The Bristol Conferences:
Twentieth Century Schoolgirls and Their Books

Check back soon for information about our next conference


Friday 2nd August – Sunday 4th August 2024


Wills Hall, Parrys Lane,

Bristol, BS9 1AE


The Bristol Conferences were started in 2008 by Betula O’Neill and Sally Dore, who felt there was a demand for a gathering where children’s (in particular girls’) book lovers could get together and hear about books they enjoyed, and be introduced to other authors and themes that were new to them, and so it proved. Conferences have followed every two years (except the Covid-blighted 2020), organised on a non-profit-making basis by Betula and Sally for fellow enthusiasts. The talks at these conferences are aimed at exactly those people, enthusiasts and book lovers rather than academics, but our speakers are very knowledgeable as well as entertaining, and are often the leading experts in their particular field. We know that our participants value the informal opportunities to chat (and buy books!) as well as the chance to hear engaging talks on all sorts of related subjects, approached from all sorts of different angles.

Mothers, Mistresses and other role models

2nd - 4th August 2024

Although as usual we’ll have a wide range of topics, the overall theme of our next conference will be “Mothers, Mistresses and Other Role Models”. We’ll have talks on subjects such as the school stories of Mary K. Harris, What Girls were reading in 1924, and the Absence of Mothers.

How it runs

The conference starts with arrivals after teatime on Friday. Saturday will include the dealers’ book sale, and Sunday will include the delegates’ book sale. The conference proper ends with tea on Sunday, but a large proportion of attendees stay over for dinner and activities on Sunday night, departing on Monday morning.

We offer a variety of packages for Friday and Saturday nights, with the option of staying over on Sunday as well, in both standard and en suite rooms. Non-residential places are also available. Prices range from £75 for day attendance on Saturday to £369 for three nights full board in an en-suite room. 

Previous Conferences

Find out what the Bristol Conferences are like from a delegate’s perspective

First timer?
We have Sheepdogs for that!

Whilst many of our fellow bookworms will belong to one or more author appreciation societies and may have met up at events held by these, there is still a significant number of people who haven’t had the opportunity to do so and who may not know anyone else who shares our appreciation for children’s fiction. This can make the idea of joining a 100-strong group of people rather daunting, no matter how often one is assured that within half-an-hour one will have forgotten about ever having been new; there is still the build-up to the weekend, the journey and finally, the walking into a new place and having to introduce oneself. How do I know? I was that person, more than twenty years ago, who missed out on dinner at a book society weekend because I couldn’t see a seat at the table and, confronting a sea of unknown faces, lost my nerve, turned tail and exited the dining room – probably before anyone else had even noticed that I was there, let alone had the chance to offer me a seat! I scolded myself mightily and assumed that I was alone in being ‘chicken’.

However, a year or three later, whilst organising a residential weekend for a different author society, I heard of a member who really wanted to go, but didn’t know anyone else and was too nervous simply turn up. This was my wake-up call and I decided to adapt the idea of ‘sheepdogs’ for new girls devised by Elinor Brent-Dyer for her Chalet School books. On the conference booking form there is a box to tick if you would like your own sheepdog; it is as simple as that.

But what does a sheepdog do?

If you request a sheepdog your name and contact details will be given to someone who has been to at least one of our previous conferences and who has volunteered their help. You will have been given their name and so will be expecting contact. She (and, so far, all of our volunteers have been women, who usually comprise about 96% of our conference-goers) will get in touch and introduce herself, giving you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about any aspect the conferences. If you live close enough, you may choose to meet up before the conference but, even if this doesn’t happen, your ‘sheepdog’ will be looking out for you when you arrive and will introduce you to others and generally help you to find your feet and feel that you belong. Sheepdogs aren’t exclusively for first-timers, though; anyone can request one, whether for practical or emotional support, so please don’t let shyness or physical or emotional difficulties prevent you from joining us. The vast majority of the folk at each conference have been to some or all of our previous conferences, so we must be doing something right – and we look forward to meeting you!