An Update

I started this blog back in the distant days of my early career as a Ph.D student.


I say “career” because for me it was the equivalent of a full time job with the added disadvantage of being able to organise my working hours around a growing family. As a single parent I remember thinking how ‘ideal’ this arrangement was, and to a certain extent it was. However it also meant for some very stressful times, when work life and home life seemed destined to collide and the debris was not pretty!

I started out on blogger and moved to WordPress roughly around the time I was planning my nervous break-down. I think most doctoral candidates suffer at least one of these at one point or another , some endure several ( I think I may have had more than my fair share, what with me being so damned wound up most of the time so laid back and all … )


It has been a test of endurance, physically and mentally. I have gained more weight than I care to admit through excessive sitting … I laugh in the face of the physiotherapist who “advised” me to read whilst on a treadmill … oh yes that way accidents lie, I can tell you from experience!


In the course of the years I have been studying I have been hospitalised for major surgery twice, once for a broken limb and several times for Biliary colic, caused by gallstones, resulting in one of the surgeries!


I started this whole journey whilst going through a painful divorce, I think it was my way of rediscovering who I was and where I wanted to go with my life … back in 2002.


What started as a one-day-a-week access course led to 1o years of full-time study.

And finally on September the 25th 2013, I submitted my doctoral thesis.


On November 15th 2013, I passed my viva with minor corrections … to become the first Doctor in our family history.





I am Ph.D Pimpernel, MA(hons), M.Litt, Ph.D … there are more letters after my name than there are actually in my (real) name!

Has it been worth it?  I am not entirely sure yet. On a personal level I am a different person to the one that started out. I am more confident and assured in my own abilities, but very aware that the more I learn the less I seem to know. I sometimes wake in the night sweating with panic at the thought of all the books I haven’t read … I think this is what’s commonly known as an occupational hazard of long-term study!

By necessity this blog must evolve – like myself – from the caterpillar into the butterfly … or in my case maybe more of a moth …


The search has begun in earnest for an academic posting and the reality that all this entails is hitting me quite hard. The Ph.D has been like a huge, iridescent bubble, shielding me from the harsh realities of the real world … and now that bubble has been popped, in a spectacular way and I am left, once more, exposed ….


I am not sure whether I shall continue blogging. I can’t say I am a natural at it and it has been sporadic at best, usually whole months between posts and then a clumpy flurry of not a lot, so maybe as a form it isn’t my bag?


But who knows what 2014 may bring. Thank you for following my  erratic progress. I raise a glass to all of you who are still treading the minefield that is postgraduate research and wish you every success in 2014 and for years to come.

So,  it’s a fond farewell from me … for now at least!


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Feeling Furious

Reading Kate Zambreno‘s latest brilliant book ( and I don’t use the word brilliant very often) HEROINES I am incensed, furious, livid, at what was (and maybe still is) considered an acceptable attitude towards women’s writing of the modernist era.
I can’t put the damn book down – my PhD – the submission of which is fast approaching, imminent in fact! – sits neglected as I devour Zambreno’s deliciously constructed text.

“He writes I imagine, in the tradition of neurotic men who treat women as objects but are forgiven for their insight and sensitivity, in the tradition of falling in love and into beautiful girls. The entire history of Western literature is dominated by absolute pricks, I realize, pricks that can’t get hard but yet ejaculate with such eloquent language, Beckett was a prick with Lucia Joyce (poor Lucia), Scott Fitzgerald was a prick and how does she get revenge? She is always the minor writer.”

Kate Zambreno, Heroines (2013) p. 228.

The only problem being? Now I want to read EVERYTHING she mentions – all of it – the novels, the biographies, the letters, the diaries, the scraps – THE EVIDENCE of the silenced/othered.

I like to think my own heroine, Rebecca West, survived and was artistically successful because she dumped that pompous narcissist H. G. Wells , who tried his damnedest to control her, squirrelling her and their son off to the wilds of Wales and Norfolk to keep her out of sight and away from her career … just in time!

It’s made me more aware of myself as a female, as a writer, as a fractured identity than anything else I have ever read – it speaks to women in the here and now. Claim yourselves! She seems to be saying. Don’t be negated – don’t be sanitised by male expectations!

This author is inspirational.

In other news – 

Meet Hilda!

We don't all need to be size 0 to look HOT!

We don’t all need to be size 0 to look HOT!

On a more frivolous note – a friend sent me a link to this cheeky little bit of lighthearted fluff … leaving the whole hyper sexualised/objectifications of the female body thing aside for now it’s good to know a fat girl can rock the Pin-up world!

After all I keep saying it so it must be true  FAT is a feminist issue!

Zaftig /zäftig/ adjective: (of a woman) Having a full, rounded figure; plump. Yep – and baby I am not giving up cake for no man!

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CFP Extension: Katherine Mansfield and her Circle (deadline: 31 August)

Worthwhile event for all students/fans of Mansfield’s work. Good Luck to all involved in organising the event.


The deadline for abstract submissions to the Katherine Mansfield Postgraduate Day, which will be held at Birkbeck in London on 23 November 2013, has been extended to 31 August.

Please see the attached CFP for more details.

KMS Postgraduate Day Nov 2013

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Sexism, censorship and the internet

A pertinent commentary on modern social networking and how it interfaces with feminist principles. Especially in light of Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook’s female CEO since 2008) recent comments about feminism and the glass ceiling.

susan sellers

 It now seems impossible not to engage with networking sites such as facebook. As more and more family members and friends sign up, facebook offers a way to stay in touch. There are also professional reasons to join. As I discovered recently while working with Moving Stories Theatre on the play of Vanessa and Virginia, networking sites are crucial in spreading the word.

For most of us, posting on our facebook wall or following the activities of those we accept as friends are safe and positive experiences.

But there is another, more alarming side to some of these sites.

The adverse effect facebook can have on teenagers is now well documented. They may be exposed to predatory adults, and there are concerns over the amount of time some spend on virtual relationships at the expense of live social interactions. Photos are frequently posted without permission which an individual…

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National Stationery Week 22-28th April


There seems to be a National Day/Week for almost any cause – but I can hear the trees quivering at the thought of this one! Well starting today it is National Stationery Week!

I am a big fan of anything stationery related – BIG FAN! Testament to this is the book shelf that is stuffed (two rows) with EMPTY notebooks – yes that’s right, these are notebooks I have bought because I liked them, and I still have’t used them.NB

I am currently on the last pages of my huge fat journal that I purchased from Kate’s Paperie in NYC in 2006 – which contains roughly the last 3 and a half years of my life – it took me the best part of 3 years to decide to actually write in it, because for me, notebooks are as much about the aesthetic as about the use! Before that it sat on the shelf looking very, very pretty.

I am also a bit of a fan of the fountain pen – though I do admit to using cartridges not bladders, because I write too much and as a result they are in need of constant filling. The cartridges last longer.

I am due to start a new journal in the next week and I have decided that my 2006 purchase of an antique leather journal (currently nestling in tissue paper in a box underneath my desk) will be the next journal … I’ve become a little less precious about my collection lately and have decided that they are far more interesting if they are actually used for the purpose which they were designed.

In other exciting new (well for me it’s exciting) I will be doing a traditional book-binding course (starting in June!) and I cannot wait … I want to be able to make my own books. I have enjoyed making several starbooks lately for people’s birthday’s etc and they are simple and fun. As someone who spends a lot of time working with words, crafting can be the only way to achieve the empty head feeling it’s either that or alcoholism …

In Other News

I am in the very last stages of writing up my thesis – recent feedback has been a real boost as my supervisor is clearly very pleased with my recent work … so I just have to extend that excellence to the rest of the thesis! Blogging takes a back seat just now too – so entries are sporadic, but I couldn’t let NSW pass by without a  special mention!

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The Power of Language.

My computer is running very slow this morning so rather than fire up my thesis document and feel frustrated at the pinwheel of doom that keeps appearing I thought I would ramble here. This is a free-writing exercise so may not make sense by the end …

Part of my research involves the decoding of culturally loaded language. For example when someone uses the word ‘spinster’ what ‘extra’ meaning does that word convey? The OED lists spinster as

a. Appended to names of women, originally in order to denote their occupation, but subsequently (from the 17th century) as the proper legal designation of one still unmarried.

b. A woman still unmarried; esp. one beyond the usual age for marriage, an old maid.

But if you describe someone as a ‘spinster’ today what images would that conjure up? It’s a very dated expression now, and one that you rarely hear in common usage and it is usually applied with regard to women who are elderly and unmarried.  But as recently as the 1950s magazines such as marvel were still using the term as a threat:ImageAs such it evokes nostalgia and images of pejorative female stereotypes; prudish, stuffy, old-fashioned. If one looks for synonyms for ‘spinster’ the tell-tale nature of them denote it as a negative label, one that diminishes rather than enhances a woman’s reputation;

None of the above inspire positive images. The spinster is also behind the mythologised/pathologised woman; the sinister crone, witch, hag, valkyrie, siren, all of which are deemed to be in league with the devil in order to undermine male potency with sorcery and trickery.

Whilst the spinster, as a label, is no longer common currency,  it was very much in use in 1911 and it was the task of journalists such as Dora Marsden and Rebecca West to generate debate about the destructive nature of such a label.  Through wit and parody, the writers of The Freewoman revealed the Nietzschean philosophy of ‘what Labels me, negates me’; for to be labelled as a spinster in 1911 meant you were viewed as an economic drain on society, a burden to your close family and undesirable and worthless. On the other hand you were viewed as naive, unworldly, unintelligent and prudish – you couldn’t win.

So why is it relevant to modern day life to be discussing such old-fashioned language? It would be reasonable to say that times have changed, things have moved on and terminology that was meaningful to those in 1911 no longer applies to us in the modern day. And in some ways this is true of us in the West but this culture of the unmarried women being of no economic value is still relevant to those in the far east. Especially when you witness the atrocities imposed upon China’s unwanted baby girls … These children are cast aside because they are considered culturally, politically and economically of less value than male children. The following videos are distressing and I should warn you, are not easy to watch.

The Dying Rooms 1

The Dying Rooms 2

The Dying Rooms 3 (unavailable because of copyright issues)

The Dying Rooms 4

It may seem a huge leap from spinster to the Dying Rooms but it is the fear of what these girl children will become – effectively the fear of them growing into unmarried burdens on their parents – that prompt ordinarily loving parents to dump them in orphanages and try for a son. For the Chinese, the Spinster is a modern day spectre that continues to haunt them.

Language plays an important role in how we view the world. To call another woman by a pejorative label, endorses a society that thinks less of its women than it does its men. To judge a woman on the basis of her sexual activity is just a stone’s throw away from calling a woman a spinster in 1911 – it’s using a different motif but its intention is the same; to keep women in their place. If you think this is just nonsense that men have it just as hard, then come up with a pejoration for a man, that is unique to men, that cannot be applied to a woman and that diminishes that man in the eyes of men and women alike. It’s harder than you think isn’t it? There is no male equivalent to ‘whore’, ‘slut’, ‘slag’, ‘shrew’ or even ‘bitch.’ Words like bastard and cunt are applied to both sexes without distinction and really don’t convey the same capacity to diminish as those thrown at women … it’s something worth thinking about.

Whilst we in the West enjoy a high level of equality, I would argue that it remains precarious and we should be vigilant. Our rights are precious and as such should be protected, because they were hard-won to begin with.

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