Seven Stories Northern Bridge Consortium Collaborative Doctoral Award

Fully-funded PhD opportunities

Wanted! Outstanding candidates interested in fully-funded doctoral projects in collaboration with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Seven Stories is a groundbreaking museum, archive and visitors’ centre with a mission to preserve and celebrate Britain’s rich heritage of children’s literature. As the National Centre for Children’s Books, Seven Stories hold manuscripts, artwork and archival material relating to British children’s books from c.1930 to the present day, representing over 250 leading authors and illustrators ranging from Enid Blyton to Michael Morpurgo, and correspondence and other material from editors and publishers. See here  for an overview of current holdings. Seven Stories shares this collection with the public through events in their visitor centre, and exhibitions which tour nationally. Through their award-winning creative learning and engagement programme they work closely with schools and community groups.

To take advantage of this opportunity you will:

  • be a resident of UK or EU
  • be seeking to begin a PhD in October 2019
  • have an outstanding academic record, including a first degree in a relevant subject and (in most cases) a master’s degree either in hand or shortly to be completed OR relevant and equivalent working experience
  • have an interest in working on a doctoral project in collaboration with Seven Stories, in one or the areas listed below.

Applications for a Collaborative Doctoral Award are invited in the following research areas:

Children’s and youth literature projects will make substantial use of one or more archival collections at Seven Stories. Critical and creative projects will be considered. While the Seven Stories collection represents material from the 1930s onwards, proposals on the history of children’s literature, as well as work focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, are welcomed. Themes of interest to Seven Stories in this application round are:

  • Makers of children’s literature: children’s book history; editing; publishing; education; bookselling
  • The art of children’s books: children’s book illustrations; picturebooks; comics; development of printing technologies; art history; visual experience; materiality
  • Childhood and place: national identity; global childhoods; cosmopolitanism; heritage and historical fiction

The child and the book: children; childhood heritage; literary heritage; the book as object; memory; childhood reading; reading contexts Museum and gallery studies projects will focus on Seven Stories’ role as a museum, focussing on our visitor centre and touring exhibition programme. Themes of interest to Seven Stories in this application round are:

  • Children and museums: children; young people; early years; museums; galleries; heritage; archives; digital technologies

Creative practice projects are invited in any artistic medium or discipline, that respond to our collections, spaces, work and audiences, and could adopt the form of residencies within our venues. Themes of particular interest to Seven Stories are:

  • The evolution of children’s books: children’s books; production; experience; distribution; experimental practice; participation; collaboration
  • The future of storytelling: storytelling; technology; artificial intelligence; machine learning; immersive technologies; interactivity; virtual reality; augmented reality; mixed reality In each of these research areas, we particularly welcome projects which explore themes around inclusion, diversity and representation: race and heritage; disability; gender and gender identity; sexual orientation; age; socio-economic status; religion; culture; children’s rights and human rights.

How to register an interest in a Collaborative Doctoral Award with Seven Stories:

Potential applicants are asked to select the research area they would like to pursue, and contact Dr Annie Tindley (northernbridgedirector@newcastle.ac.uk) to discuss ideas. They will then submit a project summary which will undergo an initial assessment in November 2018. Projects selected at that point will be supported into the main competition. For more information about Seven Stories please explore the website.

For queries about eligibility, suitability and for general enquiries please contact sarah.rylance@ncl.ac.uk

Current Northern Bridge Collaborative PhD Student Helen King says of the application process:

I found Seven Stories and my supervisors really supportive throughout the Northern Bridge process. It’s a lengthy process and I felt daunted by it at the start, but they were enthusiastic about my ideas whilst also challenging me to keep improving my proposal. I was made really welcome when I came for a visit so I got a real sense that I’d enjoy studying here. It’s important to remember that your potential supervisors have a wealth of expertise both on their subject and the application process. It’s also worth remembering that if they have accepted your expression of interest it means that they think your research is exciting and worth doing, and they will be rooting for you to get a place.

David Almond Fellowships for Research in Children’s Literature

Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics and Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books are pleased to announce that the application process for 2018 David Almond Fellowships is now open.

Further particulars

The awards recognise both David Almond’s contribution to children’s literature and his connections with these partner institutions: he is a patron of Seven Stories and an honorary graduate of Newcastle University.

The Fellowships aim to promote high-quality research in the Seven Stories collections that will call attention to their breadth and scholarly potential. The two awards of £300 each are to facilitate a research visit to the Seven Stories collections in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK of at least two days by a bona fide researcher working on a relevant project.  Applications will be considered from candidates in any academic discipline. The successful applicants will have a clearly defined project that will benefit from having access to the Seven Stories collections (please see indicative information about the collections below). All applicants should consult the Seven Stories catalogue as part of preparing their applications.  A well-developed dissemination strategy will be an advantage. Priority will be given to the importance of the project and best use of the Seven Stories collections as judged by a senior member of the Children’s Literature Unit in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University and a senior member of the Collections team at Seven Stories.

Some previous David Almond Fellows have gone on to take up fully-funded PhD studentships at Newcastle University, others have disseminated their research into the collection through book chapters, peer-reviewed journals and conference papers. One of our former Fellows said of her visit that it was ‘a wonderful opportunity to work in the archive of Seven Stories… it is undoubtedly an invaluable asset for researchers internationally, and something the city can be extremely proud of.’

Eligibility for the award

Applicants must hold a first degree or higher from a recognised institution of higher education.

Note: non-EEA applicants are reminded that to take up a Fellowship they must hold an appropriate visa. Neither Newcastle University nor Seven Stories can help with this process. Please see the UK visas website for more information.

Responsibilities

Fellowships must be taken up before the end of December, 2018. Recipients are expected to spend at least two days in Newcastle and are encouraged to time their visits to enable them to participate in events organised jointly or separately by the Children’s Literature Unit and Seven Stories.  (Please note: successful applicants must contact Seven Stories and agree a date for the visit prior to making travel arrangements; normally a minimum of two weeks’ notice is required before any research visit.) Acknowledgement of the Fellowships must accompany all dissemination activities arising from the research.

The Seven Stories Collection

Seven Stories is the only accredited museum specialising in children’s books in the UK. Its collections are a unique resource for original research, particularly insofar as they document aspects of the creation, publication and reception of books for children from the 1930s to the present day. The steadily growing archive contains material from over 250 authors, illustrators, editors, and others involved in the children’s publishing industry in Britain.

Researching the Seven Stories collection could enhance a number of research topics. Examples of research areas and relevant collections:

Makers of children’s literature: children’s book history 1750-2000

Children’s books have been under-represented in book history scholarship. Seven Stories’ holdings can be used to investigate the forces which have shaped the children’s book. Areas of interest include editing and publishing, education and bookselling, diversity and race and changing technologies.  Key archival holdings include the David Fickling Collection, the Aidan and Nancy Chambers / Thimble Press Collection, and the Leila Berg Collection.  The recently catalogued Noel Streatfeild Collection also provides fascinating insights into the life and times of a leading children’s author during the mid- twentieth century.

New adults: the growth of teenage literature

Seven Stories’ holdings represent the opportunity to investigate the development of teenage literature from a number of perspectives: holdings include detailed evidence of the process of composition from early draft to published text; evidence of socio-political contexts, and evidence of the publishing contexts. Key archival holdings include the Aidan and Nancy Chambers / Thimble Press Collection, the Diana Wynne Jones Collection, the Philip Pullman Collection, the Beverley Naidoo Collection, and the Geoffrey Trease Collection.

Inclusion and diversity

Seven Stories is particularly interested in supporting studies which explore themes of inclusion and diversity within our archives: race and heritage, disability, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, religion and culture. Projects in this research field might be cross-cutting, looking at a number of different archives within the Seven Stories Collection.

Children on stage: twentieth century children’s theatre

Seven Stories holds the complete archive of David Wood, one of the most prolific and influential playwrights for children in Britain. Projects based in this archive may approach the topic of children’s theatre from a number of perspectives, including theatre history and adaptation. Other relevant holdings include the Michael Morpurgo Collection and the recently acquired David Almond Collection.

More information can be found on the Collection pages of the Seven Stories website. Most of the artwork and manuscript collections are fully catalogued*, and the catalogues can be searched online via the link provided on the website. A list of many of the authors and illustrators represented in the collection can also be found on the Collection pages.

(NB this is not a complete list of the collections).

Please see also the Seven Stories Collection Blog, containing a variety articles describing or inspired by the Collection.

Application process

Applicants are asked to submit the following items by 1 June 2018:

  • an application form
  • a curriculum vitae
  • a brief proposal (of 1,000 words maximum)
  • one confidential letter of recommendation (sealed and signed; confidential letters may be included in your application packet or recommenders may send them directly)

Applications may be submitted by email or post.

Email: Kim.Reynolds@ncl.ac.uk

Post: David Almond Fellowships, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK

* NB Thanks to a major accrual, recently received, cataloguing of the David Almond archive is ongoing – the records are expected to be online by 30 June.  An interim listing is available on request. Please contact collections@sevenstories.org.uk

Images from Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Damien Wootten.

 

The Delightfully Macabre Picturebooks of Edward Gorey

Jamie Gomersall, MLitt Student

For a number of years, I have had a peripheral awareness of Edward Gorey’s work, but it was not until last Christmas that I received my very own copy of one of his books. Since then, I have fallen in love with his work. His gothic sensibilities, morbid sense of humour, and plots that frequently involve mysterious deaths in old country houses, or children being lured away by bizarre creatures, are ingredients that make Gorey’s picturebooks a treat to read.

The first text of his I came across was a picturebook called The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963), an alphabet book that lists twenty-six inventive ways in which a group of children come to a grizzly end. The book is amusing, in a macabre way, and illustrated with the beautiful pen-and-ink drawings that made Gorey famous. The Gashlycrumb Tinies displays many of the features one would expect from Gorey’s work, from the Victorian style of the fashion and the settings, to the rhyme scheme, and the prevalence of death as a major theme.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963)

One of the things I find most intriguing about Gorey’s books is that they feel as though they belong to another time. The black-and-white illustrations would not be out of place in an austere Victorian-era children’s book. So stylistically old-fashioned are some of his books that I was surprised by how recently he was working. When I imagined the author behind these strange texts, I envisioned a pale and sinister Edgar Allen Poe type figure, scribbling down these ghoulish tales by candlelight. Even the name, ‘Gorey’, seems to suggest such a character. It turns out that the Edward Gorey in my head didn’t quite match the real-life Gorey, a bearded and bespectacled gentleman who lived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in a house he shared with his many cats.

Edward Gorey, at home with his cats. Photograph © Steve Marsel Studio Inc.

From 1953, up until his death in 2000, Gorey produced more than one hundred books, usually small hardback volumes with titles that are equal parts humorous and baffling, such as The Fatal Lozenge, The Glorious Nosebleed, and The Haunted Tea-Cosy. Though working in the twentieth-century, there is a definite nineteenth-century feel to his work, and in interviews he discusses having been influenced by writers of that period. He cites Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear as major influences, and that the tradition of British nonsense rhyme inspired much of his work. One of my favourite picture books by Gorey is an alphabet book called The Utter Zoo Alphabet (1967), which is certainly a descendent of the nonsense alphabets produced by Edward Lear. In this text, Gorey presents an A-Z of strange animals, from the Ampoo to the Zote, with short descriptions of each.

The Utter Zoo Alphabet (1967)

It is unsurprising that Gorey enjoyed a readership consisting of both children and adults. The books exhibit Gorey’s whimsical imagination, with fantastical creatures and suspenseful narratives that would pique the interest of child readers, while also having sinister undertones and an atmosphere of dread that adults such as myself are fascinated by. Not to mention, the illustrations are works of art in themselves. When asked why his children’s books were not as upbeat or colourful as those produced by his contemporaries, Gorey explained that he thought such work was tedious. He remarked, ‘Sunny, funny nonsense for children- oh, how boring, boring, boring’.[1] For Gorey, the edge of malevolence in his children’s books is what made them interesting. It might seem troubling that books like The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which depict the death of children with such relish, are read by children, but the deaths are often so absurd that they become more amusing than shocking. It is when the books have a foot in reality, however, that the result can be chilling. One such book is The Loathsome Couple, which I found particularly unsettling. The events in The Loathsome Couple are based on the Moors murders carried out by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in the nineteen-sixties. Published in 1977, it chronicles a fictional couple, Harold Snedleigh and Mona Gritch, who lure children to a remote villa to murder them, until they are eventually discovered and arrested.

I found the way in which Gorey used the picturebook format, one that is so keenly associated with young children, to present a subject matter that is so horrific, nothing short of jarring. Gorey himself stated that it was ‘by far my most unpleasant book’[2], and it is easy to see why. Unlike his others, which would please both child and adult audiences, The Loathsome Couple is distinctly for adult readers, at least in my personal opinion. The others I have been cheerfully making my way through; though chilling, are chilling in a much more enjoyable way.

While Gorey was inspired by Carroll and Lear, his work has in turn inspired children’s authors working today. Lemony Snicket, for example, exhibits a similar gothic sensibility in his A Series of Unfortunate Events novels, which also hinge on placing children in dire situations. Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens novels similarly makes use of Victorian settings, and the accompanying illustrations by David Roberts are very evocative of Gorey’s. It is no wonder that Gorey has left his mark on children’s literature, as his books are so peculiar that they must surely leave an impression on those who read him. His books are fascinating little marvels, brimming with deliciously dark humour, and I would heartily recommend them to all.

The Epiplectic Bicycle (1969)

 

[1] Stephen Schiff, ‘Edward Gorey and the Tao of Nonsense’, The New Yorker, 9 November 1992, 84.

[2] Christopher Suefert, 2012. Edward Gorey Talks About the Utter Zoo (Mid-80’s Interview).

Revolution in the Library! A Conference on the ‘Children’s ‘68’

Dr Lucy Pearson

The anniversary of 1968 approaches, and with it memories of radical change: workers and students united on the streets of Paris; draft resisters and anti-Vietnam protesters; flower power and violent revolution. The 60s revolution is usually regarded as a youth phenomenon, yet little attention is paid to the literal ‘children of the revolution’. This is the gap that Sophie Heywood proposed to address with her research network on The Children’s 68. On October 12th, CLU colleagues Kim Reynolds and Lucy Pearson headed off to Tours, France, for an interdisciplinary conference organised by Sophie Heywood and Cécile Boulaire exploring the many dimensions of childhood and ‘the spirit of ‘68’.

The conference brought together scholars from many different countries and many disciplines. For some of us, 1968 was clearly a landmark moment, while others questioned whether there was a ’68 moment at all in our countries of interest. Topics included children’s books, radical magazines, television, art culture, feminism and workers’ rights. What emerged from this comparative approach was that there were many correspondences across the experiences of different nations, but also that even within a single cultural context the ‘meaning’ of ’68 encompasses a variety of different and often conflicting ideas.

There were many examples of culture which tried to give children a voice or encourage them to resist the power of adults. Olle Widhe’s paper on the children’s rights movement in Sweden, for example, showed us books which encouraged adults to resist the ‘indoctrination’ of their children, and encouraged children themselves to rise up against the power of adults. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, on the other hand, showed that West German texts sought to ally children with other marginalised groups: a collaborative revolution in which children helped to overcome the systems of power.

Kim Reynolds vividly evoked the feelings of power and possibility experienced by children and young adults in 1968 USA, and showed that while children’s culture failed to produce texts directly addressing the Vietnam War, these young people co-opted the adult culture of popular music to articulate their feelings and beliefs. Other papers, though, raised the possibility that the child was co-opted by adults as a symbol for their own ideologies and desires. Andrea Francke showed a range of exciting picturebooks which questioned the existing social order, but ruefully acknowledged that while these were exciting and important for the women in the feminist collectives who produced them, many children found them uninteresting. In David Buckingham’s paper on the controversial schoolkids’ issue of Oz magazine, he suggested that the magazine included both the authentic concerns of schoolchildren and a discourse around childhood which served the interests of the adult men who edited the magazine.

‘You can get anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant’: Kim Reynolds showed how song lyrics became a key part of ’68 youth culture.

One striking theme was the degree to which this ‘counter-cultural’ moment was institutionally supported and disseminated. Helle Strandgaard Jensen showed that the state broadcasting of Denmark incorporated radical voices into its children’s television. My own paper, on Leila Berg’s Nippers series, considered the intersection between progressive education and mainstream educational publishing and policy. Cécile Boulaire showed that even traditional Catholic publishers in France produced radical material in the form of children’s magazine Okapi.

Left: Leila Berg’s ‘Nippers’ books for children grew out of her activism on children’s rights. Right: Anti-authoritarianism for supper? Critics of Leila Berg’s ‘Fish and Chips for Supper’ complained that it gave children ‘the wrong sense of values’ and that ‘father should not be the object of criticism’.

Another theme which preoccupied me throughout the conference was the question of intersectionality. One of the most striking aspects of the May ’68 revolution in Paris was the way it brought together different constituencies: students and workers manned the barricades together.

Yet I felt that very few of the examples considered fully expressed such unity between children’s rights and the interests of other groups. Children are not only children, of course: they are also defined by their gender, class, ability, race etc. Many texts sought to explore the power dynamics of such categories, and many promoted the rights and agency of the child, but neither the cultural productions of the sixties nor our scholarship achieved a fully intersectional understanding of childhood. I wondered if this gap was a partial explanation for our sense that many of these radical ideas had not had as great a legacy as some of us wished.

The conference closed with the accounts of practitioners: children’s librarians, curators, and educators. Alex Thorp, Education Curator at London’s Serpentine Gallery, showed some fascinating examples of projects which demonstrated the radical potential of play and the degree to which the young people of today continue to experience their relationship with the adult world as one of oppression. All the discussion in this closing session drew attention to a crucial gap in the conference discussion: almost none of our papers included the accounts of actual children. For scholars of childhood, the question of how to include the child’s voice is a perennial problem, but our subject really brought this to the fore. The network hopes to partially address this in an exhibition on ‘Le ’68 des enfants’ taking place May-June 2018, to be held at the French children’s archive Heure Joyeuse, preserved at the Mediathèque Françoise Sagan. Working with graphic designer Loic Boyer, the archive will develop an interactive exhibition which invites children to participate; accompanying workshops with illustrators will also help to bring children’s voices to the fore.

It was a stimulating few days which generated many productive conversations and (I hope) some lasting collaborations. For me, it was a great reminder of how interlinked different aspects of children’s culture are: I can’t wait to do more work with colleagues from other disciplines. Perhaps together we can revive something of the spirit of ’68!

Perhaps some of you were ‘children of ‘68’ – or the children of those children! What was the spirit in your country? And how has it shaped children’s culture today?

Angela Brazil Pulls it Off

A pioneer of the British girls’ school story is commemorated at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Jennifer Shelley

To the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see For the School Colours, a show based on the life and works of Angela Brazil – well, who could resist?

It’s being put on in a typical, small Fringe venue just off the Royal Mile, by Not Cricket Productions, a company that is developing a reputation for producing shows based on classic texts and tales.

Not Cricket’s other offering at this year’s Fringe is the better-known Alice in Wonderland, but it was the For the School Colours that attracted me. Regarded as one of the ‘Big Four’* in terms of early 20th century writers of school stories for girls, Brazil is probably the one I know least about – and yet she repays some attention. To today’s eyes, her work appears to embody the worst of the clichés of girls’ school stories, as lampooned by the likes of the musical Daisy Pulls it Off; it’s hard to keep a straight face when reciting some of the titles, such as The Jolliest Term on Record (1915), The Madcap of the School (1917), or Joan’s Best Chum (1926). But Brazil was to an extent a pioneer. Of course she didn’t invent the school story, but she is recognised for doing much to develop and popularise it, and for writing books for the entertainment of modern girls. Indeed, the blurb for the show suggests that she paved the way for writers such as Enid Blyton and even J. K. Rowling, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The play has clearly been well-researched, and acknowledges that little is actually known about the life writer, who lived from 1868 to 1947. Brazil did leave an autobiography, but it painted a very rosy picture, for example, making her family out to be grander than it was, and glossing over anything not quite ‘respectable’. A later biography by Gillian Freeman was published in 1974, and covered such delights as Brazil’s unexpected correspondence with Marie Stopes, including a letter discussing whether the school stories would translate to stage or screen. Although this production mines these resources, writer Kate Stephenson has also turned to Brazil’s fiction for clues about the author’s life. For example, the company acts scenes from A Patriotic Schoolgirl (1918), where a respectable schoolteacher has to explain to her pupils why her nephew is being brought up in a household that is distinctly below her station. The play draws parallels between this and Brazil’s own brother, who apparently cut himself off from his sister when she would not accept his marriage to someone considered not good enough.

The play gives the overwhelming impression that when it comes to Angela Brazil, what you see is probably not what you get, even with something as basic as pronunciation of her surname. Although she herself voiced it to rhyme with dazzle, the play suggests that her parents and brother chose to call themselves Brazil, as in the country. I found that particularly amusing, partly because in certain fandoms, how you pronounce Brazil is almost a secret sign for identifying the ‘cognoscenti’ (another is knowing that Noel Streatfeild is spelt e-before-i). So it’s nice to know that this form of elitism was based on something just as dubious.

I came to Angela Brazil as an adult, and almost didn’t get to know her at all. The opening few lines of the first novel I downloaded (there are lots available for free from Project Gutenberg) were off-putting, filled with ridiculous slang and ‘harum scarum’ characters getting up to gratuitous mischief. A friend persuaded me to give it another go, and suggested starting with Bosom Friends (1910), one of Brazil’s earlier works, and a ‘holiday’ rather than a ‘school’ story. It was a completely different experience: set in a seaside town, it concerns a friendship between two girls who have very similar names, but are opposites in almost every other respect. One is kind and caring and intelligent – and poor – while the other is a selfish and dishonest spoilt darling with ‘fluffy’ blonde curls and a taste for finery (usually a sign of a bad egg in 20th century girls’ fiction). It’s a charming book and the heroine, Isobel, is a delight. Although her near-namesake, Belle, is a trifle overdrawn, and the plot is a little too coincidence-heavy, Bosom Friends is a fabulous gateway into Brazil’s other work.

For me, it led me to ‘binge’ on the other Brazils available on Project Gutenberg, and then to start collecting early editions of the books where I could find them. Most of them were published by Blackie, and are very attractive, with gorgeous covers, as well as being fun to read.

I was curious to know what had inspired Not Cricket Productions to pick on Brazil, and waited behind to speak to Stephenson, who is the director as well as the writer. She told me that she had started reading Angela Brazil when researching for her PhD, on the history of school uniform. Her thesis is that school stories influenced clothing codes that were adopted in schools, and she said that the works of Angela Brazil just kept coming up in her research, and the fascination started there. She’s trying to turn it into a book – but jokingly complains that theatre keeps getting in the way.

All in all, I felt it really worked as a show, and would recommend it if anyone wants to spend a pleasant and interesting hour at the Fringe. It has also inspired me to find out more about Brazil herself. Watching the play, I wasn’t sure what was based on fact, and what was speculation, but that didn’t mar the enjoyment; I’ve ordered a copy of the Freeman biography, and I’m looking forward to finding out more.

 

* The others generally included in the ‘Big Four’ are my particular favourite Elinor Brent-Dyer, who wrote the Chalet School series; Dorita Fairlie-Bruce, author of the Dimsie and Springdale books, and Elsie J Oxenham of Abbey fame. Your views may vary – if so, feel free to respond in the comments section below.

 

A Fresher at Fifty

The Occasional Diary of a Mature Postgraduate Student at Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit

Jennifer Shelley

Episode Three

Making Connections: 20th-Century Style

When I was studying for my first degree in the 1980s, I knew just one person with a computer, a final-year PhD student. Unlike the rest of us (lecturers included) who were still wedded to paper and pen – he was able to commit his wise analysis of the works of Christina Rossetti straight onto hard disk.

Today, of course, it’s a very different story: looking round the seminar room, the majority of students are tapping away on tablets or laptops, with only the occasional diehard making use of an actual paper notebook as opposed to a computerised one.

The MLitt in Children’s Literature, for which I’m studying as a mature student, is a research degree, largely involving one-to-one study and working on research essays with a supervisor. But learning about research methods is a requirement of the course, so we are obliged to study a module with the students who are undertaking the MA in English Literature – hence being in the seminar room with other postgraduates.

Learning about various aspects of research – such as how to formulate a dissertation topic and how to go about doing it – is obviously useful in itself, but for me, as a mature student, the best thing about doing this module has been the opportunity to meet other postgraduates on a sustained basis. This has been good socially – I was hugely heartened after the first seminar to be invited for a drink with a couple of other mature students – but also academically. As the first year has progressed, the MA group has coalesced into a largely friendly peer-support network, setting up a Facebook group to answer each other’s last-minute panics and queries, and regularly meeting up in person to share works-in-progress, or just to let off steam.

Being an MLitt student, I’m in an insider-outsider position with this group, especially as I’m still based at home in Scotland most of time. But I’ve appreciated the opportunities (in class and out) to discuss ideas, talk about dissertation or essay intentions, and get input and fresh ideas from people with very different research interests to me (artificial intelligence, post 9/11 fiction, and digital apps, to name but a few). It’s also been rather nice to get the odd invitation via Facebook to student house parties – not something I thought would be happening at the age of 50.

Widespread use of mobile devices (my laptop seems practically archaic by contrast), and social media apart, the actual process of academic study and research has also undergone a technological revolution in the last 30 years. I remember learning to use microfiche to read archived copies of newspapers, and very fiddly it was too, but that was as good as it got; e-readers were the stuff of Tomorrow’s World, and journals and books were shelved on, well, actual shelves. Thinking about it, it’s absolutely amazing today to be able to gain access to such tremendous amounts of information without even having to make a physical trip to the library – in effect, you have a library in your hands.

Then again, sometimes the old ways can have benefits: just as attending the research methods seminars has led to valuable social and academic relationships, actually visiting the library can bring its own advantages. This was brought home to me in one of the earlier seminars, which included teaching about the university’s special collections and took place in the library itself. Sitting waiting for class to start, I idly turned over a letter that had been left on the table in front of me.

Wait, surely that wasn’t H.G. Wells’ signature?

Indeed it was. This was one a number of objects that library staff had strewn about to entice us – others included material from the Bloodaxe archive, and (most excitingly for me) an early edition of one of my favourite books, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s The School at the Chalet. Lifting it up, feeling its heft, and smelling its smell, I felt a connection that stretched back to the first half of the last century – even the fastest broadband can’t beat that.

 

Postgraduate Open Day

Our second Children’s Literature Open Day for this academic year was held on February 8th 2017. It was a great chance to welcome visitors to Newcastle and to showcase the kind of work we do here at Newcastle. We were also lucky enough to welcome Costa Award-winner Frances Hardinge to Newcastle for a public event.

All about the Children’s Literature Unit

We kicked off with an introduction to the Children’s Literature Unit by Dr Lucy Pearson, who is just one of a great team of children’s literature scholars here at Newcastle. Professor Kimberley Reynolds (19th and 20th century children’s literature), Professor Matthew Grenby (18th century children’s literature), and Dr Pearson (modern and contemporary children’s literature) are at the heart of the Children’s Literature Unit, but they are joined by Creative Writing colleagues Ann Coburn and Zoe Cooper – both award-winning authors for children – and by a host of colleague whose work deals with children and childhood, including Professor Kate Chedgzoy (Renaissance childhoods), Dr Helen Freshwater (child performers and family theatre) and Dr Martin Dubois (Victorian nonsense rhyme and fantasy literature). This diverse team takes a whole range of approaches to children’s literature studies, but perhaps the most distinctive aspect of children’s literature at Newcastle is a common interest in historical approaches and book history. In different ways, CLU scholars are interested in how children’s books came to be and how they live in the world.

Alongside the staff who work in this area, there are of course our brilliant postgraduate students, who meet twice a month to share their work (and to create this blog!). Having a thriving group of scholars and students working on different aspects of children’s books means there is always someone to share your ideas with, a chance to learn something new, and a place to get a bit of moral support.

Studying at Newcastle

The Percy Building, home to the School of English at Newcastle University.
The Percy Building, home to the School of English at Newcastle University.

Two of our postgrads came along to share their experiences of Children’s Literature at Newcastle. Masters student Liam Owens spoke about the research he’s been doing on the MLitt in Children’s Literature. Liam says:

“Studying the MLitt is fantastic. It gives me the freedom to research the areas of children’s literature which interest me, and the structuring of the course means I’m able to write on as few or as many topics as I like. This term I’ve just completed a research assignment on the representation of the posthuman in the works of twice Carnegie winner, Patrick Ness. Now I’m in the middle of conducting research on digital story apps and arranging empirical research with a local primary school. Without the MLitt, I would never have been given the opportunity to research children’s literature in such diverse ways.”

One of the illustrations from 'A Monster Calls'.
One of the illustrations from Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (2011).

Lucy Stone spoke about her PhD research, which draws on the amazing archives at Seven Stories:

I was 13 and beginning to learn German when I first read Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971). The story stuck with me over the years. It was at the University of Cambridge while I was undertaking an MPhil in Education that I learnt of Seven Stories here in Newcastle where Kerr donated, along with the manuscripts of her published picturebooks and novels, her childhood drawings, paintings and writings. I was struck by their colour, light and life, which appeared to be in contrast to the childhood of exile I understood Kerr to have led, despite the light and warmth infused in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Newcastle University works in close collaboration with Seven Stories and I was very fortunate to be awarded first a David Almond Fellowship and now a Research Excellence Academy Studentship to study the Collection and find out how and why Kerr’s juvenilia resounds with such joy and shows a humanity and remarkable talent.

Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books, www.sevenstories.org.uk
One of Judith Kerr’s watercolours made as a child, included in her memoir Creatures (2013). You can view the original at Seven Stories.

Seven Stories and the Robinson Library

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Students visit Seven Stories.

One of the most exciting aspects of working on children’s literature at Newcastle is our partnership with Seven Stories: the National Centre for Children’s Books. Archivist Kris McKie came along to share some details of the collection, which now represents over 250 authors and illustrators! You can explore the collection on the Seven Stories website, and if you’re interested in coming to work on archive material keep a look out for our annual David Almond Fellowships, which provide small bursaries to support work on the Seven Stories Collection.

The University’s Robinson Library also has fantastic children’s literature collections, including the Book Trust collection, and an extensive collection of modern and contemporary British children’s books.

Fantasy Worlds with Frances Hardinge

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Frances Hardinge

We were beyond thrilled to finish our Open Day with a fantastic event with Frances Hardinge! Frances’ books are favourites here in the Children’s Literature Unit and when our partners at Seven Stories suggested we might be able to invite her for a joint event we were very excited. The event was an in-conversation with PhD student Aishwarya Subramanian, whose research on British children’s fantasy after Empire has given her lots of thoughts on fantasy worlds and the way that authors play with them.

Frances and Aishwarya in conversation.
Frances and Aishwarya in conversation.

The discussion ranged from the role of the YA writer to the place of the fantasy author in our current political context. Frances spoke about her interest in times of transition: many of her books focus on historical moments of change (the impact of Darwinism in The Lie Tree; the aftermath of World War One in Cuckoo Song) or feature actual revolutions (Gullstruck Island and Twilight Robbery to name just two!). These ideas of transition seem especially relevant now, and Frances spoke about her desire to encourage readers to ask questions and the pleasure of writing for young people, who are naturally given to this.

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Frances also spoke about the flexibility of young readers, which affords her the opportunity to write books which don’t conform to any one genre. In merging genres, she also takes the opportunity to pull in lots of interesting ideas she’s picked up along the way – her approach to history was a great reminder of just how much fun research can be!

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was Frances’ spontaneous recitation of the whole of ‘Jabberwocky’, which was word perfect. The poem helped to instil a love of language in Frances at a young age – one which has gone on to enrich and enliven her books. We can’t wait to see which worlds she wanders into next, and whether she finds a good use for place names such as Clenchwarton (a small village in Norfolk).

Find out more

If you’re interested in studying children’s literature at Newcastle, find out more on our children’s literature pages or contact one of the Children’s Literature Unit. If you’d like to know about future public events, join our mailing list.