Sunday 21 November 2010

Bakhtin and Mavis Staples

I was reading a piece in the Guardian about the Coalition closing libraries and am aware of the cut in teaching grants for the humanities. It seems to me that obviously the Government is short-sighted enough not to realise that all the scientists, engineers, doctors, they want and are throwing funds at, all need to learn how to read and write. They need access to books and people to write them. They need people to remember our heritage which can be added to by numerous people within Humanities. I could go on but unfortunately it would achieve nothing. This Magritte is how I envisage this current Coalition - something I did not vote for - raining on our parade, taking away our choices and leaving the fat cat bankers still as gloating fat cat bankers.

I have been reading an essay by Bakhtin entitled 'Discourse in the Novel' in which he talks about heteroglossia meaning that language has multiple layers. I was thinking about this in relation to my PhD and realised that the words I use within the thesis cannot help but be influenced by who I am and my cultural experiences. I come at it as an academic, a writer, a female and a mother. Not just a mother though a mother who experienced some fairly difficult times with her sons when they were teenagers which cannot help but influence my writing both academically and creatively. I then thought about the reader. When you a purchase a book you are likely to have no in depth knowledge of the author. It is the cover and the potential that makes you buy probably. However, if someone reads the work of someone they know they must come at it from an informed position. They are going to know and understand some of the layers involved. But this goes further in that I think they will understand what is being said but what is not necessarily on the page. They have insight. Does this make the reading more interesting? I can't decide.

I worked late last night on my PhD (I have a date for submission - 1st April!) consequently my brain was buzzing and wouldn't shut down. I found on the television there was a repeat of Jools Holland's programme. I let the music wrap a blanket round me and soothe my buzzing head. In particular, Mavis Staples, I was introduced to her recently by a good friend who gave me a copy of her CD, which I love. It was the panacea I needed.I am writing this on Sunday but will post it on Monday from the office as that is where I can add music as I would like you to share Mavis's song you are not alone.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Momentous days

What a momentous week I have had. This photo is of me presenting a paper on research informed teaching and methodologies within creative writing at the NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) Conference held in Cheltenham at the weekend. This was the second paper I had given in three days. As those of you who follow my blog may know I have been quite worried about these but both papers were well received. The other paper I gave was at the Faculty of Arts International Symposium. This was the paper I was more comfortable about as it was on my thesis and had a ridiculously long title: In a society where teenagers live by sound bites is there still a place for young adult fiction? This was the first time I had presented at my own university but I had many friends who came to support me which was wonderful. I did fluff the questions a bit at the end though which was quite disappointing. It was an 'international' symposium because my great friend Jen Webb and her colleagues, whom I now can also consider as friends, Jeri Kroll and Donna Lee Brien, all from Australia and all Professors, also presented. It was a fabulous events with great papers also by Dr Neil McCaw and Charlotte Purkiss - who did a great piece on Ficto-criticism.

The three Australians were also at NAWE and they were fantastic company. I haven't laughed so much for a very long time. They presented two great workshops on research practice and research supervising which I found really useful and enlightening. Jen and Jeri were able to come to my paper which gave me a lot of confidence. I was terrified of this paper yet it went brilliantly and this time I didn't fluff the questions. I was on cloud nine and it is Jen who kindly took the photo of me.

I am hugely grateful to the Australians and Jen in particular for making it a very special few days

Then today I had a meeting with my Director of Studies and we have a plan! We are aiming for me to submit my thesis on 1st April with a final viva voce at the end of May. If all goes well and gall bladder permitting!!

I should be flying high, instead I am fighting the black dog that has decided to appear. The photo shows me wearing my rucksack. This is not by choice it is because it carries the nutrition in that I need that is pumped straight into the stomach. Prior to being ill I had been feeding overnight so had avoided the 'hiking' look. It was a bit of shock seeing it so prominent again and I think it was that that allowed the black dog to come knocking. My DoS was great and reminded me who I was and what I am achieving and have achieved.

Time to beat the black dog back into his kennel and build on the success I have had over the last week. PhD here I come.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Circles and family and Papers....

There was a rare occurrence last night. The Harbour family went out on mass to the Village Fireworks. We don't often get to go out all together these days because we all are involved in different things. It was amazing how quickly they reverted to being children - Toby kept having to be reminded by Bea aged 5 that dancing down the middle of the road was not safe! It was also wonderful because we were accompanied by Charlie's partner Greg and the children obviously and Greg's parents and sister and husband. We were suitably noisy and raucous as any large family should be. Leo spotted a shooting star; Toby was confused by pumpkin lanterns, Charlie was as frightened as ever by fireworks (not helped by her brother shouting in her ear)but the highlight for me has to be Seb, age 5 (and yes Bea's twin brother), who was so excited by the fireworks he just kept on dancing with his eyes focused on the sky. Oh to have his lack of inhibition and total love of life. The village has been holding the fireworks every year for as many years as I can remember and certainly ever since we moved to the village 24 years ago. Initially it was run by the cricket club but is now run by the scouts and a good job was done by all. It is very much a village tradition as on the day of the bonfire if you have stuff you want burnt you put it at the front of your house and John, Greg's Dad, comes along and picks it up in his lorry. The same lorry that used to go round the village on the last Sunday before Christmas with Father Christmas sitting on the back and the cricket club in their whites delivering sweets to all the children of the village. Mine used to love it, in part because they knew all the cricket club lot. But I love the irony of the fact John and sometimes later Greg were handing sweets out to my daughter who will soon be part of their family. Life is all circles.

I then went on to the house of some old friends for dinner (clarify, they eat I watch but they have no problem with that). I sat there listening to our conversation and realised how it had changed. Our discussions used to be based around our children and what problems they might be causing now we discuss our parents and the problems we now have to deal with just trying to make sure they are ok. We got onto Christmas inevitably, both Karen and I have lost a parent this year. It is going to be a strange one but at least we have each other to understand what it is going to be like. There are some fabulous reasons for living in a village and knowing so many people. As a child we moved a lot but my children are born and bred in Winchester. It is wonderful to see how secure they are and how many long term friendships they have. They all have good friends who they started nursery with. It is a good feeling.

Last week was a fraught week and the next one even more so. But once it is over I can focus on my PhD and relax a bit. I finally got the journal out after much swearing at the software package which we use. (I am going to change this before the next edition). Once it was online I was delighted with the way it looked(go to and click on Vol II Iss I to have a peep). It is once again an eclectic mix of articles, discussion papers and reviews as it melds together the fields of writing for children and research into children's literature.

This week I have two papers to give in three days. The one on Wednesday is for an international symposium to be held at Winchester University and including, on the panel, my great friend Jen Webb and some of her Australian colleagues. I am worried about this paper because it is the first time I have presented to people I know. I tend to go away to conferences where nobody knows me! I am happier with the content of the paper though as it is embedded in my PhD thesis. The symposium is being followed by an exhibition called Kyoto, a big story about a boy and a little bear and a little story about global warming (starts at 6.00pm in The Stripe at Winchester University if you are around and would like to see it). The book Kyoto is a collaboration between Karenanne Knight who illustrated the book and Andrew Melrose (my DoS) who wrote it. They have developed the idea into a project that can be taken around schools and Wednesday is the launch. I wish them well with it as I know they have both worked hard on it. (Kyoto is available on Amazon if you are interested).

Once all that excitement is over I then have to drive up to Cheltenham on Friday after I have finished teaching to go to the NAWE conference where I will join Jen, Jeri and Donna fresh from their symposium and hopefully still not jet-lagged. They are presenting on Friday afternoon so my aim is to get there in time for that. I am presenting on Saturday morning. I talking about research informed teaching in creative writing. And I can assure you I don't feel anywhere near as confident about this paper as I do the symposium one. It will very definitely be a case of 'phew' when it is over. I am looking forward to the conference after I have given my paper and I can relax!

And talking of relaxing that will be me afterwards. This is the last thing I have committed my self to and the last thing I intend to commit to until the PhD is over. From then onwards all my spare time will be focused on my PhD and I can't wait. I have this bubble of excitement in my stomach (and no it isn't wind) when I think of being able to work on it without papers or journals getting in the way as I still love my subject but am conscious I need to move on and finish. I will have my teaching and my RIT job to do but everything else is about about the PhD.

Bring it on!!