After taking part in the Prison Voices module last year, also run by Helen, I knew I wanted to push my research and blogging skills even further. The Writing Lives project has allowed me to do this in my own unique and creative way. Taking part in the module during my final year at Liverpool John Moore’s gave me the opportunity escape from structured essay writing and contribute to the ever growing Writing Lives project.
The hardest part of the module was choosing one of the many working class autobiographies we were given to research further and adopt as my own. Having sifted through the hundreds of memoirs from the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies held by Brunel University Library, I came across Florence Anne Cooter and her autobiography ‘Seventh Child’. Reading the biographical entry for Florence, I was captivated most by the description of her memoir as “An intimate story of family and married life with full details of her parents, husband and children” and I knew immediately I wanted to adopt Florence as my author.
Florence’s memoir was one of the longest at 71,000 words compared to other authors however I did not let this put me off and was intrigued to know more about Florence and her memoir. The first hurdle I was faced with was transcribing Florence’s memoir as although her handwriting began in a neat, readable form it changed throughout the memoir becoming messier and harder to read – this is how I came to the conclusion it must have been written over a long period of time. However, I am glad I pursued with Florence’s handwritten memoir as I was able to discover more about her interesting life and retell her story.
When researching Florence, I attempted to uncover documents such as birth certificates and family trees using websites such as Ancestry.co.uk. However, this unveiled little information that Florence did not already reveal in her memoir. I wanted to be able to discover more about Florence’s life than I had read in her autobiography and be able to connect with her on a more personal level. It was this determination to make my blogs unique and well researched that
led me to try and find immediate members of Florence’s family.
I began by again using websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past in the hope of finding either of Florence’s two sons, Richard and Jonathan as I thought it would be easier to trace them having the same continued surname. With no luck I turned to websites such as Linked In and Facebook in the hope of being able to gain some form of contact with Florence’s family.
It was through Facebook that I was able to find a Richard Cooter whose age matched up with Florence’s dates given in her memoir and who still remained in London where she spent most of her life. I knew it was a risk incase it turned out to not be the Richard Cooter I was looking for but it was a risk I was willing to take in order to push my research skills further. I decided to not message Richard via Facebook and instead wanted to present myself more professionally as an LJMU student, taking his contact details from Facebook regarding enquiries about his sculpture work, and emailed him.
I was delighted to hear back from Richard, confirming he was Florence’s son and was happy to help me with my research. From here my work on the Writing Lives project really took off and Richard was able to not only offer me further information about Florence and her life, but also share personal images with me and pass on my details to his brother and Florence’s other son Jonathan. It was through this contact with both Richard and Jonathan throughout the Writing Lives project that enabled me to engage with the project fully and ensure my blog posts were packed with information, research and images. I am so grateful for the co-operation and contribution from Florence’s sons in helping me to do Florence’s memoir the justice it deserves.
Using social media as a part of the course is something which I particularly enjoyed last year and motivated me to choose the Writing Lives project this year. I find it so rewarding to be able to share my blogs via twitter and have so much recognition for my work from both Helen and other users. Social media has allowed us to work as a team and to share my peers work on other authors, encouraging and promoting their blogs for other followers to read as well as promoting the Writing Lives project. The module encourages us to work as a team, sharing each others work in order to for us all to be successful and I think our use of social media and Helen’s encouragement has helped us to demonstrate this.
The Writing Lives project has enabled me to develop my blogging, research and social media skills that have opened up wider career paths for me that I would not have been confident in if it was not for this module. I am extremely proud of myself and my work and am grateful to both Helen and the Writing Lives module for giving me the opportunity to discover Florence Cooter and her memoir.
You can read Florence’s memoir via the link below.
181 COOTER, Florence Anne, ‘Seventh Child’, MS, pp.71 (c.71,000 words). Brunel University Library found in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)
Burnett University Research Archive http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9483