March 2013

A couple of weeks ago I reblogged a post from Pat Thomson

“This post began in exactly this way, with a five am wondering about what my favorite academic books would say about – and to – me. As I started to go through the books I’d put on a very, very short list I realized – and it was one of those kind of Homer Simpson d’oh moments – that the books I most valued were ones which were the kind of work I’d love to do.

So I want to suggest here that it could be helpful to think, more often than I have been doing, not simply about the research that you want to do, but also the kind of writing that you aspire to. When thinking about answers to the question “ What academic work do I want to be known for?” the answer might just as well be about the quality of the writing as the actual subject matter…”

I’ve been thinking about it on and off ever since, and I said that I would blog about my favourite academic books.  I have two authors in mind.  The first is my supervisor Glyn Redworth, the second, Michael Wood.  It’s dawned on me that I like their writing for the same reason: although it’s based on scholarship, it retains bounce and spark. I have always wondered why academic writing is so often flat and lifeless.  Theirs isn’t.  Although Michael Wood’s ‘Conquistadors’ series was on television when I was writing my undergraduate dissertation  (there, that dates me) and hooked me (any man who takes his tea bags up the Amazon and then makes a brew on camera is my hero), it was his book ‘In Search of England‘ that I read a few years later that I thought was really beautiful.  And Glyn’s book on the Spanish Match, ‘The Prince and the Infanta‘ was a gift from my first child long before he could actually be responsible for any gifts himself!  But that’s not the only reason I like it, although it’s a good enough one.  Both have a musicality to the writing.  It’s lyrical.  And I suspect that, as a musician, that’s what I appreciate in writing and what I would like to emulate in my own work.  Perhaps my thesis is not the place for it.  Perhaps it is.

I only know that if I could write half as well as either of them, I’d be a very happy girl.


As I posted on twitter, I have hit upon a paradox in my work.

The more I read, the more I want to write.   The more I write, the more I need to read. 

This one’s a difficult one.  Here’s where I am.

Yesterday I read through my musicological ballad analysis chapter and started to read Beth Quitslund’s ‘The Reformation in Rhyme’.  I found references to several other books I should look at  about the metrical psalters.  This is par for the course.  This happens every time I read anything.  Each book I look at generates about another 4 or 5 that I feel the need to look at too.  I’m used to this, but it gets a little bit frustrating.

This morning I sat down to write some notes to remind myself what I need to do in the next few weeks.  I  looked through the notes from my last panel meeting, and from the supervisory meetings I had just before I was taken ill.  More things to read.  Chapters in books, unpublished theses, articles, entire monographs…  More and more things to read.  Then I looked round at my bookshelves, groaning under the weight of unread books from the library.

Most of what I ‘need’ to do is reading,  but I need to write something for my next meeting.  I have 23 thousand words of a working document on the analysis of the ballad tunes and their lyrics (it will be substantially less when I move the ballad lyrics to the appendices), but it’s not finished.  I need to do more work on dating the ballads and analysing their lyrics.  Then I need to relate it to the general trends in Renaissance music of the period, and so we come back to secondary reading.  Everything I do leads to more reading.  But I want to write! What’s more, I need to write.  So I suppose at some point I have to draw the line under reading, at least for a while, to do the writing that that reading has generated and carry on with the primary research.

I had a very supportive ‘back to work’ meeting on Wednesday. We talked about my plans to ease myself back into work gently with some reading!  Also, I have an article about Jacobean corruption and Saint John Roberts almost ready for submission to a journal.  I just have to get an exact reference for the document on which it is based, sort out exactly how to present the website references and check it through once more.  As soon as I get the document archive reference, I will be sending it straight off and not holding my breath.  There are also a couple of conferences I want to prepare something for.  One is the histfest at Lancaster University, which is just up the road from me.  So I’ve got plenty to keep me going.  It was lovely being back at work, and great to know I’ve got my panel supporting me.

Back to work tomorrow.  I did excavate my desk this afternoon, as it had disappeared underneath several stacks of papers.  I’m going to ease myself in gently with some reading.  For one thing, I need to remind myself what I was actually working on before I was taken ill, which I can’t really remember!  I think I’ll start by reading through the last piece of writing on which I was working.  I must admit I’m a bit nervous about going back to work after an enforced and unexpected month’s break, but I’m also very much looking forward to it.

Social Networking Since 1600.

One of the organisers is my fellow picnic-er Katherine Fennelly, and I do hope to be there although it’s outside my research time-frame, unfortunately.

Really interesting… What a lucky girl I am…

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Cassily Charles from Charles Sturt University – a fellow thesis whisperer. Cassily is the Academic Writing Coordinator for Higher Degree by Research students in the CSU Academic Support Unit ( In this post, Cassily discusses misunderstandings about personal writing processes, and how they can lead to conflict between students and supervisors. This post is enlightening to me as an educator – I hope you will be enlightened too.

This is a story about a doctoral student named Laura (a real person, but not her real name) and how she came to pull her hair out (well a few hairs anyway).

Laura began her PhD this year and really hit the ground running – within a few weeks, she was giving her supervisors many many pages about the literature on her topic. Laura’s supervisors are conscientious, organised and well-intentioned. They gave her masses of feedback on her…

View original post 765 more words

I’m going to give this some thought over the next few days. It’s close enough to work to keep me satisfied while I’m on sick leave, but far enough away not to give my carers collywobbles! Expect my thoughts soon. I can think of two immediate candidates… I wonder what else…


That half conscious state between sleeping and waking seems to be the time that I begin to compose a blog post. I often wake up relatively early with a half formed idea. I then work on it idly, gradually waking up, before finally getting up and getting it down.

This post began in exactly this way, with a five am wondering about what my favorite academic books would say about – and to – me. As I started to go through the books I’d put on a very, very short list I realized – and it was one of those kind of Homer Simpson d’oh moments – that the books I most valued were ones which were the kind of work I’d love to do.

So I want to suggest here that it could be helpful to think, more often than I have been doing, not simply about the research…

View original post 815 more words


Scream Cropped

Scream Cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I swear that if I hear myself described as ‘the lady with the headache’ once more, I’m going to scream. Actually, I probably won’t, because it would hurt, but inwardly at any rate, I’d be doing a Munch. The word ‘headache’ alone doesn’t begin to describe it. Forget migraine, I’ve had them and this was nothing like it.  ‘Thunderclap headache‘ begins to get somewhere close.  At my age, spending 9 nights in hospital after an ambulance transfer is quite an achievement.



For a while they thought it was a brain haemorrage or a stroke, but thankfully it wasn’t.  So after CT scans, MRI scans, lumber puncture and an ultrasound of my head which had a name with ‘Doppler’ in it, the headache that caused me to vomit, sweat like the proverbial pig and hardly able to move for several days was revealed to be Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome.  A pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, if I could think of a worst enemy on which to wish pain.



Essentially, what happened was that the blood vessels in my brain went into spasm, twice, almost 24 hours apart.  It happened like flicking a switch – the second time I was just sitting there, minding my own business feeling slightly nauseous when suddenly it felt like my head exploded.  Cue ambulance teams, A&E and breaking my own personal record for a hospital stay. But what is really interesting is why it happened.  Not stress, not the pressure of juggling working on a PhD with bringing up a young family…  no, it was the SSRI antidepressants which I’ve been on, on and off, for most of my adult life.   They were stopped dead and that’s that.  Never again.  The neurologist said I need to discuss alternative forms of antidepressant with my GP, but to be honest, for the moment I’m reluctant to let anyone mess with my head for a while…


On the plus side, all the scans revealed that I do indeed have a brain, which will probably come as a relief to my PhD supervisors in Manchester!  It also meant that the neurologists found a cavernoma on my brain, which could in the longer term, cause epilepsy.  So for now I have to take things easy for a bit.  I’m signed off university for another couple of weeks, and I have to see the neurovascular medics at the Royal Preston Hospital to discuss the management and treatment of my brain blackberry.


There are many things that I have to be thankful for.  Accuse me of melodrama all you like, but there were moments that I didn’t think I’d make it home so merely sleeping in my own bed is one!  At the risk of being over-emotional, this post will finish with two bits of fairly unprofessional and homespun wit and wisdom.


First, things I have learned.  Never underestimate the value of a brain that goes about from day to day performing its functions normally without you even realising it is there.  Family and friends are the most important things in the world and we can’t tell them how much we care about them often or strongly enough.  Going without cuddles is very, very lonely.  There are several excellent reasons to leave your front door unlocked, one of which is allowing the paramedics access to help you when you are alone.


Steve Tilston

Steve Tilston (Photo credit: Bryan Ledgard)

Second, people to thank.  A random list based on the fact that I’ll probably never get chance to thank these people properly.  Andy, the first response man, who held the hand of a total stranger while she vomited and screamed.  My husband, children and wider family, because I love you all and when I needed you, you were there as always.  The ambulance team from Blackburn or Burnley (sorry, I forget) whom I could not recognise again because I don’t think I opened my eyes long enough to see you.  The staff of the Royal Preston Hospital, who were without exception calm, patient, compassionate, reassuring and kind.  My lovely friends, for managing to make me laugh despite it all.  My supervisor, Glyn, for undertaking to sort out anything at the university for me.  And finally, my friend Steve Tilston, for writing beautiful songs and singing them in soothing tones that got me through several very long nights.