January 2019

Jade’s First CWWA Conference: Surveillance, Speculative Fiction and Starting a New Chapter

by Jade Hinchcliffe

A year after starting my MA (by research) in English Literature at the University of Huddersfield, I attended my first external conference which was hosted by CWWA at Northumbria University. It didn’t get off to the best start. I had just handed in my thesis 10 days before and was exhausted, I learned I would need to leave the conference early because I had a PhD interview to attend which I hadn’t had much time to prepare for and it took me six hours to travel to Newcastle because of Storm Ali. Once I arrived cold, soaked and tired at the station, however, things started to improve. Two lovely young women saw my confused expression as I stared at my map, outlining the route from the station to the hotel, and they kindly showed me to my hotel. This foreshadowed what I was to experience at the conference- an abundance of support, kindness and encouragement from people who went out of their way to welcome and inspire a new, inexperienced researcher. Unsurprisingly, I felt very nervous at the prospective of presenting a paper and then travelling back to Hull the next day for my interview, especially considering the disastrous and stressful incoming journey! Thankfully, I was immediately reassured by my fellow presenters and soon relaxed.

After a good sleep, I felt ready for the day ahead and excited to meet new people and hear their talks. I was fortunate enough to attend the conference with my MA supervisor, Sarah Falcus, and some of my fellow colleagues from Huddersfield, Nick Stavris and Steff El Madawi, who also presented. The theme of the conference was “Writing Wrongs” and there were a plethora of diverse panels and presentations, expertly put together by Rachel Carroll and Melanie Waters, which reflected the exciting and varied research in this field. I firstly attended a panel on “digital voices” which featured discussions on feminist readings of Han Kang, blogging as a form of communication between writer and reader and issues that Mexican women writers face when publishing. I was very impressed by the speakers and the insights they gave us concerning the ways female authors communicate with their readers by using innovative digital practices. I also attended two panels on “mapping the city” and “rewriting female sexuality”. There were some very interesting discussions which followed these panels, that were sparked by the presentations, such as: how we interpret space as being private or public, how female writers are “writing the body” and ways of reading female autoerotic fiction. Although I was unfortunately unable to attend any more panels, I had the opportunity to hear Clare Hemmings’ keynote speech entitled “writing ambivalence: sexual politics and the speculative” and I learned a great deal about her research on Emma Goldman. I was also very pleased to be able to be at the book launch for Mary Eagleton’s Clever Girls and the Literature of Women’s Upward Mobility and Clare Hanson and Susan Watkins The History of British Women’s Writing 1945-1975. Mary Eagleton’s generosity, in allowing Clare Hanson and Susan Watkins to share her book launch, serves as yet another example of the way members of the CWWA support each other and are proud of each other’s achievements. Overall, I found listening to people’s research very interesting and was able to add to my never-ending book list!

I presented my paper, “Juli Zeh and the right to privacy and our bodies in a surveillance society”, on the “speculative fiction” panel with Susan Watkins and Nick Stavris. After I gave my paper, I was overjoyed that many people in the audience wanted to read The Method by Juli Zeh and was delighted to be asked to recommend similar contemporary texts on surveillance and dystopia. I found Susan and Nick’s papers, on post-apocalyptic fiction and time in Doris Lessing and Megan Hunter’s novels, highly insightful and it gave me ideas for future projects. I was particularly disappointed not to be able to attend the “eco feminism” panel as it covered similar themes to my panel, however I was able to speak to the presenters during the breaks and ask about their research. Being able to meet new people and learn about their work was one of my favourite parts of the conference and I felt more confident approaching people as the day progressed, especially after I had presented my paper and had gotten over my nerves.

At the evening meal, I had a lovely discussion with the women at my table who all gave me advice and encouragement for my interview, which was unexpected and very touching. When we all sat down for dinner, I noticed that there was a good balance of lecturers, early career academics, creative writers and postgraduate students who were all complimenting each other on their presentations and giving each other advice. I urge new researchers to join the CWWA and come along to some of the conferences and events to experience the supportive environment and gain the confidence to present. Attending and speaking at CWWA conferences also provides people with the opportunity to form new connections and to collaborate on projects. After the conference, I felt refreshed and motivated to go to my interview as I knew from attending the conference that I definitely wanted be a researcher and my conversation at dinner encouraged me to believe in my ability.

Since the conference, I have been awarded a studentship to study for a PhD in Media, Culture and Society with the North of England Consortium for Arts and Humanities (NECAH) at the University of Hull under the supervision of a leading surveillance expert and happily I have also been able to keep Sarah Falcus as my second supervisor at the University of Huddersfield! Recently, I became a CWWA member and I was also appointed as a steering group member for the Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network (PGCWWN), which is a separate organisation that is related to the CWWA which I learned about at the conference. I will be involved with organising the 2019 PGCWWN conference with the other members. Details of the upcoming PGCWWN conference and other events hosted by the PGCWWN and CWWA will be posted in the following months so, don’t just watch this space, get involved and share your research!