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I’ve always known about subjectivity. I like something. The next person doesn’t. Sometimes I’m at a loss as why they just don’t get that fab book or that amazing TV series. It’s subjective. Right.

So what does that mean exactly?

This is a self-exploration so I don’t have any academic texts to back this up, except maybe a vague reference to Bourdieu-type thinking such as ‘reflexivity’ and ‘habitus’ (but I’m new to this so don’t roast me)

I’ve been reading retro romances right. A few of them make me angry, uneasy or just bored. Most I love for many reasons. I was thinking about the ones that trigger my dislike.

For instance, creepy boss love affair stories. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Why is this so? Office romances happen. My previous partner was once my boss, but not my boss when we got together. Actually being a workmake is probably what allowed us to get together because it wouldn’t have happened that otherwise. Not that I had the hots for him when he was my boss. Anyway….whole subject awkward!!! So why then do these stories creep me out that little bit. I had been thinking before I recollected my office romance that I didn’t fancy any of my bosses (apologies) but yeah…nah!

When I got my first office job in 1976 with a stockbroker, they were all like fuddy, duddy old men and one fuddy duddy old lady (first female stockbroker!). The girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. Yeah that’s how conservative they were. I remember one day coming in wearing a jump suit. My job was to give the big boss his coffee as soon as he sat down, otherwise yelling would ensue. So I romp in with a coffee and a good morning smile. I get quizzed about what I’m wearing. I say, “It’s a jump suit.” The boss says,”Next time you wear that you can jump out the window.” Anyway, I digress. Memory digging will do that.

This morning I remembered my job before the office job. I had a short stint as a hairdressing apprentice and I was sexually harassed. I was dragged into the change room by the owner of a hairdressing chain and quizzed about my sex life. It was weird. He didn’t touch me. He made me very uncomfortable and I was at a loss at what to say. What sex positions do you like? Do you like having sex? etc. I was bloody 15! I kept clear of him and was sacked soon after.  Actually some of these questions he asked  and approaches are in those dark, Italian type retro romances. The salon I worked in at the firm did contain a harasser.My bestie at the time also had an apprenticeship and was molested often by her hairdresser boss who was married.

Oh dear! I’ve just remembered another job where that happened. In New Zealand, I worked for a car company in the service department. I was the only woman and I was touched up and perved on all the time and commented on. Finally I stood up to them and then they got the shits with me. Lucky I quit no long after.

So while my many years in the public service provided a harassment free workplace , there were times in my dark past when it wasn’t so. And these retro stories take me back to that time in a big way.

The other thing that I find that triggers me is the violence. Just about all the books have the man grabbing the woman by the upper arms or shoulders and shaking her. Lucky they didn’t break the woman’s neck. Anyway, one particular story where the woman cried out in pain. He was really hurting her. And he’s like I’m sorry, it’s just that I love you and want you only to be mine. I’m like egads! Domestic Violence! All my flags go up. It had been a promising story until then. My note say something like. ‘Creepy ending with potential abuser!’

I grew up with domestic violence and I’ve experienced it first hand, especially the jealous boyfriend who broke in to where I was living and smashed me up. So yeah. Subjectivity!

I’m sure I’ll find more things that affect my objectivity as I read the retro and contemporary romance fiction. I certainly found that objectivity can be difficult to maintain when I read the article by Peter Darbyshire about the Love Inspired imprint! A few posts ago.

If I apply the above to other readers then it is easier to understand why people react in different ways to books or films. They are shaped to a large extent by their experiences and their environment, like I have been. I try to overcome this when I’m aware of it.  If anything, study has lead me to ask these questions of myself. Why do I think that? Or Why do I have that reaction?

 

 

Last week I worked out that I was being too intense and trying too hard and that I’d burn out. Today after a four day weekend, I’m feeling relaxed but alert.

Today’s chore is to review all the research proposal material to submit it for ethics approval. The ethics approval process is very long. I would have given up on it I think if not for my supervisor Tony knowing what was to go where. Thanks Tony! I want to ask some romance readers and writers questions but I have to do the same process as if I was going to take tissue samples from them and combine their DNA with animals. Sigh!

But now that it is close to being done, I’m feeling quite good about it all. I would like a year of researching books and academic articles before formulating my questions but alas I have to think them up now. At present I’m hunting for some definitions of strong, female heroine in relation to popular romance. If you see one please give me a hoy! I’ll need this to do my introductory seminar but it would also be useful for the questionnaires.

When I’ve tidied up the above papers…quite a few of them, I need to start working on a paper to be included in a conference. I don’t get to present this paper as there are too many other people wanting too and well I’m just starting out so I’m at the bottom end of the pecking order. It is fantastic though that there is so much romance scholarship that there is an oversupply of presenters. However, I can write the paper so it can be peer reviewed etc. I wrote an extract in February. Now I have to get my head back into that space and write the bloody paper.

Meanwhile reading lots of articles etc which make ideas percolate all the time and sends my mind into hyperspace and back again so rapidly I spin on the spot.

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Me, mother of swords, Queen of food

so I’m just doing the day in the life of a PhD candidate thing because that’s what I do these days.

PS We just blitz-watched Game of Throne season five. Nooo. Not Jon Snow!

Pacing and PhD

I’m just over two months into this PhD and I’m gaining a few perspectives into the world, as you do, and myself too.

Yesterday I read an article by Angela McRobbie and it made me think in new ways about the world and what we do to each other. This is the title of the article:

Notes on ‘What Not To Wear’ and post-feminist symbolic violence, Angela McRobbie, The Editorial Board of the Sociological Review, 2004, Vol 52, supplementary issue. (McRobbie, 2004)

It’s not the first article that got me thinking either or feeing emotional or just mind blown. Yet it was the first time I felt that I could do the methodological analysis required. Something slipped into place. McRobbie uses Bourdieu’s cultural capital to assess the changes in TV and the way females exist in this day and age. I need to understand Bourdieu and apply his framework to my own work. Now I think that’s possible. This article only came up when I googled Bourdieu and Popular Culture. It hadn’t stumbled upon it elsewhere.

The other realization I had this week was about pacing myself. I’m an intensely focused over achiever, well I tend in that direction. I can’t do that every day. I just can’t. Not for the next three years. I realized that I had to try and moderate myself. PhDs are self-directed and unstructured. You have a supervisor to provide advice and some direction, but basically it’s up to you to get the work done. For me that means trying to get it all done in a month, maybe two with constant reminders that I have three years. Three years doesn’t seem long enough sometimes. I’m enjoying it. But I don’t want to over do it and end up not enjoying it.

So the hardest lesson will be striking a balance of too much and too little and let myself breathe a bit.

Going to uni most of the week is really helpful. I thought it wouldn’t be but I find I come here and work and I’m not tempted to do housework. It will surprise you to know that I haven’t cleaned the house since I started this. My partner, Matthew, thought I’d go on a cleaning frenzy but I’m just too exhausted when I get home to do that. I’m even cooking less. Some chronic pain issues aren’t helping there either.

Guilt about attending the Jane Austen Festival over the weekend and Thursday and Friday, has lessened now that I come to this realization. I must pace myself. A little bit crammed in each day, is better than shoving heaps of info into my head and then having a brain explosion.

Balancing out the technical with reading retro Mills & Boon is helping too. That doesn’t feel like work at all. Filling out my spreadsheet is work though!

 

In case you missed it, the Australian Romance Readers of Australia  (ARRA) hosted me for a blog post. Here.

I just want to say what a professionally run organisation ARRA is and how useful their work is. I really hope to make the conference in Melbourne in February 2017. Romance fans should check them out!

 

Since my last post I’ve been reading and researching and then I took time out to attend the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra. I would have been doing this regardless of what else I chose to do. I’m just weird that way. I do cool stuff!

This is my second time at the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra. Last year I only attended two part days. One reason for that was that I was still working on my dress until late morning on the Saturday. For some reason I failed to enroll in any of the interesting sessions on at the festival, which meant I had to watch the dancing. I had hurt my foot so couldn’t participate. I met up with fellow writer Bronwyn Parry and her family and friends. I met some other people I knew too. I enjoyed it immensely then and took part in the promenade and carriage rides etc.

This year, I got my organization mojo going (I thought). I enrolled in a pre festival workshop to make a bonnet. This was a fab idea. I was interested in Aylwen’s method and I thought it was a good way to ease into the festival, maybe meet people. I failed, however, to enroll in any of the additional sessions. I couldn’t figure it out. Later I found a clue, an email had been sent in February with a password. Doh!

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Cutting out the bonnet- a buckram construction

 

Unfortunately this year I also developed pain in the spine, everywhere and that put a dampener on things. I was going to participate in the dance tutorials, but egads! They were at nine o’clock! So pumped with painkillers I made it in on Friday. I sat and sewed with Bronwyn. I was on a mission to hand sew a white muslin gown. In the evening I participated in a dance. Nothing vigorous. But it was good to get out of the chair and move about. The atmosphere was fab! So many beautiful gowns. Dymocks Civic had a book stall so I bought a number of books. I also bought a second hand sari for converting into a gown and some fluffy feathers for bonnet trim.

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Books purchased at JAFA -some for my sewing and one for research

 

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Feathers and Fabric

Aylwen and John Gardiner-Garden are the organisers with volunteer helpers. The festival was managed wonderfully. I have organized SF conventions so I know how hard that is to do. The catering was wonderful and I don’t know how either of them could stand by Sunday night. John’s energy with the dance instruction and calling was indefatigable. The music was divine.

 

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Sewing with Bronwyn, Lauren and Kate

 

Saturday I stayed home for the morning. I hurt a lot, but rested and sewed and finished my gown. (this was for two reasons. I’m writing a Regency romance where the heroine sews gowns and I wanted to see if I could)

More painkillers and I was at the festival again. More dancing (just a little) but mostly watching and talking to people. I also bought a new bonnet blank (a straw base in the shape of a Regency bonnet for later trimming). My attempt at frugal practices was dead in the dirt by this time. I stayed for the Grand Napoleon Ball until after supper. I was hanging out to try the Syllabub. I went home earlyish.

This is a shot of me in my trimmed bonnet. I did it in a hurry as I had it for a year and was too ashamed not to trim it and wear it. Turned out well I think.

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Lauren and Kate in their lovely gowns. The Grand Napoleon Ball

 

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Assembled for the ball. I finished the white muslin gown all by hand.

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The hem detail of my dress. I had some vintage lace. I need to extend the hem as I ran out of fabric in the front.

Sunday and I was pain free. I was so happy that I was out the door relatively early. I missed the breakfast but I did buy some Bingley Teas. Bronwyn was delivering a workshop so I hung out with another writer Beverley and we had some morning tea. The big event for me was the promenade to the Old Parliament House Rose Gardens (Senate) where we had a picnic.

 

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Picnic!

 

 

I was pretty exhausted but did a dance lesson then listened to a talk on Regency and tea, had seconds of syllabub and went home. There was another ball after that but I was done in. I don’t know how people do it. What a jampacked weekend. Next year I want my daughters to come and Matthew too. I have a fantasy with him wearing Regency costume and dancing with me. I should take a pill.

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Me in the bonnet I made at the workshop. (not 100 per cent finished) and wearing the dress I made last year.

 

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Today it’s back to the PhD study. I’m working on questionnaires for readers and writers of romance and in depth interview questions. I feel it is a bit early to develop these but I have to submit my research proposal with my ethics clearance. I can’t do any interviewing etc until I have ethics clearance at that can take months. The form! My god. It’s complicated. I am so glad my supervisor, Tony, knows what it requires. So I’m sitting here at my desk avoiding work! Not! It’s good to recap I suppose. Now it’s time to be diligent.

Now it’s time to read about Bourdieu and drink some tea.

 

PhD’ing

I’m now two months into the PhD. It’s been a steep learning curve for me in many ways but others not. My day job skills come in handy and the fact that I’m researching and analysing topics that I love, means that I’m working harder than ever. I’m taking pain killers to do it too.

The first thing I needed to do was up my reading mojo. I started this well before I actually hit the uni scene. I’m still not where I should be. I need to read faster, harder and analyse more. But I’m getting there.

The next challenge is that I have a lot of topic areas to get across. I have to research a methodology. There’s no tick box here. I have to read the philosophy behind the methodology. Next, I have to research feminism (not in-depth because I’m not doing feminist research per se) but sufficient to understand it, the origins, the different schools of thought and past and current trends. Linked to this is Gender so I’m reading up on that and Queer theory. This links directly I think to my creative work, which will be spec fic with romance.

Then I need to read journal articles and books that deal with Harlequin Mills & Boon novels, with or without feminist analysis for my literature review which outlines what research has been done so I can point out where my research will add value. Absolutely fascinating stuff! OMG!

My independent research is the textual analysis of Harlequin Mills & Boon books from 1970 ish till now and also some interviews/questionnaires with romance authors and readers.

I tried develop a schedule so I could get across everything quickly. My approach of shoving all this stuff into my head led to me not reading Mills & Boon books because I was busy reading everything else. Pulls hair!

I haven’t quite got the schedule developed yet. I am being more balanced.

What I wasn’t prepared for is the change in me. Already I think I’m changed by what I’ve read. I believe I should be objective, unemotional and distanced, but I find I’m passionate, sometimes angry, sometimes so excited and happy. Maybe I need a chill pill or something. I don’t know if other Phders went through the same. It would be good to know. I’m not too upset by this. I like being enthusiastic and I know possibly in future I will have the t-shirt that says ‘don’t ask me about the Phd!’ on it. I feel like I’m surfing a wave of exploration and enjoyment. I wonder why I didn’ t do this years ago. (mostly couldn’t afford to)

I was saying to Matthew last night that this PhD might make me more of a feminist than I am now. I am a feminist but I am my kind of feminist. I’m not affiliated to any particular school. Life made me a feminist. I was subject to child abuse, I was raped at 14 (my first sexual experience) and was a victim of domestic violence and I was discriminated against in the workplace in the 1980s for being a woman. Life made me a feminist.

Feminist are known to rubbish popular romance. I can take that. I don’t  believe in that criticism because I can see feminism at work in the texts I’m reading. Not all texts but its there. However, yesterday, when I read an article about right wing Christian romances being anti-feminist (Darbyshire, P, 2002) I was enraged I think. I knew there were Christian romances out there. I thought they had no sex and took place in Sunday school. (not read one!) and then I read Darbyshire’s analysis and I was appalled by it. His analysis was great but I was appalled at the let’s blame feminism for the world’s problems he identified in the texts and put women back in their place, out of the work place and being subservient to men. OMG! This touched a deep nerve in me. I did the religious thing in my early years. No offense to my ex but I soon learned that I was lot smarter and more capable than he was. The thought that he was going to govern me in the afterlife sent me running and I haven’t looked back. I think people should be free to believe what they like, but I also believe in equality of the sexes and of race.

So that’s me. Two months in. I have a great supervisor. An excellent partner and very supportive friends.

Highland Gathering 1983

I feel naughty! I’ve put a book up on Amazon for pre-order (other retailers to come). I feel nervous, excited and liberated too.

It’s been an interesting experience, one of commitment and camaraderie. I had to commit to working on the whole series this year. I had to pay for an edit and a cover. Anything to do with spending money when I’m now retired is a BIG commitment. Then there has been the camaraderie, the network of writer friends who have or who are embarking on Indie publishing. So much assistance and advice freely given. It’s been wonderful. Thank you all.

Cover by Les Petersen

Cover by Les Petersen (lespetersen.com.au)

The cover does have a YA feel but that’s deliberate because it does have YA leanings for sure. Fish out of water, coming of age etc. It’s also about romance, though I’m told it’s not fantasy romance. This is mainly because there are three different relationships. I can’t spoil it though! After fifteen years, it’s amazing to see it out there. Only me and maybe a couple of old friends knew the early version– the rank beginner Donna. It wasn’t my first novel ever. I’ve not had that much commitment to Relic (SF romance, Feminist SF) my first novel attempt, which I haven’t given up on completely. (I was just advised to wait until I was a better writer as it was a worthy project). Argenterra was my first fantasy ever. My first Indie published book.

Now for the outtakes….Sophy and Aria. Their names used to be Sapphire and Misty. However, while on a Writers’ Retreat, my very first, Russell Kirkpatrick and Paul Ewins said those names sounded like unicorn names. It was funny at the time but I did change the name. I always had trouble with Sapphire as a name. People found it odd. I couldn’t understand that because I knew a Sapphire. So Sophy and Aria it is.

Here is the pre-order link.

 

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