My Year 4 English teacher started me on my path in academia. He was the strictest teacher I ever had in Primary school, yet he was also the best. I’d always had an affinity for writing, and produced several excellent pieces of writing (one of which, I think, still resides in a time capsule in the primary school). After I had written a piece inspired by a combination of The Norther Lights (Pullman, 1995) and a dress I found in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, he told me that I had the potential to achieve amazing things, it was just a shame about my spider scrawl.
After that, I improved my handwriting to a point that it was at least legible, and then I decided I wanted to be a teacher just like him. He wasn’t the only inspirational teacher I had growing up- but it was nearly always my English teachers who both saw the best in me and helped me pursue my dream to become an English teacher like them. This dream helped keep me focussed as I went through a pretty rough childhood and adolescence going through care. All I had to do was get a degree in my subject specialism, then go on to get a teaching qualification. Not many care-experienced young people go on into University, but I decided to not pay any attention to that.
I gained a First Class Undergraduate degree in English Language and Creative and Professional Writing with the University of Wolverhampton. My dissertation compared misery literature and confessional writing to answer the question: “To what extent does the ‘impossibility of truth’ apply to writing about trauma for the self as well as for an audience?” This dissertation also allowed me to begin my own memoir writing. I produced two samples- one an attempt to show writing for the self, and the other to write for an audience in order to demonstrate the applications of ‘the impossibility of truth’ (Neitzche, 1901, cited in NEWLEARNING.COM, 2015) as both a reader and a writer. While I did well with my dissertation, it was an essay analysing the language and humour of a Season 3 Episode 6 of Red Dwarf that gained me my First. THe problem with my dissertation is that no matter whether i was writing for myself or an audience, i really struggled revisiting certain events of my life that I hadn’t quite processed fully. Additionally, in a lot of trauma writing there is this belief that there is a ‘victim’ in the events described. So to write a trauma narrative meant that I needed to be a victim too, right? No. I’m not a victim in any way shape or form. I am a survivor. So, while I was battling with all of this, I decided to put my writing to the side, and focus on my dream of becoming a teacher.
I gained a PGCE in PCE Teachers of English where I developed a particular talent for teaching young people with Additional Learning Needs. After this I completed my QTLS in a Specialist Academy. I did it- I achieved my dream of becoming a fully qualified teacher. While I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of completion and achievement, along with teaching English and developing my teaching style (firm, but fun and fair), I couldn’t help but be left with a sense of ‘Now what?’
Well, seeing as my PGCE gave me a third of the credits I needed to complete a Masters, it seemed to make sense that I complete the Masters. So I went on to do a Masters in Education where I researched ‘What is the focus of Educational interventions for Looked-After Children and Care Leavers in KS2, 4 and 5?’ Having been inspired by my own academic journey, I wanted to find out what was being done to help more care-experienced young people (CEYP) attend university and/ or reach their aspirations. Here, I was able to develop a passion for designing and completing my own academic research. I identified as an interpetivisit, and utilised an qualitative semi structured interviewing approach with a convenience sample. I then used a thematic analysis of my data to help me draw my conclusions. Due to the limitations of the study, I was only able to examine three local authorities, yet in these three local authorities so much was being done to help CEYP’s social, emotional and mental health needs, but there was little being done in terms of meeting/ raising aspirations. The general consensus was that unless young people had an understanding of who they were now and how to handle the events that led to them being in in care, they couldn’t have an idea of who they wanted to be. Well, this was certainly not true in my case. I wanted to be a teacher throughout all my childhood experiences regardless of my understanding of my past or present. So why was my experience different to the findings from my study?
This question led me to reflect upon what helped me understand who I am, and who I wanted to be. I developed my strong self of self because of an intervention used with me was called Life Story Work. This intervention helped me create a coherent life narrative that was co-produced with my Life Story Worker. She took information from my Social Services file and collated it with interviews she had with my birth family and previous carers. She would then share that information with me in a controlled environment, and encourage me to reminsice, reflect upon and move on from those events. I figured everyone who was in care had had this- but then i came across Lemn Sissay’s (2019) ‘My Name is Why’- a memoir in which Sissay utilises his social services file as a stimulus text. I read this and saw how raw the emotions of reading all of this information was for him despite having been out of the care system for a number of years and having fought his own local authority for several years to gain access to his file. This made me consider my writing back in my undergraduate degree and how I felt about my Life Story Book (or Pandora’s Box as my undergraduate tutor called it). Surprisingly, little research has been done on Life Story Work and its potential outcomes, and no one has correlated Life Story Work with Life Writing- despite them both having similar definitions- the production of a coherent life narrative.
Thus, the idea for my PhD research was born. What effect does Life Story Work have on Life Writing?
My research looks at the effect Life Story Work has on Life Writing.
This practice-led research will be presented as an adaptation of Hamilton and Jaaniste’s (2009) pattern of exegesis. This structure will allow me to effectively demonstrate concepts that have never before been looked at together. I first situate concepts like Life Sotry Work and Life Writing Pactice. I then move on to discuss precedents of practice. I then move on to my own creative practice, demonstrate that practice, and discuss the that practice’s value as research.
Life Story Work is a “defined approach which provides the opportunity for children to explore their own history.” (Rose, 2012: p26). It is an intervention that allows children who are looked after by a local authority or adopted to ‘make sense of their pasts’ and produce a coherent life narrative in a form of their choosing (commonly a Life Story Book or a Memory Box). Despite this intervention having existed for 60 years, it has hardly been discussed in research circles as it has ‘frequently been placed on the backburner’ of development within Social Work circles due to the ‘more pressing’ issues and legislations that have come over recent years (Baynes, 2008). Since 2008 there has been a resurgence of Life Story Work in Social Work discussions, primarily thanks to the work of Richard Rose. However, Life Story Work has yet to be looked at from a multi-disciplinary lens, and possible outcomes of Life Story Work have yet to be examined in any detail.
In this study, I argue that there are interactions and intersections between Life Story Work and Life Writing that can stimulate further research into intervention and outcomes. I do this by demonstrating the links Life Story Work and Life Writing have within autobiographical and collective memory studies, along with how these types of memory can contribute to an understanding of self and identity. This is because research into the experiences of Life Story Work suggest a strong correlation between Life Story Work and looked after children’s sense of self and personhood (Rose, 2017, 2012; Hooley, 2015; Buchanan, 2014). Findings also suggest that young people use their Life Story Books as an aid to memory (Hooley, 2015). Life Story Work collects information from social services files in collaboration with accounts from family members and carers to help the child make sense of their past. The work is then scanned and collated into the form of the child’s choosing, usually called a Life Story Book or Memory Box (Rose, 2012; Rees, 2012, Hooley, 2015). I use my personal experience of Life Story Work and Life Story Book to help create my memoir ‘The Memory Hotel’ to answer the question ‘what would a piece of Life Writing influenced by Life Story Work look like?’
This study contributes to new ways of knowing/ new forms of knowledge by looking at how autobiographical and collective memories are presented in memoirs and considering how these different types of memory contribute to the understanding of self and identity. I argue that looking at Life Story Work and its relationship with Life Writing can contribute to multi-disciplinary discussions surrounding these forms of memory. I examine how memories and interventions are presented in published care-experienced memoirs and compare these to my own practice and experiences. By conducting this study, I hope to inspire further research from different disciplines into Life Story Work, along with contributing a different approach to Life Writing practice.
- MA Education
- PGCE PCE Teachers of English
- BA Joint Honours Creative and Professional Writing and English Language