Books, glorious books…

In the brief interlude between the MA dissertation deadline and the PhD start date, I’ve been gorging myself on fiction. PhD induction was today so reading-for-fun may take a backseat again. I’m aware many of the ratings are high so this makes me seem easily pleased but I’d counter that I’m pretty adept at choosing books I predict I’ll like!

Book: “The accident season”
Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Source: Waterville Libeary, Hampshire Library Service
Rating: 💖💖💖🖤🖤
Plot: Cara’s family suffer from an annual, month-long accident season which cannot be avoided. Why?
Positives: supernatural tone, unusual premise
Negatives: resolution predictability, unnecessary romance

Book: “The One”
Author: John Marrs
Source: Kindle, Amazon
Rating: 💖💖💖💖🖤
Plot: a DNA test can reveal your soul-mate. What are the consequences when your match isn’t straight forward?
Positives: blending of SciFi and crime, multiple narratives
Negatives: rushed ending for several protagonists, police officer choices seemed implausible or unlikely

Book: “The Testaments”
Author: Margaret Atwood
Source: hardback, Amazon pre-order
Rating: 💖💖💖💖💖
Plot: the collapse of Gilead, 16 years after Offred’s story comes to an end
Positives: multiple narratives, complex ethics, some back-story
Negatives: potentially confusing (in parts) to those unfamiliar with HBO series, too short!

Book: “Elantris”
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Source: audiobook, Audible
Rating: 💖💖💖💖💖
Plot: a cursed city, religious colonisation and the demise of magic explosively meet in a tale of politics, strategy and the human condition
Positives: scope (worlds and politics), well explored rational vs. spiritual ethics, multiple plotlines, original
Negatives: one protagonist’s preoccupation with romance

Book: “Nevernight”
Author: Jay Kristoff
Source: Kindle, Amazon
Rating: 💖💖💖💖🖤
Plot: Mia attends assassin school to avenge her family and must face her many demons (but not a YA book)
Positives: character development, syntactical style (not to everyone’s taste), brilliant librarian, description
Negatives: sex that didn’t seem to add anything

Book: “A good girl’s guide to murder”
Author: Holly Jackson
Source: paperback, Tesco (impulse purchase)
Rating: 💖💖💖💖💖
Plot: Pippa uses the EPQ (extended project qualification) during her A Levels to investigate a murder from 5 years ago
Positives: epistolary (including transcripts, notes, scanned images), twisty enough that the outcome isn’t predictable, characters are believable
Negatives: protagonist makes some leaps and assumptions which could have been better explored

Book: “Black Narcissus”
Author: Rumer Godden
Source: audiobook, Audible (Bookclub choice)
Rating: 🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤
Plot: as far as I can tell, a group of nuns travel to the Himalayas to convert and educate the locals
Positives: …
Negatives: so racist it made me too uncomfortable to finish

Book: “Successor’s Promise” (Millennium’s Rule, Book 3)
Author: Trudi Cannavan
Source: audiobook, Audible
Rating: 💖💖💖💖💖
Plot: The worlds reel following the demise of the Raen whilst Rielle and Tyen struggle with their own responsibilities to Qall and Vellab
Positives: detailed character development, new worlds, complex ideology
Negatives: Qall is annoying (whining teen!)

Alternative acknowledgements

It’s been a bit of a hiatus for blogging, this summer, as I’ve had the small matter of a dissertation to write. I will resume now that it’s all over (freeeeeeeeeeeedom) because I have all the early summer conferences to tell you about!

I found that when writing my MA dissertation, the most satisfying section was the acknowledgements page. This is the version that was submitted…

I wish to thank the colleges and individuals who participated in this research, particularly for their generous gift of time:

  • Chichester College Group
    • Chichester College
    • Brinsbury College
    • Crawley College
    • Worthing College
  • Portsmouth College

I am grateful to Dr Briony Birdi, my supervisor, for her unwavering encouragement and sage guidance.

This study is dedicated to my wife, Helen McKenna-Aspell, whose belief in me looks on tempests and is never shaken (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116).

Quite professional, no? I was governed by my inner, nagging voice who reminded me that whatever I wrote would be there for ever. But, if I ignored that voice and wrote a less guarded (slightly swearier) version, it would go something like this…

I wish to thank the colleges and individuals who participated in this research, particularly for their generous gift of time:

  • Chichester College Group
    • Chichester College
    • Brinsbury College
    • Crawley College
    • Worthing College
  • Portsmouth College

I’m proper proud to work for Chichester College Group and having the opportunity to speak to so many people has been a privilege. I can’t believe you all took the time and energy to support me with this when you’re so busy running the world. I’m your biggest fan. Also, we have so many rock-star female leaders who are brilliant role models for their staff and students.

I am grateful to Dr Briony Birdi, my supervisor, for her unwavering encouragement and sage guidance. Other people look up to and idolise celebrities; I’m lucky to have someone appear in my life who has inspired me to be and do better. In a non-stalker fashion, I am in awe of her and want to be like her when I finally grow up.

This study is dedicated to my wife, Helen McKenna-Aspell, whose belief in me looks on tempests and is never shaken (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116). The absolute shitshow she’s put up with for two years would have broken a weaker person. I’ve never understood why she chose me but I’m grateful, every day, that she did.

This research would not have translated from my brain to the page without the loyalty of Nespresso. There’s no one else I’d rather work with at 3 o’clock in the morning. Equally, without the support of the supervisor at Dunelm I would not have completed the MA. He made sure I was able to replace the study chair, which broke at the least convenient time, with immediate effect. He even loaded it into my car. Michael, my chiropractor, has been steadfast in his dedication to my back. There were days when I felt like I’d climbed a mountain, fought several bears, felled a tree and carried it home – and all I’d actually done was sit at the table for 19 hours straight. The man is a wizard. I must thank Laura and Rose, my Chichester College library compadres, for making me belly-laugh this summer – I mean, we also did some work but the laughter was the medicine I didn’t even know I needed. The estates team at Brinsbury College allowed me to break in on Saturdays so that I could work on a real computer in the peace and quiet. This has been a running theme – nobody said no to me! The yeses stacked up and made life just that little easier.

Some specific thanks…

  • Alessio Pruneddu: the person behind the Q-sorTouch system I used. Generous with his time and patient of my idiosyncrasies.
  • Savannah Kelly and Brian Young: their research into perceptions of library services inspired my whole study project and, when I reached out to them via email, they were incredibly helpful and gave much advice (Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(2), 2018).
  • Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke: the duo behind so much comprehensive and innovative material about thematic analysis, including several videos I’ve watched on repeat. Again, very generous with their time and guidance when asked via Twitter.
  • Sue Reed: Horticulture Demi-God at Brinsbury and my MA partner in crime for the year. It’s been so cathartic to have someone at work to chat to – a mutual cheerleading of sorts.

In fact, I am grateful for the people who live in my phone. I’ve reached out, often despairingly, on Twitter and I’ve been given advice about software, Q-methodology, statistics, thematic analysis, dissertation dos and don’ts. And that was just for the dissertation, never mind the MA assignments.

To all the coffee shops, the big chains, the independent cafés… my unending gratitude for offering a different location so that I didn’t succumb to the cabin fever. Some days the only highlight was escaping to Tesco for a Harris and Hoole caramel latte. Boston Tea Party will hold a special place in my heart for feeding me no less than 3 times in the week running up to submission – fabulous coffee and damn good cake.

Maggie, my English Springer Spaniel, who gave me cuddles and kept me company through the long nights… but definitely not her brother, Stripy. The cat that shat everywhere, on repeat, at the least convenient times. He’s old and we love him etc. etc. but I am not thankful for that contribution to my days and nights.

Merci, universe, for sending a pretty lame summer. Had the weather been glorious, it would have been so much harder to be stuck indoors. You can send the summer now; I’ve got time to enjoy it in September.

To my patient friends and family – thank you for letting me be AWOL without guilt. I can’t wait to spend September catching up with you, your spouses, your kids and your pets (not necessarily in that order).

And finally to the Badass Bibliophiles. The group of fellow distance learners who have become friends, agony aunts, therapists, proof-readers, comedians and around-the-clock supporters. You’re the best.

I can’t believe it’s all over. Now, just the brutally long wait to see how I’ve done.

Happiness level 10

Some days, in the library, the tiniest event will make you burst with happiness. In fact, the highs and lows (and highs and lows and highs and lows) remind me a great deal of the emotional rollercoaster of teaching because with the highs you know you’ve really helped someone else.

On Tuesday 22nd January 2019, at approximately 11 a.m., I experienced a level 10 happiness buzz. A chatty, bright, regular student was working in the library with the rest of her class and their lecturer. They were preparing for a looming assignment on animal disease… I can’t remember what, specifically. Our conversations went something like this.


Student: I don’t know how a library works.

Me: (Blank face) Eh?

Student: Honestly, how does it work?

Me: (Still looking confused) But… but… you’re always in here. Using it. That’s how it works. You come in and do what you need to do.

Student: Yeah… but how does a library work?

(I assume she means that she doesn’t know how the catalogue works or how to locate books on the shelves, both are common issues for our students).

Me: Right. Well, what are you researching today?

Student: We have to write about [specific topic I cannot recall].

Me: Ok. Come around here so you can see my computer. (I open the catalogue, show her how to use search terms and we write down some Dewey numbers for potentially useful books). Now we use these numbers like clues in a treasure hunt. Follow me.

(We walk around the library. I show her how the shelves are zoned and how to look for books first by locating the whole number, then the numbers after the decimal point and then the letters. We pick maybe four or five books. I’m feeling pleased that I’ve helped another student to become a more independent book seeker).

Me: Shall we add them to your account? You can do the scanning bit, if you like.

Student: Why would we add them to my account?

Me: Well, that’s a lot of reading. You might not finish it this lesson so you could carry on reading them at home. Maybe mark the useful pages with post-its.

Student: (Completely stunned, blank face).

Me: Okaaaaay. (Assuming she thought the pile looked unmanageable to lug home). Well I guess it’s a big stack; we could always leave it on the reservations shelf for you so they’re here next lesson.

Student: (A few seconds silence). You mean I can take the books home?

Me: Yes.

Student: To my house?

Me: Errr. Yeah…

Student: (Huge gasp).

Me: (Baffled). Are you okay?

Student: (Shouting and running around the library, and the adjoining computer room, addressing everyone in her lesson. Actually, even people who were not in her group). Oh my God, guys. Guys! Guys! Did you know we can TAKE THE BOOKS HOME?! This is the BEST THING EVER.

Me: (Internally). Ah. So when she said she didn’t know how the library worked, she literally meant she didn’t know how the library worked.


The student returned at lunch time and the end of the day and repeated the same public service announcement to anyone she hadn’t caught earlier in the day… all with the same enthusiasm and unbridled joy. At least half of the people she spoke to also hadn’t realised they could take the books home.

It was such a pleasure to watch someone realise one of the basic tenets of a library. Kept me smiling for several days. It also served as a reminder that I shouldn’t assume anything, ever.