Jade O’Leary Researching Writing Lives

Working on the Writing Lives project this semester has been exciting and challenging, introducing me to aspects of literary work which I had previously little experience in. Having worked on the Prison Voices module in my second year, I had worked before from historical documents and written for an online audience. However, the format of the Writing Lives module promoted a lot of new skills along with these already acquired which I feel are invaluable.

For example, creating our own personal author blogs and weblogs within the Writing Lives project provided a much-needed education in technology; e.g., the use of weblog publishing sites such as WordPress. Considering the revolutions in online academia, learning these skills now is essential for future careers in publishing or journalism. Writing individual blog posts each week has been great in terms of training yourself to respond to regular deadlines. As well as this, being given the specific theme for each week’s post mimics the working environment: supplying work to meet the demand.

Also unlike the Prison Voices module, which focused largely on fiction novels set in Victorian prison settings, all of our posts in Writing Lives were based in the one memoir which we selected at the beginning of the module. Although this may initially feel restricting to literature students, who are used to long book lists, it forces both a strong connection and interest which your author and the necessity for in-depth research. For example, Wally Ward (the author of memoir ‘Fit For Anything’) lived in the early twentieth century in both Bristol and Yeovil, working as an engineer while coping with epilepsy. Working exclusively around his experiences made the research more specific and detailed as I began to learn about the physical locations, the attitudes to disability and the health and safety laws surrounding factory jobs.

Having struggled to deviate from formal language when writing blog posts for Prison Voices, I feel the attachment to one author and their respective memoir helps to adopt the conversational tone. Once you have become so familiar with a person’s life story and researched all aspects of their lives, I found it more natural to convey passion and emotion in my writing than when discussing a novel.

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