Friday, 16 April 2010

My PhD

Michael Rosen in a post on my facebook page asked me to tell you about my PhD. Perfect, any excuse to go on....and on...and on....about my thesis. I love talking about it. And you can't not do what a former Children's Laureate says can you?! So Michael you may regret saying that but thank you for giving me the excuse ;-))

My PhD is a creative writing one. This means that I am writing a novel and supporting that with a critical piece that explores the processes. The title of my thesis is 'Problems of representation/representing sex, drugs and alcohol in British young adult fiction since 1996'. It is fun watching people's reactions when you say that, their ears always prick up when they hear the words 'sex and drugs'. what this thesis is not is a rant on how dreadful it is that sex and drugs and alcohol are portrayed in young adult fiction. I am a great believer that if it is dealt with well then it is a good place for teenagers to find out about it in a safe environment. As Melvin Burgess has previously stated 'children can deal with anything if it is in context'. Neither is it a sermon on how bad drugs etc are for you. It can't be I have users in my family which was the driving force behind the project.

The novel is a piece of YAF. It is the story of four disparate students on a school trip to the Normandy Beaches. Much to their disgust they are forced to share rooms and work together though this becomes the basis of an unlikely alliance. They all have separate issues and believe they are far more hard done by than any of the others. Ben is the main protagonist, he is disruptive and disagreeable, but with good reason. However, the history teacher, Mr Cooke, did not want him on this trip and makes it very obvious that he is looking for an excuse to send him back and prove that he was right.
It is Ben that first spots the panacea to all their ills - a 12 year old girl from Afghanistan who was escaping with her mother after her father is killed. When her mother dies on the journey leaving Saba on her own and at the mercy of the traffickers who force her into the sex trade. When Saba escapes it is Ben and his unusual companions that find her and keep her safe with the help of a Normandy veteran they meet called Finley McLinley.
The novel is the journey the group take where they learn through the past to live in the present and how to have the future they want.

On the research side my starting point is Melvin Burgess's Junk published to great acclaim in 1996. This was the first book to deal openly with drug taking. I have been looking to see if issues have become normalised. Things have changed in that cannabis has just become part of the plot as it is no longer used to illustrate drug use, cocaine is and sex has very definitely come out from under the covers. it is no longer implied instead it is often graphic - not always gratuitously either.Whilst alcohol is often portrayed as the solution to stress.... What I would like to suggest is that they are not normalised but have been narritivised where they are presented as if they are part of every day life for a young person and a term introduced to me by Prof Jen Webb.
I am also looking at the creative process and the importance of the 'other' hence my recent obsession with Baudrillard, Boudieu and Foucault. These are the areas I have been and will be concentrating on in my blog from now onwards. Consequently I will not go into great depth now.
I hope it all makes sense now and that you can see why I am so passionate about my PhD. And Michael, I hope you like the sound of it.

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