Sunday 31 March 2024


Using Eight Words

Sometimes when I write the words just come and the piece is finished then and there, sometimes I need to mull a little, refine, rewrite, reflect. I started this one whilst in Bath a couple of weeks ago and finish it this morning, the first day of British Summer Time, on a rainy day in Coverack. 


I’m running a Creative Writing Workshop for Bath Beacon: Sport and Technology in a Digital Age at the University of Bath. I’ve set participants  a writing task: ‘chose eight words from those chosen by others from their piece of free-writing’ (each person had picked out and shared four of the words they wrote during our warm-up exercise). I’ve picked eight too. Thought I’d join in. It was easy to fine a good number that related to some of the main messages from my workshop today. As I’ve already said this morning, writing this way – using memoir, fiction, song lyrics and more – as a way to tell  academic stories challenges the more formal, traditional and still widely expected ways of representation. (Anyone who knows me well knows that I avoid dissemination whenever I can: ‘the scattering of male seed’ indeed). A style that in my view, at least, often does injury to the voices of those involved; respondents and researchers included. How wonderful then that more and more scholars, from across many disciplines, are embracing creativity and thinking differently about how to present data, discussion and debate. Such openness acknowledges and embraces the messiness of the research process, as an embodied, emotional, power-laden experience and not an objective and value-free one. Which is, of course, as true when we communicate to others what it is that we’ve done and what it is that we’ve found, as when we plan the project and collect the data. But ‘what will the reviewers think?’ I anticipate the question even though nobody has asked it.  I tell the story of the one and only time in my career that a journal article reviewer wrote ‘publish it as it is’ after reading my submission; a piece in which I wove some epistemological reflection with short fictional stories and pieces of memoir. I also share my experience of writing memoir and fiction for non-academic audiences and my view that this can make our work more impactful in that such storytelling enables us to more easily share our messages across and between disciplines and besides and beyond the academy. And yet, this way of working is not without risk: ‘nice but not theoretical’, ‘not very academic’, ‘self-indulgent’, ‘over-romanticised’…. I’ve heard it all, been accused of it all, and more. Any yet, and yet, so many more scholars are coming to appreciate the value in, and of, such representations. I’ve written about this before, and I know I will again. For now back to my chosen eight words. I’ve used seven so far – formal, injury, messiness, communicate, reviewers, impactful, risk. So what of the eighth – seagulls – which I just had to include. Oddly enough just this morning on my Facebook page up popped a memory from four years ago:

Visitor to my balcony. Seagulls get such a bad press but I love them and it was us that  drove them inland. I've been thinking all week 'what must the birds be thinking with the  streets so quiet?' (I know, I know). I think they're missing us and not just for the chips they  might pinch.

I shared it again with the words….  One of the seagulls that kept me company through lockdown one. Thinking of this now (and although I very much appreciate the new ways of hybrid working that we’ve been left with since the pandemic forced us to think differently about how to work and socialise) I smile to myself thinking how great it is to be here in person working with such an interesting group of people.

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