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Archive for October, 2013

Now it’s the eve of Academic Writing Month 2013, which runs through November, I’m going to state my goals up-front. This is with the hope that doing so will encourage me to complete them.

Goal 1 is to finish revising an academic journal paper I have a revise and resubmit offer on, and email the revised version to the editors by the end of November. The editors haven’t asked me to do any new research, or read further around the subject. Rather they want me to introduce my work more clearly, state the thesis up front, etc. That should be doable, if my brain gets into gear, in a relatively short time. For some of the material I add I will probably have to hack out some other content to keep within the 10,000 words (including footnotes) word limit. But, again, that should be manageable.

Goal 2 is to research, plan, write and submit a conference paper proposal for the 2014 SHARP conference in Antwerp. I am considering putting in a proposal for a paper based on Doctor Who fanzines. I’m still slightly undecided about doing this, given my neurological disease which is very disabling. I will make a final decision on what to do later in November. But I am gathering relevant academic books on the subject around me, and also brainstorming ideas for my own paper in my favourite mind mapping app on my iPad. The process will take a little time, but I think should be doable before the CFP deadline.

Those are my two goals. Alongside them I will be doing other writing, with an emphasis on having fun. And I will continue to judge the 2013 IF Comp entries. But these things will be done as and when I can, rather than towards fixed goals.

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Yesterday I attended the second day of this conference held at Perth Concert Hall. It was held in honour of my former PhD supervisor, Professor Charles McKean. Originally it had been hoped that he would be there, but sadly he died a few weeks ago. But it went ahead in his honour, in a positive manner.

Sadly due to my MS-like illness I could never attend both days, and had to choose one over the other. This meant that I missed a very moving appreciation of Charles by James Simpson, as well as Charles’s son Andrew talking about his father’s research. But overall I think I chose the better day for me, partly on timetabling terms, partly on subject matter. I am not a Renaissance or architectural historian, and the second day’s talks fitted better into the wider social and cultural context I could relate to.

The venue was good. I’ve never been there before, but I was impressed. I was using my wheelchair, and it was level access, and a good sized room for the 70 or so attendants (hardly any chairs free!). Catering was also good, including a nice buffet lunch. My husband accompanied me, to help me manage my wheelchair, and he was made very welcome.

The second day started with the second batch of coach tours to nearby castles. I didn’t go on these, partly for wheelchair reasons, but joined the conference at the first coffee break, before the first main papers session. And it was a good one, looking at castles and tower houses in the wider context of landscape, and European culture. I was particularly struck by Shannon Fraser’s presentation about Fyvie Castle and some of the architectural research that has been done there by the National Trust for Scotland. And Marilyn Brown’s presentation on Edzell Castle – I really must go there! It is not too far from me in Angus – and the iconography and imagery used, and still visible, in the Renaissance garden there. The way she was able to identify likely original European prints that were used as the basis of the designs still visible today was highly impressive. Indeed every time anyone mentioned the use of books by castle owners I would scribble frantically – book/reading historian in full mode. That included books on architectural design, garden design, military manuals, and so on. I also liked it when the speakers could say that the owner owned a particular book, which may have influenced the design of their home.

The second session, after lunch, looked more at interpretation of old castles and houses. This included a thought-provoking talk by Michael Davis, on whether the quest for authenticity is at the expense of castle preservation. I think he gave us lots to think about, and in an era where many Scottish castles are in dire need of preservation, but also people who can afford to pay for the work to be done, it was an interesting thing to muse over. He was followed by Fiona Fleming from Historic Scotland, who talked about how her organisation works with academics – historians, architectural specialists etc. – to understand the buildings that they look after, and to present an image of what they were like in the past to visitors. She closed with a recently created artist’s impression of a Renaissance feast, and there was Charles, in the front, depicted in hose and the rest, raising his tankard to the viewer. Quite a few of us nearly choked up at that point, but it was a lovely thing to close the session on, before the closing reflections by Professor Konrad Ottenheym, with the image of Charles plus tankard staying on screen.

If I have one criticism of the event it’s that quite a few speakers over-ran their time slots, quite considerably, 10/15 minutes, which with 20 minute slots and a fairly tight schedule caused timetabling problems. The pity was that it ate into the time for discussion and questions afterwards, in one case obliterating it, and I wish that hadn’t happened, because I think it’s at those times that the speakers and audience could have had a particularly productive discussion about taking the research forward that Charles has inspired so much.

That’s my one criticism, but in other respects it was a superb day. I’m really glad that I went, I want to learn more about Renaissance architecture and studies now, and I think it was a lovely tribute to Charles, and a very positive way of celebrating an active research area, that I hope will continue long after his time. I also thought it was lovely that so many of the speakers I saw included personal recollections of Charles in their talks, echoing memories for many of us.

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I’m a member of SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing. Basically a bunch of book historians. They hold an annual conference each year, and I’ve been to two in the past: Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2005, and Dublin, Ireland, in 2012. Next year’s conference is in Antwerp in Belgium, which is terribly exciting from a print history viewpoint, being such an important early centre for printing, as well as a fun tourist destination.

I hope to be there. It depends on how I’m doing health-wise at the time. I’m long-term ill, with an MS-like illness, and my condition fluctuates quite a lot. But I’ve booked flights – cheap at the moment – and have sorted out a wheelchair-accessible hotel. I wouldn’t be using my wheelchair all the time there – Antwerp is a very cobbly old city – but would want it some of the time, and especially when at the conference talks.

A few months ago a fellow SHARP member on Twitter was toying with the idea of proposing a Doctor Who panel. In the end she decided she probably couldn’t make the trip over to Antwerp from America, but it raised ideas in my mind, that have been rumbling away ever since. And I think I might be going to propose a paper. The conference theme is religion, but also covers cult books and related publishing, and that’s a way in for Doctor Who, perhaps the most cult-ish TV programme ever, with rather an interesting relationship with publishing history.

My topic would be Doctor Who fanzines and their relationship to the programme, on air, then off air, then on air again. It also ties into the print versus digital debate. And fanzines are an interesting form of ephemeral publication that usually fall through the cracks. I have so many ideas for things I could talk about in a 20 minute talk. Back in July when I first had the idea I brainstormed ideas on my iPod touch, in an audio recording, so have that to refer to too.

On the downside this is well outside my specialist area 🙂 I’m a book historian, but my PhD, which looked at reading habits in Scotland, focused on the 18th and early 19th centuries. My postgraduate Masters dissertation was even earlier, looking at local court records from the 17th century. I’ve never looked formally at the 20th century or 21st century. But I think I could do this well, if only I can familiarise myself enough in time with the relevant secondary writings.

The SHARP 2014 Call for Papers closes on 30th November 2013. That gives me time to think over my options and do the necessary reading. Obviously if I do submit a paper proposal it would then be a question of whether the conference organisers accept it. But I’ll do my best, if I do decide to go ahead with a proposal. Another goal for Academic Writing Month!

If my SHARP paper is accepted I’d also turn up to my talk with a lot of fanzines to pass around the audience to let them see what I was talking about.

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Each year the Interactive Fiction competition happens around now, where people enter text adventure games, and then there’s a few weeks for judges to work through as many of them as possible.

This year there were 36 entries initially, though 1 has since been disqualified. I’m not confident I’ll get to judge all 35 games in the time available, but I am going to play and judge as many as possible.

Quite a lot of the entrants this year are traditional parser based games, including many written in Inform 7. But a growing number are web based, almost choose your own adventure type games, which can often be played quite quickly. This year there’s even 1 CYOA game presented in a PDF form, so similar to a book.

Playing and judging the games is also good for helping me as an interactive fiction writer. I can pick up ideas and techniques from other games, as well as form a clear idea of the sort of things I’d like personally to avoid.

But that’s something else I need to get on with in October and November, which again reduces how intensively I can throw myself at AcWriMo this year. But judging the competition is fun, and I enjoy it, so will happily do it.

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I’m doing another one of my occasional posts here about things I’m working on research and writing wise. I find these useful for my own purposes to keep a note of what I’m up to, and I’ve found that declaring goals somewhere like this can be helpful for getting things done.

I’m planning on taking part in Academic Writing Month again this year, in November, but probably in a more low-key way than last year. I have a particular goal for the month, to get a revised journal paper completed and sent on to the relevant editors before the end of November. But that’s probably my main goal for then. I need to finish some relevant reading for that, as well as work on the paper directly. So I need some thinking time, before doing my final revisions.

Beyond that I want to focus on doing things I find fun. For example, inspired by my much missed late PhD supervisor, I want to return to urban history research, and am planning a variety of things I can get started with. I have a number of ideas for academic urban history things I can do from home using both trade directories I have access to in digitised form and the detailed 18th century Scottish tax records available online at Scotlandsplaces. I’ve been jotting down ideas for research possibilities in a mind map on my iPad. All would be fun to research, and could potentially lead to more academic journal papers.

Urban history research ideas mind map

I also want to carry on with my series of crossover history and roleplaying game articles, which I’m planning to compile into a book once I’ve written enough. I completed my 10th and 11th articles for this the other night, and now have the challenge of figuring out which places to write about next. I’ve generally been writing about two Scottish places for every one English place. To be honest I’m impressed I’m managing to write that much about England, ranging from Northumberland, down to Suffolk, and over to Somerset and Cornwall. I like writing these pieces, and find them enormous fun.

And I really must resume my text adventure work in progress. Though I could argue I’m doing research for it at the moment, because I’ve just started reading Rosemary Goring’s After Flodden, a novel set in the same area at about the same time as the interactive fiction game I’m writing. Hopefully it will help inspire me and give me more of a feel for the time, which I need for continuing developing the plot and interaction side of my game. Writing text adventures in Inform 7 is enormous fun – like playing them, not like conventional programming – but I find the more traditional aspects of writing harder.

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