Mrs W.E. Palmer (b.1908): Researching Writing Lives

Being a part of the Writing Lives research project has been thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The focus of my research was based around the working-class life of Mrs W.E. Palmer, whose memoir is one of hundreds from the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. I was drawn to Winifred’s enigmatic memoir, Memories of Long Ago, as the biographical entry makes it clear that Winifred’s memoir is truly unique. Choosing to write in the third person under the pseudonym ‘Francesca’, Winifred presents her life with an air of mystery, making her autobiography an enchanting read.

However, Winifred’s decision to withhold key information about her identity, such as her name, made researching into her life exceedingly difficult. After reading through her memoir multiple times, it became apparent that Winifred subtly reveals her maiden name. Due to this, I was able to find information about Will Beaven, Winifred’s father, on Ancestry.com, which in turn lead to the discovery of Mrs W.E. Palmer’s full maiden name, Winifred Estelle Beaven. This taught me the value of reading over a text, whether that be a memoir, piece of literature, or secondary material, more than once in order to fully grasp what it is that you are reading. Due to this, I also learned the importance of copy editing. Initially, I found the prospect of other people reading my work to be extremely daunting. However, after receiving feedback on my posts I quickly recognised its value. As the module progressed, I watched my writing style improve significantly, as I learned to write in an academic yet inviting tone, whilst, seamlessly integrating secondary material, and references to other author blogs, into my work.

Working on the project has opened my eyes to the power, and many uses, of social media. Having my work shared across the country, by a mixture of academics, fellow researchers, archives and the general public, has been extremely rewarding. Although I had some social media experience prior to working on my author blog, I had never used social media platforms for research or promotional purposes. It is a quick, easy and free way to promote your work, and the work of others, whilst gathering research. Thus, it is a platform which promotes the consolidation of views and ideas, making social media an invaluable tool for researchers. For instance, one twitter user introduced me to the work of Alun Howkins, whose work on rural England has aided my understanding of Winifred’s childhood spent living in the Sussex countryside. As well as this, social media has provided me with the opportunity to contribute to public history. After tweeting links to my blog posts to Sussex based twitter accounts, I was thrilled when Sussex Local Magazine contacted me and offered me the opportunity to write an article on Mrs W.E. Palmer, for their magazine. As a result, I will feature in their September issue, as I will write an article on Winifred’s schooling experience in rural Sussex. Therefore, the Writing Lives project has provided me with valuable work experience, whilst enabling me to secure research based work once I have completed my degree.

Working on the Writing Lives research project has been one of the highlights of my University experience. My writing style and self confidence have grown significantly.  I have learned how to operate a blog, how to utilise social media platforms for research and promotional purposes, and have gained valuable skills which will benefit me in later life. I have also been offered an amazing opportunity to promote my work, and the Writing Lives project, in a local Sussex magazine, highlighting how the project will continue to benefit me after leaving university.

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