Post MA thoughts

I’ve finished my MA in Children’s Literature. And now, a few days after passing my dissertation to the lady in the post office (MAKE THEM SIGN FOR IT WHEN THEY GET IT PLEASE IT’S VERY PRECIOUS ER YES IT IS JUST PAPER BUT PRECIOUS PAPER), I feel able to look back on the degree that I fell into by accident but loved every second of.

I started the degree in 2007, a few days after it had officially started. I caught it on a random google (I think I was looking for jobs) and said to my parents (with whom I was living at the time) that this looked amazing.

And lord love my dad but he said “Go for it”

Cue a slightly frantic stream of e-mails including a personal statement and a pdf of my precious Buffy undergraduate dissertation being sent off to the admissions tutor with the plea of “Am I too late?” Thankfully I wasn’t. I got accepted (still slightly stunned at the fact that somehow I’d decided to do a Masters) and that acceptance heralded four years of solid distance learning which culminated last week with the receipt of my dissertation.

What have I learnt? I’m a damn sight more confident about a subject I previously worshipped at a distance. I’ve learnt that my opinions have validity and I’ve learnt that I still don’t quite get on with Jungian theory. I’ve learnt that this subject is important and continues to be. I’ve learnt that I can commit to something and follow it through. I’ve learnt that I can write academic essays and they can be good. I’ve learnt to have faith in my abilities as a researcher / academician / writer.

My top five tips for those considering a Masters via distance learning?

  1. You have to enjoy the topic. That’s the only thing which will sustain you through those long hours of self-paced working. If you don’t enjoy what you’re studying or reading, you will sack it off and fall behind before you’ve even noticed.
  2. Set yourself realistic targets. I am a freak with deadlines. I write them in my diary and then give myself a fake deadline of two weeks earlier. That means I can push to get it done and then have that little breather at the end to pick up errors. This came in particularly handy with my dissertation recently when I picked it up from the printers. My title: “The gifted and talented child in British Children’s Literature” My bibliography: several texts from New Zealand …
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your tutor is here to help you and you need to make the most of this. Learn how to communicate with your tutor in the way that best serves you. I never once had a tutorial via phone despite that being freely on offer. I knew that if I did, I’d hang up and promptly forget everything we just talked about. Plus I also get very self-conscious talking about my work in public so I knew that wouldn’t necessarily be the most fruitful activity. I had all my tutorials via e-mail as this allowed me to have feedback and comments in writing and also allowed me to refer back to them.
  4. Use. The. Library. Use it early, use it often and get used to the distance learner service. Ask them questions. Find out the key names. If you can’t afford postal loan rates or if your institution doesn’t do postal loans, make friends with your local public library or find out about the SCONUL scheme. I was very lucky in that I worked at a university whilst studying at another so I was able to utilise the library collection at work (which had a spectacular children’s literature section) to support my degree. And make sure you know how Athens works fairly early on as you will need articles at some point.
  5. Understand how you study and how you study best. Early mornings? Late at night? By yourself? In a cafe? I tended to take the part of the module I was working with at that particular point of time and snatch fifteen minutes at lunchtime to finish off a chapter or make some notes. I study fairly well by myself but occasionally took myself off to the uni library and told myself I couldn’t come home until I’d written 2k worth of words. That in particular worked wonders during my dissertation.
It’s scary. It’s complicated. And you need to change how you think. A Masters is all about you leading the learning (obviously within certain parameters). You decide your essay titles and you decide what to write upon. You decide how to study and you decide to skip a little bit over that section on Freud but focus more upon the section on Iser. You lead your learning. That’s quite a step to take after being spoon fed throughout school.
But god it’s good. I’m so proud I’ve done this and I’m so proud that I’m (hopefully) going to be a MA, BA (hons) soon. Admittedly I’ll have to stop doing a sheep impression on the BA bit but you get the picture.
The thing about this degree is you think you can’t do it. You think that’s not going to work out for you. But then you realise that actually this is one of the best steps you’ve ever done. It’s all so blinking fab.
(And, you get to read the most amazing  books whilst going “For RESEARCH darling RESEARCH!).
What’s not to lose?

Elsie Oxenham, the Abbey Girls and talent vs marriage

Elsie Oxenham (EJO) and the Abbey books is one of those series I fell towards following my love-affair with Brent-Dyer. EJO is an odd writer; one who’s dated greatly and then, in some queer little moments, not at all.

I’m reading my Abbey books at present with a view towards gaining research for my dissertation – Representations of Gifted and Talented Children in Children’s Literature. Unfortunately I don’t have many EJO and those that I do need a roadmap in between them to figure out what’s happening. What with Joy and Joan and Jen to start off with and then there’s Rosamund, Rosalin, Rosabel and then there’s adults and babies and marriages and deaths and it’s a bit of hard work to figure out what’s going on at times!

But there’s a curious charm in these books and a very feminine feel to them. The few men that do appear either die or disappear swiftly, leaving the Abbey girls to form their supportive sisterhood without them. And it is a sisterhood. It’s a fascinating – and quite beautiful – example of how women support women and also – when Joy puts her foot in it – how women can bring each other down and then build each other up. The books, at their heart, are about love and how it can sustain a community through thick and thin.

And yet, EJO doesn’t hesitate to marry off her characters. Marriage is the natural evolution for them. Mary Damayris, a powerful and beautiful ballet dancer, leaves the stage for love in A Dancer from the Abbey. It’s interesting how clearly this is presented throughout the book. It’s a natural evolution for her. She leaves and her dancing becomes better because of her love. There’s a pull between the stage and her husband-to-be, explored briefly and then dispelled as the cast accept that love will make her dancing better and stronger. It’s clear though that she’s now a wife first and a dancer second.

A similar thing happens with Maidlin. Again, this is based on limited exposure to the books, she is a tempestuousItalianate artistic child with a beautiful singing voice and then she turns into just another run of the mill adult. I can’t tell you how much this made me wince upon first reading – the appealingly complex and frankly unusual child falls into a clichéd mother and adult. I’m looking at getting a copy of a few more EJO titles in the near future and will be deeply intrigued to learn if this is just a misconception of mine or whether my feelings of disappointment continue.

So is this it in the Abbey series? Is talent a childish thing? Is a gift given up when a husband appears on the scene? Is a gift a gift and never your own talent? Do you have to give it back when marriage calls? Does marriage conquer all?

Gifted and Talented children in children’s literature

I’m working on my dissertation at present and am discussing the representation of Gifted and Talented Children in children’s literature. Following both a plea on Twitter (thanks Tweeps!) and Mailing Lists (thanks, er, Meeps?), I now have a fairly healthy list of G+T characters / titles which I thought I’d share. Anybody else you think should be on there? Let me know! (EDIT 25/03/2013: This list is now available here where you can edit / amend as necessary)

  • Ann Pilling’s “The Big Pink”
  • Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Well’s series – Sebastian (music) , Veronica, Caroline, Rosita etc etc (all dance)
  • KM Peyton’s Pennington (music) – various titles
  • Anne Digby’s Trebizon – Rebecca Mason (tennis)
  • Tol the Swimmer by Sidney Hedges
  • Constance M White
  • Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers – Amanda (sport) Irene (music) Belinda (art)
  • The Janis Project by Nancy Rue
  • The Runner by Cynthia Voigt
  • Drina Ballerina
  • Elinor M Brent Dyer – Kat Gordon, Margia Stevens, Jacynth Hardy, Gay Lambert
  • Coram Boy – Alexander
  • Piggy from Lord of the Flies
  • She Shall Have Music by Kitty Barnes
  • The Marlows books by Antonia Forest
  • Mina from David Almond’s “Skellig”
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Artemis Fowl
  • Ender’s Game
  • Christopher from the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
  • Elfrida Vipont’s Lark in the Morn books.
  • Bagthorpes
  • L’Engle, A Severed Wasp
  • The Servants of Arakesh
  • Elizabeth Bernard (Satin Slippers)
  • Hermione Granger
  • Mildred Lancaster from Angela Brazil’s “The Girls of St Cyprians”
  • The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff (child violinist)
  • The View from Saturday by EL Konigsburg (intellectually gifted children)
  • The Magnificent Nose and Other Marvels by Anna Fienberg (stories about
    children with remarkable talents)
  • Clair de Lune by Cassandra Golds (ballet)
  • The “Evil Genius” books by Catherine Jinks (criminal mastermind turns good)
  • Making the Most of It by Lisa Forrest (swimming)
  • The Samurai Kids books by Sandy Fussell
  • Born to Bake by Phillip Gwynne (cooking)
  • Getting Somewhere by Jenny Pausacker (maths)
  • The “Alex” books by Tessa Duder (swimming)
  • Casson family children in Hilary McKay’s novels (Saffy’s Angel etc)
  • Louise Fitzhugh’s ‘Nobody’s Family is Going to Change’
  • Jean Ure has a number of books about gifted young dancers: ‘Hi There Supermouse'; ‘Nicola Mimosa; ‘A Proper Little Nooryeff'; ‘Dazzling Danny’.
  • L M Montgomery’s ‘Emily’
  • Jane Gardam’s ‘A Long Way from Verona’.
  • Tim Kennemore’s ‘The Fortunate Few
  • Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman series
  • Pamela Brown’s books, ‘Swish of the Curtain’ and sequels
  • ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Robyn Bavati
  • Jean Richardson’s Moth books (dance)