My experience of researching working-class autobiography for the team at Writing Lives has been everything I had hoped and more.
The focus of my research was based around the life experiences of Harold Heslop, a miner from the impoverished North-East coal fields of Durham. As an autodidact, Heslop became a published author of proletarian literature and enjoyed some success with his novels. However, after the end of the second world war Heslop struggled to get any of his work published, including his memoir
Through Writing Lives, I have been able to research aspects of Heslop’s life and memoir and reveal his personal experiences of childhood, his knowledge of mining, his political beliefs and much more besides. Furthermore, the platform of social media, that Writing Lives is rooted in, has allowed me to make Heslop’s writing publicly available. His life and work is now available so that others can glimpse into and understand the working-class culture that made Heslop the man he was.
The collaborative research of the students who have worked on Writing Lives this year and in the past, has supported and informed my work. An example of this is in the research carried out by student Lynne Wainwright who has been researching, R W Morris, also a coal miner from the North-East. Morris’s memoir has revealed that whilst he and Heslop shared many similar experiences, this was not necessarily exclusive and they did not always share similar viewpoints. Our research serves to challenge the stereotype of working-class experience as a shared experience and highlights the need to particularise individual working-class personality and culture. And also supports much of the objectives the team at Writing Lives hope to raise through their work.
I was fortunate enough to have worked last year on the collaborative research project for Prison Voices and was able to transfer several of the skills I had developed there across to Writing Lives. Therefore, the process of setting up my twitter and Facebook groups was straight forward and I was able to help other students who had not done this before. Our blog pages had a similar format to Prison Voices and there was help from the tutor and other mentors, who had completed the module last year, with anything I found a bit tricky.
I absolutely loved creating my blog pages, I enjoyed making them interactive, choosing interesting and supporting images and playing around with the layout and design. I have become more confident in my style of writing as the module has progressed, and hope to develop this further as I continue with my masters. My blogs have allowed me to showcase the research skills I have developed over the last couple of years. And I am proud to have had my work acknowledged by the large following of professionals and academics I have gained through my twitter feed. I have also been pleased to regularly share other students work from the course as this has helped to maintain interest and showcase all of the research we have been involved with.
Index: 3:0075 HESLOP, Harold, ‘From Tyne to Tone. A Journey’, TS, pp.293 (c.123,000 words). Brunel University Library. 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): 3:0075.