My Writing, PhD

Sunshine, writing, and reading

It’s the kind of weather this week where I don’t know whether to be celebrating the sunshine or desperately hoping for it to cool down!

I’ve had two more articles published in the past couple of weeks. The first is on mental health support at work, and is available to read on the Stylist website. I interviewed two experts for advice on what our rights are at work if we have a mental health condition, and the article covers everything from deciding to disclose to your boss to what reasonable adjustments you can get and what to do if you face discrimination.

Having a mental health condition myself, I know that navigating this at work can be a challenge. It was a really interesting piece to research, and I hope that this article helps others get the support they need and deserve.

Photo shows the front cover of Oh magazine, with an illustration of a bird and a vibrant summer garden, with a pink and orange sky in the background.

The other piece is a feature in the always lovely Oh magazine. It’s on the disability arts movement, and how art can be used to explore and celebrate our lives and challenge ideas about what it means to be disabled.

I was lucky enough to speak to two talented artists, Anahita Harding and Nina Thomas, for the article to share their insights. I also reflected on my own experience of writing about disability – how writing allows me to, quite literally, take authorship of my experiences. I love how the feature is illustrated in the magazine with photos of Anahita and Nina and their artwork.

Photo shows an open magazine showing an article. The article is called Every Body. There is a photo in the magazine of a woman in a wheelchair sticking the wheelchair symbol onto a wall.

I’ve also been focusing on getting more reading done for my PhD this week. I’m currently reading The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank, on life writing and illness. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already I have pages and pages of notes on his work.

Focusing on anything for too long is hard in this heat, but I’m glad to have been making progress and having exciting projects to work on.  

My Writing, PhD

Writing about difficult experiences

It’s been a strange couple of weeks for me. Some days I’ve been really productive, others I’ve wondered what I’ve even achieved. But I guess that’s part of the reality of our lives right now. With being home all the time apart from when I venture out for a daily walk, it kind of makes sense that my energy levels are a bit all over the place.

I’m excited to share I have an article in the current issue of the fantastic Writing Magazine. My article is called “Dealing with Difficulty” and is all about how as writers we can draw on our difficult life experiences in our work in a way that’s relevant, sensitive, and powerful. My own experiences are a huge influence on my writing, so this was a topic I’m really passionate about. I talk about things like how to keep your reader in mind, how to include details to make your writing evocative, and how to set your own boundaries and take care of yourself when writing about challenging times.

Photo shows the open pages of Writing Magazine with the article entitled 'Dealing with Difficulty'. There is also a green notebook and a pen.

Disability in particular is a topic that I write about a lot, and where I draw on my own experiences. Our life experiences can be a great source of inspiration for our work, and be used in a way that helps our readers or offers a new perspective. I hope this article helps other writers in deciding if and how they can draw on difficult experiences in their writing.

I also have a feature in the current issue of Oh magazine, which explores witchcraft and how we can all weave it into our daily lives, like celebrating the changing seasons or mindfully meditating. I loved writing this feature, and interviewing the wonderful author Alice Tarbuck for it, who was a joy to chat to. Oh mag is one of my favourite magazines and I’m really pleased to have had another feature published by them.

The past couple of weeks I’ve also been focusing on my PhD. Although I do other writing, day to day my PhD has to be my main focus. Recently I’ve been doing some reading on models of disability and thinking how my creative work can explore this. Yesterday I had an interview with two assessors as part of my mid year review – 45 minutes of answering questions about my research. It was intense but I think I dealt with it well, and it gave me ideas about what I need to do moving forward with my PhD.

Over the coming weeks I’m looking forward to hopefully getting outside more as the weather improves. I also can’t wait until we can start having friends over to sit outdoors and enjoy a barbecue or drinks together. Recently I’ve definitely been feeling the need for a change of scene and to see other people. Hopefully as spring unfurls and lockdown lifts there will be plenty of chances to go out more and see others. And always, there is writing to do.

My Writing, PhD

A walk through other people’s expectations

Anyone else feeling relieved that spring is nearly here? I’ve been loving the fresh smell in the air and the sight of crocuses and daffodils on my daily walks. I love that it’s lighter each evening, and the increasing warmth each day brings.

I’m excited to share that I’ve had an article published today by the Wellcome Collection, entitled “A walk through other people’s expectations” – it’s available to read here. The article is structured around a hike up Loughrigg Fell in the Lake District and weaves together two of my interests, disability and hiking, in an exploration of what it means to be a visually impaired walker.

A photo of a view from a mountain walk, looking down at a lake

This was such an enjoyable commission to work on. The ways disabled people often have to navigate other people’s perceptions and expectations of us is something I’ve been acutely aware of for many years as a visually impaired person. It’s also an important theme emerging in my PhD so far – the idea that societal expectations of disability affect how disabled people feel and behave, like feeling apprehensive about using a white cane or other mobility aid.

I hope the article resonates with other disabled people, as well as giving an insight to nondisabled people about this topic.

Photo shows the view from the summit of a mountain, with a man holding a map and looking ahead

It was also lovely to be writing about my favourite place, the Lake District, in this article. I can’t wait until I’m able to visit again and go fell walking, and maybe even dinner and live jazz at the wonderful Zeffirellis restaurant in Ambleside…

I’m really lucky to have other articles due to be published in the coming months that I’m excited to share, and other writing I’m working on, as well as of course my PhD. Lockdown is a challenging time for everyone, and while, of course, I completely agree with the restrictions, it is still hard being away from friends and family. My mental health was really affected in the first lockdown last year, and I’m glad to say that this time round I’ve found it easier to manage. Maybe it’s the spring-like weather, but I’m feeling cautiously hopeful about the future. I can’t wait until we can safely meet up with loved ones again, sitting out in the garden in the warmth. Until then, I’m fortunate that I have plenty to keep me distracted at home. I hope that more good times are ahead.

My Writing, PhD

Winter thoughts

Like much of the country, there has been snow here in Staffordshire the past couple of days. But despite the cold, there are signs of spring emerging. I’m lucky to be getting out for a daily walk around my neighbourhood, enjoying the daylight and the frosted trees, looking out for snowdrops peeking through the frozen grass.

Photo of snowdrops in the grass

I’m fortunate that I’ve had a lot of writing to keep me busy over the past few weeks. The main focus in January was preparing for the mid-year review for my PhD, which involved submitting a sample of my writing and a research statement outlining my project so far and how I hope for it to progress. Thankfully I got that all submitted in time for the 1st February deadline. In a few weeks’ time I’ll have a mini viva interview to assess my work so far and check I’m on track. I find talking about my research can be really interesting, but I still feel at the stage where articulating it all feels challenging! But I am enjoying my PhD, and have been doing some really interesting reading for it this past week, exploring published mental health memoirs, as well as doing my own creative work. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to focus on something I’m so passionate about.

I’ve also had a few articles to work on recently, as well as seeing ones that were commissioned towards the end of last year being published. My feature “Art in the Everyday” is in the current issue of the absolutely gorgeous Oh magazine. I love the front cover of vibrant daffodils – I can almost feel the spring warmth and scent of flowers just looking at it! My piece is about how we can all make art and poetry out of the items we’re surrounded with, drawing on the idea of found object art and movements like surrealism and dadaism. It was a fascinating feature to write, and I’m so pleased to have it published in such a wonderful magazine.

Photo shows front cover of Oh magazine with an illustration of daffodils

There are a few more articles of mine due to be published in the coming months which I’m excited to share. I also submitted a draft of my new novel to my literary agent recently, and I’m nervously waiting to hear her thoughts. She really gets my writing and always has valuable insights into how to make it better, so I’m confident that her feedback will be so useful.

I hope that you’re doing okay in this difficult winter lockdown, finding ways to get through. I can’t wait until the evenings are light again so I can go on an after dinner walk. And, of course, I can’t wait until things are safer and lockdown can start to ease. I hope things will get brighter soon.

My Writing, PhD

Writing hopes for the festive season

As I eat mince pies and try not to spend too much time reading the news, I’ve been reflecting on what my writing hopes are looking ahead.

Photo of an open book and a Christmas mug next to a Christmas tree

It feels hard to think ahead when so much in the world seems uncertain. But over the festive period, I’m hoping to plan more pitches ready to send out in the new year to a range of publications. I also have some PhD writing to work on, preparing for the mid year review that comes at the start of February to evaluate my progress so far. And a few weeks ago I finished the first draft of a new novel. Soon I intend to sit down and read through the manuscript and make a start on the next draft so I can get it to a stage I feel ready to share it with my agent. I’m a big believer in messy first drafts, so I’m expecting it may need quite a bit of work – but I actually really enjoy editing! For me, getting the words down in the first place is often the hardest part, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in on the second draft, as that’s when it feels like it starts to really come together.

It’s nice to be ending this strange year with two more articles published. The Dec / Jan issue of PosAbility magazine features my article “Getting Creative”, where I explore how disabled people can get involved in the arts. I reflect on my experience of being supported by DaDaFest’s Artist Development Programme last year (something I’ve written about on this blog before), and how this helped me as a writer. I also talk about what support there is for disabled artists and highlight some of the great disability arts organisations we’re lucky to have.  

Photo showing the front covers of the two magazines referred to in the article.

And my feature “Connect with Nature Close to Home” is in the January issue of Happiful magazine. It’s all about ways we can celebrate nature and the changing seasons without having to go far beyond our front doors, from learning about local wildlife to snuggling down with some great nature writing.

Photo showing the article on connecting nature close to home in a magazine. The image includes a drawing of a bird wearing a scarf and a snowy wintery scene.

This Christmas may look very different to what we’d hope for, especially after such a difficult year for us all. I hope that whatever you’re doing this festive season, you manage to have a restful, enjoyable time.

My Writing, PhD

Starting my PhD

I’m excited to have, since last week, become a PhD student!

My PhD is in Creative Writing and is on memoir as counter narrative: using creative nonfiction to explore visual impairment and mental illness and challenge dominant models of disability. It’s wonderfully being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council / Midlands4Cities – I’m very grateful for their support.

I’m studying at De Montfort University in Leicester, commuting from Staffordshire once I’m able to do face-to-face learning again – until then, it’s Skype / Teams, which so far is working well. It’s a little daunting of course starting something so big, but I’m looking forward to seeing the journey this PhD takes me on.

I’m feeling very lucky and still slightly bewildered to have this opportunity to research and write about something I’m so passionate about.