Women’s fiction writing through the ages
What is your PhD all about?
I’m researching women’s writings and re-writings of popular genres, and examining the ways in which the earlier genres influenced those that came later. I start with gothic fiction in the 1790s and then silver fork fiction, or fashionable fiction, from the 1820s/1830s, which is a genre hardly anyone seems to have ever heard of! It tended to be either by aristocrats about aristocrats or about people pretending to be an aristocrat and they were kind of guides on how to move up the social ladder. My last genre is sensation fiction of the 1860s, which jumped on the back of a lot of legal and social changes that were happening at the time.
Why did you choose it?
I researched a similar topic for my undergrad dissertation, here at Leeds Beckett - My Director of Studies now was my undergraduate dissertation supervisor. I remember having a module on sensation fiction and 18th century fictions in my very first year, taught by my supervisor, and I remember being blown away by her enthusiasm. I then did my Masters in Contemporary Literature here, looking at crime fiction by novelists such as Agatha Christie and Carola Dunn, which is all said to have drawn from sensation fiction. So, with my PhD, I’ve chosen to jump back to sensation fiction and to explore it in much more depth.
Why Leeds Beckett?
When I was looking as an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to stay local, and Leeds Beckett was one of the few local universities that did specifically English Literature and not a combined one with English Language. I’d also been singing with the university since I was 14, so I’d known the university for a long time.
I became ill just after the end of my undergrad degree and was diagnosed with a really rare digestive condition called achalasia, where I basically couldn’t swallow anything by myself without surgical intervention, during my MA. It was a help to be continuing to study with people who knew me and knew I could still complete the course. For such a big undertaking as a PhD, I felt that I would need strong pastoral support and I knew I would get that from my supervisors.
What’s the best thing about doing a PhD?
Having the opportunity to do such a detailed study purely on your own alongside having the guidance of established academics is incredible. Having that backing of people who have a name and reputation really integrates you into a network of scholars in your subject area.
And what’s been the biggest challenge so far?
One of the biggest challenges has been my health. Halfway through my PhD, my symptoms got a lot worse and I became agoraphobic. I saw the wellbeing team here at the university and they got me back to being able to get in a car to university.
I also suffer from imposter syndrome. In the beginning, I was so unsure and unconfident and convinced I wasn’t good enough to do my PhD. I still have it, but even so, I’m so much more confident now than I was.
What’s the most useful thing that you’ve learnt so far?
When I first started, I couldn’t get my head round the fact that my PhD thesis would be 100,000 words - eight times the size of anything I’d ever written before. I remember hitting 50,000 and feeling such a sense of achievement! But I also realised that I’d written half of it but still had so much to include. I talked to my supervisors and they said don’t get rid of anything, because it could be something else – an article or a book chapter. So I learnt that nothing is ever wasted. Stuff from my latest chapter that I cut out last week I’ve put into a book chapter that I’m putting into an edited collection.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
Last year I co-hosted a conference here with a colleague at Middlesex University about criminal heritage and the history of crime fiction. It was more successful than we imagined and over 30 people attended from as far as Iceland, Sweden and America. Afterwards, we put in a proposal to Palgrave for an edited collection and they’re really interested. It made me realise that the ideas I was having were really valid contributions to make to academia.
What is your top tip for new research students?
Talk to your supervisor! In the first two years of my PhD, I completely shut down. My project wasn’t turning into what I wanted it to, and I didn’t feel like I could disagree or suggest my own ideas. I finally realised that I should just talk to them and ask for advice and it was the best thing I ever did. They put so much more support in place for me.
Also, take advantage of other institutions – the SCONUL scheme is excellent where, as a member, you can access any university’s library in the UK. There is also a resource, Copac, which tells you every university that has a copy of a particular book. Settle into your university, but rifle others!
What do you do to unwind?
If I’m not doing work I panic that I should be! But I sing a lot, and go to the theatre and opera. My biggest hobby now is colouring - I do adult colouring books every day. You just don’t have to think about anything!
What is your favourite Twitter account to follow?
Susan is very public about dealing with depression and anxiety and I was diagnosed with both a couple of years ago. I was quite ashamed of it at first, but her putting her experiences out there makes me feel that it’s fine to not be okay. My sister always says Miranda’s TV show is like watching me - Miranda’s such a positive role model for me.
Professionally, the Thesis Whisperer, in Australia, is so helpful. She runs a blog as well and posts stuff about every aspect of PhD life – how to structure a chapter, how to get on with your supervisors, what to do if you’ve got imposter syndrome.
What would you say to someone thinking about applying for a PhD at Leeds Beckett?
Do it! Research it first - you might not be on campus all the time but you’re making a big commitment to three to seven years working here. For my undergraduate it was more the place than the course; for your PhD it’s more the person – your supervisor - that you’re applying to. We have so many research centres and world-leading researchers here.
Where do you want your PhD to take you?
I’d love to lecture and keep doing my own research. I’ve also always been interested in heritage and archive work - I’m a member of the National Trust and volunteer for Leeds Museums and Galleries.