Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Next step, 'Dr Louise' - a PhD?

Hi everyone - or rather, anyone who's still checking on this shamefully under-used blog. I just wanted to get some things straight in my mind and I remembered that blogging used to be a good way to do this. I could write it all down as a journal entry on my computer or in my diary, but this way I have to think more carefully, express myself more clearly, knowing that the writing is for public consumption.

So. I finished my MA - hurrah! I got a Merit, which on reflection I am quite pleased with. Of course, I set out hoping for a Distinction - doesn't everybody? -  but it soon became clear that wasn't going to happen, due to rather poor marks received for one particular module, Reading as a Novelist. This module was rather heavy on the old literary criticism and also had a particularly exacting tutor. Enough said.

I enjoyed the course, although it was quite heavy going at times. I liked having something concrete to do and I love deadlines - the meeting of them - which is, I know, peculiar. Once we got to the summer term, when we were free to write our dissertations, it was all plain sailing. We had to complete the first fifteen thousand words of our novels-in-progress - it didn't take me long, and I can't resist mentioning here that I got a Distinction for this bit.

The thing is, I already knew before I embarked on the course that I could write. The problem was that I wasn't being prolific enough, and felt somehow that I needed motivation and an excuse - a reason - to write, so that I would get on with it. Which I did, and I am grateful that the course gave me the opportunity to do so, the freedom to concentrate on my writing. And also to practice fiction, because my natural inclination has always been towards non-fiction and I wanted to think more about the other.

I just wish we'd had to complete a whole novel instead of just fifteen thousand words, because if that had been the target I would have achieved it. Now I have around 43 thousand words written - I am around the half-way mark, but I am not pushing forward at the rate I feel I should be. What I am going to do is to self-impose a deadline to complete a first draft of the book - perhaps April 1st. No, May 1st (attempting to complete a project on or before April Fools Day is surely asking for trouble). I will have to find a way to hold myself accountable and make a plan - a certain number of words per day or per week, maybe.

In the summer, I got to the shortlist stage of a Penguin mentoring programme and now I wish that I had been chosen to be mentored, only because then I would have got on with the writing. At the time though, I was pleased not to have been selected - I had so much on (such as moving house) that I needed a rest, didn't want the added pressure. And I do have the contact details of various agents who were there on the day, as well as now being a member of a Facebook support group made up of the other shortlisted writers. So it might be a way forward. Fingers crossed. Imagine being published by Penguin! The editor I spoke to was quite brilliant. She was very young and in my stupidity I thought that therefore she would not be very clever/perceptive but she put me to shame - she not only 'got' my concept but seemed to instinctively understand the difficulties I was having expressing it.

I will finish my novel. It would be such a waste of a year and forty-odd thousand words otherwise. However, I am already planning my next step - into academia, as the title of this blog post suggests. I like the idea of being a Doctor - who wouldn't? But it's not just vanity, It's more than that. I really enjoy the process of researching, reading, thinking about things, and the subject of mental health is still the one that fires me up more than anything. For the last few years I have reviewed research proposals for the McPin Foundation and more recently I have done the same for the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research). It takes a number of hours to read and digest the papers and then another few hours to come up with a coherent and hopefully useful response to them - but I like doing this so much. I believe I am good at it too and it's well enough paid that I feel not only useful but well-recompensed for my time.  I wish it could be my full-time job. It's like writing this blog used to be - immersive, almost meditative, with the added benefit that hopefully I am helping other people out there.

Anyway, just this afternoon I applied for a PhD in Medical Humanities at one of the top universities in the UK, to begin in October 2018, and now I am holding my breath. I wrote the proposal in rather a hurry, as I was hoping to complete the application in time to be considered for funding, and of course as soon as I'd sent it in, I printed it out and noticed various errors (I wrote the word hope or hopefully three times in one short paragraph and it's not really a suitable word to be included in an academic proposal in the first place!)  I am pleased I have sent something in though and looking forward to getting a response. It has set my mind working again, and I have spent the last few hours reading various information on the net around the subject of mental health (my proposed topic for research, surprise, surprise!)

I'll keep you all posted.

As I mentioned, we moved house over the summer, after sixteen years in the old one. Only one of our children had ever known a different home to that one, and she was only a year old when we moved in. (She's almost eighteen now and has passed her driving test - where did those years go?) So it was a bit of a wrench for all of us - that was the house where our family was formed, where our children took their first steps. Where we raised our puppies - I actually mean young dogs, I am not being squishily cross-species sentimental!

This house is home instead now. I have grown to love it surprisingly fast. It's not in the best area of town - a train has just racketed past less than a hundred metres away as I am writing, there is a derelict house on one side of us, and overgrown garages on a neglected plot of land on the other side. But it's the right sized house for our family - or it will be, when we have finished the building work. It's closer to Paul's work and to most of the children's schools. It has a bigger garden. The neighbours are friendly. And now it is becoming gradually more habitable - it was rather ramshackle when we arrived, but now we have a new bathroom, new carpets throughout...we'll get there. Most importantly, the kids are happy here, and so are the dogs. It's definitely home.

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