I was accepted in February 2014 by Southampton University to undertake my PhD research project though I did not make the decision to accept the offer until May. I began work in September 2015 under the supervision of Ms Rebecca Smith and co-supervisor Sujala Singh. My thesis topic is: Hiraeth: Finding a Fictional Home – A Creative Writing PhD. I am going to be looking at the representation of orphans and care leavers in literature and investigating whether care leavers are portrayed as criminals. I’ll be concentrating on the mid-20th century to today. Find out more at my new PhD Creative Writing blog.
I began my research journey many years ago when I too grew up in care. For those that go through the state system, they will know that this experience never leaves you.
I began the PhD journey when I attended Lemn Sissay’s ‘From Pip to Potter’, at Southbank in February, 2012. This event highlighted the stark differences in the way literature presents cared-for children and orphans, compared to the experiences of children in those circumstances in the real world. I also met Josie Pearse (alias Angel Strand) who was in the process of completing her PhD at Cardiff University. I was so inspired by both these ex-care people, I decided I would investigate further.
A care leaver who at sixteen is left without home or support has to change in order to survive. The research looks at how care leavers have been represented, in the past, present and what the possibilities could be for a positive future. I propose to examine the impact of living in care on the construction of coherent narratives of identity and how this is represented in contemporary fiction.
I want to examine this research through the lens of both creative and critical practice. This means that I will write an autobiographical novel and a critical thesis. ‘Hiraeth’ is an autobiographical novel. Hiraeth has no word in English. It is a Welsh word meaning homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was.
There does not appear to be any critical research about care leavers in literature.
The creative piece will explore my own experiences of leaving care in the seventies as well as considering the positive aspect that reading fiction has had on my life.
I hope to change the outcomes for Care Leavers and this means changing social consciousness and stereotypes.This research has a literary purpose, a social purpose, which will comment on what happened to care leavers in the seventies and eighties and is still happening in society now; it is an important story that needs to be told. I want to illuminate the voiceless, the maginalized children of society. This will broaden dialogue and possibly create a new cultural identity for care leavers.
I am also a campaigner for care leavers and helped set up the Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign.