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.

Drum Roll, please…

Results are in…

Image from http://www.mortylefkoe.com/

I did it! the grade for Master’s Degree – Distinction!!

It was bloody hard work, intense, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Thanks go to my family for putting up with my mood swings and periods of hermit-like hiding out in my shed. To the academic staff of the Literature, Film and Theatre Studies department at the University of Essex, my grateful respect and thanks. To those who supported my GoFundMe campaign last year, thank you for putting your money on me – I hope I have not disappointed.

Now, onward – today I submit my application for PhD research/writing.

Moving On, Walking On

The past three weeks have been manic at times. Ever closer to the end of November when MA results will be announced, stress levels are climbing, day on day. Walking has helped and continues to do so. It is the one time when I can clear my head and creativity has a chance to peek through, though walking with the dog has been problematic in windy weather – he gets a wild streak in the wind and pulls me all over the place.

I’ve been working with my iPhone camera whilst out on foot rather than carrying my beloved but much heavier and bulkier Canon 500D. This has met with varying degrees of success and some abject failures but is, I feel, worth going on with.

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The landmark event of the last two weeks is that I have begun the process of application for PhD research. I experienced an almost biblical realisation regarding my proposed research project which has concreted my ideas and enabled the first draft of the resultant thesis proposal flow from my pen with relative ease. There is still much work to be done on it but I do have a skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the proposal – which is good. I will publish the outline of the proposal here in time, but would rather not tempt the fates into blocking it any time before I have applied for and hopefully achieved, funding for the project. Suffice for now to say that walking will be one of my primary sources of research. I will be walking in the fens of Lincolnshire, along the spine of Wales on the Sarn Elen trail, and around Colchester and North Essex over the next two years. I also hope to spend some time with a travelling community. The first walk will be along Sarn Elen in the Spring of 2017 if all goes according to my plan.

The next two weeks will be spent refining the proposal and getting it submitted along with the other paperwork required – really would like to have it submitted before the end of the month so that I have some chance of a decision before the end of the term in mid-December. I’ll report back here on progress.

Till then, keep on walking on!