The pause that isn't a pause
Not the 'right' book

The tree of life - and other anecdotes

I've been a tad busy this last few days, so I'm afraid this is a bit of a catch-up post. First, I've actually submitted my PhD! I can't quite believe how happy it's made me, not just because the last stages of a research project are notoriously fiddly and tedious and so I've been dying to get rid of it, but because, finally, I realise that I'm actually really quite proud of it. As well as A Secret Alchemy, which I can enjoy again now that the tooth-pulling process of writing it has faded from my memory, I do think I've found some interesting things to say about historical fiction and how it works. I celebrated with my very long-suffering offspring, who bear the brunt of whatever's happening in my professional life, by opening the last bottle of the fizz which the Hay Festival gives its authors. It seemed appropriate.

And since then I've been in Spain, giving a lecture (twice) on Creative Thinking: the Darwin family in the Arts and Sciences. After the first, in Valencia, the university had organised a dinner cooked from Emma Darwin's recipe book, which was delicious. I was also given the most beautiful edition of The Origin of Species, made by my hosts, biologists Juli Peretó and Andrés Moya, with exquisite illustrations by the scientific illustrator Carles Puche. Carles even drew me an iguana on the title page of my copy: I felt very inferior in only being able to write words in his. Before the second lecture, in Elx, I found myself asked to do a spot of plaque-unveiling, and was very pleased that the image on the plaque wasn't the god-like old man with a beard, but the heart of the matter: Darwin's original sketch of the tree of life. As longstanding readers may know, I still find it odd when the outside world takes me as a representative of the family, but I've got more comfortable with it now: with an actual body of my own work out there, the balance has changed between us. And besides, Elx is now full of people tucking into their signed copies of La aritmética del amor, I'm even more awed by the skill, calm and general niceness of translators both professional and non-professional, and if the journalist from El Pais has his way back at the office, there'll be an interview with yours truly on the back page of one of Spain's national newspapers any day now.

And as I sat in planes and trains and hotel rooms, I started looking back on my PhD. When I first started wondering whether to do one, I was often asked 'Why? You've already got a Masters.' When I signed simultaneously on the dotted line of the Goldsmiths' application form and the dotted line of a two-book publishing contract with Headline Review, the question changed to, 'Are you going to give up the PhD, then, now you've got a deal?' These days, I'm much more likely to be asked what it's like and whether the questioner should be doing one too: Creative Writing PhDs are becoming big business.

I now have lots of answers to Why? Indeed, so many that I've put a page in the new - and as yet small - Resources section of the blog: Creative Writing PhDs: the paradoxical beast. At the moment, Resources has two pieces, the other being on How to get the best out of an editorial service, which you may know. But I'm planning to add to it when I have time and a new topic occurs to me. Next, I hope, will be Show-don't-Tell, or maybe Point-of-View, and I'll be enabling comments, so that I hope others will chip in.


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Damon Young

Congratulations, Emma.

Honestly, a PhD is an odd beast. But no less valuable for this.

Emma Darwin

Thanks, Damon. I hope it stays odd - like so many novelists, I like things odd and fuzzy-edged and hard to categorise.

Sue Guiney

Years ago, I gave up on my PhD -- I was "all but dissertation" in Classics and decided I'd rather have kids and write novels etc instead. A PhD like yours though sounds quite intriguing and I'd love to hear/read all your ideas on the whys and wherefores sometime. It's an amazing feat, all that you've accomplished over the past few years. Congrats are well and truly earned!!

Emma Darwin

Sue, I've just put the link in up there in the post, if you want to have a look.

Sally Z

So when can we expect to address you as Dr Darwin?

One of my sons is about to hand in his thesis (maths) so I know (sort of) how tedious and fiddly those last few weeks can be.

I wish you well and hope you will be cracking open an even bigger bottle before long.


Oh, congratulations on getting it done; fingers crossed for the viva, although I'm sure I don't need to do that! More than that, though--thanks for the detailed discussion on the merits of doing a CW PhD...I'm just grappling with deciding whether to enrol on one next year, once the MPhil is done (as you say, at the very least, it's a way of convincing the household brood that writing time is valuable time; besides which, those little nudges and occasional kind words from a supervisor have become quite sustaining!). So, your thoughts are both timely and invaluable. Cheers--and all the best with the very last stages.

Emma Darwin

Thanks for the good wishes, Sally and everyone. I'm not sure when the viva will be - they have to read the darned thing (though in the nature of things, 70% was written to be read for fun, and only 30% for work, so perhaps it's a bit quicker). And then we all have to find a date which everyone can do.

But my singer/musicologist sister had her viva on Friday, and passed with the minorest of minor corrections, clever girl, so I'm hoping that's a good omen... That's two Dr Darwins (and I think more in the wider family, tho' not sure), and hopefully I'll be a third soon...

Emma Darwin

Crossed with you, Claire - thanks so much!


Ah, you finally got all your cat hairs in nice straight lines did you? When's the viva? You will do an excellent job I am sure but I can send positive purrs from Herebelow.

Emma Darwin

Thank you cat: how about a few strokes, and a tickle in that spot under the corner of your jaw, in return?

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