Julia Heath Researching Writing Lives

This year, I have found being a part of the Writing Lives Research Project a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.

The memoir of my author, Margaret Watson, in spite of being just forty pages long, is fascinatingly rich in detail. In it, Margaret covers both the hardships of her childhood as well as the many happy memories of her adult life. It is Margret’s honesty, and the candid manner in which she writes her memoir that immediately captured my interest, and after reading only a few pages, I was filled with the desire to know more about her life. The opportunity that the module offered, to carry out research as a way of discovering more about Margaret and the times in which she lived, was therefore an exciting prospect from the very beginning, as was the thought of sharing my findings with a public audience through the medium of blogging.

In order to engage a public readership and maintain their attention, I had to trade in the dense, academic way of writing that I had always been comfortable using, in exchange for a more lively and conversational style. I found that collaborating with other students was a great help in this respect, as proof-reading the work of others – as well as having my own work read – helped me to see the different writing techniques that I could try to adopt when constructing my own blog posts. Whilst still trying to convey my research in a way that was entertaining, I aimed to create blog posts that were both informative and educational, yet could still maintain the attention of say, a ‘non-academic’ reader. By learning how to write in this way, I have found that my overall writing technique has greatly improved this year. It is undoubtedly a result of the experience I have gained blogging for a public audience, that my writing skills have developed in a way that has been greatly beneficial to the work I have produced for other modules on this course. I feel that I am now able to put together more engaging arguments that are informative yet concise.

The opportunity that the module presented me with; to visit the People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library, were both extremely insightful experiences. The knowledge I gained from visiting these museums proved to be extremely useful when it came to writing my blog posts, particularly when discussing Margaret’s experiences of War and Memory.

Researching Writing Lives pic1
Myself and Olivia Smithies, exploring the Federation of Worker Writers memoirs at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

This year, Writing Lives has also given me the opportunity to experience first hand the power of social media as a tool for advertising work. Using sites such as Facebook and Twitter, I was able to share and promote my work with academics and other English students, as well as with the general public. By posting direct links to my blog posts onto social media sites, it provided potential readers with the opportunity to access my work easily. Not only did this help to promote my research and ideas to a wide readership, but it also helped to advertise the Writing Lives website itself, and in turn, the work of other students on the module, both past and present. As a final year student, I think the knowledge and experience I have gained with regards to using social media has been invaluable. In today’s modern internet age, career avenues in online content creation are constantly opening up to English graduates, and owning both a knowledge of social media, and the ability to publish content for websites, blogs or news feeds is certainly a valuable skill to have.

Reading Margaret’s memoir, I have discovered a lot about how life was for working class women during the early twentieth century. Although her account details the struggles and hardships she faced during her life, the focus of Margaret’s narrative is concerned with the ways in which she overcame these difficulties. Love and appreciation for her family and neighbours spill from the pages of her memoir, and the admiration she has for life is truly inspirational. I think that if there is one thing that Margaret’s reader should take away from her story, it is to be thankful for the life you have, and perhaps then, we will share in the contentment she displays towards the end of her life…

“I must always use a walking stick now, but I get around my chores unaided… I have very dear friends and neighbours who help me in countless ways. We have not a palatial residence but it is my home. In spite of my many hard times I would not have my life any other way. The pleasure of being able to walk on our stony beach, to look at the ever changing sea and to thank God” (p.39).


Burnett, John. Mayall, David and Vincent, David (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1897) Vol: 2 No: 802

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