Classically Inclined

August 8, 2018

Classics (and me) at Nine Worlds!

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 9:30 am
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This is slightly short notice, but better late than never – I’m going to be at Nine Worlds in London this weekend!

More specifically, I’m going to be at Nine Worlds on Saturday, and you can listen to me geek out about Hercules and Xena:

Classical Reception in Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero – two heroes, to be precise. Classicists Liz Gloyn, Juliette Harrisson and Nick Lowe unpick the wild, weird, and wonderful workings of classical antiquity in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Come with us to a time of myth and legend, when the ancient gods were petty and cruel – and monsters, muscles, and martial arts were brought to bear on the deconstruction of patriarchal canons and the decolonisation of foundational narratives of the west.

You may have already guessed that this is an offshoot of the Monster Book, because it is, but it’s also a chance to talk about how classical reception works in the Xenaverse, which has had such long cultural reach since its creation in loads of really unexpected ways.

It is also part of my on-going sneaky attempt to create an unofficial classics track at Nine Worlds; we’ve not quite managed last year’s critical mass, but you might also be interested in:

I have left this post a leeetle bit late as today is the last day to buy tickets, but I’m looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Edit: as pointed out in the comments, tickets will be available on the door as well – so don’t let a last-minute opportunity pass you by if it fits your schedule!


July 31, 2018

On writing 2000 words a week

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:13 pm
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This post, part of my general attempting to unwind from the experience of writing the Monster book at speed, is inspired by a long-ago request from Laura Varnam on Twitter (which she may now have well forgotten!) about a period when I was setting myself of writing the goal of two thousand words a week. She wanted to know why I ended up taking that approach and how it worked – and I admit, it’s not exactly the sort of thing that I’d recommend to most people for most projects.

I came to the ‘two thousand words a week’ approach at the end of summer 2017, when I had a May 2018 deadline for delivering my book manuscript. (You’ll note I didn’t quite make that, but never mind, that was the plan.) I had five chapters in draft and was starting to write chapter six, and was wondering how on earth I was going to make it up to a manuscript of 85k words in time… so I sat down and did some maths and thought about process. I knew I wanted to have a completed draft by Christmas, if at all possible, so I could send it to friendly readers and work on first round revisions myself, and have a chance to work in changes by the May deadline or as close as possible to it. I reckoned I wanted to get to about 80% of my word count to be ‘happy’ with the manuscript length, allowing for edits inevitably making the thing longer and for things like the bibliography, the introduction and conclusion and so on. To get there, I needed to be writing 2000 words a week.

So I did. Which sounds… well, simpler than it was, but I should note that by this point I was writing up thoughts on Xena: Warrior Princess and Doctor Who, before moving on to two case study chapters where the main point was working through receptions and plotting how they all worked together. The writing fell into manageable chunks quite easily, either in terms of episode-by-episode or case study by case study, which meant having it all together in my head was less of a problem than trying to write ten thousand connected words for an article would have been at that speed. It took a while to get up into gear for the writing; roughly half of the weeks, two thousand words didn’t happen, although I usually managed to bank somewhere over a thousand which was still great progress, particularly during term. Equally, when I had planned to be winding down at Christmas with 80% of my word count in the bag, I found myself actually there but with a whole chapter still to write! So I kept up the 2k a week word goal until the middle of February, when there was a full manuscript (bar introduction and conclusion). There was a lot of writing at home; there was a lot of writing on the train during the commute. I got surprisingly good at that, although again I wonder how much the material made it easier than it might have otherwise been.

What did I learn about this? That I could do it, mainly. I also pushed myself far too hard to get it done and finished, and I paid a bit of a price for that, particularly around the turn of the year when pushing out those words made doing other things very hard. I should note that, in order to make those words happen, I blocked out my research day and didn’t let anything else in; I don’t think that was the problem, and indeed it’s a habit I want to make sure I don’t break. The problem was that it put me under enormous pressure to produce and move that word count along to meet my target. I’m not sure the book would be finished now without that level of discipline, and I’m pretty sure that I’d be even more frustrated with the whole process if I were still finishing off a first draft. But the drive to meet the contract deadline, given the general flexibility of academic publishing around this sort of thing, was pretty self-inflicted. Nonetheless, it’s taught me a very valuable lesson – I shan’t be signing a book contract again until I’ve got at least a half-completed manuscript under my belt!

July 27, 2018

The ending of eras

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:43 pm
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Today is a pretty huge day. I have just sent off the complete draft manuscript for the Monster Book, now under the working title of Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture.

The last fortnight or so, as I’ve worked towards this point and it’s looked increasingly likely that it would happen when I thought it would, has been surprisingly emotional. As I put everything into a single file yesterday, I found myself feeling nauseous with a fear which didn’t seem to have a particular cause; this morning, walking into the British Library reading room to check some final references, I found myself tearing up. This feels very emotionally different to sending off the manuscript of the Seneca book, perhaps because that was tied up with the completion of the PhD and rode on the waves of emotional exhaustion caused by that, perhaps because it is a hot, hot summer and I am anxious about far more in the world at large than I was when I was working on the Seneca book. (It is not a surprise that I have free-floating anxiety when the most common conversation I am having with friends at the moment is about our respective plans to stockpile medicines.)

But it is the end of an era in other ways too. Today was one of the summer meet-ups for Shut Up and British Library, a loose group of academically inclined people who get together at the BL every two or three weeks to carve out some research time in good company. I came up with the idea at the start of my sabbatical in autumn 2016, a way to make sure I still saw humans despite being on research leave. Rather than stop  at the end of my sabbatical, the group’s now become a bit of an institution; it’s contributed to the completion of a handful of articles and chapters, and a PhD dissertation – and now this book. Shut Up has always been about the Monster Book for me. I’m going to have to find something else to do.

Because another era that ends (or starts to end) here is obligations that I put myself under pre-infans. I signed the contract for this book before he was born. He has never known life without this project (although he’s been very understanding about it). One of the biggest shifts in becoming an academic parent, for me, has been a streamlining of effort – I can no longer work on more than one project at once, and having the contract has meant that finishing the Monster Book has been (from necessity as much as  from choice) the priority. Now this is off the table, I can look at my research agenda with more of a critical eye, not driven by what I’ve agreed to do for other people, thinking about what I can realistically achieve and produce, and indeed what I want to get done. It marks the change in how I order my research work-flow – a change I’ve been working up to mentally for the last few months, but now that it is here, quite an unnerving one to be facing.

Part of the reason for that change is my attempt to move towards a more sustainable work pattern. The risk of moving into mid-career is that you take along habits which are going to mean you burn out. It is not sustainable to work at the intensity of the ECR years without that taking a massive toll on you; you have to find other ways of doing things (including, for instance, establishing personal workload limits to stop yourself getting overloaded without you noticing). While doing the Monster Book has been fun, it has also been really quite intense. I went through a period of at least five months where I was writing around two thousand words per week to try and get the manuscript finished by the contracted deadline. I have written 88,000 words more or less from scratch in (very nearly precisely) two years. It’s been made easier by the fact that the material is fun to work with, and that I haven’t had to become familiar with what the nineteenth century Germans thought on this issue, but that doesn’t make this any less big. It’s been a big job. And now it’s… not there.

One of my reasons for wanting to get the manuscript sent off, besides the fact that the original 1st May delivery date is now well behind us, is that now I have the month of August empty. No conferences, no deadlines, a few research things to think about, some light teaching prep and admin to do. I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard to get to this stage – and while I’m not taking a month off, I’m looking forward very much to taking my foot off the pedal and cruising.


June 25, 2018

Elevated to seniority

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:47 am

I know I’ve been quiet here on the blog for a while – that has a lot to do with trying to finish off the monster book and the seasonal onslaught of undergraduate marking which I’ve been dealing with. I’m hoping to get back into the rhythm of a weekly post once the manuscript revisions are finished and everything’s been sent off to the publisher, but for the time being most of my spare bandwidth is going into trying to get that all finished.

However, I’m popping back to let you know some very good news which those of you who follow me on Twitter may already have picked up. I’m delighted to share that I have just been promoted to Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway!

The process of promotion at RHUL is quite straightforward but a bit opaque – you submit your application form at the end of January, and then it’s radio silence as it goes past various committees at various levels, and you patiently wait until you get told the outcome ‘by the end of June’. So on the one hand you have no idea what’s going on, but on the other at least you’ve been told not to expect to hear anything so you don’t start reading anything untoward into it. Obviously, since the preferred result has come out of the process I don’t mind the wait at all.

Some people have asked me what this means in terms of my every-day job. The answer is ‘not much’ – in order to get promoted, you have to show you are already meet the criteria for holding the position, which is what the application form is for. Basically I will keep on doing what I am doing, and by and by have another stab at moving up the titles. But right now, senior lecturer feels really rather good.

January 2, 2018

Myths & Monsters – now on Netflix

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 8:29 am
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Happy new year! I know I’ve been a bit absent from this blog, mainly because I’ve been channeling most of my energy into researching and writing the Monster Book. I’m not expecting much to change as far as that’s concerned for the next few months, but hopefully by the summer I’ll be writing a bit more regularly.

In the meantime, I’m delighted that the television series I did some interviews for as a talking head, Myths & Monsters, is now available on Netflix! Here’s the trailer:

I’ve only watched the first three episodes so far, but I’ve enjoyed them as good, accessible, interesting television with some great visuals. It’s also been quite enlightening in terms of my first go at doing television work; the series consists of six 45 minute episodes, and over the course of three interviews they must have that much footage of me on my own! So I’ve been very interested to see what’s happened in terms of taking that much material and condensing it into a programme alongside other academics and the series presenter.

Anyway, regardless of whether this looks like your cup of tea or not, I hope you are all refreshed after the break and wish you all a joyful 2018.

November 21, 2017

Why do we need monsters?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:03 am
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I almost feel I should be apologising for the radio silence over here, but I shan’t – I’m just coming out of a very busy period for my admin job at work, plus I’m teaching and trying to write two thousand words a week on the monster project, and I recently realised that while I am doing very well at not committing to more things than I have promised myself I will this year,  I seem to have agreed to do the vast majority of them this term. This means I can look forward to a summer of lying on the lawn and reading critical theory, but it does mean that my bandwidth for blogging at present is rather limited.

However! One of the things I have done is talk as part of an evening put on by the Institute of Classical Studies about ‘Why Do We Need Monsters?‘ This was great fun for a number of reasons, not least the chance to hear from other people working on monsters in one way or another, and some audience-led experimentation with making our own digital monsters (nothing like seeing where hybrids take people’s fancy). I know that a lot of people were interested in this event but weren’t able to make it, so I’m delighted to say that it was all recorded and is available on Youtube! I link to it here for your delection – enjoy. I start talking at about 40 minutes in, but you should definitely listen to the other talks if you have the time.

September 24, 2017

Teaching goals for 2017-18

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:31 pm
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I wouldn’t normally blog on a Sunday night, but I am feeling quite strongly about getting a post about this year’s teaching goals up before teaching actually starts (which is tomorrow). I didn’t do a post about this sort of thing last year because I was on sabbatical in the autumn, and in the spring was thinking more about taking on a big new administrative role. This year, I’m still focusing on that administrative role and also on finishing the Monster book (quelle surprise), but there are a couple of things I want to work on.

Inclusivity and pronouns

I have finally come around to the fact that I really should, out of simple courtesy, be giving my students an opportunity to tell me what their preferred pronouns are, and be making an effort to use them. I’m teaching two classes of about a dozen students each for the whole year, plus a half-unit which looks like it’ll have most of the first year in it in the spring; with numbers that small, on language-based courses, I can’t really excuse being rude. I am also calling myself out a bit here – I have a number of genderqueer friends who prefer to use they and their rather than he/she and his/hers, but have always waffled my hands and gone ‘oh, well, my memory is like a sieve, so if I get it wrong I’m really sorry, I don’t mean to be offensive’. While I’ll give myself a pass for forgetting this sort of thing when I was a sleep-deprived mother of an under-eighteen-month-old, at this stage it’s really turned into a rather lazy ‘this is not high on my priorities’, and that’s just not on, is it? So, as part of my general attempt to pull my own socks up, I am trying to become a bit more aware and inclusive, including mentioning my own pronoun preference when I introduce myself. It’s a small thing, but it’s an important one.

Research-led teaching

I really want to get my research and my teaching matching up a bit more this year. This should partly be achieved by teaching Latin on the Edge, our Advanced Latin Author course, which is going to look at Latin texts talking about exile; I’ll write more about that course and what I want it to do in a later blog post, but what I am doing for it is putting together an entirely new commentary on Seneca’s Ad Helviam, which I want to teach and for which there is no such commentary. I’m thinking that once it’s been through testing, I’ll see whether one of the presses that publishes this sort of thing is interested, very much as a teaching support piece rather than as a deeply scholarly commentary – the ad Helviam is a splendid text, and deserves to get out more. I’m also reworking my Roman literature first year module by dumping Livy and bringing in Valerius Maximus, which means two new lectures and a new seminar to write; I want to get into Valerius but haven’t got the time, so this is a nice way to have a think about what’s been said about him and what’s not out there in the scholarship.

Student-led seminars redux

I mentioned last year that I following Ellie Mackin Roberts’ lead and putting student-led seminars into my Latin Letters course. I’ll be using them again in Latin on the Edge, for many of the same reasons and for some different ones which I shall again relate in due course. The second years on Latin Letters will be third years in Latin on the Edge, so it will be interesting to see how they react to going through the process for the second time!

Engaging students

Or, the perennial problem of getting students into my office hours. This year, I’m not doing anything particularly innovative with my teaching methods (unless you count continuing with the student-led seminars), partly because I’ve not seen anything I fancy trying, partly because of the book, and partly because I reckon I’ve got enough on my plate with the new content. So instead I want to try and deal with another aspect of my teaching responsibilities, providing one-on-one support to students who bring me their troubles in my office hour. As most teachers will tell you, despite us explaining this is what office hours are for, turn-out is remarkably low. Always. And the students who turn up are very rarely the students who we think would benefit from some one-on-one time – it’s usually those who are already high achievers but are anxious about their performance. So we can help students get over the first boundary, but we don’t get to those lower down the achievement pyramid (or whatever it’s called). My first tactic is going to be talking more explicitly about office hours more in class – there’s an assumption there that students know what this stuff is for, which is probably wrong. But then, who knows? If anyone knows any literature on this subject, or you have things that have worked, please do shout out in the comments.


September 5, 2017

On my current writing praxis

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:45 pm
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I’ve been talking on Twitter recently about my writing practice, and as it seems to be of interest I thought I’d do a blog explaining what I do, why I do it, and a bit about how my practice has changed over time.

The first thing I should say is that by nature, I’m a sprint writer. I have reading phases and writing phases – when my head is down to write, I write, and when I’m gathering material, I read. I put this down to doing my B.A. at Cambridge, where you would have to churn out four sides of single-sided A4 essay in 12pt font each week, and there wasn’t scope to do much in the way of extensive redrafting. During my PhD work, I adapted this into a pretty simple word goal for writing days, which I still use – a 250 word limit (which I can reach even if every word feels like blood from a stone), and a 1,000 word goal, which is the point where I can stop and pat myself on my back if I feel like it, or keep going if I still have things to say.

I observe this limit daily on what I think of my writing days. It’s really important not to confuse generating new words with the process of academic writing, and I don’t; when I’m in this mode, the process of deleting words and rewriting material is classified as an editing day rather than a writing day. Word count is purely for writing days, for the days when I generate the bulk of what I’m going to say.

I’m in the middle of a bit of a change to this at the moment, because of the requirements of the Monster book. I have worked out that in order to get a full-ish draft by Christmas, I need to be writing 2,000 words a week. That’s not impossible – far from it – but it does mean taking a rather different approach to this whole writing thing, and thinking in terms of a few hundred words here and there over a much more sustained period of time rather than a fortnight’s sprint to generate the original rough material. I’m not sure that this suits me particularly, certainly in terms of shorter form work, but it’s what I need to be doing at the moment and so I shall crack on with it. We’ll also see whether this new routine survives the realities of term that are soon going to be bearing down upon it!

Once I have the draft put together, then I get rather old-fashioned. I print out everything, read through it, and mark up edits with a red pen. This might involve crossing out paragraphs, moving them around, inserting arrows with ‘WRITE MORE ABOUT THIS’ in appropriate places… but the draft then becomes my road map for the editing phase as I work through the mark-ups, making the changes as I go. In this phase, rather than judging by words, I judge by pages of edits completed – so three pages, eight pages per day needed to make sure things get tidied up and sorted. Once I’ve done that, I may go through it again, or I may start to work at edits suggested by other people, or I may send the revised version off to someone else for their comments. After that, it’s back to a new copy of the document, a new set of red pen marks, and off we go again around the merrygoround.

I think it’s quite important to note that this really is a process of finding what works for you, and evolving your practice as you go. For instance, I never thought that I’d become a weekly word target writer, or that I’d do research alongside my writing in the way I am doing now, but it’s the only feasible way for me to get this project completed by the deadline. I expect I won’t stick with this way of doing things once that deadline is met, but I’m grateful for the flexibility of mind that made me consider what I might do to make this happen when the thought of doing it my usual way made me despair.

August 23, 2017

New publication: At Home with the Stoics

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:12 pm
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Front cover of History Today, August 2017 issue.

The front cover!

I’m really excited to share that I have an article out in the September issue of History Today magazine! The article is called ‘At Home With The Stoics’, and draws on the research that went into my book on Seneca and the ethics of the family.

I was particularly excited about this piece because of the publication venue. The Ethics of the Family in Seneca is, putting it bluntly, a very academic book, written with a lot of jargon and in a particular writing style; while I do try to write clearly, I will be the first to admit that it’s not the most accessible form of writing. It’s also not the most accessible form of publishing; although you can purchase a copy for your Kindle, the £70+ price tag may well be a considerable obstacle, as may be the investment of time needed to work through the book. For someone with a casual rather than a professional interest, that’s a pretty high bar.

So having the opportunity to share some of the highlights of my research in a much shorter form for a much wider audience was really exciting, and a great opportunity for me to come back to the research with a fresh pair of eyes. I found myself working out all sorts of things that I hadn’t paid much attention to during the process of writing the book, mainly about Seneca’s own family situation, and came up with a completely different structure to get those important ideas across. It was a really fun piece to write, and I hope that the readers of History Today enjoy reading it.

August 17, 2017

On conference papers and workload limits

Disclaimer: I am aware that there are far more important things going on in the world at the moment. I haven’t got the words to write about them, so these are the words I have.

At the start of the week, I posted on Twitter about academic work limits, in particular about how many conference papers people limit themselves to a year. I thought I’d write up the collected thoughts here, as it’s a useful thing to have in mind. As background, I was asking because for the last year, I’ve been following my own version of the guidance given in December by Helen Lovatt on managing academic workloads (which came out of our first WCC UK mid-career event). This is part of that transition from being on a temporary to a permanent contract, but also from being early career to being mid-career – one thing I’ve come to appreciate over the last year is that I simply can’t keep going at the pace I did when was a fresh-faced PhD, as it’s just not sustainable when I now know I’m looking at the long haul.

My personal version of the limits for the 2017-18 academic year looks like this:

– one book review or one book manuscript
– two articles to referee
– one external examiner role (for PhD or MPhil/MRes thesis)
– no more than three current PhD students
– two active national bodies
– one school talk per term
– one invited seminar

There’s flexibility here, of course – I currently have no PhD students, which makes being Administrator of the WCC UK doable, plus if I don’t feel an article I’m asked to referee is any good, I can just say no. Helen’s point was that in saying no to things, and knowing you’ve said yes to your ‘quota’, you ensure you have the space and time to do the stuff you actually want to do rather than these kind of activities which can become rather all-encompassing. Given that we’ve not started the 2017 academic year yet and my school talks and invited seminar are already booked up, you can see why I’m trying to plan ahead.

Helen’s original post says that she tends not to volunteer to do conferences. I can see the logic in this – I was a bit surprised, when looking at my promotion criteria, to discover that just giving a conference paper doesn’t count! (Invitations to give keynotes and seminars count. Presumably even if you turn them down.) But looking at my CV, I’ve still done quite a lot of conferences over the last year, and I thought it might be a good idea to have at least a notional limit in play for me to work with. Hence my call to Twitter.

In terms of numbers, people had a wide range of responses. Some people had no limit or policy at all. Others had one or two; Kate Cook aims for no more than two totally new papers a year, plus one or two papers based on pre-existing material, which I would have been able to sustain earlier in my career but would be out of the question now.

However, the biggest theme that came through was the issue of context and, as Syma Khalid said, judging each invitation (or opportunity) on its merits. Which raises quite an important question – how do you decide what those merits are?

In discussion with Carol Atack and Jo VanEvery, a couple of points for working out how to priorities a conference came up:

  • How long is the talk?
  • Does it relate to existing work? Does it fit with your current project or with a potential next project?
  • Will this introduce you to interesting new people or subject areas?
  • What could I feasibly write up or develop?
  • Have I got some work I want an opinion on?
  • Do I want to gain some exposure for my research?
  • Do I want to get new ideas?
  • What are my pre-existing commitments and what would this do to my workload?

Other important practical issues that were raised were whether or not you would be funded (Minx Marple, Caroline Magennis), how much travelling would be involved (Clare Maas), and whether the obligation would be compatible with childcare obligations (Helen Finch). Another factor I’m also now factoring in is whether the conference will require an overnight stay. When infans was very tiny, I did one conference in Dublin and one in Poland; there were both multi-day affairs, but I only stayed one night. I’m now of the view that while I am in principle willing to do an overnight stay, I won’t travel outside the UK to do it; I also turned down a chance to get involved with the next Celtic Classics conference because the logistics of getting to St. Andrews are such that for me to go and just have one overnight would mean I’d be doing nothing but travelling for two days, which doesn’t sound like great fun to me.

Of course, within this, you want to keep flexibility – if a really exciting CFP or invitation comes along, for instance, you don’t want to have booked yourself to total capacity and not be able to take it up. It’s a fine line between setting things in stone and being so responsive to opportunity that you never have the bandwidth to follow any one opportunity through.

So, in the end, I’ve plumped for a limit of two conferences this year. That feels about right in terms of pre-existing activity, but also in terms of what I’m willing to do – I’d much rather save an overnight trip for giving a departmental seminar somewhere, for instance, than go to a tangentially relevant conference abroad and spending most of my time in airports. Of course, these limits aren’t forever; I’ll come back to them in the future and revise them as my family and institutional obligations shift over time, as of course they will. However, I’m very grateful to Twitter for the conversation and the ideas it sparked, not least having a properly articulated sense of how to gauge an opportunity rather than going by instinct.

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