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And Then We Come to the End

It’s done.

Finished.

Finito.

The End.

I sat my viva on Tuesday at 1:30. By 3:00 I was congratulated as Dr. A.

YES!

I passed with, really, no corrections, which is a pretty rare thing. I had a boatload of typos and some etymology to look up, but nothing of any real importance to go back and rethink or change. I did my corrections, finished the paperwork, dropped off a hard copy of the 400-page monster to the bookbinders yesterday (the final hard-bound copy will be delivered to the uni next week) and submitted an electronic copy. And that, as they say, was that.

I’ll get my certificate/diploma in the mail in a few weeks and walk in graduation in a month.

How does it feel to be done? WEIRD! Also, pretty damn awesome!

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PhD Update: Nearing the End

Research PhDs here in the UK are three years, plus one. That final year is called your “writing up” year, the year when you take all of the stuff you’ve researched over the previous handful of years and put it down on paper in some semblance of order and cleverness. I officially entered my writing-up year in September, which means that I MUST turn in at the very end of August…or not graduate.

So far I have 90,000+ words of the novel. It is *very nearly* finished. I just need to write the very very end, an end I didn’t even know until just before Christmas. But I’ve not had the time to finish it because all I’ve worked on lately is the dissertation (plus a freelance gig that ate much of a week).

The dissertation, also known as the commentary, is a 25,000-30,000 word analysis of what I have done: that is, of what I set out to do with the novel and how it worked out. I worked on the final draft of the novel up until Christmas eve. Then I took about 5 days OFF. Then worked for a couple of days on the dissertation, and then took New Years Eve and the next day off. And then…

I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since then. Yesterday was my first real full day OFF OFF, in which I left the house, did something fun, and didn’t look at a computer screen. (I spent most of January in pajamas, which have become dubbed my “office clothes.”) For most of the month I’ve been working 8-12 hours a day, pounding out a draft of this monster. It’s due by 9am on the 13th. I had pieces of a draft before all of this, but I realised in October that I had to totally restructure it.

As it stands now, it is an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters:
Chapter One: Borders: Historic Fantasy, Magic, and Placing [novel title] in Context
Chapter Two: The Garden as a “Time-Space”: The Chronotope, Characterisation, and Verisimilitude
Chapter Three: Heterotopias: Setting, Structure, and Narrative Distance
Chapter Four: The Hortus Conclusus: Metaphor and Revision (or something like that)
Chapter Five: Spatialization: Writing Myself into the Garden (or something like that)

My reference list (what I’ve looked at, read, and taken notes from) numbers somewhere around 250 books. I’ve taken over 1,000 photographs on field visits, watched numerous TV shows (on gardens, history, etc.), visited too many museums, conducted interviews, written short fiction related to the project, written and presented academic papers related to this, too. And it all comes down to the next few months, to a novel and a dissertation and how well I can justify what I’ve done.

If you’re ever thinking of doing a PhD, seriously consider how well you deal with criticism, rejection, lack of sleep, few days off, a bad diet, your health breaking down on you (I’m not kidding), and your mental health taking a beating, all with no guarantee of any sort of job or income at the end. I am doing all of this with the knowledge that what I will have (all I will have) at the end is a Dr. before my name. Is that enough for you?

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Mea culpa. I’m busy. Like, STUPID busy. So back to the list of stuff to tell you all about!

Visiting Ely

 

Ely Cathedral, viewed from the back where there is a lovely cafe/tea house with garden seating. And baby ducks waddling around. For whatever reason, Ely is a 'city' because it has a cathedral. Bury St Edmunds, however, is only a town. Go figure.

Ely Cathedral, viewed from the back where there is a lovely cafe/tea house with garden seating. And baby ducks waddling around. For whatever reason, Ely is a ‘city’ because it has a cathedral. Bury St Edmunds, however, is only a town, but is way bigger and has way more shopping. Go figure.

Inside the cathedral. That ceiling!

Inside the cathedral. That ceiling!

What happened when I had two suspicious moles removed (well, maybe I won’t tell you about that…)
You really don’t want to know. It’s TMI.

Sissinghurst with visitors from the States

Ely was in May. Not too long after that, some lovely visitors from the states came and a bunch of us went to Sissinghurst for a look round. I’d been before (so no pics here), but many others in our group hadn’t. And a lovely time was had by all!

Presenting a paper at the British Country House 1914-2014 conference in Newcastle
Presenting a paper at the Great Writing International Creative Writing conference in London

Part of the ridiculous business this year was the result of having to prepare presentations for two academic conferences, both in June. I presented a paper about time in gardens in children’s novels that are set in English Heritage/National Trust or otherwise very historic houses. It was an interesting conference because it was academic but geeky at the same time; a boatload of smarty-pants people who love ‘house-pr0n’ in books and films, all talking for two days. At the second conference, I presented a paper about finding the theme of a story or novel that you’re writing and not getting caught up in the idea of a moral or lesson. You can blame fairy tales and the Victorians and Disney for that. Well, partially. But in any event, the presentation went rather well, and it’s something I’d love to be able to condense to show to my writing students one day.

Going to Belgium for a couple of days

I went to Brussels back in October 2010, but it was nice to go again and see more of the place.

Chocolate shops That is all.

Chocolate shops. That is all.

The last time I saw the square, it was dark and rainy. This time, the sun shone and made the gold glow.

The last time I saw the square, it was dark and rainy. This time, the sun shone and made the gold glow.

This goose just cracked me up.

This goose just cracked me up.

After two days in Brussels, we went to Passchendaele. I had no idea until then just how many of the bodies were buried without being identified.

After two days in Brussels, we went to Passchendaele. I had no idea until then just how many of the bodies were buried without being identified.

Seeing the Tour de France

So, I didn’t realise it, but the Tour de France spends the first three days in NOT France. They came to Cambridge this summer, and we totally had to go.

BUNTING! This stuff was *everywhere* in Cambridge. Some was knitted--so cute!--but I didn't get a pic of it.

BUNTING! This stuff was *everywhere* in Cambridge. Some was knitted–so cute!–but I didn’t get a pic of it.

Before the race got going, there was a  parade . It was a bunch of cars & vans from sponsors, some throwing freebies into the crowd. Like pens and keyrings. This is a French supermarket chain. They threw NOTHING. Not even cheese!

Before the race got going, there was a “parade”. It deserves the quotation marks. It was a bunch of cars & vans from sponsors, some throwing freebies into the crowd. Like pens and keyrings. This is a French supermarket chain. They threw NOTHING. Not even cheese!

Before the race, each rider was introduced and had to go up on stage to sign in. For whatever reason, the MCs were American and pronounced in Cayum-bridge, which people in the US don't even do when talking about the city in Massachusetts!

Before the race, each rider was introduced and had to go up on stage to sign in. For whatever reason, the MCs were American and pronounced in Cayum-bridge, which people in the US don’t even do when talking about the city in Massachusetts!

As close as I could get to the line. Watching a bile race in real life is sort of a 10-second thing: ZOOM they all whiz past, and then they're gone.

As close as I could get to the line. Watching a bile race in real life is sort of a 10-second thing: ZOOM they all whiz past, and then they’re gone.

Finding out that I’ve been named as a guest at a SFF con
Getting ready for NineWorlds GeekFest, LonCon3 and British Fantasy Con
Being a panelist at the con
Going to LonCon3 as a volunteer and a panelist

These are all related, so…
I did three cons this year: Nine Worlds GeekFest, LonCon3 (World Con) and British Fantasy Con. One day I checked the Nine Worlds site to see updates, and found out that I’d been named as a guest! You can find me near the bottom of this page.

Doing three cons nearly back-to-back was exhausting but awesome. At Nine Worlds I did two panels, one on ‘school stories’ and the other on sex & love in SFF lit, which was so much fun (and 18 and over only crowd). I did a more extensive write-up and included pics on my ‘official’ blog. I also got to take part in a New Voices reading and share a piece of my PhD novel to a standing-room-only crowd, which was amazing. After Nine Worlds, I had time to go home, do laundry, pack, and head back to London for LonCon3.

At LonCon3, I was a volunteer and helped with set-up in the exhibits hall, part of which was getting a 20-foot-long stuffed dragon to STAY on top of the wall of a 3-sided booth. That’s one for the CV! I was also on panels, and have blogged more and posted pics about it here. The vibe was different from that of Nine Worlds; part of that has to do with the size of the con (LonCon had 8,000 people). While I was there, I found out that I’d sold a new story! (YAY!) There will be a Kickstarter for it, starting soon. I’ll try to find time to share info here, but the story will be my first official SF sale, so I can now add another genre to my collection 🙂

On the second day of LonCon, my throat started to feel scratchy, so I figured that talking non-stop for nearly a week was taking its toll. On the last night of the con I started coughing. Not a good sign. I ended up with the worst case of con crud I’d ever had. I’d not been that sick since pneumonia three years before. I was home sick for close to three weeks. It wasn’t pretty and even included a chest x-ray.


Selling a story and then signing books at a launch for the anthology
Having my short story turned into a chapbook that was put into goody bags at Nine Worlds

A couple of years ago, a friend who is also an awesome editor invited me to submit a short story to an anthology he was putting together. Because of PhD stuff and life stuff, I missed that deadline. It made me feel like such a heel. Luckily he understood and extended another invitation, and so last year (this time last year to be exact) I sent him a short story that matched the brief of order vs chaos in science from 1660-1860. He loved my story “Fairchild’s Folly” and it is included in Irregularity. One of the coolest things is that I got to be part of my first official book signing! We signed in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Me. In front of the Museum. In a dress.

Me. In front of the Museum. In a dress.

Before we signed in the gift shop, several authors form the anthology did short readings standing below a collection of ship figureheads.

Before we signed in the gift shop, several authors form the anthology did short readings standing below a collection of ship figureheads.

Fiarchild's Folly, bite-sized!

Fiarchild’s Folly, bite-sized!

 

My editor is so cool and loves the story so much that he hired an artist, had a cover designed, and made it  into a chapbook. Many were dropped into the goody bags at Nine Worlds, I have a few, and he kept some more for review copies. How cool is that? The story has also got some really nice mentions in reviews!

And so that ends this catch-up. Whew!

Up soon: the Kickstarter for my next anthology, moving (yes, I know, another town–but it’ll include lots of   pics), PhD stuff (surprised?), teaching maybe, and the run-up to Xmas!

 

 

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To continue with the list of ALL THE THINGS:

Eastercon in Glasgow (I went to Edinburgh right before)

So this year the con was a bit of a hike, up to Scotland. As you saw from my previous post, I spent a few days in Edinburgh before heading to Glasgow. As it was, I didn’t see any of Glasgow apart from the train station, the con hotel, and a pizza hut in the town centre. I wasn’t on panels and had no ‘professional’ role at this con, so I had a long weekend of fun with my friends.

This fun included trying on tiny hats!

This fun included trying on tiny hats!

And even tinier hats!

And even tinier hats!

All topped off by seeing the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre LIVE! This was,  seriously, one of the highlights of my time in Scotland. I've loved the SFSPT for years and so got in early to sit front & centre. My friends weren't familiar, but afterwards said how hilarious it was. Converted!

All topped off by seeing the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre LIVE! This was, seriously, one of the highlights of my time in Scotland. I’ve loved the SFSPT for years and so got in early to sit front & centre. My friends weren’t familiar, but afterwards said how hilarious it was. Converted!

Want more of the list? OF COURSE YOU DO!

Finishing teaching for the year and then spending 2 weeks marking papers:

This last year was very teaching heavy. I taught 3 classes a week, all the same class (which I’ve discussed here before). After Easter break, there were only a few weeks of classes left, and then the marking pile happened. Three classes, 45 students, a portfolio of 3 fiction pieces from each student, plus an essay from each. PLUS two longer packets from my two BA students. PLUS another 8 sets for double-marking a colleague’s work.

This took two weeks to do. One of the reasons why I didn't get a whole lot of PhD work done this spring!

NOt the whole pile. This took two weeks to do. One of the reasons why I didn’t get a whole lot of PhD work done this spring!

 

Coming up next time:

Visiting Ely
What happened when I had two suspicious moles removed (well, maybe I won’t tell you about that…)
Sissinghurst with visitors from the States
Presenting a paper at the British Country House 1914-2014 conference in Newcastle
Presenting a paper at the Great Writing International Creative Writing conference in London
Going to Belgium for a couple of days
Seeing the Tour de France
Finding out that I’ve been named as a guest at a SFF con
Selling a story and then signing books at a launch for the anthology
Getting ready for NineWorlds GeekFest, LonCon3 and British Fantasy Con
Having my short story turned into a chapbook that was put into goody bags at Nine Worlds
Being a panelist at the con
Going to LonCon3 as a volunteer and a panelist
Getting con crud as a result of two cons in two weeks
Finding out I sold another story (SF this time!)
Finding a new place to live and getting ready to move

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Pink!

Pink!

This wasn’t a hard winter. Not like the last one–that one goes down in history. But it never snowed and only got frosty a few times. So it’s been a smooth transition into spring. Still welcome, however!

I’ve passed another landmark with the PhD. I did what is called Stage 3 training this past week: it’s a training session for the viva, which I’ll go through in a year. It is mandatory training and expected to be completed between the Confirmation of Candidature and going into ‘writing up’. So I’m right on track.

I also turned in a piece of the dissertation to my supervisor, and she says I am doing okay. I’d hoped to be further along with it by now, but teaching three classes takes up a lot of time. Term ends soon, though, which means I’ll have more time for my own work this summer and can, hopefully, focus on one thing at a time. I have to have a full first draft of the dissertation done in order to apply for writing up, which I need to go into by September (can’t afford more tuition!).

A traditional shot of Cambridge transport.

A traditional shot of Cambridge transport. That tiny sign above the bikes on the wall?…

...

… More of a suggestion rather than a rule, it seems!

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I’m a bit exhausted from doing too many 800 things. The weeks are whizzing by, and I barely realize one is nearly done when another is upon me.

I teach Monday and Tuesday (3 classes between the two days), and so those two days are mostly given over to that. By 6 pm Tuesday, I’m toast. Wednesday is for going to the gym and catching up with things (like grocery shopping, which I desperately need to do. I think I have half an onion, some old carrots, 2 wrinkled limes, and some frozen chicken breasts to my name). Thursdays and Fridays are for going gung-ho on my own work (you know, like that PhD I’m doing!). And then, I tend to work most of the weekend (with time to go to the gym Fridays and Sundays).

In addition to the PhD work, I’m also applying for jobs, and each application can take several hours (I have 4 on deck to do this week–that’s a couple of days of my attention span, right there). I’m also filling out some paperwork for a teaching award/certificate sort of thing, which is sucking up time.

Oh, plus there is prep time for the teaching. A couple of weekends ago, I did the majority of the prep for the next couple of months, but each week, when Sunday night rolls around, I realize I’ve forgotten what it is I am teaching the next morning! So there’s revision time, too. But teaching is still so much fun. This week we started on stage writing. Somehow, we ended up discussing how you could stage the zombie apocalypse (as opposed to writing the story for tv or film, or even radio!).

PLUS reading a dozen books and sitting in on an MA Genre class once a week.

PLUS writing two papers to present at academic conferences in June.

PLUS helping to organize a SF/F convention, and building an exhibit for another, and hopefully being on panels at a third.

PLUS writing short fiction and sending it off to (hopefully) be bought and pubbed.

PLUS PLUS PLUS. And in between all of this is cooking and eating and shopping for food and laundry and apartment upkeep and emails and bills and sleeping. Oh, sweet, sweet sleeping. (Do you see why I have no time to date? Not as if that were an option…I don’t exactly have much of a social life! BUT at the end of all of this, I will be a Dr.    So there!)

The fun stuff: I try to go to the movies every Tuesday night. I bailed tonight, however, because nothing started soon enough after finishing teaching and I just wanted to come home and put on jammies and watch tv. Last night was a games & drink nights with friends at a pub (I LOVE pubs here: lots of them have piles of games you can play, like Jenga and Scrabble). Tomorrow I am off to the local art museum to write up some ‘games’ for my students. I am organizing a field trip of a sort (not on a class day, alas) where they will join me at the museum and I will send them off with directions to find certain pieces of art with instructions to inspire them to do some free writing. And in April I am taking a short holiday during the Easter break. I just hope I can get enough work done first so that I can ‘relax’ while away. I’d like to leave my lappie behind if at all possible!

Interesting observation: This morning, as I crossed the bridge, I watched a rower below nearly hit a swan. It was the ‘nearly’ part that was amazing: it was as if the swan knew, and scooted out of the way just in time. Amazing, too, considering the rower never looked behind her and saw the bird. And, related to swans, last night on my walk home, I passed a pub called the White Swan, and inside a traditional Irish band was playing. It was lovely, to stand outside in the dark, on rainy streets, and watch fiddlers and drummers playing inside a dimly lit pub.

I’m busy. I’m tired. But life is okay. And here is an obligatory flower close-up: a hellebore.

hellebore

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Here, have a sunset.

Here, have a sunset.  I took this from an elevated walkway overlooking a field with a football pitch, halfway between my place and the nearest big supermarket.

Growing up, I always thought it was ‘for all intense purposes’, which makes sense in its own way.

I had intended to post here much more often. I had intended to catch up with everything over the past few months. I had intended to keep track of things. This blog has a purpose. Alas, my purpose for being here–the PhD–has taken over my life of late, so nothing else has got done. Like cleaning my room. (I tidy. Honestly, I do. It just never looks it. A square space stuffed with books and notebooks and folders and papers, with very little storage space, will sooner or later end up looking like an over-large rodent hole.)

[That ‘got’ above: evidence A of my changing vocabulary, from USian to Brit. I have to do it for the PhD, and it’s easier to let it take over outside of that as well.)

Right.

I’ve been teaching since last October. A creative writing course for first-years. It’s been loads of fun, and good for me, too. Talking to my students about characterisation (with an ‘s’–that Brit thing again), world-building, dialogue, etc., has made me focus and think about those things in the PhD novel and stories I’ve been working on. However, I teach 3 classes a week, 2 hours each class. That means I have to repeat myself and be sure that I tell class #3 the same things I told classes #1 and #2. That can be tricksy. It is also exhausting. Hence my kinda-sorta tradition of going to the movies on Tuesday night (I teach Monday and Tuesday mornings and then Tuesday afternoon). By 6 pm Tuesdays I’m brain dead, so I take myself to the movies for the really really cheap ticket night (under £5!) and a scoop of Ben & Jerrys.

Thankfully, term has been on break since before Christmas until this coming Monday, when I’m back at it again. Then we have a two-week break over Easter and then the term ends in May. It’s been exhausting, but good.

And then it was autumn.

And then it was autumn. (Yes, this looks more winter-y than autumn-y, but I took it last October.)

Here's a proper Cambridge-in-autumn shot: newby rowers, all lined up on the Cam, waiting for instructions to GO!

Here’s a proper Cambridge-in-autumn shot: newby rowers, all lined up on the Cam, waiting for instructions to GO!

Halloween was eventful. Good friends had their annual party; this year’s theme was Time Travel. They served food to go with the theme, connected to The Time Machine (roast pig for pre-history, finger sandwiches for the late-Victorian setting, and I made parmesan-bread finger things, complete with sliced almond fingernails, as ‘Eloi fingers’ for the far future).

Cheap dress + glow-in-the-dark fabric paint = TARDIS costume!

Cheap dress + glow-in-the-dark fabric paint = TARDIS costume!

The TARDIS isn't the TARDIS without its light, so I made a fascinator that actually lights up (it's one of those battery-powered jack-o-lantern candle lights)!

The TARDIS isn’t the TARDIS without its light, so I made a fascinator that actually lights up (it’s one of those battery-powered jack-o-lantern candle lights)!

Over Halloween and the following weekend, I was in Brighton for World Fantasy Con. This is a view of the seafront from the pier.

Over Halloween and the following weekend, I was in Brighton for World Fantasy Con. This is a view of the seafront from the (new) pier.

It was insanely windy that weekend--and rainy, of course. That's the old pier (built in the late 1800s, in total disrepair by the 70s, burned ten years ago).

It was insanely windy that weekend–and rainy, of course. That’s the old pier (built in the late 1800s, in total disrepair by the 70s, burned ten years ago).

View of the new pier from the beach. It' pretty much a long, skinny carnival over the waves.

View of the new pier from the beach. It’s pretty much a long, skinny carnival over the waves…

ON the pier, you can ride a rooster named Fred.

…where you can ride a rooster named Fred…

...and eat donuts that you wish were named Fred.

…and eat donuts that you wish were named Fred.

Selfie!

Selfie!

No trip to Brighton is complete without a tour of the Royal Pavilion. It's too bad I wasn't allowed to photograph the inside; the coolest thing was the dragon chandelier (look it up...seriously awesome).

No trip to Brighton is complete without a tour of the Royal Pavilion. It’s too bad I wasn’t allowed to photograph the inside; the coolest thing was the dragon chandelier (look it up…seriously awesome).

Then Thanksgiving happened. We had an ex-pat dinner here at the flat, complete with mis-matched chairs and card games.

Following that I was back up in York for an academic conference, and then it was time for the Mill Road Winter Faire. Every year, one of the main roads here in Cambridge closes on a Saturday and the street fills with shoppers and eaters. And then there’s the parade.

The parade isn't winter themed. No Santa. Lots of kids taking part. And drums.

The parade isn’t winter themed. No Santa. Lots of kids taking part. And drums.

Coolest thing about the parade? Mill Road isn't all that long, so the parade goes down one direction, and then turns around and COMES BACK!

Coolest thing about the parade? Mill Road isn’t all that long, so the parade goes down one direction, and then turns around and COMES BACK!

Did I mention the food? There's also booze. Lots of booze!

Did I mention the food? There’s also booze. Lots of booze! Here are all the empty cider jugs at one stall.

photo (5)

In December, I had the opportunity to have a Christmas dinner at King’s College. It was like dining at Hogwarts. Only without the floating candles. Or the ghosts. Or Maggie Smith being awesome.

And then it was winter. I started with a sunset; I shall end with a very early morning on my walk to school.

And then it was winter.
I started with a sunset; I shall end with a very early morning on my walk to school.

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