To weed or not to weed? Opening the Aidan and Nancy Chambers Archive

Dr Hazel Sheeky Bird

In the weird and worrying times that we are currently living in, it is good to be able to write about the positive things that are still taking place in the world of children’s literature. While locked down, I’ve been helping to put the finishing touches to three major areas of the Aidan and Nancy Chambers archive.

To give a bit of background: In 2016, Seven Stories was fortunate to acquire the entire archive of Aidan and Nancy Chambers. It is genuinely difficult to write an adequate summary of the immense contribution the Chambers have made to the whole field of children’s literature. (Anyone interested in finding out more about their work in general, and Turton and Chambers specifically, might like to look at my earlier blog on their work (https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/vitalnorth/tag/turton-chambers/).

Being archivally minded, the Chambers amassed a colossal amount of material during professional careers that spanned over 50 years. This has proven to be exciting and daunting in equal measures, and meant that serious investment was needed to process the initial deposit and create a working catalogue. Fortunately, through a generous grant from the Archives Revealed scheme for an archivist-cataloguer, matched by funding from Newcastle University for a Research Associate, i.e. me, there have been two dedicated staff working on the archive for the last 18 months. Not only that, with management and input from Seven Stories’ Collection’s Manager, Kris McKie, and Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Newcastle Uni, Dr Lucy Pearson, a significant amount of resources and expertise have been invested in the project.

Image courtesy of Thimble Press: http://www.thimblepress.co.uk/covers/index.htm

The Archives Revealed grant specified three distinct aspects of the overall archive to process in this first stage: Thimble Press, Signal: Approaches to Children’s Books (1970-2003), and Turton and Chambers. Aidan and Nancy Chambers set up publishing house Thimble Press in 1969, in the first instance to publish their own children’s literature journal, Signal. As editor, Nancy Chambers was responsible for publishing a wealth of articles on children’s books by contributors such as Elaine Moss, Peter Hollingdale, Peter Hunt, Philip Pullman, Margery Fisher and Eleanor Graham, to name only a few. Through Thimble Press, they also published seminal works of British children’s literature criticism such as Peter Hollingdale’s Ideology and the Children’s Book (1988) and Aidan Chambers’ own Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk (1993). Many of these books are now instantly recognizable through the Chambers’ long collaboration with typographer, Michael Harvey. Harvey designed most Thimble Press covers and was responsible for the re-design of Signal in 1979, courtesy of Margaret Clark and John Ryder of the Bodley Head. Aidan Chambers set up Turton and Chambers (1989-1993) with bookseller David Turton to publish innovative works of children’s literature in translation.

Image courtesy of Thimble Press: http://www.thimblepress.co.uk/covers/index.htm

The Chambers archive is huge. I could find grandiose ways to describe it, but the huge does the job. Aidan and Nancy Chambers had done a great job of organizing their vast papers over the years and initially deposited 126 large boxes with Seven Stories. A further accrual of boxes arrived in January 2020, and the Chambers continue to work on organizing the remainder of their papers at their home. When it first arrived, the papers were stored in a variety of boxes that the Chambers had amassed over the years. (You can see a very small fraction of the original boxes in the image below.)

Author’s own image

Before any work on the papers could begin, Seven Stories’ conservator, Rosalind Bos, had to condition check the entire deposit. This is standard practice, but it was particularly important with the Chambers archive. Before coming to Seven Stories, the archive had moved around and was not always stored in ideal conditions. Mould was a particular worry: fortunately, only one box in the whole deposit was badly affected. It was the archivist cataloguer’s job to create the catalogue, but before he could do that, I had to weed the material.

Weeding is anathema to researchers, but necessary for archives and archivists. As a researcher, steeped in the assumption that everything in an archive is sacrosanct, it has been surprising that a big part of my job has been working out what should be kept and what could be set aside. The idea of weeding is disturbing. The Society of American Archivists offers us an alarming set of synonyms for the process: culling, purging, stripping. In practice, though, the process has been thoughtful, consistent and, most important for future researchers, useful. Today, the Signal archive is housed in organized and accessible archival boxes (you can see some of the archive below), ready for future researchers.

Author’s own image

Think about the material relating to Signal: Approaches to Children’s Books. Nancy Chambers edited 100 issues of the journal over 33 years. For the majority of that time she corresponded with contributors through the post (the cost and reliability of the postal system is a frequent subject in her letters); keying (in preparation for typesetting) and proofs were sent to contributors (who may or may not have made changes to any or all of these stages). Nancy Chambers duly filed them on their return. On top of these versions, the archive also contained many photocopies of finished articles, most of which bore no annotation whatsoever, numerous pasted-up versions (i.e. copies of finished articles that had been cut up and pasted onto A4 paper), plus large amounts of camera ready copy for all issues. Nestled, and sometimes hidden, amongst this material was over 30 years’ worth of correspondence with major figures from the children’s literary world: think Robert Westall, Grace Hogarth, Robert Leeson, John Rowe Townsend, Sheila Ray, Jan Mark, Margaret Meek and Raymond Briggs for starters. Added to this, was the material that actually demonstrates Nancy Chambers’ practices as editor, and which reveals her collaboration with Margaret Clark on Signal following Clark’s retirement from the Bodley Head. Without weeding, anyone wanting to look at this rich body of material would have needed to set aside a significant about of their research time and budget to wade through many hundreds of pages of duplication, none of which revealed anything about Nancy Chambers’ editorial practices or the children’s literary world during this time.

At the outset, it was clear that we needed to agree on a set of guiding principles for weeding. Like all archives, Seven Stories already has a clear weeding policy, and this was our starting point. We also had to consider the nature of Signal as a publication: i.e. a journal as opposed to a literary work. We decided that we would keep limited draft material for articles published in Signal as, unlike literary works, there was likely to be limited interest in the writing process. Key exceptions were drafts, keying or proofs that had substantial annotation by the author or Nancy Chambers. Substantially annotated drafts of articles now considered seminal works of children’s literary criticism were also kept. I compared all drafts against the published versions and all correspondence was retained.

There were some exceptions: for example, the entire production file for Signal 1 was kept intact, even though annotated drafts were only marked up with typographic errors. I also could not identify any single issue file that reflected all production processes, so a representative amount of production material was retained and catalogued across the issues. This included, for example, handmade dummy issues, a sample index, Michael Harvey’s preparatory artwork, John Ryder’s production material for his ‘Leaves from a Designer’s Notebook’ inserts, etc. In terms of space, it simply was not possible to retain all production material for all 100 issues of Signal. The production material that we retained, however, documents not only the various processes that Nancy Chambers used over the years, but also the hands-on nature of her work as editor.

It literally took me weeks to weed the Signal material as I considered every item for its research value. In making these decisions, I was extremely fortunate to be able to turn to Nancy Chambers for aid. Weeding the Signal archive involved the removal of a significant amount of material, and it was vitally important that the final archive preserve and document Nancy’s editorial and publishing practices. Working collaboratively with Nancy Chambers meant that I fully understood, and could preserve, her working practices in the archive.

Having spent the last few weeks before the lockdown actually doing some personal research on Signal, I know that we have created an archive that is comprehensive and accessible. It has been a pleasure to read Nancy Chambers words, to ‘hear’ her voice, and to see her hand everywhere in the archive. At the time of writing, the launch of the final catalogue has been slightly delayed due to the lockdown. However, I look forward to seeing the many ways that future researchers use this unique archive.

IRSCL Congress 2019

Silent Survival: Representations of Refugee Children’s Traumatic Separations

Dr Maria Chatzianastasi, Helen King and Lucy Stone

‘It feels a bit like the first day of school,’ Helen said as we made our way into the auditorium of Norra Latin, The Stockholm City Conference Centre, for the opening of the 24th Biennial Congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) this summer. A fitting statement in more ways than one. Norra Latin, as we soon learned, is a former school.[1] The first time for Helen and Lucy, we were bundles of nerves, excitement and anticipation. We’d carefully selected our outfits, had our ‘school bags’ over our shoulders (we were issued with congress tote bags and Moomin characters notebooks) and compared timetables, the extensive congress programme.

Getting in touch with our inner child at Junibacken, Stockholm’s children’s book museum.

There were many panels that applied the congress theme – Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature – to readings of representations of child refugees in children’s and YA novels. One panel brought together Ruth Lowery who spoke on refugee children as agents of social change, Evelyn Arizpe who explored the empowering potential of refugee narratives for displaced children, and Michael Prusse who explored the problems in claiming to “give voice” to the refugee experience. In another panel on refugee picturebooks, Lesley Clement, Margaret Reynolds and Petros Panaou discussed the representative challenges posed by communicating the trauma of displacement in pictures. Pictorial representation of the refugee-migrant experience was also the focus on which Mavis Reimer, Karin Nykvist and Jaana Pesonen spoke.

One recurring question was about the voice of the child refugee: how can it be heard?; is there such a thing as an authentic voice, when often the experiences and trauma of refugees are absorbed by authors and/or illustrators with no direct experience of forced migration through “listening” to various sources such as others’ accounts, the media, and the arts?

In our panel, we proposed another kind of listening. Trauma theory has shown that silence can be a significant form of communication for those who have been subjected to traumatic experiences. We discussed texts in which children’s silence features as a response to separation, exile and refugeedom from different war zones and time periods, providing important insights into understanding refugeedom.

‘It’s wonderful to be a refugee’: the apparent optimism of Judith Kerr’s drawings made as a child exile from Nazi Germany

Our panel opened with Lucy’s paper ‘It’s wonderful to be a refugee’: the apparent optimism of Judith Kerr’s drawings made as a child exile from Nazi Germany.[2] In this paper, Lucy paid tribute to Judith Kerr, remarkable child artist and children’s author-illustrator, who sadly passed away in May. Lucy discussed two of the drawings ten-year-old Kerr made as a child in 1933 Switzerland, the first country in which the Kerr family sought refuge from Nazi Germany.

One of the drawings ten-year-old Judith Kerr made as a child in 1933 Switzerland, the first country in which the Kerr family sought refuge from Nazi Germany. © Judith Kerr. With kind permission of Tacy and Matthew Kneale. Image courtesy of Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books. JK/01/01/05

Their subjects – children dancing as they sing ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ – is a ring game that has long been played across Europe. Peter and Iona Opie suggest that it is ‘almost a synonym for childhood’ (1985, 221). Here, it would seem a joyous, harmonious childhood. However, in this paper Lucy argued that reading these drawings in light of their biographical and historical contexts shows that the trauma of childhood exile that appears to be absent is in fact silently present. By reading the drawings in this way it becomes evident that Kerr was able to symbolically express some of the trauma she suffered as a consequence of the family’s forced migration from Nazi Germany, but also work through it and simultaneously develop drawings skills that she would employ in her illustrations as an adult. What also emerged over the course of this paper is the fact that child Kerr belonged to what Manon Pignot has termed a ‘graphic community’ (2019, 174) – children with experience of war, exile and/or persecution who draw, or drew. Reading Kerr’s drawings within this community helps illuminate her childhood creative practice. At the same time, Kerr has a unique position within this community. In studies of children’s war-time drawings, it is often the case that little is known about the children who created them. Moreover, frequently just a handful of drawings by each child is conserved. In the case of Judith Kerr, however, her archive at Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books spans from the pre- to post-exile years and holds many examples of juvenilia, making it possible to explore how a child refugee, with the opportunities to draw freely, was able to work through challenging exilic experiences.

“Have you ever listened to silence speaking?”: Trauma and survival in the Cypriot story “Maria of Silence” (1998).

“Have you ever heard Silence speaking? If you try to listen carefully, you will […] Sometimes, its words can reach the heart” (Charalambous, 1998: 37).

This is a challenging question, even a paradoxical one we may assume? And how could we listen to something which is not even there? How could we listen to an absence or maybe a gap, would be the next question. However, despite the paradox embedded in the narrator’s words in ‘Maria of Silence’, this quote carries a strong message about the powerful impact of silence;  it encourages readers to listen to its words and try to understand and interpret it, but it also attests to the value of the words and stories found in small texts that are beyond our reach or knowledge.

Maria’s paper explored the significance of silence in Cypriot juvenile writing about trauma as experienced by some enclaved families who refused to leave their place of origin in the north after the events of 1974. Focusing on a particular example of writing, the paper set out to listen to and interpret the ways in which ‘silence’ is used to represent, register and express a quotidian form of trauma.

Agni Charalambous’ short story «Η Μαρία της σιωπής» [“Maria of Silence”] (1998) about enclavement creatively incorporates the “enigmatic relation between trauma and survival”: an expression used by Caruth based on Freud’s notions of trauma. According to Caruth, “for those who undergo trauma, it is not only the moment of the event, but […] survival itself […] can be a crisis (9). In the story crisis finds form in Maria’s prolonged silence from the moment she is violently separated from her family. Her trauma, however, remains permanent and so does her silence, to which Marilena, Maria’s friend, begins to listen. When she begins to understand and explore the possibilities of listening through silence Marilena addresses readers with the challenging question: “Have you ever heard Silence speaking?” (Charalambous 1998, 37). As the literary reading of the story began to listen to and unravel the literary uses of silence in the text, it also added to trauma theory. Rather than merely listening to what theory says and silently reproducing it, the discussion also listened to what theory does not say. In so doing, it spoke something to trauma theory and helped extend it.

As Maria’s paper has shown, the text is constructed around an aesthetics of silence, in which silence is used as a powerful literary device to represent the traumatic suffering arising from family separation and refugeedom as a result of the confining conditions of enclavement. It is first used as a symptom of trauma but also as a form of testimony that creates several layers of witnessing and allows readers to bear witness to another perspective of trauma associated with refugeedom. It points towards the power of silence over voice or words and encourages a critical form listening, one that respects the otherness of the traumatic experience and finally it poses questions and challenges a specific political situation.

Ultimately, as Maria concluded in this paper, Cypriot children’s literature is a body of literature with a wider theoretical importance as its study can reveal issues surrounding the experiences of refugees from another not widely known but nevertheless significant perspective that speaks to and addresses trauma theory.

“How could she ever put those terrible pictures into words?”: The paradox of silence in Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth

In her paper, Helen explored silence as both a survival mechanism and a source of trauma for the child refugees in Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth (2000). She explored the Naidoo archive held by Seven Stories, revealing something of the tug of war between speech and silence that is part of being a refugee child. The archive shows both how the bureaucracy of the UK asylum process perpetuates this traumatic silencing of the refugee child, and how the act of storytelling allows the child to recover some agency.

The Other Side of Truth tells the story of children Sade and Femi, who must flee Nigeria following their father’s criticism of the government and their mother’s subsequent murder. Using false passports and withholding their names and story from the UK authorities, the children’s silence can be read as a survival mechanism, a form of ‘micro-political resistance’ to the oppressive structures they find themselves within (Wagner 2012, 100). However, this silence also entails a form of secondary trauma for Sade: the injunction to lie undermines her moral code; her silence precludes her psychological healing, causing traumatic recurrence of the ‘terrible pictures’ of her mother’s death; the withholding of their story inhibits their father’s plea for asylum (Naidoo 2000, 51). This reveals the paradox of silence in Naidoo’s novel, in which the condition of refugeehood places the physical and psychological health of the child at odds.

The Naidoo archive holds paraphernalia from the UK immigration system, telling a depersonalised version of the story of seeking asylum, and indicating that the trauma experienced by refugees often has a social dimension. The story and subjectivity of an individual or family, in order to be processed through the immigration system, is reduced to a number, to a place in a queue, to the identifier of ‘a person who is liable to be detained.’ However, within this traumatic silencing the archive reveals the ‘possibility of testimony’ (Caruth 1991, 129). Naidoo encountered individual refugees during her research process, and their stories have informed the narrative as much as any of the official documents. That hearing individual stories was such an important part of the research is evident in Sade’s development, as she instigates social change by publicising her family’s story.

Although there were there were many voices discussing representations of child refugees, we did feel that at such a huge event these voices got a bit lost and didn’t talk to one another as productively as they could have. This led us to reflect that a symposium where this is sole theme, and it is possible to hear most of the papers and there is greater time for discussion and networking, would be a better forum to give this topic the depth of attention it deserves. But the size of the Congress was also an enormous positive, giving delegates the opportunity to attend panels on topics different from your own research areas and interests. Moreover, against the backdrop of Stockholm, the Congress was able to offer a rich cultural programme – highlights included a traditional Swedish Smorgasbord in the fairy tale-like Golden Hall of the Stockholm City Hall, a guided tour of Astrid Lindgren’s apartment and the Nordic children’s literature night at Junibacken, a children’s culture centre focusing on children’s literature.

Letting off steam at Junibacken, after presenting our paper earlier in the day.

*

Maria completed her doctoral thesis, Tracing and translating trauma: childhood, memory, and nationhood in Cypriot children’s literature since 1974, at Newcastle University in 2017 and she currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nicosia. Helen is entering the second year of her doctoral project, an exploration of the representations of displaced children in Beverley Naidoo’s fiction and archive, with a view to developing public engagement work with Seven Stories using refugee narratives. You can learn more about Helen’s project on the Vital North blog. Lucy is writing up her thesis, a case study of the juvenilia children’s author-illustrators Judith Kerr (1923 – 2019) and Tomi Ungerer (1931 – 2019) made in exile in the Nazi era. You can see highlights of the Kerr archive in the digital exhibition Tiger, Mog and Pink Rabbit – A Judith Kerr Retrospective on the Seven Stories website and read about her project in an interview for tomiungerer.com.

We would like to thank our moderator Dr Tzina Kalogirou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), Dr Lucy Pearson, Professor Kim Reynolds and Dr Hazel Sheeky Bird for reviewing our draft papers, Kim and Dr Emily Murphy for being at our panel, Lucy for kindly promoting our panel via twitter and student members of CLUGG who provided invaluable feedback in the stage of composing our panel proposal last autumn. Emily gave an excellent paper on China and the Cosmopolitan Child in Elizabeth Foreman Lewis’s Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (1932) and we extend congratulations to Kim for being awarded an Honorary Fellowship in recognition for her outstanding contribution to the IRSCL and field of children’s literature. These fellowships are awarded at each IRSCL Congress and a full list of recipients over the years is available on the IRSCL website.

Aesthetic and Pedagogic Entanglements, the 25th Biennial Congress, will be taking place in Santiago, Chile, 27 – 31 July, 2021. Information will be regularly updated on the IRSCL Congress 2021 website. You can read about the IRSCL and past 23rd Biennial elsewhere on the blog.

[1] Norra Latin is also the title of and setting for a YA novel by Sara Bergmark Elfgren. We had the chance to hear Sara speak about this novel at the theme night on Nordic children’s literature at Junibacken, a children’s cultural centre in Stockholm focusing on children’s literature. Unfortunately, Norra Latin isn’t yet translated into English.

[2] Kerr’s father, eminent writer Alfred Kerr, records this claim made by his 11-year-old daughter in his diary (1979, 26).

The Other Side of the Archive: Cataloguing the Laura Cecil Collection

The Children’s Literature Unit has a close working partnership with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, an organisation committed to fostering academic research into its archive. As well as working with Newcastle University, Seven Stories also has a strategic partnership with Northern Bridge, the Arts and Humanities Research Council consortium of universities in the North East and Northern Ireland. This partnership connects doctoral researchers with the Seven Stories collections. Here, Durham University PhD candidate Antonia Perna talks about her Northern Bridge placement at Seven Stories.

The purpose of Northern Bridge placements is to provide PhD students with opportunities for professional development outside the academy, to develop new skills and to apply our academic skills in a new setting. From March to May 2019, I undertook a placement at Seven Stories, where I worked on cataloguing the Laura Cecil collection. My own research focuses on childhood in Revolutionary France, and I explore in particular how schoolbooks and children’s literature versed young French people in republican politics and civic conduct. In this way, I have worked with children’s literature for my academic work, and this is what sparked my interest in Seven Stories. However, although there is some foreign-language material at Seven Stories, most of the collection is in English, pertaining to British children’s books, and dates from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I was intrigued to learn more about such books, and also to find out what an archive looks like from the other side.

Most academics in the arts and humanities have at least some experience of working with archival material, and we all know how much difference a comprehensive catalogue can make! Cataloguing the Laura Cecil Collection at Seven Stories has given me a window onto the process of compiling a catalogue, and insight into the kinds of considerations a cataloguer is faced with—and thus into what happens before a researcher opens the catalogue.

The Laura Cecil Collection on the shelves at Seven Stories; © Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books

The Laura Cecil Collection contains over forty boxes of material from Cecil’s career as a literary agent. The first agent to specialise in children’s literature, Cecil worked with several well-known children’s authors and illustrators, including Robert Westall, Diana Wynne Jones and Edward Ardizzone. Upon her retirement in 2017, she donated her files to Seven Stories; they consist primarily of correspondence with and relating to her clients, c. 1970-2009.

Having been instructed to provide a description for each file, I was faced with the challenge of deciding what information to include. How do you decide what is significant, in a file that could contain any number of documents? How do you predict what might be pertinent to a research project that is, as yet, hypothetical? After an overview of each file, I selected letters and documents of note according to how they were distinct from others in the file, or how they contribute to our understanding of a particular book, perhaps in terms of its editorial process or reception. When uploading this to the catalogue, I also cross-referenced related documents in other Seven Stories collections to aid research across the archive. As an academic, my instinct was to address all possible lines of enquiry that the documents could be used for; I had to accept, however, that I could not anticipate every possible research project.

Similarly, as a researcher, I was drawn to arrange material in a logical order, to facilitate locating and retrieving files. Specifically as a historian, however, I wanted to maintain the files’ original order, as this is part of the collection’s history. Generally, it is considered good archival practice to maintain the original arrangement and structure of a collection, and so I tried to respect this. Where I could not discern any order to the arrangement of files, I highlighted this in the catalogue, and, in the case of the Robert Westall correspondence, I did re-arrange files chronologically. The pressure to make the right decision here, and not to make a mistake that was irreversible, was rather daunting. Although I had worked with archival material many times in my academic work, I had never given much thought to how material was arranged, and suddenly I felt an overwhelming responsibility to get it right! I hope I did!

Another challenge I faced was the need to remain impartial. Of course most academics try to write in an objective tone most of the time, but we nevertheless analyse and interpret our sources, working them into an intellectual argument. As a cataloguer, my task was simply to report what was in the box. I could try to anticipate and respond to academic enquiries to an extent, but I could not pursue them, nor could I make emotional or moral judgements on the material. Having read five years’ regular, amicable correspondence between Laura Cecil and Robert Westall, I felt some shock at Westall’s sudden death (in 1993), and I held back empathetic tears as I wrote, simply, ‘notable documents include… a note with costs for his memorial service (manuscript)’. The cataloguer sees and knows every document in a file; she observes and records, but her tone must remain detached.

The Laura Cecil Collection complements existing collections at Seven Stories, such as this original artwork for Sarah Garland’s book Going Swimming. SG/01/01. © Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books

Nevertheless, getting to know a collection can be an exciting process—not least because some boxes contain hidden treasures! For instance, I was fascinated to discover a mock-up for an unpublished book by C. Walter Hodges, with original artwork, and to see how Sarah Garland illustrated her letters to Laura Cecil. On the other hand, there can be disappointments too. After half an hour engrossed in a draft of Robert Westall’s novella, The Duplicator, I was left with a cliff-hanger when I realised the text was unfinished! I have since emphasised in the catalogue that this story is both unpublished and unfinished, so that researchers will not make the same mistake!

After three months at Seven Stories, I would say that cataloguing a collection is something every academic should have a go at, if interested in archival research. My experience on this placement encouraged me to explore a collection as a whole, making links between individual documents, and to think more about the provenance of material. It also highlighted the value of an open-minded approach to research, where research questions may not yet be defined, and may be shaped by the material discovered. Of course, as academics, we know these things, but often practicalities and time constraints compel us to pre-select material and not to widen our parameters. Sometimes, though, the most useful document is in the box you might not have opened… Sometimes it might not be specifically highlighted in the catalogue—despite the cataloguer’s best efforts to predict your project!

Banner image: A selection of material by C. Walter Hodges, within the Laura Cecil Collection. LC/01/07/01. © Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books.

A Fresher at Fifty

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

Jennifer Shelley

 Episode Five

From Fresher at Fifty to Graduate at 52

The peacocks are quite possibly the most vivid memory from my first graduation. Back in the summer of 1988, we had lunch in Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House Hotel, where the savvy waiters hovered refilling glasses of red wine with the tempting mantra ‘you deserve it’. It’s hardly surprising that when we finished eating, and repaired to the garden for some photographs, this new graduate was spotted crawling along the grass trying to persuade the showy birds to play bonnie for the camera.

Unfortunately, Jennifer didn’t quite manage to persuade the peacocks to pose with her.

There were no actual peacocks* present in December when my fellow graduands and I gathered in the rather grand King’s Hall for graduation number 2 – or ‘congregation’, as it’s called at Newcastle University, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t memorable. For one thing, there was something rather awe-inspiring about walking the same route as Martin Luther King had taken when he received an honorary degree from the university back in 1997. For another, it was great to catch up with some of the friends and acquaintances who were graduating on the same day.

And frankly, it was also pretty great to have got to the point where I was graduating at all.

It was back in 2017 that I decided to study for a research degree in children’s literature, working for the MLitt part-time over two years. Looking back, I had dived into the application process in a fit of naïve enthusiasm, without any real idea of what it would be like. I had imagined it might be tricky to navigate professional commitments with my new life as a student (stopping work was never a financial option for me) but had blithely supposed it would all be fine, really. I also had vague apprehensions that academia might have moved on a bit in the last 30 years, but confidently felt that I could deal with that: bring it on, said my 50-year-old self.

I’ve written in a previous blog about the various challenges, particularly in re-learning academic writing and balancing the various demands that are inevitable at my time of life, including my dad’s increasing care needs. Surprisingly (at least to me), however, the experience of doing the degree was that, overall, it alleviated rather than added to these stresses. Even at the height of dissertation writing, with deadlines looming, I was able to lose myself completely in writing, rewriting, and yet more rewriting – so much so that I once ended up on a train to Glasgow instead of Edinburgh because I was engrossed. That kind of feeling is pretty wonderful.

On reflection, doing the degree also gave me some fabulous opportunities. As well as doing my own original research on mid-20thcentury girls’ books, I sat in on the undergraduate children’s literature course, which introduced me to things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise read (Patrice Lawrence’s Indigo Donut was a particular favourite). I spent some time in the Seven Stories archive wallowing in Noel Streatfeild’s diaries and letters, which was great fun and a new experience. I heard some fabulous speakers at university events and made some good friends. I also learned to think and respond more with greater critical clarity – not just to literature, but in all aspects of life.

I can’t say that I really felt I truly got to grips with academic writing, and my dissertation (on radicalism in Mabel Esther Allan’s early books) could have been infinitely better. But I did okay, and my overall degree result was sufficient should I decide to apply to do a PhD in the future.

I miss my life as a student and my frequent trips to Newcastle. Yes, it was tough, but it was also wonderful. I’d very much recommend it; indeed, I might, at some point, be back…

*when I say there were no ‘actual’ peacocks there in December, I think my dad’s smile on the day suggests he was ‘as proud’ as one.

Jennifer with her father

 

Jennifer, we hope that you will soon be back at Newcastle. 

For blog readers wanting to know more about the MLitt programme, see the Children’s Literature Unit page on the Newcastle University website. Highlights of the Seven Stories Collections can be seen here

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.

Being Human Festival: From Source to Sea

17 – 18 November 2018, Seven Stories

As part of Being Human Festival: From Source to Sea, Seven Stories, in association with Newcastle University, is hosting several free events. Read on for details and come along!

Once upon a Tyne

17 November, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm; 13:30 – 14:30 pm

Discover the original scribbles and doodles behind children’s books in this hands on session with the Seven Stories Collection. This insightful session will be led by the Seven Stories Collections Team and the Children’s Literature Unit at Newcastle University.

Inspired by the Tyne and the rivers, seas and oceans that feature within the Seven Stories Collection, explore manuscripts from authors including David Almond and Robert Westall, and artwork from illustrators including Polly Dunbar.

Session lasts 60 mins and is suitable for everyone interested in children’s literature. Tickets are free and can be found here. No visitor admission is required.

Undiscovered Land: Write like David Almond

17 November, 2:30 – 4:30 pm

‘Writing will be like a journey, every word a footstep that takes me further into undiscovered land.’ David Almond, My Name is Mina.

Join Ann Coburn, children’s author and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Newcastle University for a free creative writing workshop.

Through a series of creative exercises you will start your own story inspired the work of celebrated North-East writer David Almond. Learn how to convey a sense of place in your writing and incorporate elements of memory, history, magic and transformation.

Session lasts 2 hours and is suitable for adults. Tickets are free and can be found here. No visitor admission is required.

Tales of the Tyne

18 November, 2:30 – 3:30 pm

‘They thought we had disappeared, and they were wrong. They thought we were dead, and they were wrong. We stumbled together out of the ancient darkness into the shining valley.’ – David Almond, Kit’s Wilderness.

As the mines closed and the shipyards fell silent, the North East saw the end of a long and vibrant tradition. Where next for the communities who had grown up with the old industries woven into the fabric of their lives? David Almond’s wild and beautiful stories explore the end of the old North East, and the possibilities for new beginnings.

Join Dr Lucy Pearson from Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit for a talk on how David imagines these endings and beginnings, followed by a tour of our Where Your Wings Were exhibition focussed on David’s work.

Session lasts 60 mins and is suitable for young adults and adults. Tickets are free and can be found here. No visitor admission is required.

 

Find out more about the Festival over on the Vital North blog.

 

Insights Lecture: Staring into Space with Lauren Child

October 23 2018, 5:30 pm

Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RU

It is now widely recognised that creativity is as important as literacy or numeracy, and that allowing ourselves the time, space and freedom to be creative is essential for good mental health… sometimes we need to stare into space, Lauren Child argues.

Join the UK Waterstones Children’s Laureate to explore how staring into space promotes creative thinking, letting us problem solve, understand who we are, and how we relate to others and the world we live in.

This event is part of the Insights Public Lectures series at Newcastle University, in partnership with BookTrust and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books.

The event will be taking place at Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RU. Admission is free and on a first-come, first-served basis. No booking required.

Two Postdoctoral Positions in the Children’s Literature Unit

We’re really excited to have two postdoctoral posts available here in the Children’s Literature Unit at Newcastle University, each lasting two years (if full-time). The successful candidates will work on projects funded by Newcastle University’s Research Excellence Academy and Research Investment Fund. These offer the opportunity to work closely on the Aidan and Nancy Chambers collection at Seven Stories, or to pursue a postdoctoral research project of the candidate’s own design. The former would suit someone with experience in working with literary archives and an interest in developing this experience further, as well as someone with an interest in one of the many areas covered by the collection, which spans the whole of Aidan and Nancy’s working lives. The latter will be more independent in scope since it involves a project of the candidates own, but we’re interested in work which aligns with research interests in collection and archives, heritage, or diversity and inclusion.

Research Associate in Children’s Literature (REA) – B131592R

This post will be attached to the project ‘New Stories of Modern British Children’s Literature: the Chambers Collection’, and will map research pathways into the Aidan and Nancy Chambers archival material newly acquired by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. Applicants for this post should supply an academic CV and a cover letter in addition to completing the electronic application form.

Research Associate in Children’s Literature (RIF) – B131593R  

This post will support research aligned with one of these three broad themes:
  1. Developing collections, archives and exhibitions of children’s books, with a particular focus on how we tell national stories of children’s literature.
  2. Children/young people and heritage.
  3. Diversity and inclusion in histories of children’s literature.
Details of how to apply for this post are given in full in the online ad.
Successful candidates will be based in the Children’s Literature Unit, within the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, and will be joining a large and successful team of academics, doctoral students, and other postdoctoral researchers.
Applicants should have been awarded a doctoral degree in children’s literature, children’s culture, 20th-century publishing or a related area (or be in expectation that the award will be made by 31 October 2018), and should be able to demonstrate ongoing research interests that align with one or more of the designated areas.

For informal enquiries relating to these posts, contact Professor Matthew Grenby(matthew.grenby@newcastle.ac.ukor Dr Lucy Pearson (lucy.pearson@newcastle.ac.uk).

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.