Participating in the Writing Lives collaborative research project has absolutely been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had whilst at Liverpool John Moores University. Having chosen Patrick McGeown’s memoir from his entry in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographers index, I was immediately interested in the passion he held for labour. As someone whose grandfather spoke so fondly of his days working as a burner in the local ship yards, I was keen to find out if I saw any similarities between Patrick’s family history and my own. However, Patrick’s memoir exceeded my expectations tremendously. Initially I thought that Patrick’s memoir consisted of the 40 odd pages featured on the Burnett Archive, but upon looking further into his story I found that Patrick had in fact published an entire autobiography of nearly 200 pages in 1967 called Heat the Furnace Seven Times More.
In producing my author blog and researching Patrick’s life and writing, I feel like I have gotten to know Patrick on a level that I never anticipated. I was dubious when reading other past students’ experiences on the module in regards to developing an attachment to their authors, but now I understand. It is easy to become attached to someone when you spend so much time learning the ins and outs of their lives. Patrick writes with a voice that is full of humour, candour and warmth. Given the nature of the extract I initially read, I had not anticipated his memoir to detail the whole of his life. Reading his journey from boyhood into adulthood and into retirement, I felt that he became a man whose story I knew as well as a member of my own family. Patrick writes with a refreshing and positive outlook on life and his memoir shines with anecdotal gems that genuinely lightened my mood. To read how Patrick observed his family, always positive, and the people around him was heart-warming. I think that this was the part of Patrick’s memoir I loved the most- his ability to portray the characters in his life so seemingly effortlessly. In giving names and personalities to the faces of his stories engrossed me and hauled me into his world.
Considering the sheer amount of information provided in the pages of Patrick’s memoir, I’d be lying if I said that researching his life hasn’t been difficult. It took a while to even begin researching as trying to deceiver all the people he mentions in his autobiography took some time. It seems that the highly personal writing which caused me to love Patrick’s memoir, was the very same thing that made researching hard. In referring to his family as ‘mother’, ‘father’ and ‘brother’ it was difficult to locate Patrick on Ancestry.com. Combining this with the fact that his family frequented Ireland, Scotland and England, I was proud to have found the information I managed to. The most disappointing aspect of this module was not being able to put a face to Patrick McGeown despite many efforts. This is something I will still try to locate despite the module being over.
From other modules on my degree, I already had some experience in blogging which meant I was already aware of the basic techniques needed to produce my blog posts. That being said, I did find the publishing process more difficult than anticipated due to the quantity of work produced by Writing Lives. I found it refreshing to write in a less academic tone and embrace a public history voice that fits with the website.
Heat the Furnace Seven Times More provides a rare and detailed look into the lives of the 20th century working class and stands as a valuable piece of social history. The memoir offers a first-hand account of the struggles, yet at in the same breath the happiness, that can come from growing up in a working-class neighbourhood. I feel that by writing about Patrick’s autobiography, I have made a contribution to public history. In posting about him, I believe I have further uncovered Patrick and his experiences. The Writing Lives website provides easier accessibly and a wider audience than book publishing. Thus, I hope more eyes will be cast on Patrick’s remarkable life.
I will take away so much from my time participating in the Writing Lives project. The module was an enjoyable, moving experience which I believe has benefitted me both academically and personally. It is sad to see the module come an end, however Patrick’s story of love, labour and life will always be held dear to me. I feel that in reading his memoir I have learned some valuable lessons about life and the outlooks one should have, which I will take with me. It is strange to think that someone who you have never met could impact your life – but I believe that this is the beauty of autobiographies.
493 MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967), pp.192. Other edn., with an introduction by Asa Briggs, Readers Union, London, 1968, pp.192.
MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967)