Scooting from East to West…

10.00 Monday 7 May
Leave Essex base and head for the open road, via fuel station for a top-up.

10.20
Adjust load – steering is very light, and I am carrying a heavy pack on my back – relocate to footboards between my feet. Payload successfully evenly distributed and I’m away again.

11.06
Pull up in Colchester, a mere 12 miles from base. I need to use SAT NAV, without any doubt, if I am to make it out of the county. I plug in Bluetooth headset and set Googlemaps for my first scheduled stopping place. And on I go.

Things certainly got easier from that point and I began to make good time. I started to get a feel for the road and confidence built, mile after mile. It was not an easy journey by any means, but I reached my first night’s stopover with time to spare. What happened over the 110 miles from Colchester opened my mind and my heart. It also made me a far better rider. I’ll be writing about it in more detail when I return to Essex in a week’s time.

Fifty hours after leaving Essex, I rode into Montgomeryshire – Home. I stopped to take a photograph to prove it, then enjoyed every single mile further into my home patch, arriving at my final destination less than an hour later.

 

This was my first solo journey of more than twelve miles from base, a grand total of 330 miles travelled, and in another week, I’ll be leaving Wales behind for a while and travelling back to Essex. On the way I’m going to be making a stopover at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye. It’s one of those ‘Bucket List’ things. In all the years I lived in Wales, I never managed to get to the festival, so now is my chance. More on my return about my adventures in Hay.

Hiraeth and returning to Wales

Hiraeth – a Welsh word with no analogue English equivalent, is a concept akin to the longing of homesickness and the deep desire to be home, coupled with both sadness and the joy of remembering. Hiraeth is an emotion that has haunted me throughout the time I have been living away from Wales – over twenty years. Each time I go back, I feel the wellspring of energy from the mountains fill me up, and when I have to leave again, I feel it draining from me and in its place is hiraeth.

Tomorrow, I’m starting a journey – a journey home. At this moment I am full of many conflicting sensations and emotions, not least that of the heightening of hiraeth which happens when I’m going home. I feel a little anxious. I feel excited. I feel joyous. By Wednesday when I cross the border from England to Wales, I am pretty sure I’ll be flying. The purpose of the journey is to attend a conference and to do field work in connection with my PhD project. I’ll be interviewing folk far and wide, and writing lots too.

Next Sunday morning I’ll be reading from my writing on Hiraeth to the annual conference of AWWE (The Association of Welsh Writing in English) at Gregynog Hall, near Newtown in Powys.

You can follow my journey on my Instagram and on Twitter feed by following @writingwalking on either. I’ll be attempting to update this blog each day during my journey, wifi willing.

Starting out is taking some time.

The first three weeks of life as a postgraduate research student have flown by; so quickly I must have blinked and missed them!

I’ve spent much of my time filling out forms, attending ‘Welcome’ events and meetings, and finding my feet in my department and with my funding body. I have also been attending seminars for an undergraduate module in Writing Dreaming and an MA module in Writing, Poetry,  and Performance. I thought it might be a good idea to help me to get back into the flow of study again, to attend one or two classes. Overall, it has been good, but I am now wondering whether to continue. I am also taking a course for PhD students, on the PhD Writing Process, which I hope will walk me through the beginnings of my PhD journey.

I have had my first meeting with my supervisor who is encouraging me to ‘just write’, but I am finding it difficult to break that white space. I’m writing notes, scenes, vignettes, but nothing that feels concrete yet, but I guess at only three weeks in, that’s allowed.

My funding body has a Student Advisory Group and I have joined the group, hoping to gain some insight into how CHASE works and how I can make it work for me as well as my colleagues. We are involved in the organisation of the bi-annual conference that will be attended by the entire CHASE cohort, this time to be held at my home institution – the University of Essex.

Over the summer, I have been fortunate to have been commissioned to undertake a series of walks in my local area, as a walker and Pscyhogeographer, for a project called New Geographies, which hopes to re-map the East of England with places that mean something to the people who live here. To publicise the project and to encourage people to nominate their favourite places, I was one of a small band of people to take part in events organised by the Art Exchange at the University of Essex. Dr James Canton led a walk in which we searched for lost Roman roadways. Professor Alison Rowlands gave a talk about the Essex Witch Trials. Local historian, Norman Jacobs, gave a talk about the Pavilion in Clacton on Sea, and I led walks around the Roman town walls in Colchester, the beach at Jaywick, and around the Tree Trail at the University of Essex. This has helped to generate almost 300 nominates of places to the project, a map if which can be seen at the New Geographies website HERE. I have met some interesting people along these walks and hope to keep in touch with many of them.

Walking is such a large part of my process, so being limited in the distances I can walk at the moment is a source of deep frustration, but there is a light on the horizon – meet Black Betty – with whom I am in the process of forming a deep and meaningful working relationship.

Betty arrived around ten days ago and we have been getting to know one another carefully. My son has been coaching me and making a terrific job of it. I’m sure we will very soon be roaming the roads not just in Essex, but in Lincolnshire, in Wales and around the UK – in the name of research. I will share photos from our travels too, so keep your eyes peeled. For anyone interested, Black Betty is a Sinnis Vista 125cc, 2013. I have not ridden a motorcycle since my misspent teenage years, so this is one huge adventure.  Betty will also be one of the narrative devices in my writing. I think she deserves pride of place too!

How to take a year out and be even busier than before

Since finishing a Master’s dissertation in August and getting my results in December 2016, I decided to take the year out before going back to university in October 2017. You know that line from Robert Burns – something about the best-laid plans of mice and men? Well although not a registered student for the last nine months, I do seem to have been kept rather busy.

Let’s begin in January, with training for a 165-mile walk. I walked well over 100 miles in January, never less than three miles in a day and sometimes seven or eight. I was deep in training and determined to be able to make the walk along the Sarn Helen Roman road in Wales by the summer. Then I began to get pain in my feet. Searing pain. Right through the soles of my feet. It was crippling. Still I walked though, right through February at a similar rate. I developed Achilles tendonitis on both heels and plantar fasciitis in both feet. I kept on walking. As it happens, I love walking and I had begun in the latter part of 2016 to document a regular one-mile circuit around the village I live. I photograph the flora, fauna, and other interesting objects as I walk. I’ve been posting many of those pictures on Instagram and I will at some point start to load them on to this blog as a running record of the seasons in North Essex.

In March, the Essex Book Festival rolled into action. The opening weekend was in Colchester and I co-led a walk around the Roman town walls with Dr Chris McCully from the LiFTS dept at the University of Essex. Chris had been one of my lecturers and we had already walked the walls as part of our studies, so it was lovely to do it again. It rained of course – it always does on such events, but a good time was had by all and Chris shared a new poem with us at the end of the walk. Later the same day, I also assisted Chris with a writing workshop at Firstsite in Colchester. I attended and assisted with several other events for the Book Festival throughout March and had the privilege of meeting in person some truly great writers such as A L Kennedy and Sarah Perry. I was of course, truly star-struck! March was not a good month for walking and I was gradually coming to realise that Sarn Helen was slipping out of my grasp. The pain in my feet and heels was causing considerable interference with my plans.

April, however, began with a Writing Retreat, organised by the Essex Book Festival and hosted at the Othona Community at Bradwell on Sea, Essex, in conjunction with Radical Essex. Othona wrapped its arms around all the participants. You can read some of the resultant writing from participants HERE. It was also at Othona that I received the news I really didn’t want to hear – I had failed in my bid for funding for PhD study. I came home with my tail between my legs and spent two days shaking and sulking, before sitting myself down and giving myself a long hard talking to. I decided that if a PhD was not going to happen, then I could and should make plans for what to do next. I began plotting and came up with a fab idea (I’m not going to tell you about it here – that’s for another time because I still intend to do it!). Ten days later, I received another email and all my prayers had been answered – I was to receive CHASE funding after all! If you were in North Essex and heard any loud screaming and wailing at around 4.30pm on 21st April, that would have been when I opened the email. I rang my husband, my children, my brother and my sister and my closest friend. I had to keep saying it so that I could believe it.

In between those two emails, I had also applied for an internship with the Harwich Festival of the Arts. On the morning of 21st April, I received an invitation to interview with the Festival.

21st April was rather a good day!

I went on to be successful at interview and was appointed as Intern to the Harwich Festival of the Arts to manage a project during the Festival at the end of June. I produced six ‘micro-festivals’ consisting of performances of music, song, poetry and dance in many different forms, over an eight-day period. All performers we allotted ‘UP to 20’ minutes to perform in the Bandstand at Cliff Park in Harwich. It was a great success and proved the concept works. The Harwich Festival will repeat UP to 20 in 2018 and I hope to be involved in some way.

During the summer, I also attended two academic conferences, more about those in another blog post though.

As a family, we have welcomed two new members this summer, just two weeks apart. It’s been a busy year, so far. There is much more to come I have no doubt. In the meantime, I prepare for re-entry to the University of Essex – 2nd October.

Countdown – 17 days to go.

And so it begins – back to university…

Three weeks!

Just three weeks until I am officially a PhD student at the University of Essex, Literature, Film and Theatre Studies department.

I’ve not posted anything here since my interview in December but believe me, it’s not because I’ve been idle – more on my exploits so far this year in coming posts though. In part, I admit to initially being afraid to jinx my application for funding to CHASE (Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South East). Immediately after my interview last December the application process began and it was quite a journey. I had a good deal of support from my proposed supervisor and from many other PhD students in my department. (Simon Everett, Steph Driver, Stefanie Savva, Jess Houlihan, Penny Simpson, Melissa Shales – and several others.) Without all of their steadfast encouragement, I might not be at the stage I am now – so let this serve as a public vote of thanks, folks.

By the time my thesis proposal reached CHASE, it had already been through several incarnations, each one a refinement of the previous one, and even now it is still being honed into a workable document that will guide me through the next three years. Here’s an abstract:

 

This doctoral thesis will produce a collection of writing that embodies discovery procedures concerning the existence of Home.

The creative component of this work is experimental in form and shape, sometimes walking the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. It is concerned with the multiple and interdisciplinary definitions of the concept of Home, exploring questions of kinship, culture and history, geography, spirituality and psychology. My writing will encompass aspects of memoir, travel writing, fiction, and history through the lens of psychogeography, in the search for the meaning of Home.

The critical component of my thesis will explore the development of psychogeography as the catalyst for my writing from its beginnings in the 1950s to contemporary writers in the 21st century. By walking in rural landscapes, travelling both with an inherited Romany mindset and with a circus, my work will extend existing psychogeographic theory and practice in terms of locale, gender bias and form.

 

I have been awarded funding through CHASE – for which I am both grateful and humbled. It was a tough competition and I am sure that there were many other worthy recipients who may not have been so fortunate. To those, I say, ‘don’t ever give up on your dream – believe in it enough to make others believe too.’

A funding award does not guarantee I will gain that most coveted of academic awards, the PhD though. Only hard work, blood, sweat and quite possibly a few tears will do that. So I am ready, to take on the biggest job I have ever had (and if I keep saying that I will eventually believe it!) and to give of my best to make this ‘original contribution to knowledge’ with my name on the spine of the book.

I intend to document the progress of my studentship here, laid out for all to see – warts and all. There may well be melt-downs along the way but I am sure there will also be triumphs and I promise to share them all with those who read this blog.