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May 11, 2023

Behind the Scenes at the Oxford Centre for Fantasy – Part 2: Where Next?

Behind the Scenes at the Oxford Centre for Fantasy – Part 2: Where Next?

Where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place to assemble a team?

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What's our story? It’s time to get to know the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Find out how we emerged from an effort to buy Tolkien's house, but ended up setting up a literary centre in honour of Tolkien and the Inklings, which does far more than we initially imagined. Find out more about our director, Julia Golding, and her team and stick around to hear where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place to assemble a team.

[Music] And now here's part two. Find out what the Oxford Centre for Fantasy has planned for you and for the future. [Music] And what I'm so delighted to say is that we have actually done far more than I thought. Yes. So, the original thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be nice to buy the house?" You know, it wasn't really very... it was that. That was where I started. but actually what I've ended up doing is forming a literary centre, which has all sorts of things going on around it, which honours the Inklings in very creative ways. So we have online courses for - there's a six-week course which is an introduction and that is with other writers and editors that give you a sort of groundwork and then there's an online novel in a year course which has been running for over a year. A couple of classes have gone through that. Again, with other tutors, not just me. I'm not a one-man band on that. I've got a whole range of tutors who join me on that. But the idea of holding somebody's hand as they go through a year of producing a fantasy novel. And the reason we wanted to focus down on fantasy is that very often in the Masters programs that you come across. They tend to be more about a literary novel and genre novels tend to get, I don't know, they're perhaps a bit sniffed at. So people can feel very much at home. They can talk about their love for planetary exploration, because we do sci-fi too, or orcs and elves. Whatever it is you're writing about, you're very welcome with us. We will take fantasy seriously and we won't mock it in any way. Because of course, when you look at the great works of literature, these are often fantasy novels. The Tempest, Beowulf, the stories within the Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein. You can go on on and on and find that actually fantasy is a thread that's run all the way through literature. I think perhaps maybe at universities people are turning around and teaching fantasy with more honour than they used to. Certainly now it's possible to study Tolkien in a way that it wasn't in the 1980s when I was at college. But still, writing it, you should feel well at home if you become one of our courses. We also do in-person courses. So far, we've been running them based in colleges. So last year, we had one week at Merton College, which was Tolkien's college where he was a professor and also where he retired and he died in college, in college accommodation in 1973. And then the second course was in Magdalen, which is obviously CS Lewis's college, but also wonderfully the place where the Inklings met most Thursday evenings. And we also had a visit during that one from a very good friend of mine, Simon Horrobin, who holds the professorship there that was CS Lewis's professorship. and he teaches the medieval literature. So it's as close as you can get to being visited by C.S. Lewis on that course. And on those weeks, we go and explore the places which are the sort of real Middle Earth inspirations. I mean, New Zealand is fabulous, but of course, Tolkien never got there. So you visit the villages, the Seho Mill, which was the inspiration for for Hobbiton. The White Horse, which is this amazing Iron Age geoglyph. A geoglyph is a drawing on a hillside and a barrow. All of those of you who have read the barrow white section in Lord of the Rings would know what I'm talking about then. Anyway, so we show how just within a short, small radius around Oxford were places that were then turned into these fantasy landscapes, which of course is inspiring for people's own home, where they come from, what can they do with their own inspirations on their back door. Those courses have limited seats, right? So if someone wants to, and we'll put this in the show notes for everyone, but if someone wants to attend one of the online courses or even the in-person courses, those seats are limited and they should really go to the website and see. Yes, we can't do. I mean, it's nice to have smaller cohorts because part of the aspiration is once people have been on one of the courses is they get to know each other and they stay together for like a modern version of the Inklings. And there are several groups that are still running years later, a year or so later, where they meet regularly. We sort of host them, but they do their own thing. And they support each other. They hear each other's work in progress. One group is already inviting guests, for example. So, yeah, that is one of the most joyful things about it. And also for me, I've got to know wonderful writers from all over the world who've come through the courses. I feel a bit like a godmother. I'm so proud of them all. - No, that's awesome. So not only can you take the course, but you get to meet Julie as well. - Well, you do get to meet me. That's the downside. Sorry. Can I get a selfie? Can I get a selfie with you? -If we can. -You can. -You can. -Okay. So, we've got the in-person courses, the online courses for Oxford. Of course, there's all the pictures and information from that, and even some photos of the courses are on the website, The other thing that came out of this is the Myth Makers podcast, which we're on right now. -Yeah. -And there's been-- That's you. That's your fault, Brian. Well, it's, uh-- You've had hundreds of episodes, and I'm looking at a report on my screen of the top episodes. And I thought I'd mentioned to you what the top five episodes were. So if you're not subscribing to the Myth Makers podcast, hit that subscribe button wherever you find your favorite podcast. But are there any episodes from the last year or two that stand out to you? I know they're probably all amazing. Is there one or two that you say, "I really enjoyed interviewing that guest," or was there a guest you had that stands out to you? Yeah, so I did a run of interviews with some urban fantasy writers. I feel a bit mean picking them out, but I'll mention one. So there's a writer called T.A. White who writes a number of series and I'd come across her just through, I think, reading her on Kindle and then following her audio books. I hadn't realised until I met her. She very kindly agreed to come on the podcast. Just how fascinating her background was. It's one of those times where you meet someone and having read their books, you think, "Ah, right." Because she turned out to have been a service person who had served in Afghanistan. I suddenly realised that the number of her heroines have this background that they've had war experience. It's reading her work very different from reading somebody who hasn't experienced it. She's very good at the relationship between the equivalent of the troop or the soldiers. So they might be vampires or they might be dragon riders or they might be pathfinders or somebody in this one, the Firebird Chronicles, which is a space story. They're very different, but there is this thread. So for me, that was a complete delight because I thought, "Oh, now I know. Now I understand." So I recommend her books and as I do the Lisa Edmonds and the many other people I talked to in that little phase of talking to authors. So outside my fellow authors, I've enjoyed talking to illustrators and I've enjoyed talking to cartoonists. You put me in touch with a couple of cartoonists. Butch Hartman, who does the Fairly Odd Parents, and of course, who could forget the creator of, well, one of the creators of Scooby-Doo. Yeah. Yeah. Remind me of Squire Rushnell. Squire Rushnell. That's right. I was saying a senior moment there. And having someone who was involved in the creation of something quite so iconic was amazing. So I've really enjoyed ranging outside the writers to talk to other people. I'm always looking for suggestions for guests. And we always reach out. Someone sends in a suggestion, we then do reach out to people. If there's, if you as a listener have an idea, please send it into our website, Oxford Center for And Julia does see every comment that comes in and she'd love to do that. But here's a couple, here's a couple, I'm looking at the top 10 and this is in, in, uh, just by, by downloads and listens. So interesting. The Andy circus episode about the audio book of Lord of the Rings is our, is our most listened to podcasts in the history of myth makers. Um, then you did a one called Oxford as a fantasy hotspot, where I think you just, you laid out what Oxford means to you and why, and that was number two on the list of, of, uh, podcasts. And then the rings of power released from Amazon prime, you did first reactions. And that was extremely listened to everyone loved that one. And then, um, the, the last one I'll mention is things you don't know about Tolkien, that was, that was, yeah. Yeah. So people, people love that. And then it goes on and on and on, but literally thousands and thousands of listens a week. And so, uh, um, I'm really thankful for those of you who listen to it. And if you don't subscribe, click that subscribe button and tell a friend. Yeah, we don't have any advertising on it, so you won't have to sit through, you know, tedious, um, adverts for, you know, farm, fresh food, whatever it is. Yeah. Daddy. Yeah. So, uh, they can give us some, you know, we've just, yeah. If go daddy would like to sponsor this podcast. That's right. That's good. is definitely aimed at thinking about what the burgeoning of creativity is. That's what it's about. Anything that is sparking off ideas. If you are a writer or thinking about it, it's also good to listen to the stuff from other perspectives like the illustrators and the cartoonists. I always learn something from listening to people trying to produce something, but in a different medium. Or there's also one with a composer, for example. That's fascinating. Yeah. In fact, the most recent podcast episodes are about AI revolution, the role of artificial intelligence in graphics and writing. And so we won't give away those stories, but people can listen to those. Yeah, we definitely haven't got to the bottom of that one. I don't think anyone has. But we did try and approach it sensitively. That's, yeah. So what's next? Where does Oxford Centre for Fantasy go next? Well, of course, the big thing that's happening is this year is the 50th anniversary since Tolkien passed away. It's also the 60th since C.S. Lewis passed away. So it's one of those years. we are a charity and we've got three trustees who kind of sit and check where we're spending the money where we should and feed in their ideas. And they said, "Well, what we'd really like you to do is set up a literary prize." So, and I thought, "Yeah, that's a great idea." So, rather than just do, "Here's a lump sum of money. Well done." I thought, "Well, I would really like to give somebody is a path to publication." And through my writing career, I've obviously got contact with quite a few publishers. I knew that probably the best people to go to are those who actually can care about somebody on a smaller level. So you don't want to go to one of the big publishers because they're like supermarkets. You want to go to the corner shop equivalent. I've been very impressed by the fantasy output of a London independent publisher called the Pushkin press. In fact, they produced one of my favourite novels of the last ten years called The Murderer's Ape, which is a middle-grade fantasy with wonderful, wonderful illustrations. I highly recommend it. Do go and read that. Daniel Seton, who I talked to and reviewed many of the books that he's an editor on, I went to him and said, "How about joining us for this year?" So we've set up a fantasy prize where there is prize money of £2,000, but really, I'm sure the biggest prize of it all is that you get to be mentored by the Pushkin Press. Hopefully, taking you so that you can go through it to be published at the other end of it. I can't guarantee that because it depends on how well that mentoring process goes, but there is a path there which can be trod if the person who wins this prize wishes to take. That's the real goal. I would be so delighted if that prize winner then becomes a successful writer. That would just be what we want to do. We want to increase the creativity in the world. I have this little talk I give about leaving behind a big creative footprint. We all want small carbon footprints, but we should all aspire to big creative ones. And I'd like to see somebody else's creative footprint grow because of what we have helped them to achieve. So on the website, in the very top menu, it says the Fantasy Prize. So go to Oxford Center for Fantasy dot org. And you've got till the end of May to submit your manuscript. So that'd be the end of May of 23 for those that did this after that. Yeah. And I tell you what, it's just amazing the amount of entries that have come in. So I'm really, there's a lot of interest in this. And I'd say if you're interested in this, click Fantasy Prize on the menu and on the Oxford website, and you can learn more about that and get your entry in before the end of May of 2023. Yeah. Everyone will have their sample read. And who knows? You know, it's that thing. could be. That's good. So you've got a running topic in all of your podcasts, where you choose the best place in all the fantasy world to do something. Yeah. And so for this for this podcast, since we're all a virtual team, and I'm in New York City, and you're in, in the United Kingdom, I'm just thinking, Brian, before we do that, we should just explain who you are. So Brian isn't employed. He's not sitting with me in the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Brian, you are somebody I go to for kind of the marketing and social media support. You know, really you're much more than that because we talk about ideas and all sorts of things as well. But the actual Oxford Centre for Fantasy employees are just two people. It's myself and my admin, Joyce. And then we thought this was the most economical way of doing it. And then we have a whole range of collaborators like our tutors and other people. And Brian's team supplies us with the marketing and publicity support. So if you're worried about what we're doing with it, we're not like, we haven't got a massive team with loads of overheads. We buy in what we need. So if you've been following our wonderful social media output on all sorts of different platforms. That's the very creative folk at Brian's outfit who know how to do it. That's an economy for me because I haven't got to train somebody up to do that. I get lovely colleagues to work with. That's how it works. So Brian's is part of the team, but is not on the payroll in that way. Yeah, we're honored to be part of service providers. That's the word, isn't it? That's it. Yeah. But you know, what an honor. And you know, we like working with people we like. And so that that certainly includes you and your team and your husband. And no, our we have a global team of marketing experts in all areas of marketing, in traditional PR, digital PR, podcasting, video, etc. And so, you know, for those of you at home, you know, what we do is we meet with Julie on a regular basis, a weekly basis. And what's happening? What's trending? What can we do? Oh, here's an idea. Myth Makers podcast came out of that. We like, you know, this is people want to hear the behind the scenes. Let's make a podcast that came out of this. also so lovely is that because this was a COVID friendship, we've also managed...there was still a little bit of COVID around, but we did actually manage to meet and spend a day together in London just before Christmas, just over a year ago. That was so great because the inklings are about friendship. Every time I see something we're doing increase the quotient of friendship in the world, I'm delighted. We're all doing it because we enjoy what we're talking about, what we're celebrating. Hopefully people are also finding their writing and their other imagination skills are growing as part of coming on one of our courses, but the actual making friends of it is a huge part of what we do too. We're a little tribe, little tribe of Tolkien enthusiasts. It's a good group and you've got a very great accent. I like listening to you talk anyway, so my New York accent is not very interesting. So we have assembled a team. Yeah. Okay. For those of you, we've got, here's who works on this team. We've got Oxford, we've got UK, we've got in the UAE, we've got a team member, we've got Tokyo, Japan, we've got a team member, South Africa, a team member, North Carolina, United States, a team member, even the California, a team member, and I'm in New York. So quite a worldwide team putting the Oxford Centre for Fantasy together and collaborating. And that's really what it is. It's a great collaboration of friends and people who support the cause. So what is the best place in all the fantasy world to assemble a team? Yeah, so when I was thinking of teams, two immediately came to mind. So it's a bit like the Batman versus Superman thing. Godzilla versus King Kong. You could have a whole range of superheroes like the Marvel team, the Avengers, or it could be a Dungeons and Dragons team where you've got your wizard, your paladin and so on. I'm not very up, but I've just seen the I've just seen the Dungeons and Dragons film, so that's why I'm thinking about that. But there are set characters for that kind of epic fantasy. So I suppose I'm trying to work out is it better to be in a Marvel universe or is it better to be in a Dungeons and Dragons universe? Or of course back in dear old Tolkien's Middle-earth where you're the fellowship. The problem about the fellowship is it's a bit poor on female participation. I don't think he'd write it like that today but you know back in he did then. You know, I'm amazed when you talk about teams today, you know, when I grew up to make a call, you had to make a collect call or you had to make a long distance call and you had to get an operator on the phone and you had hit zero first or the US at least. And you had to pay long distance. If you had to call another city, you had to pay by the minute. There was very complicated ways to even have a team here in 2023 teams are easier than ever. You can be texting, you know, slacking video and, and all of a sudden borders and time zones are almost non-existent. Um, so the team today versus the team 15 years ago, what was the difference? Because you're not, not, you're not stuck in your neighborhood or even your state, it literally is anywhere in the world that you can, someone has, has access to internet at those. So that reminds me of another good fantasy world team, which might be the best one, which is the Star Trek team, the crew of the Enterprise. I think probably I'm thinking of Next Generation, that team. maybe that is the best one because it has a mixture of training. Arguably, the Avengers, they're all thrown together without much training for them, which leads to quite a bit of friction. So when they're saving the world for the 50th time, they're not always on the same page. Whereas on the Starship Enterprise, they are saving the universe for the 100th time. They do seem to know more or less what they're doing as a team. So I think probably my vote for where is the best place to form a team in all the fantasy worlds, it might well be the Star Trek universe. I wouldn't disagree. And they've assembled folks from different planets and different languages, and they've overcome communication issues and they work together as a team. So I think that's a very good choice. Yeah. Good for you. Well, thank you very much. Yeah, this is this has been a lovely conversation. And again, for those of you listening, please subscribe to the Myth Makers podcast wherever you find your favorite podcast. I think we're on almost 100 different platforms globally and tell a friend. And if you're interested in one of the courses that Julia mentioned, visit and you can see all that on the main menu there. And you can learn more about how to subscribe and how to attend one of the in-person courses in Oxford and have a coffee or a tea with Julia. No, you get much more than that. You get taken around. It's a huge deal. You'll get taken down into a burial mound and round a castle. It's much more than just tea. That's great. That's great. There is tea too. That's awesome. Thank you so much, Julia. Thank you very much. Thanks for listening to Myth Makers Podcast, brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Visit to join in the fun. Find out about our online courses, in-person stays in Oxford, plus visit our shop for great gifts. Tell a friend and subscribe, wherever you find your favourite podcasts worldwide. [Music]