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PhD students: current and recent research students

Sarah Bower

Emily Bullock photo

Although I’ve been writing since I was a small child, I began to do so professionally in 2002, when I graduated from the University of East Anglia Creative Writing MA programme. Before that I ran a hospice for sick children. I have also made my living in ways as various as wire drawing and being a knife thrower’s assistant in a circus.

My PhD project is a multi-period novel, as yet untitled, which takes place in Paris in the 1780s and Delaware in the late 1960s. What links these two periods is pioneering flight and the little considered but vital role of women needle workers in its development. The novel is a polyvocal tale of the women who stitched together the Montgolfier hot air balloons and the seamstresses at Playtex who made the Apollo spacesuits. It also teases out parallels between these two ages of revolution and the dynamics of reason and romanticism lying behind the impulsion to flight. My research is into the polyvocal novel and also into ‘method writing’: how the novelist researches by doing.

I have published three novels, two historical and one contemporary. My first novel, The Needle in the Blood, is about the making of the Bayeux Tapestry and my PhD project will revisit some of its themes. I am also a short story writer and essayist. I work as a mentor for The Literary Consultancy as well as teaching creative writing at the OU. For ten years, I managed the Emerging Translator Mentoring Scheme, first at the British Centre for Literary Translation and more recently at the National Centre for Writing. I am stepping down from this role to focus on my PhD, but my interest in fiction in translation abides.

Emily Bullock

Emily Bullock photo

I won the Bristol Short Story Prize with her story ‘My Girl’, which was also broadcast on BBC Radio 4. My short stories have been included in collections such as Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, A Short Affair (Scribner, 2018), and Bath Short Story Prize Anthology. I have an MA in 19th Century Literature from King’s College London, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, and completed my PhD at the Open University, where I am now a Staff Tutor in Creative Writing.

I completed my PhD in 2014. It was focused on writing a novel about boxing, and examining representations of boxing in literature. This work was published in 2015 as The Longest Fight. The novel was shortlisted for the Cross Sports Book Awards and listed in The Independent’s Paperbacks of the Year. My second novel, Inside the Beautiful Inside, was published in October 2020.

Sarah Butler

Sarah Butler photo

I am writing a novel, set in Elephant and Castle in south London, which spans from the Second World War to the present day. The novel, and the accompanying critical commentary, will explore the temporal and spatial nature of ageing. My intention is to disrupt contemporary assumptions about, and representations of, ageing in relation to urban, domestic and institutional space, and investigate age-prejudice in relation to our fears for the future, and our negotiations of our past, present, future and imagined selves. I will explore ideas of loss, death and mortality and how these relate to concepts of narrative, linearity and the idea of an 'ending'.

I have two novels, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love (2013) and Before The Fire (2015), both published by Picador in the UK and translated into several other languages. I have a BA in English Literature from St Catharine’s College, Cambridge; an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and an MSc in Urban Studies from University College London.

I have worked in literature development since 2001: as a literature development officer in Leicester; a youth literature worker in Tower Hamlets, London; and as a freelance practitioner since 2006. I have developed a socially-engaged writing practice with a focus on place and urban change. Recent writing residencies include writer-in-residence on the Central line; at Great Ormond Street Hospital; a digital residency for The Secret Garden Project; and Tideline – a public art project linked to a major regeneration project in Belvedere, East London.

Elizabeth Clack

Elizabeth Clack

Having gained a BA Hons in 1997 with the Open University, I trained as a teacher under the Graduate Teacher Programme. After qualifying, I specialised in teaching A-level History and English Literature and Language. I live and work in Essex, teaching Post 16 at a vibrant 11-19 academy.

In 2018, I achieved an Open University MA with Distinction in Creative Writing and began my part-time PhD in Creative Writing in October 2019.

My family run a magic shop in Clerkenwell, London and it is there I got the idea for Memora, the working title of my novel. I discovered that in the early years of the twentieth century, it became fashionable for pioneering magicians working the stage to present their inventions using attractive women. These include P T Selbit, an inventive magician who created the now-famous sawing illusion. My work explores the Gothic theme of women-in-peril through the character of a stage magician’s assistant.  The creative component of my thesis is a novel set in the world of Edwardian theatrical magic. The work explores the way illicit desires are controlled and suppressed but made overt in public by way of stage performances. The central character evolves from the archetypal ‘beautiful, vulnerable, female stage assistant’, into a free-thinking woman modelled on those who had begun to challenge their inferior status. The research will explore female resourcefulness in Edwardian society, where women, even in the seeming freedom of theatreland, were bound by societal codes that subjugated them.

Alistair Daniel

Alistair Daniel photo

My PhD is a novel entitled Montreal, exploring the explosive tensions among a group of European students working at a summer camp in Maine. My critical dissertation will examine the ways in which the trauma narrative can be merged with the bildungsroman to offer an innovative new approach.

I have an MA in English Literature from Edinburgh University and an MPhil in Publishing Studies from Stirling, after which I began my working life as an assistant editor in film, media and cultural studies at Routledge. For the last 15 years I’ve worked as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader, mainly for arts festivals in the UK and Ireland.

 I’ve been writing seriously since completing an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths in 2002. My short stories have appeared in newspapers and journals in the US, the UK and Ireland, and my story collection Marriage a la Mode was shortlisted for Salt Press’ Scott Prize in 2013, while my first novel, The Fault Line, was longlisted for the Bridport First Novel Award in 2015. Since 2008 I’ve been an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at the Open University. I’ve long harboured ambitions to embark on a PhD in creative writing, and my new novel project has finally given me the opportunity.

Shanta Everington

Shanta Everington - photo

My PhD project, The Other Mothers, uses creative life writing to explore the hidden lives of mothers through adoption, surrogacy and egg donation along with their 'silent partners' – birth mothers, surrogates and egg donors. The project is situated in the context of contemporary life writing, including women’s life writing, multi-subject biographies, writing about living subjects and unknown subjects, and writing interweaving biographical and autobiographical elements.

The critical investigation will explore the traditions of life writing, ethical and methodological issues, interdisciplinary connections, the nature of truth, and debates around creatively transforming life into literature.

I worked for many years in the charity sector before deciding to pursue my love of writing with the MA Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, for which I received a Distinction, and which led to the publication of my debut novel, Marilyn and Me, narrated by a young woman with a learning disability who models herself on Marilyn Monroe.

Successes include a short story, Hang Up, shortlisted for The Bridport Prize, and I have also published young adult fiction – Boy Red, narrated by sixteen-year-old Red, who finds out he was conceived by a sperm donor, and XY, a dystopian story set in a world where babies are born neither male nor female.  Much of my writing explores recurring themes of difference, identity and belonging, themes which I expect to feature heavily in my PhD life writing.


Nicky Harlow

Nicky Harlow photo

My PhD is a contemporary novel entitled, When I Am Laid In Earth. A woman is murdered, but this crime is not the focus of the story; the three very different men in her life must learn to live in a divided town without her and with each other. My critical study will consider the ways in which other authors use crime as a plot element to seize the reader’s attention and drive the narrative forward in order to tackle far wider issues.

The road to this PhD has been circuitous. After graduating with my first degree in Fine Art, I had a variety of jobs from rag-rolling kitchens to shop display, statue restoration, and working with older people running creative and reminiscence sessions. I had always written fiction and by 2004 some of it was beginning to be published. In 2006 I began work for the Open University as an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing. I completed my MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2010 where I won the Michael Schmidt Prize. My first novel, Amelia and the Virgin was published in 2011 by Pewter Rose Press.

Edward Hogan

Edward Hogan photo

My PhD included a novel called The Electric – a family saga set on the south coast of England. The critical commentary explored D/deafness, the rise and fall of British cinemagoing, and the role of women in police families. The unifying theme of the PhD was narrative disruption.

I found the experience of writing in a university environment very stimulating. My writing practice was challenged and informed by disciplines such as anthropology, oral history, and psychoanalysis. As part of my project, I spent two years learning British Sign Language.

The Electric was published by John Murray in 2020. My earlier novels include Blackmoor, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize, and The Hunger Trace. I now work as a lecturer at the Open University.

Deirdre Lynn

Deirdre Lynn photo

I studied English Literature followed by a PGCE. After teaching English I moved to Vienna and worked as an editor for an international organization. I became Austria correspondent for the ‘Irish Times’, writing about arts and politics.

I have also lived in Asia, Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland and Russia, where I worked for the ‘Moscow Times’. After bringing up two children, I decided to develop my lifelong interest in creative writing. I joined a writers’ group in Moscow and completed an advanced fiction course by distance learning with the Open College of the Arts. This gave me the background and confidence to apply for the MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. I now have a full-time PhD studentship with the Open University and am writing a novel set in 1960s Ireland. The funding has enabled me to carry out research in Ireland and attend the Yeats Summer School and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. In the summer of 2011, I was awarded a writer's residency at the Heinrich Böll cottage on Achill Island.

My supervisors at the OU have encouraged me to step beyond my comfort zone, to use different voices and examine how skilful use of point of view is an integral part of moving the plot forward. It has been a challenging time and illuminating. Thanks to the research degree I am growing in scope and confidence as a writer.

Heather Richardson

Heather Richardson photo

My PhD thesis comprises a novel, Freethinkers, and a critical commentary which examines the ways memory, research and imagination come together when writing an historical novel. Freethinkers is set in Edinburgh from 1682-97, and draws on the true story of Thomas Aikenhead, the last man to be executed for blasphemy in Britain. The novel explores themes of belief, betrayal and religious freedom.

I enjoy the research element of writing, particularly when the setting is in the past, and am particularly interested in the ways location and artefacts contribute to the creative process. As part of my PhD research I stayed in Edinburgh, experiencing the sites of Aikenhead’s life and death. I also visited the British Library in London to handle some of the pamphlets that were published by his former friends at the time of his trial.

The novel was published under the new title Doubting Thomas (Vagabond Press, 2017) and was named as one of the nine best Scottish fiction books by The Independent in 2018.

Emma Sweeney

Emma Sweeney photo

I studied English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia (MA: distinction). My practice-based PhD at the OU provided me with a privileged opportunity for professional development – both as a writer and scholar. My research centred on first-person narratives from the perspectives of characters with learning disabilities, thus allowing me to combine two of my great passions: creative writing and disability rights. And the insights and experiences I gained led to writing residencies at disability and care organisations such as MENCAP.

Owl Song at Dawn, the novel that comprised part of my PhD, was published in the UK in 2016 (Legend Press), and was translated into German and Chinese. It went on to win Nudge Books Book of the Year Award, and I was named an Amazon Rising Star and a Hive Rising Writer.

Stemming from – a website on female literary friendship that I launched during my PhD with my own friend Emily Midorikawa – we co-wrote our debut non-fiction book. A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf was published in the UK and USA in 2017 (Aurum, UK; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, USA). In her foreword, Margaret Atwood described the work as a great 'service to literary history' and The Financial Times called it ‘an exceptional act of literary espionage’.

I have won various prizes for my writing (including from the Royal Literary Fund, the Arts Council and the Society of Authors) and have been shortlisted for various others (including The Asham Award, International Fish and Wasafiri Prize). My short fiction has been published in literary magazines in the UK, USA and Ireland, and I have written for the likes of The Paris Review, TIME and The Washington Post.

Patrick Wright

Patrick Wright photo

My PhD looks to develop contemporary theory and practice on the idea of ekphrasis. I am particularly interested in writing poems in response to modern art, especially paintings characterised by obscurity or apparent emptiness – such as the late work of Turner and Rothko. Taking into account postmodern criticism, I am also examining the dynamic interaction between the poet and the image, and how visual, poetic and critical registers might work alongside each other. My plan is for this to lead to a full poetry collection and critical monograph. My supervisors are Siobhan Campbell and Jane Yeh.

I am one of the rare individuals who has already completed a PhD. This was in English at the University of Manchester. My thesis focused on the feminine sublime and the sacred, and was supervised by Professor Terry Eagleton. I graduated, more recently, with an MA (Distinction) from the same university in Creative Writing. I have a pamphlet, Nullaby, published by Eyewear (2017). I have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and my poems have appeared in several magazines, including Ink, Sweat and Tears, Agenda, The Reader, Iota, and Brittle Star. I also write scholarly articles on poetry and creativity.

I have taught Arts and Humanities modules at the Open University since 2008, and I have worked as an Associate Lecturer at the University of Manchester, University of Salford, and the MMU. Research into the teaching of poetry in Higher Education has resulted in a HEA Fellowship.

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