A few strings
The engineering of elephants and mice

The very final and very good word on my PhD

Oh dear, oh dear, time does slip by, and now I'm going to have to be brief, because I've got a novel to revise (yes, my agent has got back to me about A Twist of Gold...). Luckily, I have a nice thing to be brief about, which is that the final report from the examiners of my PhD has arrived, and it's probably as good a review of any piece of my writing as I can ever hope to get. Since I can't post a link or anything else, I hope I'll be forgiven a showy-offy moment, in assembling the good bits here. "Good bits" only in the sense that they're the judgements, shorn of the necessary descriptions of my project: there aren't any bad bits. The examiners tick the boxes that the system requires by agreeing that the thesis "demonstrates a deep and synoptic understanding of the field of study, objectivity and the capacity for judgment in complex situations and autonomous work in that field," and that the candidate has "satisfied them in the examination for the degree of PhD" without the need for corrections or amendments. Their joint final report states that it

demonstrates substantial research both in the content of the novel and in the practice-centred discussion of narrative techniques relevant to contemporary historical fiction. The creative work in the thesis is original and well executed; the critical discussion is coherent, properly objective, and supported by a developed understanding of the wider field of study. The thesis is well written and presented, with appropriate bibliography and references, and notably few typographical errors... The candidate was able to respond in illuminating ways to all these points, articulating and clarifying for the examiners the choices and/or processes underpinning decisions material to the content and structure of the thesis. The examiners congratulated the candidate on a model synthesis of creative and reflexive practice.

Of the two examiners, poet and novelist Professor Philip Gross commented in his preliminary report:

An ambitious historical novel...the originality and coherence of the submission lies in the field of Creative Writing, both in the execution of the creative work and in close practice-centred discussion of narrative techniques and the practice of contemporary historical fiction. I am satisfied that it maps the context of this practice, drawing on critical and first-hand sources, and articulates the choices faced by contemporary work in this field, effectively - so effectively, in fact, that I would recommend it to postgraduate Creative Writing students of my own. The novel itself marshals its different time-frames and narrative strategies with complex logic, and the commentary explains the complexities lucidly. The description of choices made as a fiction writer are refreshingly and rightly pragmatic as well as principled, and show a determined and subtle attitude to reconciling the two.

And specialist in early-modern literature and the history of the book, Professor Julia Boffey, commented in her preliminary report:

This seems to me a successful amalagam of practice and critical reflection... presents the fruits of substantial research, in both novel and commentary sections; it is well written; and it advances significant, informed and well substantiated arguments about the writing of historical fiction.


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Sue Guiney

I'm really so thrilled for you, Emma. So very much hard work....it's wonderful that it has all yielded such a great result. Huge congrats!


Hi Emma,

I just wanted to leave my congratulations! A great accomplishment.

Jules (from WW)


Congratulations Emma. And it's helpful for me - in the first year of a PhD - to get an idea of what the final thing might look like. I get the feeling that the Creative Writing PhD is still finding its place rightful place in academia. For example the requirement that we produce something 'original' is surely satisfied by our creative work - although I accept that the critical element of the work also needs to be original. In fact I'm going to a conference at Newcastle University called Creating Friction about this very subject (22nd April) and will hopefully have more insight after that. Congratulations once again. Must be very pleasing after all that hard work.

Rebecca Holmes

Yes, congratulations. You must be so pleased (note understatement of the year!). It just shows that what you put in you get out.

Emma Darwin

Thanks sue, Jules, WriteHere, Rebecca... It is lovely to have done it. And although in many ways it was finished ages ago - first when I submitted, then at the viva - it does seem to have needed this final report to really, really know it's complete...


Congratulations on your PhD. Must be a great feeling to have such a great report.

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