Category Archives: Teaching

Hilary Mantel, the PhD and Me

For this blog post, which is number one hundred and one, I have been reflecting on my journey so far researching the work of contemporary British author, Hilary Mantel. Mantel, who for much of her writing life was relatively unknown, rose to prominence in 2009 when her tenth novel, Wolf Hall, won the Booker prize for fiction. I had recently begun drafting my application for PhD study on her writing, so my project was suddenly both very significant and very current. I was awarded full AHRC funding and I completed my PhD in December 2013, on a thesis entitled ‘Origin and Ellipsis in the Writing of Hilary Mantel’, and within the three-year timeframe.

While I was a postgraduate, I had contacted Mantel directly about my project, and in the autumn of 2012 I had the great pleasure of interviewing her at her home in Devon. We had a fantastic, sparky, amusing and warm conversation; I often think back to the moment I saw the Wolf Hall Booker prize sitting, somewhat unassumingly, on a book shelf, not knowing then that Mantel was just weeks away from winning for a historic second time for the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. The interview transcript, which was approximately forty thousand words in length, and which I painstakingly input single-handed and without specialised technology, formed a considerable part of my research process. As such I decided to include a copy of the transcript of the whole interview bound in at the back of my thesis upon submission. My external examiner, Professor Peter Boxall, University of Sussex, greatly enjoyed reading the transcript and very generously offered to publish an edited version of it in Textual Practice. Needless to say, I was absolutely delighted, and set about reducing the interview to around 4000 words in length and re-naming it ‘”Mind what gap?” An Interview with Hilary Mantel’. The interview appeared in the journal in spring 2015 and constituted my first REF-standard publication. This coup stood me in very good stead when I applied for a 0.4 Lectureship in English at the University of Chester a month or so later, and I feel that the high-profile nature of this interview, and the series it formed part of, was key to my being appointed to this post.

In June 2015, I also organised the first ever academic symposium on Mantel’s work with my colleague at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Ginette Carpenter. Due to the vein of uncertainty in Mantel’s writing, we decided to call it ‘Privileging the Unseen’, which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of her own phrases. It was a really wonderful day of several panels with a diverse range of fascinating papers, all taking different perspectives and working with varied texts and critical emphases. Held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, the symposium created a space for ideas, often competing ideas, yet always heard, expressed and pushed in a collegiate and supportive way. I remain extremely grateful to everyone who attended and contributed, it would simply not have been the day it was without you all.

Following on from this very successful event, Dr Carpenter and I submitted a book proposal to Bloomsbury to edit a volume of essays on Mantel’s writing, as a pertinent and exciting addition to their Contemporary Critical Perspectives series. The volume, which is now contracted, boasts a range of chapters based on some of the work heard at the symposium, as well as a foreword by Mark Lawson and another interview with the author herself. We are working to a schedule that will hopefully result in a 2018 publication date for this seminal and collaborative piece. In tandem with the symposium, Dr Carpenter and I also organised an evening reading with Mantel at Manchester Metropolitan University, in conjunction with their Humanities in Public programme run by Professor Berthold Schoene and Helen Darby. This event took place in September 2015 in a 250-seat lecture theatre in the building where I was awarded my PhD. The reading was sold out and from very early on in the wine reception that preceded it, it had an electric atmosphere of great excitement and anticipation. Mantel did not disappoint! She took the audience’s breath away! The humour, style and perfect delivery of both her readings, her interview with me and finally her answering of questions from the audience had a polish I will remember all my life. Several people independently described the evening afterwards to me as ‘magical’. Dr Carpenter and I plan to publish Mantel’s responses to my interview questions in our Contemporary Critical Perspectives volume, in the hope that we will capture something of the magic of this transient moment on the page.

Through the symposium, I have become aware of most, if not all, the scholars around the world who are thinking about, working on and researching Mantel’s fascinating and diverse corpus. As a result, in March 2016 I was invited by Dr Rosario Arias to give two talks to her students at the University of Malaga in Spain. In the morning I spoke to some of her undergraduates about Mantel’s life and work, through a talk entitled, ‘The Visible and the Invisible Hilary Mantel’, which was a great success. Although the material was both new to the students and demanding, they engaged very well with it and worked hard to understand and make me feel welcome. The title of this blog post is taken from the second talk I gave that day to Dr Arias’ postgraduates. The room was packed and still with attentiveness! It was such a very great pleasure and a privilege to meet so many dynamic and passionate young scholars from this university in Spain; it was genuinely inspiring.

And there is more still to come! I remain in touch with Dr Arias, as well as the other scholars who contributed to ‘Privileging the Unseen’, and I plan to apply to the AHRC in the near future for funding to make this collaboration an official research network. Since I completed my PhD, I have been in conversation with Matthew Frost at Manchester University Press about the possibility of a book-length study on Mantel’s work. Professor Boxall, my external examiner, always advised me to produce a journal article containing all of what he called ‘the highlights’ of my thesis, and I have something along these lines in the offing too. Later this year, I have been invited to give a joint talk at the Chester Literature Festival with Mike Poulton, who worked with Mantel to adapted her Tudor books for the RSC. We will be talking about adaptation, and the discussion will include consideration of the stage productions alongside the BBC series, and has been provisionally entitled ‘Hilary Mantel and the Road to Wolf Hall‘, so… watch this space…


Radio and Disrupted Temporality

In January this year, I took part as a contestant in the Radio 4 programme The 3rd Degree, broadcast from UK universities. I was a ‘don’ and it took approximately one hour to record and was broadcast in May. These are some of the thoughts that occurred to me during and shortly after the experience of taking part:

  • Talk-back: There is a speaker in front of you that can hear everything (like a auditory telescreen) and it ‘talks back’, like there is a little man inside! Our sound man even shouted ‘Let me out!’ which sounded oddly like he was a trapped borrower.
  • The radio van… There is almost always a radio van, it is parked outside nearby, looks like a surveillance vehicle, and is ‘plugged into’ the building.
  • So much that is visual is lost: ‘Remember it is radio, so sound is good’ was reiterated.
  • We were about to begin recording when the announcement stated, ‘Welcome to The 3rd Degree coming this week from the University of Gloucestershire’ – which places the phrase this week under considerable strain; the whole series was recorded over just one week, that translates (multiplies) into six different weeks when broadcast. Plus, when it was broadcast, we were told that, we, the audience, were ‘off to the University of Chester’, which suggested to me that we were going back in time…
  • 2nd, 3rd and 4th takes for jokes, that are still funny: ‘You see audience, you might think that hearing a joke for the second time isn’t funny, but you will definitely remember that it is funny if you have to hear it for a third time’.
  • ‘Yes’, ‘Yes that’s right’, ‘Yes, that’s the correct answer’, ‘Is the correct answer, yes’, ‘And yes’, just some of the statements that presenters have to state multiple times, in case they are needed as inserts when the programme is edited.
  • Thinking About Meaning: Psychosis involves a sense of disrupted temporality, a disruption that radio actually requires in order to work. Thought-broadcasting, ideas/delusions of reference – are also reminiscent in a way of the ‘talk-back’ function. The whole process of recording therefore demonstrates how de-naturalised programmes really are…

The programme is available from the following iPlayer link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bthdt


Meet Pierre… My new teaching persona

‘”In what senses, then, is gender an act?” Who asked that question?

Judith Butler.

Whose ideas are very understandable, but whose writing is very dense.

So… I am trying to demonstrate some of her thoughts using my appearance…

I want you to consider the following:

  • Am I in drag?
  • Am I cross-dressing?
  • Am I a transvestite?

Butler writes of publicly encountering someone whose appearance apparently contradicts their gender:

“From the point of view of those established categories, one may want to claim, but oh, this is really a girl or a woman, or this is really a boy or a man, and further that the appearance contradicts the reality of the gender, that the discrete and familiar reality must be there, nascent, temporarily realized, perhaps realized at other times or other places” (Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution’)

For the purposes of today’s seminar, my name is Pierre.

But oh, this is really Eileen, is it not? Who is really a woman…

Her stable and real identity as a woman is realized properly at other times and other places, in previous seminars and tutorials – a drawn on beard cannot fool us!

But what if I said that really every morning I shave off my beard, before I teach, and that this morning I have done the same, but drawn it on again… to “pretend” to be a man? How could you possibly know the truth?

No really, I am a woman, but a woman who clearly, in Butler’s words, “performs her gender wrong”, as I am often mistaken for a man… So even though you look at my beard, and think, “Pathetic, she is obviously a woman”, several people today – who both do and do not know I am really a woman – have not noticed my beard at all.

In this seminar, my Pierre persona will help you consider Butler’s statement that:

“[G]ender is a basically innovative affair, although it is quite clear that there are strict punishments for contesting the script by performing out of turn or through unwarranted improvisations […] Gender is what is put on, invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure” (Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution’)’


Viva Survivors Podcast

http://viva-survivors.com/2015/08/episode-45-dr-eileen-pollard/


But it is a ‘theatre’, not just in name alone

https://jadekeele.wordpress.com/current-issue/


Remember, in a lecture… ‘YOU ARE NOT WATCHING TV’

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/why-live-lecturing-benefits-from-fear/2017310.article