Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag



“Five copies for binding…”

It’s a funny thing, this thesis-writing business.  The hand-in deadline – 31st December 2013 – has been on my mind and on the horizon for ages. I have been ‘approaching submission’ for a couple of years at least, a bit like a tiny space probe heading for a very large but very distant planet. I travelled & travelled, but the planet never seemed to get any closer.  And then all of a sudden it was the only thing in sight, touchdown was frighteningly imminent, and there was an awful lot to do in a very short time. This was of course the point at which Word decided to have conniptions about the size of some of my files – thank you, Scrivener backups, for saving the day and my sanity!  Then there was the minor problem of getting long complicated documents to output to PDF format for printing. I have done this many times for shorter, simpler documents with no trouble at all, by using ‘print to pdf’ from within Word.  Suffice it to say that on this occasion I ended up printing all five lots of 380 pages myself from the Word documents, which was probably doing things the hard way, but it got the job done.

And then it was Tuesday afternoon, just after the end of the Autumn term.  Retro-rockets were firing and kicking up moon dust and the altitude figures were suddenly in feet rather than miles…  And meanwhile back on planet earth, four copies of my finished thesis – all 380 pages of prose, photos, quotes and references – were now bound and labelled and on their way to Senate House.  At Reception, a lady from the Graduate School appeared, disappeared, and reappeared again clutching a form, a pen and a clipboard.  I filled in the form and handed it back, at which point Ms Grad School smiled, said nice things like ‘well done’ and disappeared again with the cardboard box of thesis copies and the paperwork.

And that, for the time being, is that. I am not yet ‘Dr Southall’; in fact,  I’m in Ph.D limbo.  I know I’ll have a viva some time in the next three months or so, but apart from that, for the first time since I officially set out on this voyage almost eight years ago, I’m not in control of what happens next.  It’s a tiny bit disconcerting.  However, it’s a pleasant sort of disconcerting in many ways.  For a start, and unlike last year, I won’t be working through most of the Christmas ‘holiday’, trying to get a full draft of all chapters completed. This year I can take time off to go walking, watch Poirot and Time Team, and finish knitting that jumper at last with a relatively clear conscience. I might even get started on the knitted woodlouse I’ve been planning for several months now. On balance, this particular limbo is actually quite bearable!

Happy Christmas everyone!


Posted December 21, 2013 by HVS in Thesis

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In praise of coffee shops

I discovered a long time ago that quiet, undisturbed places like libraries and study rooms don’t usually have the effect they’re supposed to have on me. With very rare exceptions (of which more later), settling down to work somewhere quiet and undisturbed usually results in me finding something fascinating to look at through the window, or rearranging my address book, or checking my diary for clashes, or looking at Facebook or Twitter or… well, you get the idea. I don’t need any help to get distracted; I distract myself. For some reason though I can work very efficiently when surrounded by other people, and coffee shops seem to offer the perfect blend of anonymity and company. I don’t feel like I’m the last human being left on the planet, I’m conveniently close to sources of coffee and cake, and I am irrationally embarrassed about being caught slacking in public. I don’t pretend to understand the last bit, but it works; when push comes to shove, I get more done in a coffee shop than in an office or library. (It’s a kind of solo version of Shut Up and Write.)

Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time in coffee shops this summer. As well as getting the final, final draft of my thesis finished, I’ve also been working on first drafts for a book chapter and an academic article. It’s the first time I’ve done any of these, so there have been plenty of ‘what the heck am I supposed to do with this bit?’ moments as I got to grips with the subtle differences in approach and content required for the different formats – exactly the sort of mini-crisis which would have led to a prolonged bout of window-staring if I’d been on my own. Thanks to the local branches of Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Pret a Manger, along with the cafe downstairs from my office at uni, window-staring and other such distractions have largely been avoided and I’ve achieved what I hoped to over the summer. It cost me a small fortune in coffee and sarnies, but it was worth it. Thank you coffee shops – I couldn’t have done it without you…

There is one exception to my rule about libraries being too quiet, and that’s Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in North Wales. There’s something about having busts of stern Victorian theologians gazing down at me which is at least as effective as the chattering hordes in Cafe StarManger in keeping me focussed on the job in hand. That and the thought of getting back downstairs in time for another pot of excellent tea and plate of home-made biscuits in a comfy leather armchair in the lounge. I suspect those Victorian theologians knew more than they were letting on about getting the job done, but in comfort…

Posted August 9, 2013 by HVS in Publications, Thesis

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