Author Archives: amytmurphy

Fully funded PhD studentship available – apply now

The Memories of Fiction project is delighted to announce a fully-funded 3-year postgraduate research studentship at the University of Roehampton, and based in the English and Creative Writing Dept. Proposals that can link in with the Memories of Fiction project are particularly welcome. Such proposals might relate to one or more of the following areas: reading, memory, oral history, life writing, voice/writing, book studies.

Full details and info on how to apply can be found here
Please note that the deadline is 31st August.

Find out more about English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton here.

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Listen Now: ‘Experiments in Rereading: Childist Criticism and Bibliomemoir’, Dr Alison Waller

This month we kicked off the new year in style, with the first Reading, Writing and Memory Research Seminar of 2016. Roehampton’s own Dr Alison Waller spoke on ‘Experiments in Rereading: Childist Criticism and Bibliomemoir’. You can listen to Alison’s talk below.

Alison is Senior Lecturer at the University of Roehampton and member of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL). She has research interests in adolescence and young adult fiction, and her first book was Constructions of Adolescence in Fantastic Realism (Routledge: 2009). She has also written articles on Robert Cormier, JD Salinger, and Philip Pullman, edited the New Casebook on Melvin Burgess (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and recently co-edited a special issue on Margaret Mahy for The Lion and the Unicorn (2015). She was involved in organising the AHRC-funded Memory Network project at Roehampton and is on the advisory board for the Memories of Fiction project. She is currently writing a monograph called The Poetics of Rereading Childhood Books, which investigates adult memories of early reading.

‘When Hugh Crago mused in an article in Signal in 1979 ‘whether it could be useful if I, and some others, were to set down what we do recall about our reading habits in childhood’ he was a relatively lone voice representing an interest in autobibliography in the field of children’s literature. In the years following, autobibliography – or bibliomemoir – has become an increasingly visible and valid methodology for exploring questions about childhood reading, with critics and popular writers examining their own youthful reading histories from a variety of perspectives and for multiple purposes. In this paper, I focus particularly on the practice of rereading in autobibliographical criticism and in the boom of contemporary bibliomemoirs, exploring what adult voices can tell us about early reading experiences by reflecting on childhood books they have returned to later in life. This alternative ‘childist criticism’ raises new issues and reflects a range of assumptions about children and their personal reading, and in this paper I will set out some of the patterns of ‘compliance’ and ‘resistance’ that can be observed in accounts of rereading such as Francis Spufford’s The Child that Books Built (2002), Rick Gekoski’s Outside of a Dog (2009), and Patricia Meyer Spacks’ On Rereading (2011).’

 

 

Listen now: Podcast by Dr Gill Partington, ‘Taking it Literally: Mae Brussell and the Misreading of Fiction’

We were delighted to welcome Dr Gill Partington (Birkbeck, University of London) to speak as part of our Memories of Fiction seminar series in March this year. Gill is a member of Birkbeck’s Material Texts Network and has co-convened various network symposia, including most recently Perversions of Paper (2014).We’re very happy to say that Gill’s paper, ‘Taking it Literally: Mae Brussell and the Misreading of Fiction’ is now available to listen to here in full.

“On 16th March 1979 the radio talk show host Mae Brussell recounted reading a book whose contents provoked a violent, visceral reaction, making her nauseous and faint. The book in question was Alternative 3, an exposé of a sinister global plot at the highest levels. It was also, however, a spoof: a work of fiction, whose contents she misrecognised and quoted to her listeners as factual information. This talk examines her retrospective accounts of reading, concentrating on how her interpretations of Alternative 3 and other texts negotiate a complex and shifting boundary between fiction and non-fiction.”

 * Please note that the recording level is low in places so it is advised to turn your speakers up to full volume.

 

Listen now: Podcast by Dr Shafquat Towheed, ‘Evidence from the UK Reading Experience Database’

Dr Shafquat Towheed is Director of the Reading Experience Database (RED), an open access database and research project housed in the English Department of the Open University. It is the largest resource recording the experiences of readers of its kind anywhere. UK RED has amassed over 30,000 records of reading experiences of British subjects, both at home and abroad, and of visitors to the British Isles, between 1450 and 1945. On 8th February 2015 Dr Towheed presented a paper on the work of RED at the University of Roehampton, as part of the Memories of Fiction seminar series. We’re delighted to offer this talk as a podcast here, in its entirety. See below for an overview of Shaf’s paper.

‘Synchronous vs. remembered reading: evidence from the UK Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945 (UK RED)’
With over 31,000 records, the UK Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945 (UK RED) is the world’s largest single dedicated repository of the experiences of readers in the past. It catalogues the experiences of British readers at home and abroad (and visitors to Britain) over five centuries. Within the database there is considerable recoverable information about when a reading experience and also when it was recorded. While much evidence of reading is recorded at the time or soon after, significant sources rich in evidence of reading (such as memoirs, edited travel journals and autobiographies) are by their very nature, retrospective accounts of remembered reading.  This talk is in two parts: the first half explains how members of the Reading Experience Database team gather data, how we structure and record a ‘reading experience’, and how it is displayed. Specifically, I will be focussing on the ‘when’ of reading: when did the reading take place and how can we capture, record and display this? The second half of my talk looks at some of the methodological and interpretative issues around remembered reading vs. reading that’s recorded at the time or immediately after. We have the full spread of reading evidences in UK RED – from synchronous records of reading at the time they were taking place, to reminiscences of childhood reading many years later, but we have never scrutinized or categorised this chronological variances in records – or whether indeed, they should be thought of as two different types of evidence/reading experience. Pulling out some examples from the project, I will ask whether reading at the time and remembered reading are distinct evidential categories, requiring their own tools for investigation and analysis.

Uncovering Used Books in Blakeney

By Amy Tooth Murphy

It’s a fact familiar to all who know me that I can’t walk past a second hand book sale. There’s something about the promise of worn gems to be discovered that always seems far more intriguing than browsing new books. I recently, found myself in Blakeney, a small village on the North Norfolk coast, which has recently become home to my parents-in-law. Taking a morning stroll down to the harbour I passed by a man tying a hand-written sign at the entrance to a lane. On the cardboard sign, in black marker: ‘Used Book Sale’. Asking what time the sale opened he told me, ‘Well it’s pretty much always open as long as I’ve put it out’. Looking past him down the lane I saw about half a dozen cardboard boxes of books arranged on a couple of trellis tables sitting outside a cottage, alongside a table hosting various jars of jam. As I wandered down the lane he said, ‘The jams we have to set a price for but for the books just leave whatever you think is a fair donation’.

View through a narrow stone archway, down a lane. Book sale at the bottom of the lane. Signs in the foreground advertise used book sale and homemade jam for sale.

The accomplished second hand book browser becomes adept at sorting the wheat from the chaff. Large hardbacks are generally non-fiction, from Top Gear annuals, to Morris Minor repair books, to Readers Digest gardening almanacs. My business here is fiction, so I turn away from those awkward, oversized boards to the tightly packed boxes of paperbacks; worn, faded spines giving hints as to both decade and genre. It is a scientifically proven fact that no matter the size of a used book sale, there will always be at least one copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Here we have two. Plus a copy of the follow-up, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The second hand devotee also tends towards altruism for other such perusers. I move The Edge of Reason, placing it beside a copy of the original, surmising that someone familiar with the original may then be tempted by the sequel, or that some fan may wish to buy the two together. In my browsing I also spot several other second hand standards: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jackie Collins, Maeve Binchy, John Grisham, John le Carré.

A relatively recent addition to the used book sale repertoire is, unsurprisingly, Nordic noir. I spot a Henning Mankell and read the blurb. It doesn’t sound like one I have already read. But perhaps I’ve seen an adaptation on TV? I keep the book in my hand and continue browsing. This particular sale has an interesting mix of popular and genre fiction alongside a fair number of canonical authors, including Henry Fielding, Gustave Flaubert and Henry James. I see a slim volume wedged between two paperback heavyweights. Teasing it out I find it to be a short reference to the works of Nietzsche. Now Nietzsche is someone I’ve never been able to read more than a few pages of at a sitting. I figure this intermediary may be able to elucidate for me. And who wouldn’t want an introduction to the works of Nietzche? That’s bound to come in handy.

Turning to another box I run my fingers over the spines, sensing as I do the previous readers, the previous browsers. Attempting to pick up titles at random (is there such a thing in the subtle process of book browsing?) I pore over detective fiction, potboilers, romances, fantasy, ‘chick lit’, thrillers, legal dramas. My eye alights on a familiar name: Mary Stewart. With a little thrill of excitement I pick up the book and turn it over in my hands, knowing this is one I have not yet read: This Rough Magic. This 1960s book has been given a 1980s makeover, with a watercolour of bold blue skies and bright white Cypriot domes on the cover. One of the joys of second hand books is their over layering of time, and times past. A reader in 2014 buys a book once owned by a reader in 1988, republished many years after its original publication in 1964. In this way Mary Stewart, and countless other middlebrow authors speak across decades. I consider my haul, pleased with the three books in my hand. Not every book sale gleans such excellent results. The Mary Stewart is without doubt the jewel in the crown. I have been working my way through Stewart’s oeuvre for about a year now. The sense of serendipity imbues this find with special significance. A year ago the name would not have caught my eye. I doubt I would have picked up this book. I briefly muse on how many Mary Stewarts my eye must have skipped over in the past. Of course I could simply go to Amazon and order all the Mary Stewarts I haven’t read. Or pop into Waterstones and buy them in their newly released re-editions. But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the sense of a find?

Cover of This Rough Magic, Coronet edition, as described above

Coronet edition of This Rough Magic, 1988. Photo of author’s copy.

The selection amongst these half a dozen boxes is obviously incomparable to even the smallest Waterstones store. But the possibilities somehow seem so much greater. There is no uniformity and – with the exception of good old Bridget – no repetition of titles. So different from the strategically placed stacks of new releases that greet you as walk into a high street bookshop. No ‘Staff Recommendations’ to guide your purchase. Only the subtle codes that lead you to pick up this and ignore that. Only the knowledge that someone, somewhere, has owned these books before. No doubt some have adorned bookshelves unread, until a final insistence on a clear-out propelled them by some means to this random setting down a Norfolk lane. But most bear the scuffs, cracked spines and turned down pages that speak of books held, put down, picked up, read, reread, carted around in handbags, suitcases and backpacks. And perhaps some of them bear the hopes of the owner; that someone, somewhere, perhaps a young woman in Norfolk visiting her in-laws for the weekend, will pick them up, take them home, and read.

Memories of Fiction Out and About: A busy start to September

Do book group members get nervous when they take their seats and prepare to share their thoughts on that month’s book? After having a cherished book ‘all to themselves’ is there a moment of trepidation as it’s released to the wider world of the book group for critique?

We’re hoping to pose these questions – and many more – as we interview book group members. And if the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’, then we may know something of how they feel. This week we’ve had a sense of Memories of Fiction going from the speculative to the suddenly very real as we’ve got up in front of various audiences to share our aims and hopes for the project. After keeping the project ‘all to ourselves’ in the first month as we plan and organise, we’ve now had the opportunity to gather some feedback from others, and, very excitingly, meet our first book group.

On 4th-5th September we attended the Story of Memory conference at the University of Roehampton, organised by the Memory Network. Shelley and Amy introduced the project on a panel entitled ‘Memory and Reading: A View from the Sidelines’, alongside papers from Dr Alison Waller (University of Roehampton) and Dr Sara Whiteley (University of Sheffield). All three papers worked really well together, drawing fascinating threads about both memory and reading and how people discuss reading in groups.

On the evening of 4th September we were delighted to host Professor Martyn Lyons (University of New South Wales) as the guest speaker for this month’s IHR Oral History Seminar. Professor Lyons spoke on his and colleague Professor Lucy Taksa’s groundbreaking work, Australian Readers Remember, now celebrating its 22nd anniversary since publication. A podcast of the talk is now available here.

Cover of Australian Readers Remember, published by Oxford University Press in 1992. Painting of scantily dressed woman looking provocatively towards the viewer, holding a newspaper in front to cover her upper body

Oxford University Press, 1992

Professor Lyons, currently on an extended visit to the UK, was then able to join us on Monday for the first meeting of the Memories of Fiction Advisory Group. The group, which aims to meet once a year throughout the project, brings together some of the foremost scholars working in reading and memory. The conversation was lively and engaging, and a huge boost to us as we continue to formulate and refine our research and prepare to begin in earnest.

Speaking of which, perhaps the highlight of the last week was our visit to our first reading group. Last Friday we visited Battersea Library (worth a visit to see the beautiful arts and crafts style reading room) and sat in on the Alvering book group. This month they were discussing Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Amin. We were thrilled to get a really positive and warm response to the project and delighted that over half the group signed up to take part as interviewees. The group, now in its fourteenth year, meets once a month, at 12pm on a Friday. Many thanks to Ferelith and the group for welcoming us.