I never thought I would be given the opportunity to be a part of such a highly praised public source such as the Writing Lives Blog in my University studies. I have loved every minute of researching into Ken Hayter’s life and have grown so fond of Spud and the adventures he had with his best friends. Reading and researching the Toxteth Tales memoir made me so happy and I am proud of my completed blog posts. This module differed completely from anything I have ever done in my academic studies before and I am so happy I chose it to finish my final semester at John Moores University. The Writing Lives Module provided me with a completely new platform and showed me how I could write freely and expressively about my research within the blog post style.
Through researching Ken, I could expand on my interests of World War Two. I have always had an interest in Liverpool and its enormous part within the war, and how it affected the everyday life of the working-class people. Through Ken’s memoir, I was able to understand how the war affected the working-class in Liverpool and how it created a community spirit that pushed the population to keep going regardless of the hardships faced. Ken’s memoir demonstrated a child’s point of view of WW2 and showed me how a child’s spirit is not easily broken. Even amidst the bombs of the blitz in Liverpool in 1942, Ken and his friends found a way to make a playground out of the rubble.
I have thoroughly enjoyed researching Ken’s memoir, but after reading it so many times I have become quite attached to it. It provided me with a rollercoaster of emotions I would laugh, and I would also cry. I lived vicariously through his childhood memories and have felt connected to him because of it. For Ken, Liverpool will always be his home regardless of how far away he travels and being from here myself I too feel that sense of community and belonging to this special city.
Whilst learning about Liverpool in WW2 I also had the chance to learn about the Liverpool in which my own grandparents grew up. Both my Nan and Grandad were born in Liverpool 8, actually a few streets away from the Tagus Street where our beloved Ken grew up. Reading his memoir then felt like I was reading into my own family history. Having felt so connected to his writing, I decided to sit down with both of my grandparents and we talked about Liverpool in this era and looked at maps I had found to aid my research. We discussed anything and everything about growing up in Liverpool during this time. They experienced stories so similar to Ken it only added to my enjoyment when re-reading his memoir. The stealing of sweets from the pick and mix in Woolworths (have we not all done that?) and the smoking of cigarettes with your friends down by the pier head until you vomit. They laughed with me when we discussed these similar memories and it just showed me that the community feeling that Ken describes within his memoir is still around today.
Being a researcher for the Writing Lives source was such a privilege as I could document a working-class memoir which may have previously gone unknown to a wider audience. Working Class literature is relatively pushed aside in favour of fiction from more middle-class and well-educated writers. By experiencing the life of a working-class person through their own words, we are experiencing what life would truly be like in that era. Toxteth Tales taught me all about how the communities of Liverpool were accustomed to the happenings of war and seemed to live relatively normal lives whilst WW2 enraged around them.
Previously to this module, I did not have any experience of blogging. I thought it would allow me to expand on necessary skills such as writing for a wider audience and how to use social media effectively and it did, but it also taught me so much more. I realised how much I enjoy writing in a blog form and receiving feedback from many people. I loved knowing that people had taken the time to read my blog posts, and I especially loved the interactions from readers on social media. Using Twitter helped to propel my writing forward into a wider audience, but I also loved using it to interact with my classmate’s blog posts. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, University had to close its doors, and we had to take up an alternative way of learning- online classes. However, social media meant I could stay in touch with my classmates and keep up to date on all the posts they were publishing and the research they had produced. Blogging helped me to develop so many new skills. For example, I can now write for an audience that is not just solely academic like within my other University essays. It was this I think I enjoyed the most, diverting from the usual strict academic standards to make my writing more accessible for a wider audience.
The Writing Lives module also allowed me to engage with a wider amount of secondary source material. I was able to research into Liverpool during WW2 and how it affected the working-classes. I found it especially fascinating to learn about the diphtheria pandemic that exhibited such wide similarities to the time we are living through now with the onset of COVID-19. Using social media also led me to interact with the authors of some secondary source material I had used in my writing, such as Melanie Tebbut.
Writing Lives has concluded my final year of University and I have enjoyed it immensely. I believe I will remember this module and the skills it has taught me for a long time, and I am incredibly proud of the work I have achieved with the help of Helen and Emily. I am now a confident blog writer who wants to continue this hobby in the future. Researching Ken Hayter provided me with so much joy and I have now passed his memoir along to my grandparents who are also finding the same happiness within his words and have consequentially fallen in love with his writing. Liverpool is the city that will always welcome back its residents with open arms and this is the community spirit that Hayter discusses within the last pages of his memoir. I will conclude my final blog post now with a quote from Hayter’s epilogue to his memoir. He says, ‘I tried to carry my childhood with me with the aid of the stories in this book. If things got a bit serious, which they did as soon as I was forced to go to work, I sought solace by losing myself in childhood memories’ (199). I think we are all guilty of trying to hold on to the past even I still do this and live through my own memories, but we should celebrate the past and what we have achieved whilst also looking forward. This is what I believe the Writing Lives source does so well. We celebrate the past, the working-classes and their memoirs whilst also looking forward towards creating a great scholarly resource and displaying what our authors have achieved in their own words. Finally, I would like to end by just saying a big thank you to Ken for taking the time to write his memoir and giving me and my family a loving look back on the life of Liverpool in the 1940s.
Be sure to read my first blog post here and follow me on Twitter for all things Spud:
Hayter, Kenneth. Toxteth Tales. Lancaster: Palatine Books, 2017
All photographs taken from the Toxteth Tales memoir.