Thesis … an Introduction

I am taking part in a narrative non-fiction writing course and this was the first assignment. I decided to attempt some sort of introduction for my ‘yet to be started’ PhD thesis. This is the first draft, and the first longer piece of writing I have done in years.

I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in … but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.” George Orwell, Why I Write, 1946

A foreword by the thesis

Opening me, the thesis, touching my (e)pages, reading my sentences, infers a possible curiosity.

Perhaps your curiosity was caught by the tail of a comment, or you were intrigued from a review, so you deliberately sought me. More than likely though I arrived in your consciousness through bytes of searching algorithms regurgitating what they hope you desire.

Your desires we will address momentarily.

At this point you may well be confused, I, the thesis am speaking to you. Not the writer, not the person who chose this specific formation of letters and spaces and punctuation marks, but the thesis itself. Why?

My writer put so much of herself into me that I gained a heart, she shared so much learning with me that I achieved a brain. And she placed so much love for the world around her within me that somehow I grew a soul.

But a thesis needs a purpose, and purpose is often shaped by the experiences and knowledge attained through living. I am a result of decades of my writer’s existence, all the people she has met, all the places she has been, all the books she has read. And also of the world in which she was born and grew. I am made from her personality and idealism, playfulness and procrastination.

My purpose is her purpose, she often says of her role at work, ”I help academics to do good things”. I am an extension of that, I am her desire to do good things, her need to contribute to society, her drive to make a difference in the world in which she resides.

I hope our purpose, mine and hers, becomes your purpose too. That through reading me you find your own way to ‘do good things’ in your world.

And now, I hand you over to my creator, who will tell you tales of despair when the words stopped and the thoughts couldn’t form, tales of exhilaration when concepts were finally understood, and tales of engagement which helped others to understand ways in which we could (with a little playfulness and magic) make our world, the lives of living beings everywhere, at least a little better.

I, the writer

Once upon a time is the usual way to start a story, and there’s many a fairy-tale I’ve read, and written, ones with sharp teeth, and shoemakers, and spinning wheels. But a fairy tale this is not, although, if I were to compare my thesis journey to a fairy tale, Cinders springs to mind – Grimm’s version, not Disney’s.  The day to day drudgery interspersed with small pleasures and triumphs, the despondent thoughts of ‘is there any way out of here?’. Then, one day you look up from your broom (keyboard) and see your fairy godmother (supervisors) with the carriage to take you to thesis submission and beyond.

My question now is, if I do not want to begin with ‘once upon a time’ then where do I begin? Julie Andrews suggests to start at the very beginning, but I don’t think that is a very good place to start this. Besides, when I look at the ensemble of my life, my journey here, I am unsure where the beginning actually is.

But we have to start somewhere…


The delight of printed paper under my fingers, the distinctive smell of books – old books, new books, books kept in an attic, the library, oh my goodness, the scent of a library – so many words giving me the ability to escape, to imagine other lives, other places, other times.

Torch in hand, tented under the covers because I couldn’t wait til morning, hoping I could reach the end before I was discovered. Tasting the flavour of stories, the warm and comforting vanilla, the chilli bite of excitement, the sour taste of the ones I refused to finish. Earnestly repeating lines read in a book to a friend who was not of my ilk, trying to help her see that things could be better, that there were ways of thinking beyond the narrow and confining. Flushing at my clumsy attempts to articulate something so personal.

I guess this is where it began, those old-fashioned school stories of quiet heroism and jolly capers, teenage detectives solving any challenges life presented, and yes, the fairy tales of Grimm, Lang, and Potter (B) who taught me that there is (almost) always a happy ending for the good.

This is where it started.


My sense of responsibility that I could and should make a difference somehow, my love of words and worlds.

Of course, as with the classic novels I ingested, there were forks in the road, reversals of faith and fortune, forests to wander, and rivers to ford. Because life is like that. And I expected it. I was frustrated by it, at some points I forgot my quest in the mundane-ness of everyday life. 

A small collection of rogue cells in my mother’s body was, I guess, the catalyst for my next chapters. Thoughts of my own mortality, “in twenty years that could be me” (it hasn’t been so far thankfully) insinuated themselves into my every day and prodded me to make some different choices, some scary choices. I satisfied a secret longing and returned to education, applied to university to take an undergraduate degree in history.

History, not English. History which I didn’t even take at school, not English which I got my best results in. Those that knew me were puzzled, but it was very simple. I didn’t want to dissect a book I loved to the point where it was dead to me. And really, the clues were there for history. The Silver Jubilee poster adorning my bedroom wall of all the British Kings and Queens (supplied by Weetabix), the obsession with ancient Egypt, curiosity about the lives of people long passed, the wonder on my face viewing artifacts in museums, imagining those who touched them, created them, used them.

And here I pause and ponder, because history is all about people. It’s about their lives, their worlds, and then us mining nuggets of information from ephemera they produced to create understanding and knowledge. My interest in real people dates back farther than I realised.

Wandering the path through academia, not always easy, but mostly enjoyable and upwards, and then … the perfect studentship, hours spent on the application, the dreadful joy of an interview. Rejected. Packing away the hopes and dreams was a hard but necessary choice. Packed away, but not forgotten.

An interlude of work and finding my way beyond divorce. Counting pennies while counting my blessings, exploring side paths, knowing that this too will pass.

Imagination has helped me all my life. Through words on paper and thoughts in my head it has always been there. And now it rescued me when I was at my lowest point by offering me a job. Temporary but with possibilities. A small step to an alternative future, and a large step beyond my comfort-zone.

Imagination is the amazing name for an magical place. A place of design researchers creating possibilities from their investigations, weaving their words into impact and outcomes that make our world a better place. Imagination is the place where I found a home, a family of learners and doers, one where conversations turned from mundane, through peculiar, to funny and back again, but always with curiosity and excitement for the possibilities.

Imagination is where I found the hope to dust off that desire for learning, the courage to ask for opportunity, and finally, the reality of pursuing a PhD.