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.