DSCF3139  This week has been half term, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing with my children.  We’ve been on a couple of walks, one round Tarn Hows in the Lake District and one from Wrea Green on the Fylde, close to where I grew up.  But this has also been the week of my winter panel meeting and a seminar at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

The panel meeting went well.  My supervisors commented on how much my writing has improved; it is now clear and precise, which is good to hear.  We discussed the commonwealth chapter I submitted, talked about the choice of technical language for describing my musical examples and then conversation turned to the submission process.  We discussed possible examiners and I told them that I plan to submit in September.   The meeting was over in 40 minutes.

That afternoon I took part in the Print and Materiality Seminar Series at the John Rylands Library, talking about ‘William Elerton and the Ghost of the Lady Marques’.  The topic was chosen to fit in with the seminar series’ focus on the supernatural, but it was a particularly nice subject because it allowed me to sing one of my ballads.  The other paper of the afternoon was given by my Manchester PhD candidate colleague, Sarah Fox.  Her fascinating paper was entitled ‘”Let the superstitious wife, Neer the child’s heart lay a knife”: Superstition and the domestic object in eighteenth-century England’, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her.

I’m looking forward to getting properly stuck in to my final chapter on ballads and the news over the next few weeks.  I’ve started doing the secondary reading for it already and I’ve even made some little notes on halved index cards for paragraph topics.  I decided that on this occasion I really needed to plan the chapter before I wrote it, which is not how I usually work.  The chapter will look at the role of sixteenth century ballads in spreading news, a role that has been contested recently.  I need to look into the differences between ‘news’, ‘newspapers’ and ‘journalism’.  I’m going to investigate the role of newspapers in later periods to see how the ballad compares, as well as looking at the evidence provided by State Papers.  I’m very much looking forward to it, after the trouble I had with the commonwealth chapter.  It’s not going to be easy, but I think it should be much more fun!

The year of big, scary life changes.  The year in which my husband is likely to retire and in which I need to become the main breadwinner for the family.  The year in which, 20 years after starting at the University of Manchester the first time round, I should earn the title of doctor.

234 So to end 2013, I got some new bookshelves.  I need them because in the last couple of months I’ve accumulated so many books that I’ve run out of space to put them.  Two of the shelves on the bookcase in my bedroom are now devoted to post-1950 history, as I was given a lot of high-quality books by a friend who could no longer use them.  I’ve also had to buy quite a few texts for my work and, of course, there are the ones that Father Christmas brought for me last week.  New bookshelves were a must.

And to begin 2014, I put some books on them.

235The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that it required the movement of my printer from my right to my left.  This may not seem significant, but it created a strange sense of space.  Working in there this morning, it felt like there was a lot more room.  I stopped for a moment to consider it, deciding that the space in the corner had been redundant space, because it was trapped between my Spanish dictionary and the printer.  Now it isn’t.  I’m not sure how ‘working round a corner’ is going to pan out in the long run, but for now it seems quite pleasant.

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On a more research-based note, I am pleased to report that my chapter finally seems to be coming together.  I’m slightly more confident of it than I was.  This week, I’ve been working very much part-time, alternating it with playing games with the family and trying to get some fresh air between the raindrops and gales.  Somewhere along the way, I have found 6500 words of a chapter, which is interesting because it’s certainly not yet what I’d call a chapter – a lot of it is still in notes, or just lists of primary or secondary quotations.  When I mentioned this to my husband the other day, he commented that I had brain incontinence!  Puddles of words that don’t have any flow.  But, today, what prose there is is finally beginning to coalesce.  I’ve read several articles (I could do with going to the library but I don’t think I’m going to get there before the children go back to school next week), ordered yet another pile of books from Amazon and in the evenings, I’ve been cataloguing and analysing ballads, a few at a time.  Progress, I think.

Yesterday I began an 8 week mindfulness course, a present from a friend for Christmas intended to help me with my depression and stress since I can no longer take anti-depressants.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

I’ve been rather unpredictable in my blog posts lately, mainly because I used to write them on Friday evenings as a review of what I’d done during the ‘normal working week’ (Show me a scholar who works a normal working week?  No? No, me neither…), but since the summer the whole family has been going to choir practice on a Friday evening.  That has thrown out my blogging routine completely and it has yet to settle in to a new one.  My child-free time (the school day) is so precious for work that I’m loathe to use it to write the blog.

Anyway, the other reason that I haven’t given many reports on what I’ve been doing lately is because I haven’t been doing all that much work.  It doesn’t seem all that interesting to report that I’ve read a few books.  I finally finished Steve Hindle’s The State and Social Change in Early Modern England.  I started on it before I had my nasty infection, which finally forced me to take a day or two off to recover, then I finished off and submitted the article I’d been writing.  When I went back to work I started reading Ethan Shagan on Popular Politics and the English Reformation.  My supervisor asked me what I thought about the Hindle monograph, I confidently gave a reply, he asked if I’d finished reading it, I said ‘yes’ and then as the conversation progressed I began to doubt myself…  When I hung up the phone, I went and picked the book up and, sure enough, I was only half way through.   So that put the wind up me.  I genuinely thought I’d finished it.  I had finished it by the end of the next day!

I catalogued 50 more ballads.

I organised another research trip to the British Library for January.

I had yet another telephone conversation about the abandoned common weal chapter, another ‘wobble’.   It was a conversation with my husband that gave me the starting point that sent me running to my study to grab a notebook and start scribbling ideas.  He unwittingly found me the angle I’ve been missing for the last 2 months and I filled a couple of pages with scribblings about how to turn the disparate ideas into something resembling a chapter.  I then had only a few days before the children finished school for Christmas in which to get started.  I decided to write a plan for the chapter and develop it from there.  So at the moment I have a file on my computer called ‘Developed Chapter Plan’ which lists in order all the points I want to make.  It includes a chunk of writing I’d already done on some manuscript miscellanies and several useful primary and secondary quotations that I’d already come across.  My intention is for the chapter to grow from the plan.

So then the break for Christmas.  Father Christmas brought me a large stack of books.  Alexandra Walsham on Church Papists, Hiram Morgan on Tyrone’s Rebellion, Landlords and Tenants in Britain, a book on the Aztecs and one on Mindfulness.  Plenty of reading material there for the new year.

I went back to work on Wednesday, when my children went back to school.  Most of my work this week has been on transcriptions of manscripts from the British Library but I’ve also read some secondary material. I’ve carried on working today, because despite my intentions to spend three whole days immersed in my primary material, it didn’t quite happen – I ended up doing a favour for a friend over two lunchtimes instead.  Anyway, palaeography is a challenge which, for the most part, I quite enjoy.  I have to admit that I don’t do enough of it to be fluent at it, but once I get going I find a lot of it reasonably straightforward, if a little slow.  That is, until I reach the point where I can’t make out a word, at which point I feel like throwing the computer through the window.

On Thursday, my work was pleasantly interrupted by a trip to Preston FM to talk about the Historical Association.  I was very nervous that morning, but when it came to the broadcast I surprised myself by quite enjoying it.   I must say thank you to the station for inviting me and to presenter Hughie Parr for creating such a relaxed atmosphere that we talked for twenty minutes!

Juggling, I have discovered this week, isn’t easy.  I can only assume that this time last year I was so taken up with the prospect of moving house that the PhD took a back seat to packing boxes and playing with my children.  I didn’t have my summer panel meeting until the middle of August last year and I do remember being on holiday with my computer, but I don’t remember it being as exhausting as this.  I’ve given myself a long list of jobs to do, tidying up bits and pieces that need sorting out and visiting several archives, but I’m also trying to fit in with family life too, so somehow I have been spending half a day working and half a day doing things with the children.

On Tuesday I commuted to Manchester, had a breakfast supervision meeting and then spent an entire day in the John Rylands library on Deansgate reading a book about one of the manuscripts that I am going to see this summer.  Today I read a book and took notes while visiting family.

I’ve been re-writing my knowingness piece too.  Precision demanded in every word.

This is proving less than easy.

Yesterday, my three children broke up for the summer.  This will have a significant, negative impact on the amount of work I get done, of course, but that was always part of the deal.  My summer action plan contains lots of little bits of work that can be broken off part way through, like transcriptions, short pieces of writing and the revision of a chapter, rather than a single major piece of work.  I couldn’t possibly manage to write a chapter during the summer –  I would find it very frustrating to try to do so with so many distractions around.  But that is the deal with my PhD – it was always intended to fit around family life.

So now I’m looking forward to a quiet family weekend.  We’re thinking of having a barbecue if the weather is as good as the forecast suggests and there are several things that need doing in the garden (planting beans, putting hanging baskets together, a bit of weeding).  My husband has promised to take the children out and play some cricket with them too.  We’re hoping for a family day out walking and perhaps visits to the grandparents.  There’s homework to fit in, of course, and the usual weekend cleaning and tidying jobs, but generally speaking I’m hoping for a relaxing weekend!

 

 

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Weather-wise, it’s been a much better week.  Yesterday the weather was beautiful, but unfortunately I wasn’t in a fit state to enjoy it.  My eldest kindly brought  a bug home from school earlier in the week and having had a sleepless night on Tuesday, I wasn’t in a fit state to kick it out of the house.  So I spent most of yesterday in bed with a bug.  Anyway, the garden is looking lovely, I think.  We had the redpoll and the siskins back in the garden this week too.

Work is going slowly.  I’ve started work on my second chapter, but at the moment I’m researching rather than writing.  I have a wild theory up my sleeve that involves heraldry and ballads!   I’m in the process of comparing several ballads about Lent, which is actually proving to be a lot more interesting than it sounds!

On Wednesday I survived a lesson in how to construct a sentence!  I have an annoying habit of leaving subjects out of sentences, which is fine if you happen to be inside my brain as I know what I’m talking about, but apparently other people can find it a bit hard to follow my train of thought…!  I have been told to think about my sentences as musical phrases, in order to make them more balanced.

In other good news, I have my lovely middle-aged laptop back (as opposed to the old one that I need to get repaired next), which means that I’m back on  Windows 7 and no longer have to attempt to work round Windows 8 which, as far as I am concerned, is the stuff of nightmares.  Windows 7 works.  It just gets on with things.  Windows 8 thinks it needs to be at the forefront of your work all the time – it’s far too in your face.  Also, today I got the document reference I needed to complete my article, so it’s now all ready to go.  This feels very strange.  I think I probably feel the way a rhinoceros must do when it’s about to give birth – this article has been two years in the making!

 

Steve Tilston

Steve Tilston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday afternoon I sent off first draft of my first chapter to my supervisors.  It’s been a tough week, as on Monday evening I was really struggling to make the chapter work because it had just evolved out of my notes.  I couldn’t get the separate bits of the chapter to hang together – it was just some chunks of text that could have been completely separate entities if they weren’t all on the same page.  A frantic call to a friend about the disorganised nature of my work resulted in some very good advice.  “Write down the points you want to make on index cards, then arrange them into order.”  How right he was.  So I spent Monday evening juggling index cards.

On Tuesday morning I started with 12 index cards, a blank document and  heavy heart.  I got some blue tac and stuck the index cards to a convenient bit of blank wall next my desk, and  stuck a couple of post-it notes on to a few of them to remind me where I had found evidence to back them up.  By Tuesday afternoon, I had 5000 words.  Okay, so not all of them by any means were completely new and original for the new document, but the opening few paragraphs were, and I’d made substantial alterations to the bits that I had copied and pasted in from the old notes.  A first draft was ready for proofreading by Thursday afternoon, so I had a night out!  I took the family to see Steve Tilston at Garstang Unplugged, and we all had a lovely evening.

Friday morning I spent proofreading and making alterations, then in the afternoon I fiddled with the footnotes and bibliography.  I sent it off mid-afternoon, having reached about ten thousand words somewhere along the way.  It’s interesting, because not long ago I commented to a friend that I hadn’t ‘planned’ a piece of work in years.  Everything had just, sort of, evolved out of my research and seemed to come out okay.   This is partly because I never knew exactly what I wanted to say until I was saying it.  But this time it just didn’t work, perhaps because my command over the material was not quite as confident.

I have to say I’m not entirely happy with the end result.  It’s probably the chapter I’m going to find most difficult, as it is the most interdisciplinary, looking at the similarities and differences between art music, from church and court, and the popular music of the ballads.  I’m a bit worried about how my music specialist is going to react to it and I’m certain that my other supervisors are going to find plenty of stylistic problems too.  All in all, I’m quite nervous about my supervisory meeting next week.  Between now and then, I’m going to do some more reading on reader reception theory because I borrowed some books from a very nice German teacher at the university at the beginning of the year and it really is time I took them back!  I also have a conference paper proposal I need to write, as the call for papers closes this week.

The Staircase Hall (1884–7), designed by Sir J...

The Staircase Hall (1884–7), designed by Sir John Taylor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this (a day late – yes, I know), I have just passed through Stafford on the Pendolino, on my way back from London, where I attended the Historical Association’s Branches and Members Committee Meeting.  It’s going dark outside the windows, and in the last quarter of an hour I’ve been watching lights go on all over the dusky countryside. At the meeting I seem to have volunteered to help re-organise the branches and branch officers’ area of the H.A. website, and to be a mentor for H.A. branch officers in the north of England.  I do sometimes think that what with looking after the children and doing my PhD, I’m not giving the H.A. the attention it requires.  Oh well, time for a bit of planning to get everything in, I guess!  The meeting finished early, and I spent an hour in the National Gallery before heading back to Euston to catch my train home to Preston, which was jolly nice.  I like travelling by train, I must admit, and the fact that I can now get to London in just over two hours makes it do-able, in my experience.  I’m not a happy driver, and I’d much rather let the train do the work.

It’s been a somewhat frustrating week, work-wise.  It was the children’s half term, and for once their father was not on holiday the same week, so I’ve not got a lot done.  My parents looked after the children on Tuesday so that I could go into Manchester to take back to the library a book that had been recalled, but what little time I had not looking after my children this week was mainly spent trying to get my new laptop to work (it runs on Windows 8, but what I think of that operating system is best left unsaid – suffice it to say that a lot of swearing took place under my breath) and trying to set up a new wifi router that could cope with the number of machines that now need it in my house.  All very time consuming and irritating.  Which is why I didn’t get my blog written last night – yesterday evening was the first chance I’d had all week to do some research!

I’ve created a huge working document analysing the ballad tunes musicologically.  The next step, which I am desperate to get on with, is looking at the links between the ballads, their backgrounds and their publication history.  I’m itching to get on with it, much as I enjoyed taking my children to the park, the ice-cream cafe and the cheese factory this week!  However, there will be quite a lot to get in my way over the next couple of weeks as, even though the children are back at school, I have a lot of appointments to keep.  I’m looking forward to getting started again, though.