Participating in the Writing Lives collaborative research project has undoubtedly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my three years at university and is something I am incredibly proud of. I was so excited to find Norah’s memoir, the entry in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographers index detailing how Norah grew up in Seacombe, Wallasey, just like my mum did and just a short walk from where I myself grew up, and it did not disappoint. It has been so fascinating to read of her childhood growing up somewhere I am so familiar with almost a century before I was born, talking about the places I hold so close to my heart and what they were like during the 1910s and has helped spark my interest in local history.
Through creating my author blog and researching Norah’s life and writing, I feel like I have got to know her like a dear friend. She writes with such warmth and love for her family and demonstrates such a positive outlook in life, her kind heart shining through in her writing. I loved reading about her memories of practical jokes carried out by her siblings, games they invented and played together and precious moments spent with family enjoying dinners, singing together and celebrating occasions such as Christmas.
Norah’s memoir ‘Nostalgia’ has never been published and the copy of it held by Brunel University and which I first came across was therefore handwritten. Because of this, I had the honour of transcribing ‘Nostalgia’ in its entirety and around 13,000 words later, here it is for your reading pleasure! I had never previously transcribed a full piece of writing like this and whilst at first it was quite a challenge to decipher someone else’s handwriting and make sense of their abbreviations, by the end of it I felt I recognised Norah’s handwriting as if it were my own. Not only has transcribing ‘Nostalgia’ provided me with a new experience and skill which I am sure will be of use in my future endeavours but it has helped in making Norah’s writing accessible to a wider audience and digitised her words – something which otherwise may never have happened but which Norah’s wonderful writing so deserves!
‘Nostalgia’ provides us with a valuable piece of social history, offering us a firsthand account of growing up working class, with not a lot of money, in a small but happy home in the North-West of England during the 1910s. I feel that through writing about Norah’s life and writing in my blog posts then, I have made a highly valuable contribution to public history as the experiences and memories documented by Norah would otherwise not be known of and they aid our understanding of working class experiences at the start of the 20th century. Plus, the Writing Lives website and blog post format makes such public history accessible to a much wider audience than standard academic essays and articles are, allowing everyone to learn and gain new knowledge easily and for free.
My research about Norah led me to Ancestry.co.uk, where I was able to create her family tree and find out further information which was not included in ‘Nostalgia’, such as her father’s military history, her mother’s second marriage after the passing of Norah’s father and Norah’s marriage to Edmund George Flook Knight, who she had two children – Gordon and John – with. On Ancestry.co.uk, I was fortunate enough to get in contact with David Badger, Norah’s nephew and he was able to put me in touch with Norah’s youngest son, Gordon. Ever since contacting him in early March, we have been regularly corresponding and I feel as if I have got to know Norah even more from all the information and anecdotes he has so kindly provided me with and the fantastic photographs of Norah and her family which he has provided me with. Gordon was so pleased to see his mother’s work being shared and enjoyed and did not realise that any universities had got hold of her writing! Norah’s positive and kind-hearted attitude reflected in ‘Nostalgia’ is something she has passed onto Gordon, who has been so helpful to me in my research and studies. We had scheduled to meet up during a visit to Liverpool he had planned but due to the coronavirus pandemic, we unfortunately had to cancel the plans.
Writing Lives being a collaborative research project means I have been able to constantly improve my writing, research skills and blogging throughout the module, as I have had the valuable input of my classmates. Several of us set up a Facebook group and were able to offer advice on drafts of blog posts, research tips and help one another with any queries. This kind of support network has been especially helpful during the current home study set up and has helped in ensuring the work we share with the world is our very best. The contact I made with Gordon meant he too could join in with the collaborative aspect, correcting information I had wrote about Norah such as various dates and names and providing me with the missing first page of ‘Nostalgia’, which is blurred to the point of illegibility on the copy held by Brunel.
As I have previously mentioned, my nan lived in Seacombe from when she married my grandad, up until a few years ago, and my mum grew up there, hence they have both been very interested in Norah’s writing and my blog. During the current coronavirus pandemic then, with many families such as my own physically apart, the Writing Lives project has provided a great way for myself, my mum and my nan to stay connected, as they have been able to read my blog posts about Norah, which have brought back fond memories for them, and have been able to keep up-to-date with the work I am doing during lockdown, something other modules that aren’t digital do not allow. We have all been able to text and chat on the phone about Norah and her experiences in Seacombe, which has been lovely and insightful.
My first experience of blogging came with my participation in the Prison Voices module during my second year of university, where I became a confident blogger. Through Writing Lives, I have been able to expand on those skills developed through Prison Voices and have fine tuned them, preparing myself for a career in the digital age. Being able to set up my own academic blog to share my research and ideas on the highly respected platform of the Writing Lives website, has given me the opportunity to gain valuable skills such as: writing for the general public and web design and layout. Not all graduates can say they got the opportunity to develop such skills at university so I am very appreciative I have been able to. I enjoyed writing in a more casual, informal way and expressing my research and ideas more freely than in the constraints of an academic essay.
In addition, using social media to share and promote my work has allowed me to stay connected with my peers during the current global pandemic, seeing what they are posting and sharing each other’s work. It has also helped me understand that there is so much more to social media than selfies and memes and how to use social media for academic purposes: sharing your academic work and receiving feedback from those within your area of study as well as other academics and specialists who may be interested.
I will take away so much from my time participating in the Writing Lives project. It has been an enjoyable, enriching experience, beneficial to my personal, academic and career development. I feel I have made a real connection with Norah and am sad to come to the end of the module, however Norah and her work will always hold a place in my heart. Perhaps the greatest privilege of all has been forming a friendship with Norah’s son Gordon, which is something I would never have expected from the module! And, finally, I have enjoyed the research aspect of Writing Lives so much that I could not bear to end here and so I am hoping to continue onto postgraduate study in September, my first choice of degree being a Masters of Research!
Fearon, Norah. Nostalgia. (1964) Unpublished Memoir: Brunel University Special Collection.
2:457 KNIGHT, Norah Fearon, ‘Nostalgia’, MS, pp.73 (c. 10,000 words). BruneI University Library.
Image 1 – A photograph from Norah’s wedding in 1933.
Image 2 – A transcript of the first page of ‘Nostalgia’, written by Norah’s son John.
Image 3 – Another piece of writing of Norah’s.
Image 4 – A photograph of Norah as a teen, around aged 15 or 16.
All images provided by Gordon Knight, Norah’s son, and published with his permission.