Reading for Normal
This new project is funded by a British Academy’s Covid-19 Small Grant. I will be working with young people to explore ideas of ordinary and everyday life through the lens of contemporary British YA fiction. The project will involve digital reading groups and shared reading practices. Participants will read and discuss YA novels that offer fictional snapshots of a pre-Covid contemporary Britain, and reflect on their own changing experiences of ‘normal life’. More information will be available soon.
I have recently launched this new journal, which aims to foster new scholarship covering the theory, critical interpretation, literary history, and cultural production of young adult literature from all parts of the world. IJYAL acknowledges the growth of the field of YA and takes it seriously as a subject of literary enquiry. Areas covered include theoretical work, considerations of form, genre, theme or style, author studies, comparative analysis, explorations of reception and response, and publication histories.
Working with Aidan Chambers to help edit his new collection of essays on 'youth fiction' was a joy, as I am a a longterm fan of his YA novels (particularly Postcards from No Man's Land) and regularly use his critical writings in my teaching. The Age Between was published by Fincham Press in 2020.
Lifelong Reading: New Stories
Remembering and rereading childhood books can provide the means for understanding identity over time. This project invited older adults living with dementia to explore their childhood reading in intimate discussion, and create new narratives in the form of ‘book boxes’. I worked with creative practitioners Gemma Seltzer and Wallis Eates, and the Holybourne Day Centre in Roehampton, and the result was an intense and exciting collaboration. We created a ‘Good Practice Guide’ and I have written up the project and its methodology in a journal article ‘”Life goes through in a book”: a case study of a co-creative narrative enquiry involving older adults living with early-stage dementia’.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (1911) became canonised as a "girls' classic" and published accounts of the novel have often drawn on personal memories of girlhood reading. By interviewing men who read The Secret Garden when they were young, this project uncovered an alternative history of reception and tested some of the most common interpretations of the novel's characters, themes, and ending. My findings can be read in the article ‘“Girls Like it Most”: Challening Gendered Canons and Paracanons in the Case of The Secret Garden’.
I have supervised these wonderful projects to completion:
Nick Campbell: 'Children's Neo-Romanticism: The Archaeological Imagination in Post-War Children's Fantasy.'
Erica Gillingham: 'Lesbian Love Stories in Young Adult Literature and Graphic Novels: Narrative Constructions of Same-Sex Relationships between Female Characters across Genre and Form.'
Anne Malewski: 'Growing Sideways: Shifting Boundaries between Childhood and Adulthood in Twenty-First Century Britain'
Sarah Pyke: 'Queer readers remember: The textual and extratextual afterlives of childhood reading for LGBTQ adults'
Kay Waddilove: 'Good Enough? Representations of Motherhood in Populist Children's Literature from 1911 to 2011'
I am currently supervising these students:
Emily Corbett: 'Gender-Variant Identities in Twenty-First Century Young Adult Literature.'
Odhran O'Donoghue: 'It gets better? Homonormativity, queerness, and the illusion of progress in contemporary American LGBT+ young adult fiction'