Classically Inclined

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.

August 10, 2017

On the Monster book and the perils of television

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:57 pm
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We are now in the depths of August, which Andrew Adonis has decided in the spirit of university-bashing is our academic three month holiday. Needless to say, I have spent my last few weeks indulging in the hedonistic pleasures of grant application writing, preparing the next version of the postgraduate student handbook, reading draft work from my masters’ students, wrangling all the postgraduate taught admin, and other well-known indulgences of the academic labouring classes. Somehow, alongside all of that, I’ve also found time to get on with the Monster book, last written about at the end of my sabbatical.

At the end of the sabbatical, I had written two and a half chapters of the book – the first two were the theoretical heavy lifting, and the third was going to be the film chapter. I’d also written a conference paper on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which I thought would be the starter for the fourth chapter on television. I naively assumed that I would be able to finish off the film chapter pretty quickly and move on. It turned out that this was not to be, because as I cracked on with the film chapter, it slowly became clear that this was not one chapter. It was two chapters. So into two chapters it was divided, which for lack of better reasoning I have dubbed the pre-Gladiator and post-Gladiator phase. Oh well, I thought. Surely dealing with television will be easy.

Alas, once more, this is turning out not to be the case. There are a number of problems with writing about television. The first is that you have to watch the dratted stuff. I can’t just sit down and watch selected random episodes of Hercules, as much as I would like to. My partner finds this position profoundly odd, but if I want to be able to write coherently and sensibly about the whole series, then I have to have seen the lot of it. This is doubly true for monsters – an episode recap might tell me if a monster is at the core of an episode, or perhaps even mention subsidiary rent-a-monsters who don’t get much screen-time beyond their obligatory defeat, but they won’t mention the throw-away lines of dialogue which are in and of themselves very revealing about the place that monsters are given in this rich fantasy world. So I have had to find time to watch 111 episodes of Hercules, which is over eighty hours. That’s a lot of time.

The second problem is that, contrary to my blithe and (in retrospect) daft expectations, not a lot has been done by classical reception scholars on television. Amanda Potter has done some fantastic stuff on the relationship between television and audience, but other than that, the pickings are pretty slim. (I haven’t yet looked at the new Wiley Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome on Screen, which should help a bit.) What scholarship there is tends to look at the television of the historical – HBO’s Rome, for instance, or the much-loved BBC adaptation of I, Claudius. This is all fine and good until you’re trying to put some production context in place for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and find yourself staring at the wall blankly. Thankfully, Amanda Potter put me onto the trail of Catherine Johnson’s Telefantasy, but it was a close run thing. There’s also a shockingly small amount written about Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, not just by classicists, but in general – there tends to be much more concentration on the companion spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess, mainly because that show created a particularly strong fan-base which caught the attention of nascent fan studies scholars, and has thus cemented it as a community that gets studied. Hercules? Not so much. (Please tell me in the comments if you think there is something I really must read!)

The third problem is that when you start writing about something that’s not been written about before, from a perspective that people don’t tend to think about, you have a lot to say. Which is why I’ve realised that the planned chapter on television is going to be – you guessed it – two chapters. And quite a lot of Hercules. I’ve also realised I’m going to have to be selective about what I watch of Xena, which I’m a bit cross about, but to find the hundred hours required to watch 134 episodes is just not going to happen. Plus I haven’t got the word count, to be honest. (There are also reasons that monsters matter less for Xena than they do for Hercules; I haven’t written that part yet, but trust me, it completely justifies a more selective approach.) Oh, and I want to talk about Doctor Who as well. Definitely two chapters.

In a way, this is good news, in that it’s all words towards the final manuscript total – I’m aiming to write 80% of them in the first draft, which has rubbish reference formatting and will need some tidying up on that front, and then for the remaining 20% to be introduction, prefatory material, bibliography and explanatory edits. On the other hand, it means my cheerful assumption that I knew the shape of the book when I started writing it has been neatly upended, and that the final product won’t look as I expected. Oh, and that I need to be writing about two thousand words a week to have this draft finished by Christmas, to give time for people to give me feedback and for everything to be tidied up before the contracted deadline.

I guess that’s my card marked, then…

June 22, 2017

Is the academic research seminar series still fit for purpose?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:21 am
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When I joined Royal Holloway four years ago, I was asked to take over the job of coordinating the academic research seminar and reviving it after it had fallen into abeyance (mainly as the department had had its mind on other things). I was delighted to take it on – it would mean I could write to all sorts of interesting people, I would be sending regular e-mails to the Liverpool Classicists e-mail list so my name became familiar,  and it was a research-related sort of admin task. Great. I made a point of putting the seminar in a lunchtime slot, because while I wasn’t pregnant at the time, I was very aware of the issues of family-friendly working and several colleagues had (and still have!) young children. And I got on with it.

By the time I was made permanent, and so could start thinking about what I might want to do differently, I was already feeling that the research seminar wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. Yes, I invited some great speakers and got to hear some really interesting papers, but the pressures of term (teaching, meetings with other staff and students, preparation, admin that had to be completed right this minute and so on) meant that my colleagues often couldn’t make it. Our graduate students are a geographically diverse bunch, sometimes living quite a distance from campus, and found it disruptive to come in for a single hour if there wasn’t something else happening on the same day. Despite plenty of publicity, we rarely got people from other departments in the college coming along, and in three years we never had a visitor from further afield. So I started wondering what the seminar was actually trying to do.

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June 8, 2017

Book review!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:15 am
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I am exceptionally excited that Seneca and the Ethics of the Family has had an extremely positive review from Brad Inwood on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which is the classics review platform of note. It is the sort of review that starts to get to grips with your actual ideas and offers some genuine thoughts about the big picture stuff, which is really the best sort of BMCR to get in my view. It’s also particularly because Brad Inwood is a really important voice in the field of Seneca studies who I hadn’t had any previous contact with – it’s great to find not only that he thinks the work has merit, but also that he’s happy to say that to the BMCR readership.

April 19, 2017

A tiny victory: Mythical Reimaginings

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:46 pm
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Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have noticed that over recent months there’s been a fair bit of content essentially saying *plotplotplot* and not much else. That’s because the project I’ve been working on has many moving parts (and keeps on developing more), is very complicated, and hasn’t had anything really concrete to share beyond ‘this is totally cool’. Until today, or, as I am thinking of it, phase one of taking over the world in a small scale sort of way.

One thing that’s been on my mind with writing the Monster Book has been impact. You might remember that I had some thoughts about what impact actually looks like as a result of the work I did on the AHRC-funding family archive project, and those have been bubbling around in my brain ever since. One of the things I did during my sabbatical this autumn was complete the free five week training course offered by Fast Track Impact in order to think through how I might build impact into the foundations of my research rather than having it something that was a bolt-on. (I thoroughly recommend the course, by the way, although it did take me more than five weeks to work through!)  As part of the reflection process, I started to realise that where I thought my research could make the most difference, outside academics who think about this sort of thing, was with creative types of people – people who create classical receptions, like video game designers and film makers and artists. I was particularly inspired by Stephen Hodkinson’s role as historical consultant in the production of the comic book series Three, which is something that seems really fruitful but I’m not aware of anyone else doing.

I thought about this. I talked about this, tentatively and nervously. And then Tony Keen said ‘have you met Howard Hardiman?’ Because Howard, as it turned out, had just had an exhibition at Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight about reimagining classical myth, and wanted to carry on working in that direction. So we touched base and had a chat, and discovered that we actually come at some of the approaches to this in very similar ways, particularly some of the political possibilities.

There’s a lot of this that’s still in the works and that may either be revealed in due course or have a veil of modesty drawn over them when they fall over, of course – but today, I am delighted to be able to share we have got some funding from the Royal Holloway Research Strategy Fund to create two new video pieces of performance poetry in British Sign Language along with text based on the stories from classical myth. There are many, many reasons that this is fantastically exciting, the biggest for me being the opportunity to feed into the artistic creation process and try out helping to shape a very new sort of medium. But there’s also the joy of being able to fund artistic creativity ethically (as in, with actual money that represents the amount of work put in), and the possibilities that this piece creates for future work, and the fact this will support Deaf artists using their first language.

Basically, I’m very, very excited. And hopefully this is only phase one – although I’ve quite a lot of work to do before the next stages…

February 24, 2017

Some thoughts on Judith Butler and kin

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 7:46 pm
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I was in a packed house a few weeks ago to hear Judith Butler speak about kinship trouble in the Bacchae. I livetweeted it under the hashtag #housman and will pull have pulled together the tweets into a Storify, I suspect, but (as will probably come as little surprise) there was more about kinship as broadly defined than there was about the Bacchae – the play became the case study for, oooh, the last quarter or so of the paper, after the general ideas had been outlined and Butler had looked at some other Greek tragedies.

For those of you who haven’t come across Butler, she is a very influential thinker in the gender studies world and beyond – in particular, her Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender kind of rocked my world when I was a graduate student, not least through the notion of gender performativity (which in some ways I now take completely for granted). She has since published important things on war and grief and many other things which I haven’t read, but I do need to catch up, and indeed to return to the familiar scholarship for a refresher. It never hurts to have a reminder of the ideas you found so exciting.

I wanted to muse a little on the concept of kinship that Butler sketched, because to my surprise I found myself thinking about its applicability to the Roman world as well as the world of the Bacchae (and indeed Butler herself framed the project within the scope of a wider interest in kin in the modern world, not a purely ancient one). Starting from the anthropologists and good old Levi-Strauss, she noted that kinship is often seen and employed as a way to control and define relations, with an underlying assumption that kinship is a stable thing – you are my brother, she is my mother, he is my father, and that leads us into a series of laws and regulations that govern how we behave towards these kin, and that lay out the punishments if we disobey these laws (and thus, as usual, we come to the incest taboo, but never mind).

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January 6, 2017

Looking back over 2016 and the sabbatical

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 1:34 pm
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I’ve decided that I’ve done all the admin that I want to do for today, so am going to spend the rest of my afternoon thinking about research. That means I want to review my sabbatical, and that in turns means having a look at the first part of 2016.

The spring and summer terms involved finishing off teaching Intermediate Latin and Roman Life Stories, and teaching our first year Roman literature survey again. I learned quite a lot in the process, especially about the Roman Life Stories course, which was new on the books and will need a bit of gentle modification before it gets its next run. I also proposed the two courses I will be picking up next term, and dealt with various MA and PhD supervision. I did a couple of school talks in Somerset over the Easter vacation and submitted an overdue book review. My biggest research achievement was sending the full manuscript of the Seneca book to the publishers just before Easter, marking a significant milestone in that particular intellectual journey. Oh, and of course we had the launch of the Women’s Classical Committee!

Then in the summer I got going with the Monsters project, starting with a conference paper in Warsaw in May on the Minotaur in British young adult fiction. I also gave a paper on monsters in modern classical epic films at the Celtic Classics Conference. I helped organise an event with the WCC UK on feminist pedagogy, which was very well received. I made a good start on turning the Minotaur paper into a chapter, and had a good go at planning how I was going to tackle writing the Monster book. I got started on the process of indexing the book manuscript with the invaluable assistance of one of our graduate students.

Then, during the sabbatical term, I managed the following:

  • An awful lot of core reading around monsters, monster theory and the like.
  • Two very rough chapter drafts of the Monster book and a third in progress.
  • A conference paper exploring some of the ideas for the fourth chapter.
  • Some very exciting ideas and actions about monstrous impact.
  • A very, very almost completed version of the Minotaur chapter.
  • All the paperwork, including copy-editing and proofs, around the Seneca book.
  • A full seminar paper on Seneca, fathers and rulers, which will be the basis of an article in due course.
  • A completed and submitted application for an outreach scheme.

When I finished the summer term, I had grand ideas about getting the whole book written before Christmas. This was, in retrospect, utterly implausible, but you have to start somewhere. At the beginning of September, I was aiming to get the first four chapters into draft. I’ve not managed that – but I have done some other things that weren’t in the original plan, and I’m well underway to getting more written.

In retrospect, the most valuable thing about the sabbatical term has been the time to set the stage – to spend a month reading what I picked out as ‘core reading’, get my head around the debates, articulate some of the issues I was running up against, blog and tweet about them, take my time to get organised. I now feel like I know what I want to be doing for finishing off the chapter I’m working on and starting the next ones – the project has become manageable, which it wasn’t at the start of the summer. There’s a lot still to do, of course, not least of all finding more lovely primary sources to talk about and analyse (which, to the untutored eye, may look like watching a lot of silly television). But I now feel like I’ve made a good start. Let’s hope it gives me good foundations for the work of 2017.

December 7, 2016

Between Scylla and Charybdis – the current outline

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:23 pm
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After all my general potterings about the monster book, I thought you might be interested in hearing a bit more about what it’s going to look like when it’s finished – or, at any rate, what the plan looks like at the moment. I came up with this outline in the original pitching process, but over my research leave I’ve had the pleasant discovery that my vague ‘this’ll work’ idea actually hangs together methodologically much more sensibly than I originally thought it did – one of those pleasant research-in-action surprises you sometimes get as you work on a project. The most sensible way of doing this seemed to be sharing the chapter outlines, so a brief summary of what I hope each chunk will say and do when it’s finished.

The introduction will do the heavy lifting about what classical reception is, where this book fits into it, how I have chosen what I’m going to talk about and so on. It will also note where I’m setting the chronological and geographical limits to my subject, and the limitations that places on what I’m going to say. I’ll also explain that monsters, like everything else, don’t have a single static meaning. At any rate, this is the heavy reception theory bit.

Chapter one gets stuck into the various forms of monster theory available, and looks at how they might or might not help us work through understanding what’s going on with the classical monster in the modern world. At the moment, the reader travels through catalogues, cryptozoology, Cohen and Mittman’s monster theory, the historical trends in what a monster looks like, anthropology, psychoanalysis, Foucault, Haraway and Braidotti, coming out at the end with what I hope is a version of monsterage that makes sense for what I want to do.

Chapter two stays with the theory for a bit longer and thinks about place, space and genre. This chapter looks at the question of where monsters dwell, broadly defined, and how that’s an important difference for the classical monster – I think it’s one of the major differences in what’s going on, a factor that comes from the Greek and Roman sense of a very porous boundary between everyday and divine or otherworldly space. I’m also talking about the difference it makes about whether we meet a monster on the pages of a book or on a screen, drawing on more Benjamin and more Haraway about the effect of vision, along with the rise of CGI technology.

Chapter three follows through this idea that genre-place matters by looking at monsters in the movies, starting with films produced in the sixties, seventies and eighties, with a particular focus on the work of Ray Harryhausen, and then looking at what has come afterwards. I find myself focusing on two strands – what one might call the modern peplum movie (all the Hercules your heart could desire), and what I tentatively call ‘creative interpretations’, where the monsters are taken and reimagined in plots that aren’t necessarily concerned with providing full filmic immersion into the classical world.

Chapter four sticks with the screen, but moves to the small scale to think about television. The conference paper I’m giving next week is the start of this chapter, thinking about the way monsters are used in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; I’m planning to bring in in Xena: Warrior Princess, the appropriate bits of Doctor Who, and quite possibly Ulysses 31 at the very least. My ideas about what’s going on here are still unformed, but I think something about the television series format allows for a different kind of engagement with monsters, both because of the extended time and lower budgets involved.

That’s the first half of the book – the second half will consist of four case study chapters, each focusing on the presentation of a particular monster in popular culture. The monsters I’ve picked are Medusa, the Minotaur, sirens and centaurs, each having their own interesting features and a range of representations in media. I want to give a brief overview of the ancient myth to start each chapter, just to highlight some of the key aspects of each monster, but the main meat is going to be looking at particular instances of reception and seeing where things work and where they don’t. I’m anticipating that these chapters will mainly look at books and comics, with a few other odds and ends thrown in, as most of the film and television stuff should be in earlier chapters in its own right. I’m looking forward to talking about using the sirens to give an anti-porn message in more detail, and I’m sure I’ll find some other fun things to talk about.

So, that’s the plan. I’m hoping to have the first half in very rough draft by the start of term, and then to get on with researching and writing the case study material in the new year. We’ll see how it all goes. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about examples of classical monsters in popular culture that I simply can’t miss, please do leave a comment and I’ll do my best to chase them up!

December 1, 2016

On sabbatical goals and #acwrimo

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:56 am
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I decided this year that I was going to have a go at Academic Writing Month, better known as #acwrimo over on Twitter. Taking its inspiration from National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, it’s basically a way to get an academic writing practice established – whether that’s daily writing, having a project finished by the end of the month, you name it, you can have a go at it. I had a go at this back in 2012, with mixed results – I found it a good way to push myself forward on revisions for the Seneca book, although I didn’t get as much done I as I wanted (plus ça change). AcWriMo isn’t good for everything – its emphasis on counting words, for instance, isn’t always the most helpful thing to do to help move your academic work along. But right now, given the fact I’m trying to get as much of the monster book drafted as possible, I thought that going the AcWriMo route would be sensible to move the sheer generative phase forward.

And so I set myself a very simple goal – to write at least 500 words a day, with Sundays off. And it worked really quite well… until the 22nd of November, when I completely fell off the bandwagon through a combination of full family sickness, travelling to a research seminar and giving a paper, and needing to finish the work of rigorously checking the proofs of the Seneca book by the deadline. So there’s been quite a lot of academic work in the last week or so of AcWriMo, but it’s not really been translating into words. Which is fine, not least because the proofs have been returned, the seminar was successfully given, and generally all the other bits and pieces I needed to do are more or less done – thus again reinforcing the point that word count isn’t always the most important thing.

But on the issue of word count, I don’t think I did too badly – overall, I managed a bit over 14,000 words in those three weeks. This was made quite a bit easier by the fact I’m counting my seminar script and handout translations in those words, and the former certainly pre-existed and just needed to be shaped into a script form. But the other words mean I’ve now got all of chapter two for the monsters book in first draft, and chapter three is under way.

When I applied for this sabbatical, I said that my goals for the term were to complete the majority of the Monster book manuscript, and to complete an article based on the research seminar. A short, sharp encounter with reality meant that I soon revised the first goal to having the first half of the Monster book in first draft, which feels like it should still be doable – not least as I’m due to give a paper at an AHRC conference in a few weeks based on chapter four, which should get that started. I’m not sure about whether the article manuscript will get much further, but at least I know what I want to say and that there is a kernel of an idea there. So it’s all progress – and sometimes, putting the words down onto the paper is what you need to do.

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