, Tragedy and being a Starter". John talked about 3 important themes in Shute's career, R.100, R.101 and Airspeed, illustrating them with a number of contemporary movie news clips. Did I mention he is the author of the highly acclaimed new biography of Nevil Shute?
After another 3 course lunch, it was time for audience participation as Alison and Laura moderated a session entitled "Thinking it Through: Ethical dilemmas in Nevil Shute's novels". It was mostly Alison and she kept folks moving. No after lunch snooze as the audience selected an ethical dilemma from one of the books, broke into groups for discussion, then reported back their findings.
Salmon Bake/Show at Tillicum Village
Every conference adds new elements to the conference program. In Alice Springs, there was an extra evening activity, Ooraminna. In York, Phil and Jill Nixon organized a "Pastoral Party" at the Yorkshire Air Museum. For Alice Springs, the cost of the excursion was built into the price of registration but for York and Seattle, it was an additional expense. Options are just that and not everyone wants to commit to a second evening. Some don't want to spend the money and in the case of Tillicum Village, some had been before.
Tillicum Village was a Seattle/Pacific Northwest experience. The boat ride across Puget Sound with the terrific narration was almost as much fun as Tillicum Village. Our boat Guide was enthusiastic and shared a lot of interesting information. As it was another glorious day, the boat ride was great. The trip back to Seattle was in the dark and we could see the Seattle Skyline.
Our first stop of the day was for the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America: Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour. We were inside Boeing's 73,000-square-foot, high-tech Future of Flight Aviation Center to explore interactive exhibits and displays. Mostly, we wanted to look at the planes !
At the Boeing Assembly Plant, we watched the world's largest jets being assembled in the world's largest building. In 1966, when the Boeing Company announced it would build the 747, it had to construct a facility big enough to handle the world's largest commercial jetliner. The main assembly building is as large as 75 NFL football fields and produces 747, 767, 777 and 787 airplanes. We saw a couple of Dreamliners that may already be in the air now.
The last stop on our tour was the Museum of Flight's Restoration Center. The center is home to approximately three dozen aircraft in various states of the restoration. We were guided through the facility and were able to view the inner workings of the aircraft. It was amazing to walk through a plane that seemed much like The Reindeer in "No Highway". From the flight deck to the galley, we were amazed at how small the interior of the plane was.
Thursday afternoon was free. Some people shopped. Some ate. Some went to the Seattle Art Museum. Some napped. Some did all of the above !
Banquet, Thursday evening
This is the only semi-formal event of the conference. With a weeklong itinerary, comfort is of utmost important but it is nice to smarten up a bit. No one disappointed ! Joelle Anthony was our Banquet Speaker and offered a younger perspective on Nevil Shute, writing and her writing. Joelle spoke about how Nevil Shute affected her life and influenced her writing. When she was younger, Joelle carried Shute books around with her for quite a while. Nevil Shute is one of two authors in the dedication of her first book, "Restoring Harmony".
Heather Mayfield - "Life with Nevil Shute". What can be said about Heather except she-s an extraordinary woman who happened to have an extraordinary father. Many people commented they'd have come just to hear Heather speak about her Dad. She gave a short introduction before inviting questions. Several Seattle-ites who knew about the conference, came in Friday morning to hear Heather. That she has made Shute fans out of them is a lovely bonus !
Beall Fowler "Nevil Shute's Curious Characters". Few people could have followed Heather's talk and Beall is one of those. Once again, Beall's presentation gave us a new perspective on some Shute characters that demanded closer inspection. Beall's Shute knowledge is so thorough and whenever he presents, the audience is guaranteed to be entertained while they learn new things.
Seattle Public Library
When the Seattle Public Library was built 9 years ago, my then 12 year old nephew told me I HAD to go see the library - that it was the coolest library EVER ! How right he was! Because of the unique facility, it felt like the only place to hold our final session, "Reading Nevil Shute".
After lunch, most of us walked the few blocks to the Library. Alison assembled a stellar group of volunteers to read a special or favourite Nevil Shute passage. There is always discussion about whether to have this session on the first day of the conference so people can talk about it during the rest of the week. It would be a conversation starter, to be sure, but Shutists never need to look for a conversation starter. Personally, I believe there is something extra special about ending the conference with such personal expressions.
After the readings, we had a proper Devonshire Tea. In spite of the three course lunch we had enjoyed a couple of hours prior, we managed to tuck into the feast. There were scones left over but not a bit of clotted cream !
Afterwards, Jeff Christianson of the Seattle Public Library, gave us a tour of the building. It was hard to believe it was a library ! The architecture, the space in general, was stunning. It was quite a while before we got to the book stacks and it was amazing to see scores of people using banks of computers throughout the facility. People were reading and working in all sorts of places -nooks, coves, everywhere. The strong afternoon sun streamed in and made everything feel even lighter and airier than it already felt. It was hard to imagine that was possible.
It was the perfect way to end a memorable week.
Looking back at the conference, it is pretty clear what worked very well and what needed improvement. The format of the conference is a good one. Alternating Presentation Days with Excursion Days offers a good flow to the conference and the variety makes it more fun and interesting. Having three full presentation days is great when you have solid speakers. For seven international conferences plus the UK "InBetweenies", we have been fortunate to have so many talented people step up and offer wonderful talks. The conference is only as good as the speakers and the Seattle group didn't disappoint.
The weather was unexpectedly perfect. In the months of June, July and August, Seattle had a total of 83 minutes of 80+ temperatures. We had the summer days in September. After careful consideration and input with Pacific Northwesterners, September was a solid bet that paid off.
The audio for the presentations did not work out as planned. We thought we had all the bases covered and had tested our equipment before the conference began. The assistance we were supposed to have from The Red Lion was insufficient and unsatisfactory. There were on-going discussions and efforts to correct technical issues throughout the week. It was hit and miss the entire time. It should be noted The Red Lion has hired a new media specialist but that is no consolation. Cleve Parker, one of our participants, was invaluable and John and he did the best with what they had to work with.
The cost of the conference was laid out on the web site and while most people were OK with it, a few folks seemed genuinely surprised at certain costs. If, during the conference, people had asked me about specific things, I may have been able to do something about it. Not everything, of course, but something as simple (and expensive) as parking. The Red Lion gave me daily parking passes and every time I learned of someone with a car, I gave them passes. Unfortunately, there were a couple people with cars and I wasn't aware of it until well after the conference. I'd have been glad to give them some passes that would have greatly reduced their parking fees.
I urge participants to ask questions about specific concerns. Many issues can be resolved easily but only if they are brought to someone's attention. An example: A few folks would have liked beer offered because they don't drink wine. Unfortunately, they were too polite to say anything. Had I known, beer would have been brought out ASAP.
Choosing which sites to see was a major challenge. The conference was called, "Nevil Shute's Seattle" and we tried to tie in as many Shute sites as possible. Some were more subtle than others. For example: Did Shute ever go to the Wooden Boat Center? It probably didn't exist but it gave us an idea about the kinds of boats he wrote about and sailed. People have mixed opinions about Bremerton and while it has a starring role in "On the Beach", it would have taken a full afternoon - an hour each way by ferry and then time to look around. It would have been a nice way to spend the free Thursday afternoon but there were other places to visit and we could check out more of them in that same time period.
For future conferences, please bear in mind that as much as we try to think of everything, something might slip past. Please ask if you need/want something because we'll do everything we can to make it happen.
It is nearly impossible to pick out personal highlights because it's like picking a favourite child ! Having Heather present was THE highlight for me. It is gratifying to have Heather involved with the Foundation and I hope she has the satisfaction of seeing how her Dad's writing means so much to so many people.
Having participants from three continents was exciting. Kudos to the Australian contingent. All six have been to previous conferences and it was wonderful to have them in Seattle. The European contingent was the smallest ever but Alison and John did more than their fair share to compensate. Mike and Tich Marsh represented Europe and Australia. Good on 'em !
It was wonderful to see folks from previous conferences and lovely meeting new folks. I've always envied the "first timers" but the veterans know they're in for a good time.
The presenters were excellent and they made the conference a success. It always hinges on the speakers. "Reading Nevil Shute" debuted at Cape Cod and it remains a major highlight. Having the session at the Seattle Public Library was icing on the cake (clotted cream on the scone).Hearing what passages people choose and why is always fascinating. Sometimes, certain world events make specific books/passages more relevant. For example, months before York 2009, Australia had devastating wild fires and at York, two Aussies wanted to read the passage in "Far Country" that talked about wild fires. We may get a lot of requests for Ruined City next time !
It was an honor to manage Nevil Shute's Seattle and working with a terrific team made it better and more fun. My deepest thanks to John, Alison, Joost, David Shumate, Cleve Parker, David Dawson-Taylor, Phil Nixon and Mike Meehan for making Seattle so memorable. A big thanks to my brother and his wife for giving me a home base during my trips to Seattle, as well as valuable advice. It was more fun having family on town and they finally understand what the Nevil Shute fuss in all about ! A very special thank you to Heather for sharing your Dad with us and for sharing yourself, too.
Laura SchneiderThe report of a post conference survey can be seen here