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!

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.

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!

On Walking, Writing and Inspiration

I’m a walker, writer, and thinker among other things and not always in that order. I write as I walk, though sometimes I just think I’m writing and have to try to remember my thoughts till I get my hands on a pen again. I write in the good, old-fashioned way – with pen and paper. I also resort to using a pencil in the rain.

This website will chronicle the preparation, research and writing process of a project I am beginning in late October of 2016 and which will continue well into 2017. I intend to walk from the north to the south Wales coasts and will be writing about the things I see as I walk, as well as the way it makes me feel. I’ll be writing about the history of the places I visit and about the people I meet on the way. In that way I hope to emulate the great George Henry Borrow whose book Wild Wales has been by my side for the past three years as I have written my way through a BA and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. It has inspired and provoked further research and writing during that time and I expect it will continue to do so for some time to come.

The spirit of the places in which I walk is very important to me, as is treading as lightly on the land as I can. The journey will be a pilgrimage as I seek enlightenment, both spiritual and intellectual.