#AtTheCliffFace: Musings of a Romance Academic

PHS editor, Ali Williams, is talking about taking the next steps in planning and preparing for her PhD about realism in the 21st Century Harlequin Mills & Boon novel...

So I've finally had the first meeting with two of my three supervisors (yes, it seems like I'm getting a three for one offer with one working on my creative writing with me, one on my thesis, and one overseeing my PhD in its entirety), and I am both buoyed up with excitement, and a little overwhelmed at the journey ahead.

There's so much work and research that needs to be done before I can even think about putting pen to paper thesis-wise, that my small start doesn't seem like anywhere near enough!

So where do I go from here?

This month I've kicked off our new PHS column: #OurRomanticHeritage with look at Aphra Behn's The Fair Jilt. It was a great opportunity to marry what I'm doing for PHS with my own research - especially as it can be seen as the mother of the popular romance novel (eat your heart out Jane Austen!) and it's also highlighted the fact that authors have been directly addressing the reader in the romance novel for centuries - the "Dear Reader" letter that almost all Harlequin Mills & Boon imprints now have before or after the story isn't a new concept by any means!

And there's what I'm calling my Popular Romance Studies bookshelf - even though it's on my desk - which is a collection of my own copies of academic critical thinking around romance, and books I've borrowed from my university library. I've read most of them in the past, but now it's a matter of sitting down and working through each of them making notes. I have a good understanding of current theories, but now I need to be able to engage with (and in some cases with the 80s writing, critique it) the wider understanding of the woman's novel, the romance novel and Mills & Boon novels.

So that means working my way through wider feminist theories (hurrah!) and identifying the terms which I'm going to need to define. I've already realised that "romance", "realism" and "idealistic and hyperrealistic settings" are going to need to have very definite parameters set, if my thesis is going to make any kind of sense.

I've also got to pare down my list of books that I want to closely analyse. I started with seven per chapter as a starting point, which I've managed to get down to three per chapter for now... Ideally, apparently I'd focus on two, but I figure that if I work with three, it gives me some leeway when it comes to making decisions about what's important and what isn't.

Each of those has been ordered in paperback - there's only so much I can do with an ebook - and I intend to scribble all over the pages in pencil, highlighting key words and phrases.

Finally, there's my creative writing. I got some feedback - which was really helpful - but I've now got to seriously look at how often I write. There's got to be a structure that I stick to, if this is going to work - especially as I'm going to be doing this part-time whilst I have my full-time job to pay the bills!

So I'm aiming for three hours of solid creative writing and/or editing a week. That doesn't seem like a huge amount, but my reading and research is going to take up ten hours a week. Or at least, that's the plan. You can all laugh at me next month when I reveal that I set far too high a standard for myself!

How do you approach huge new project? Share your advice and tips with Ali by using the #NewProjectTips hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Ali Williams is an all round romance nerd, who splits her time between working on a her PhD proposal, quilting and trying every restaurant in the West Sussex area. For more information about her and her writing project, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

#AliWIlliams #PhD #PopularRomanceStudies #CatherineMRoach #CatherineLaRoche #DeborahPhlips #March2017 #AtTheCliffFace

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