Thoughts About Work

Things you may not know about applying for a PhD in the Arts and Humanities in the U.K.

Hello. This is a very short resource for people looking at the PhD application process in the UK right now. S0me of this information may be obvious but there is a real lack of democracy and transparency about getting on to PhDs in the UK, and I want to make sure as many people have access to this intel. I intend to expand on various parts of this list in other blog posts and videos to provide more specific information but I hope that this will arm you with questions and power when looking for the PhD setup that serves you.

Good luck!

The thread:

  1. If you know what your proposed topic is, put it into a paragraph and give it a rough title. It will be much much easier for you to find good supervisors this way. Don’t be afraid to put it in your approaches
  2. Supervisors work with you. You do not work “for” them unless it’s a very specific project. This is *different* to other disciplines. Look at them like mentors that you get to pick and be practical about it. 
  3. (CONTROVERSIAL) You can ask your supervisors questions about their supervision style/interview them. A PhD is long and advice/support/writing help is personal. Ask about how they like to supervise, what they think the first year of a PhD is like, do some research on their career, etc. 
  4. Sometimes, PhD supervisors can be enthusiastic but do not have space/capacity to take on your project. Don’t take it personally if that’s the reason. Consider what matters to you to seek out others. Is it subject-expertise? Is it experience? Is it a career mentor? Is it someone who demonstrates care for your topic?
  5. Be aware that approaches to PhD applicants vary. I offer a lot of feedback on applications even when I won’t be on the team/at the institution. This is not standard. Be aware that you will get different responses to your inquiries
  6. You can apply to lots of PhD programmes at the same time. You can and should investigate your options. That said, be tactful about who you tell that you are applying to different courses. Some postgraduate admissions officers (unreasonably) take exception to this 
  7. Many universities offer PhD places on projects. Search websites and to find projects to apply for. These often come with relationships to industry which is great in the current job climate.
  8. There is an unwritten timeline for applications in most UK unis. April-Nov: expressions of interest with abstract, finishing project idea, finding supervisors and unis, and researching funders. Nov-Jan: getting a place, submitting funding apps. March-April: funding announced. 
  9. You don’t have to stick to that timeline. Most unis have two “standard” entry dates: October and January. If you want to do something different, ask. It’s normally possible! 
  10. A remote study PhD is a different programme (technically) so some unis may genuinely say that you can’t do distant PhD study. Make sure to check if this is something you definitely want/need.
  11. Most PhD funders (private and national or university-based) require you to have a place on a PhD programme by the time you submit your funding application. For big bodies like the AHRC, this may involve an interview at the uni(s) of your choice so leave time or it’s a waste of your effort.
  12. Know that *most* applications for funding go to a *general* panel of academics. It does not go to experts. You need to write an application that can be read by old person. Technical/specific terms need explanation. Clear title. Always summarise project at the top. 
  13. Getting awarded funding can *rely* on your referees actually sending references. Do all you can to get reliable people and check-in with them to make sure it gets done.
  14. Grant awards for international students have different terms in different places. For example, sometimes a fee award will only cover the cost of domestic tuition fee rates. Some institutions have specific awards that cover “international” fees and offer stipends. 
  15. Not for everyone: You can (often) apply for funding in the first year of your degree if you are in the financial position to take out a student loan/fund year one of your studies.

Remember that it’s your degree. You need the institution and supervisors but you are the heart of your work and your wellbeing and quality of experience matter.

I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges Thoughts About Work

An Abundance of Listening

This blog is written during the March 2022 strikes in UK higher education. I am on strike and trying to balance spending time with my puppy Sula, resting, and spending some concentrated time with the books on my shelves.

In the first strikes of 2022, I began a project of self-flagellation. I decided to use the “Reading List” function on The Storygraph to document all the unread books I have in my home. The project was motivated by shame. I felt my spending (on books) was out of control although it was definitely within my means. The truth is that when I was isolating alone for months during the pandemics, I retreated into books: reading books, buying books, talking about books, and thinking about writing books.

I have beautiful shelves in my living room, which is a warm yellow like this background and, to me, the books shine like intricate wallpaper as well as little parcels of imagination. Every book is one I have read or want to read and yet, the “task” of reading has begun to feel overwhelming. And so I begin small challenges and tasks to break down the 200+ backlog into something more respectable.

And then, this morning, while reading a poetry collection by Kei Miller, I realised that all this shame and worry is not only self-created but also about internalised shame about materialism. Somehow, I cannot be at peace with myself while knowing that I never buy books for the sake of buying. I choose not to buy books all the time. I have slowly turned my feeling of being lost, out of control, and unable to carve out time to do things I love onto the collection of books in my home.

There is no time frame for reading these books. I still have space to expand and I have not put myself in any financial risk during my pandemic anxiety sprees. However, I realised when reading The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion that my conscious purchasing is not always matched with conscious reading. I rush. I feel the need to set silly goals even though I deliberately set my book target for 2022 very low. The basic “reading goal” is an ADHD crutch rather than an outward looking challenge and yet, I am increasingly aware that my anxiety revolves around being competitive with my potential to do more.

The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw you a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion – Kei Miller

In his poems, Miller asks who maps are for and what mapping leaves out. He grapples with knowledge democracy and what is left out from our methods of recording what we think we know. In a later part of the poem quoted above, we learn that the cartographer does not recognise the rastaman as an expert. This made me think about how I read and why I amass books in the way I do. It transported me to the comfort and privilege of collecting books with diverse stories, histories, and styles. Audiobooks too.

I am a bookworm but more generally a curious and restless soul, who is always looking for brighter, more detailed insight into the world. I amass books because there is so much I don’t know, cannot imagine, and do not understand. I don’t want to possess the books. More often than not, I will give them to a reader I love or add them to book swaps. I buy a lot because I read a lot and I find it (for disability reasons) easier to have books that can be bashed and written on.

I read voraciously and broadly because I am interested in all parts of the book: the cover, the dedication, the font, the style of language, the paragraphing … as well as the material itself. We learn much from paying attention to the layers of our material items. I also love to listen to different narrations of the same stories. I particularly seek out authors reading their work. Not because they are always “the best”, but because you get a particular set of inflections. I return time and again to Maya Angelou reading her poems and I alternate reading Toni Morrison’s fiction with listening to her read it.

What I learned today is that I use my bookshelves as a barometer of what is going on with me, what’s going on in the world, and what I’d like to discover and enjoy. I know that I read every book I bring into my home whether that’s on the journey back from purchase or two years later when it’s just the right thing. That actually, through reading I listen to myself – my restlessness, my fears, my comforts – and that I find solace in the multiplicity and abundance of voices that I can turn my focus to when I turn my mind to reading.

I Need To Talk About This

To the nerd I loved the longest, 

You kept your apps in alphabetical order. All of them. Weirdo. 

Why is WhatsApp four screens away? Absolute nerd.

You knew every word to every song by Belle and Sebastian. 

No more “Piazza New York Catcher” singalongs. Our song. Sunshine and parks. Rants about work stress. The soundtrack to four months of dad jokes on BBM when you were getting divorced.

Elope with me, Miss Private and we’ll sail around the world
I will be you Ferdinand and you my wayward girl
How many nights of talking in hotel rooms can you take?
How many nights of limping round of pagan holidays?
Oh elope with me in private and we’ll set something ablaze 
A trail for the devil to erase

San Francisco’s calling us…

Piazza New York Catcher – Belle and Sebastian

San Francisco’s calling us…

Fuck. Did you move to San Francisco because of our song? Am I only clocking into your romantic, stupid notion now you are dead? Typing out the lyrics to our song because I miss you and want the world to know you and realising when you begged me to get a job in America and come live next door so we can eat dinner everyday and I can save your daughter from your cooking… you moved to San Francisco…  Why can’t I ask you if this is mad coincidence or because you listened to this song every day? 

When I was very sick once, you sang me our song in about 12 voicemails. Because I was asleep and we couldn’t voice note then. 

Did your assistants know that you hated Excel but would never bother them with your rage at spreadsheets? I’ll miss those emails.

WHY is it different on iPad? 


What the fuck is that functionality



Can I call you? PLEASE

Thanks, Excel fairy. Fuck. I need a shower after that. Sweating through my shirt trying to “customise cell”. It’s not a Build a Bear. God, there’s a new one and I don’t want to. Am I a bad dad if I don’t take her to get a pink bear that sings something interminable? Anyway, I don’t want to customise a cell ever again. You are the most patient.

Last year, you bought 10 of your daughter’s favourite Disney mug and hid them in your office desk in case an accident happens. Like you, she’s fastidious and has not had an accident. I hope the people who take care of your home show her the stack. It is the most you thing. You took her to build-a-bear, you know, The pink bear has a purple friend now. I’m gonna find all these emails and print them for her.

She asked me if I would paint you on my arm once. She means my developing sleeve of tattoos. I don’t know. What would you be? A dustpan and brush? A To Do list. A person who cannot eat food with his hands. Who organises his chest of drawers by height of use on the body. Socks at the bottom. Hats at the top. Chaos monster. 

But no chaos. You found chaos disturbing. Your daughter won’t remember this but I remember when you used to colour code her toys with a special padded box for ones that might make noise. She thought it was a game and delighted in putting the red toy in the box of blue ones and you would politely grit your teach and clap while I chuckled at your joy in her and your desperation to put the red toy in its correct basket. 

I’m writing this at the time I was meant to call you to talk about our shitty weeks. Time difference means scheduling our chats. I don’t know if your little girl was with you when you died. I don’t know if you were on the sofa or in bed. Were you cleaning a kitchen surface or doing your work emails even though you were sick and dying, you fucking menace? I like to think you died cleaning the fridge, lining up the cartons of juice to send me a proud picture of the pristine conditions. Your happy place was when you’d just cleaned the floor and then you’d spend an hour playing hide and seek with D and you could both skid silently across the rooms in your socks. 

Always a plan ahead. Always a call away. Always a little bit melancholy but trying to find the laugh. You loved your daughter the most in the whole world. Next, bleach. And then, at one time, it was probably me. I’m sorry I didn’t come when you offered to fly me out for Christmas. I’m sorry we never wrote our album of “sad songs for organised people.” I’m sorry you suffered. I’m sorry it hurt. I’m sorry I couldn’t do what you once did for me and read you books down the phone when I was bed bound.

 I’ll miss your post-it note reviews and complaints about whatever new coffee bean you’d discovered. I’ll miss that you hated wearing t-shirts and were terrified of kids wearing face paint. I’ll miss that you’d prefer an espresso martini but always ordered a gin and tonic in case the bartender was disappointing. 

All your devices have numbered folders and not descriptions and that they all synced up and you just new that Folder 1 was … whatever it was. 

That was you. An unreliable, emotional ball of propriety. So English. So Oxford. So earnest. But always trying to be your best self and to show love in your ways to the people in your heart. Deeply romantic but embarrassed about feelings. Always fucking tidying. I wish we could go notebook shopping and get lunch and gossip about the state of the world and end up in a Pret somewhere, debating about why raincoats are always damp inside. 

Thank you for your love. Thank you for your care. Thank you for being my friend. You were my dearest nerd. I hope it didn’t hurt and that wherever you are, you are haunting software developers who don’t make properly indexed help sections. 

I’m about to drink my first ever cup of coffee for you. It’s 20:14 and a stupid thing to do. I can hear you yelling about caffeine and my sleep cycle. It’s instant but it’s all I have. I’m sorry, nerd but it’s the best I can do. I miss you. I love you. 

“I’ll meet you at the statue in an hour.”

I Need To Talk About This

My Kind of Spark: On Neurodivergence and Unlearning.

This post is inspired by Elle McNicoll’s book A Kind of Spark. The book is about a neurodivergent girl called Addie who campaigns to get a memorial for women killed in witch trials held in her village.

I’m nervous about this blog because it has been a long time since I had such a strong and visceral reaction to a book. I absolutely loved A Kind of Spark. This is not a criticism of it. If you haven’t read it, do.

In the book, there are a lot of interactions with a teacher called Mrs Murphy. I’m not going to tell you the context because spoilers but I think it’s fair to say that Mrs Murphy is an unsympathetic character and she doesn’t like supporting or adapting her teaching to neurodivergence. At many times in the book, I got the anxious, tight stomach feeling I experience when I am carrying worry and my partner actually stopped me reading in bed last night because I was in the middle of the second meeting and had started tapping and biting my nails off. I hadn’t realised.

Elle McNicoll had shown a mirror to some memories I hadn’t previously understood. I was diagnosed as dyspraxic, dyslexic and with ADD when I was in my mid-twenties. That means that I periodically understand things that happened to me as a teenager and young child that had caused me distress but I couldn’t explain.

As I read Addie’s interactions with Mrs Murphy, I was taken back to my Year One (aged 5-6) classroom where I learned I thought very differently to other people, that this was not how I was meant to be, that I should be very afraid, and, in my own context, “mask” how I behave and see the world. It explained to me why I worry to the point of obsession about being misunderstood or getting tasks wrong. It told me why I find particularly emphatic styles that are repetitious frustrating. I get almost everything first time if I’ve processed it properly and tend to remember it too. I understood how one person conditioned me to believe I was wrong about everything, and because we didn’t understand my brain then, no one knew or thought to argue.

It all begins when I asked my Year One teacher if all the stories in the bible were true. Like Addie, I had an underwater animal obsession but mine was whales (and dolphins!! Sorry, Addie). So when we listened to “Jonah and the Whale” and I saw the picture in the illustrated children’s bible, I was confused. The species of whale in the picture had a sieve in its mouth and only ate plankton. So how did Jonah get swallowed? My teacher, Miss Anderson, was furious. I was five so she didn’t call me blasphemous as such but she humiliated me for being literal and obtusely ignoring “the message”. In another class, we had to draw God. (Yup, I know) and describe what He looked like. So I wrote a paragraph about how we can’t see God. He’s actually a feeling. (Yes, I really know.) In a beautifully ironic twist, Miss Anderson told me I had failed the exercise because I was supposed to draw a person and put my sheet in the bin, demanding that I do it “properly”. Bewildered, I drew an eye here, a moustache there, and wrote something like: “God’s face is everywhere so his nose is up and his mouth is down.” Guess what. I had to do it again. Somewhere in my house, there is a sheet of A4 paper with a face with a moustache in the middle of a rectangle box with “This is God’s face” written underneath it. At 6, I was trying to conceptualise non-corporeality but instead was punished, called “lazy” and a “show-off”, made to work through lunch and breaks to meet the tasks to her standard.

This continued. We studied the plague and I tried to draw the smell coming from the doctor’s beak. It turns out I was meant to colour it in gold instead. When I asked why it would be gold if it was made from leather or wood, I got a detention through break. When it transpired I’d read all the books in the classroom, I was punished for not telling her. It didn’t occur to me she might let me read other books or send me into the Year Two classroom to borrow things. But there was another hidden agenda, I wasn’t allowed to share about Year Two books with the class. Book reports hidden, no contributions in story time. Books were the one thing getting me through and then, they were weaponised to remind me that I was always the odd one out.

(Diversion: Shout out to my secondary school librarian Miss Radon, who saw me as a Boss Level reader and spent about five years helping me work through everything in that library, reading new things at the same time as me, teaching me about book prizes, and story tropes while I plodded miserably through everything that wasn’t French, Music, and Art)

At the same time, at 6, I started getting terrible headaches and migraines that would continue intermittently through school. I basically stopped getting them after I finished my undergraduate degree. And I became hyperconscious about everything I did. I used to hide what I was reading so teachers wouldn’t dig at me. I would mask, using the fact that in the 1990s and early 00s, a learning issue meant “behind” or “incapable” rather than “different”. Because I did fine, no one was worried although it was repeatedly noted that my verbal and reading dexterity was way out of step with my writing. Can’t imagine what brought that on.

I think now about how I hate strip lighting because it’s too bright and have to turn lights down in the evening in order to be able to sleep. Of how I avoid meeting friends in big groups because I can functionally listen to multiple conversations at once and I burn out. And realise that classroom and playground didn’t work for me. That everyone thought I sought the company of adults because I was a lonely only child and not because I was bullied for speaking and reading ahead of my peers and having terrible co-ordination skills. They thought that I couldn’t skip or hula hoop or cartwheel because I was lazy and putting on weight rather than because I my brain blacks out when I can’t figure out how to do a movement. (There’s a running joke in my friendship group that I can’t turn left on the spot or to get out of bed. I have to do a three quarter turn to the right or get out and in.) What young me didn’t know is that I find running freeing and I love being fit. Dancing, weightlifting, boxing, kayaking, swimming. But I am still unlearning always being the person hunted in chases, not being allowed to climb the frames because I was too slow, of panicking about swinging on bars and falling and the fall leading to yet another humiliation.

I talk often about wishing I could be invisible. Not absent but without an appearance. Able to thrive without being looked at. It’s only now that I see how this was all part of one long process of erasing myself. Example: I gesticulate a lot. People think it’s because I’m musical and, therefore, dramatic. That may be true. But it’s actually because I am reaching for the words in front of me and conducting them into an order. I’m extremely visual. I love words and maths but hate letters and numbers. I see words and numbers as pictures or feelings or sounds.

For a very, very long time, I became out of step. I “underachieved”. I was not good at things that naturally went hand-in-hand with other skills. I was pushed into speaking because my writing was inhibited. A Kind of Spark has made me see the conditioning I have internalised without ever realising how far it went. It comes with so much fear. So much noise. I wish I’d realised the noise was other people and if I’d just let myself be, I could have been walking to my own music a long time ago. I’d love to meet Addie. I’d love to read her shark book and show her one about whales. I love for my friends and colleagues to read it and get a small glimpse of neurodivergence. Addie is not the same as me and I am not the same as her. But for once, I saw a very young Hannah and understood why they were always frightened. I wish I could have told her all the things I’m learning now. I hope I can listen to myself a bit more often.

You can purchase A Kind of Spark from Round Table Books by clicking here.


Dear Britney, I hope you get justice.

Content note: this post discusses coercive behaviour and domestic abuse.

I don’t know anything about conservatorship. This post isn’t about that. And it’s not about mental health and legal rights. It is about Britney Spears apologising for pretending to be OK.

There is a lot of dialogue about how female-passing people are forced not to show certain emotions, be unreactive, and generally suffer in order to get by. However, I was caught by the amount of times she apologised or talked herself down in advocated for many of her human rights to be restored to her. Like most people, I am angry and hope she is “freed”, but I am also grieving for her because I know what it’s like to doubt everything you think you know about yourself and how long it can take to realise how bad things are.

I have been in several abusive relationships with impacts on my emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing that I am still untangling. Here’s an example. Readers who know me will be aware that I am neurodivergent. One of the manifestations of that is that I put things down when I am distracted and lose things in my house. One of my former partners used this to move my contraceptive pill around, claiming I’d “lost it” when I’d been moving around. They did this maybe once or twice a month for almost two years before we stopped living together. Now, when I have to do something every day, I have reminders and I keep the necessary things in place the whole time. When I travel, I know what the different bags in my case signify and I set reminders to check that one make-up bag has all my chargers in, and another my meds etc. My disorder is internal but I manage it very successfully. This person took risks with my health and then exploited my disability to make me think that I was being chaotic when struggling with insomnia.

I have dozens of stories like this where I didn’t know things were wrong until they were taken “too far”. When a partner was travelling, I started weightlifting. I LOVED it. I felt empowered and honestly found myself in my body for the first and only time. When the partner returned, they were not used to my new fitness, my new strength, my new confidence, or how my body had changed. Instead of adjusting, they wanted me to let go of those things. They booked things to clash with gym classes. They started “forgetting” to buy certain foods and replacing them with other things. They would only be happy if I went out in clothes they were familiar with. And here’s the thing… I didn’t notice.

You cannot imagine my shock when I discovered that my gym membership had magically cancelled itself and my account had been locked out. (Google autofill is not always your friend.) The people at the gym were nonplussed and said I’d put in a request to have my data removed. The account was there so they reinstated it but I spent several days wondering: had I done this when I was sleepwalking? Was my card info wrong? When did I change the password? And then, I mentioned it. As you do. And was reminded that I’d said I wanted to change gyms (true) so I must have just done it “sometime”. And that was when I knew. Online forms stress me out because of inaccessible layout and the room for typos/nightmare proof reading. I almost never do life admin on a whim because I make mistakes when I am not focused. However, this partner never believed in my neurodivergences because theirs were (to them) more severe. Eventually, I found the email in my sent folder and I knew immediately that I hadn’t sent it.

That was the first of many similar realisations across the next few weeks. It was also the time that I started to talk to other people about some of things I thought were happening. I’d been in this cycle of behaviour for years.

I realised about the contraception about two years later when I’d lost something and my friend said to me: “You always know where things are unless you’ve been distracted.” And it’s true. Interestingly, my current partner is a Tidy Person. I thought I was before but now I know that I am, actually, a Clean Person. And in the short time we’ve lived together, we have navigated how to support his mental wellbeing by keeping things fairly neat without him moving my stuff because it disorients me and I panic. We have had lots of 15 second conversations where we figure out systems. No stress. Just a quick check-in and on we move. He hates stuff on the sides so he stacks the dishwasher and puts it on. I empty it and he knows that if I forget, it’s not wilful. I just forget things that I can’t see. Therefore, he leaves the door open as a gentle reminder.

Seeing all the takes on Spears’s current circumstances, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people in controlling relationships amplify their complicity in these circumstances. Example from Hannah’s vault of bad memories: a partner and I had shared finances because I am better with money and therefore, I was wrong for not offering more financial assistance when they started stealing money from me. It took me a long time to realise that wanting to share and choosing to share with a loved one is not the same as the loved one taking from you. Similarly, I have (just recently) had to get out of the habit of asking permission to wear make-up or to go out in workout gear. I’d internalised this inappropriate practice and it confused the hell out of my current partner. Because I learned to ask my abuser’s opinion about things they had no business taking decisions about, I made myself feel partially responsible for receiving their orders.

Coming out of these situations, you have to name and build boundaries before you scratch the surface of the ones that have been broken. You have to ramble and guess and panic and hope that you are locating the things you need before you understand what you are trying to heal from. It’s terrifying and it’s risky. It’s also mistake-ridden.

I knew that I had lost any sense of bodily autonomy through the different abuses I have been through (via multiple partners). I’m only now starting to appreciate how I have manifested that lack of sense in the way I have lived since.

I don’t know if this post will help anyone but hopefully, it will tell or remind a survivor or person reclaiming their sense of self that it is possible to be safe. It is possible to be loved while you are healing. It is possible to argue without emotional abuse. It is possible to notice a new pain long after you were hurt and I believe it is possible to heal from these things.

I hope that Britney Spears is allowed to heal, that she is given autonomy to decide what she wants from her life, and that anyone who finds themselves trapped is able to find their way out in a manner that helps them move on. I feel like I’ve only really began to know myself (and not the person I thought I should be) several years on from my experiences. It’s really hard, I’ve made so many mistakes, and still, I continue to be filled with joy that I made those mistakes (and many more affirming choices) for myself. I still apologise for existing but it happens less and less and the people around me are able to tell me when I do it without it feeling like yet another rebuke. I want the Britney Spears I invested in as a small person to be able to say “I make my own choices and I’m glad to be alive” too.

Thoughts About Work

A reflection on best practice and duty of care in British academia

I get a lot of questions about my teaching practice, my pastoral attitudes, and the relationship between my research that connects many aspects of identity with improving Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in British universities. I think about how to do my different works better a lot but, in that, I’ve never reached a short or simple answer.

I balance lived experience with inspiration from others, research, training and other learning while also making many and ongoing mistakes. In fact, I am concerned about edifying any one person’s process without the context of community, friendship, and assimilated knowledge. For example, I went to a workshop about a book, which is no longer happening, and someone gave an improvised introduction to the philosophy of imagination and how we can connect it to Black liberation. I am not philosophical and didn’t hold onto the details of their words, but I was transported in the moment and I learned a lot about energy and intention in teaching. And in my own way, about imagination and liberation. I know who that person was, and I always signpost their influence on how I approach topics in my teaching, but they aren’t tangibly acknowledged in the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.

I hold the conversations with friends, colleagues, and students as part of this process. I fail more than I succeed but I learn because I ask for feedback and I work very hard to reflect on the critiques I receive. Could I do something differently or in a more helpful way? Have I misjudged a conversation? Was I being lazy? Sometimes, I will feel that my authenticity or intention doesn’t work for someone and move on. At other times, I will have messed up. I catch myself losing focus and operating in unhelpful, unhealthy and toxic ways as the norms in university environments can feel safer and also, what is expected. Example: I often assume knowledge of certain phenomena in popular culture. So, I have a note on my desk that says: “Not everyone has seen The Lion King”. I don’t always remember but I also sit with the feeling when it happens to me and I feel lost rather than included. If you have never felt that distance from learning, it’s hard to locate creative empathy in whatever work you do.

For me, the hardest but most necessary part of aiming to be a good teacher, a respectful researcher, a good colleague, a helpful supervisor etc. is knowing that those things are largely conditional on the perspective whoever I am in dialogue with. Is my work, my energy, my intention having the impact I hope it will? If not, the only person responsible for that is me. And if you are thinking that this position reads as insecurity then you are misunderstanding the measurement of intentionality with likeability. I admit that I have not shaken the want to be liked but this is neither intrinsic nor essential to doing my work intentionally. I am regularly described as “confrontational” and “challenging”. Ignoring the codes ascribed with those expressions, I know that this is because I prefer direct questions and direct answers and that I am also unimpressed by non-answers. The thing about academia is that non-answers seem to come easily. We all hedge. We all present things with angles. We all consider how we cover our backs, especially when we have come from or are in precarious situations. There can be a safety in not answering when a question is asked. But often, that’s where the greatest harm lies. I have done it because it felt like the right choice at the time, but it has almost never been the best choice. The downside is that it risks more and costs more to be open and committed in a public way.

I describe myself as a bit too much. I am intense, emotional, loud, clumsy, enthusiastic, and eager to do my best work. It can be exhausting for me as well as to other people. But that is my essence, and I am fine with it. In order to argue about safe working environments or paying students for their time or changing the curriculum, I need to be all of those things because they make me present and attentive. However, they also make my mistakes more prominent and, sometimes, harder to undo. I don’t know what my approach to my work is other than that is should be liberatory, accessible, fun, and (often) useful to people around me. That is not the mode of my institution or my profession but it’s where I sit and most days, I try and move a little bit closer to it.

Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges

I read 125 books in 2020 and this is what I learned…

  1. I’ll never stop finding books I want to read.
  2. Reading in this volume made me evaluate writing styles, plot directions, and stock characters in a new way.
  3. There are always new areas, regions, genres, sub-genres, publication forms, and other exciting things to be found. If you think “you’ve read everything”, you’ve not opened your mind to all the possibilities around you.
  4. Having a small community of avid readers in my space has made the world of difference. Especially as my reading family come at books in entirely different ways.
  5. I love talking and writing about books and I want to do that more.
  6. I enjoy giving books as much if not more than I enjoy buying books for me.
  7. Emotionally, I delineate between (1) “books I read for me”, (2) “books I read because I’m worrying about what other people think”, and (3) “books for work”. Sometimes, the intellectual pressure pile yields a gem, but I’d like to focus more on my joys in 2021.
  8. My learning disabilities are present rather than separate in my reading habits. I now understand better what does/does not hold my attention, when in the day I read most comfortably, what kind of writing asks me to find pictures in words rather than offers images easily, which fonts to avoid, that I get anxious reading books with very tight spines, etc.
  9. My triggers and gore thresholds have changed.
  10. I hate conventional book clubs but “buddy reading” – where I read at the same book around the same time as one or two other people – is great.
  11. There is, actually, a balance to “books bought” vs. “books read”. I do not enjoy being surrounded by too many books I haven’t read but I do need a range of choices.
  12. Shock realisation: I don’t want a big library of books unless I love them all. I am really unromantic about a book once it has been read. I’d like to think more about where the books I get rid of go to. I’d also like a designated “unread” bookcase (a small one), so I don’t keep finding things I haven’t read and stressing out.
  13. I am very fussy about the “Young Adult” literature I read and need to keep space between the different YA options I read to have the greatest enjoyment of them.
  14. I still love self-help books and I’m going to try to confront my internalised snobbery about the fact that I like reading about cleaning, wellness, and spirituality.
  15. I still need and love audiobooks. I wish my local library had a richer range of content.
  16. Long books can be a relief as well as a chore. I will definitely keep an eye out for a 500+ page novel in 2021.
  17. If a “classic” or venerated book doesn’t speak to me, I need to move on and not feel emotionally or intellectually negligent.
  18. I need to keep up my non-fiction reading because I value it but…
  19. I should maintain a 1:4 ratio of non-fiction to any other form because I read a lot of fragments of non-fiction when at work.
Do The Reading Reading Challenges

Recommend Me a Book

If you are reading this, you have probably volunteered to help me find new books and read new things.

The task: Recommend/Buy* me a book you think I should read or you think I will like. Any format: prose, poetry, non-fiction, graphic novel, or anything else.

Rules (some can be broken):

  • Books under 350 pages (dyslexic friendly)
  • Avoid American authors unless you don’t want to
  • No anti-Islamic terrorism stories
  • No disposable sexual assault plot lines
  • Less keen on YA (because I read a lot). Avoid contemporary school settings
  • Only your most unusual or particularly special crime thrillers

Authors I have read a significant amount of work by/everything currently in print by:

Han Kang; Akwaeke Emezi; Arthur Conan Doyle; Octavia E. Butler; Toni Morrison; Dorothy L. Sayers; John Le Carré; George Orwell; F Scott Fitzgerald; Becky Chambers; Truman Capote; Neil Gaiman; Jane Austen; Anthony Trollope; Agatha Christie; Lisa Kleypas. Alice Oseman; Natasha Ngan; Sue Grafton; Patricia Cornwall.

Favourite books that I have read recently:

  • The Emperor’s Babe – Bernadine Evaristo
  • On a Sunbeam – Tillie Walden
  • Dawn – Octavia E. Butler
  • You Should See Me in A Crown – Leah Johnson
  • The Deep – Rivers Solomon
  • Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds – adrienne maree brown
  • The Death of Vivek Oji – Akwaeke Emezi
  • Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
  • Jazz – Toni Morrison
  • The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
  • The Unspoken Name – A.K. Larwood
  • Asha and the Spirit Bird – Jasbinder Bilan
  • Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan
  • Trans Power – Juno Roche
  • Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
  • Heartstopper Vols. 1-3 – Alice Oseman

*Budget will be supplied by me or I’ll buy the book on your recommendation. Please use independent booksellers.

Books That Changed My Life Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges The Isolation Reads

What do you get if you read 100 books in nine months?

Perhaps the most interesting side effect of lockdown for me has been returning to reading in a big way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an avid reader forever, but I encounter extreme slumps as well as periods where reading just isn’t my preferred way to pass time. Unlike some people who didn’t feel like reading over the last few months, I have (perhaps counterintuitively) found getting back into books has helped me navigate living alone in a (relatively) new city where most of my friends live away. More than that, it helped me to understand the value of moving from computer screens to paper for me as a dyslexic person. I experience screen fatigue (including the TV) a long time before I experience word fatigue. The nights I have gone to bed at 21:00 with a book, I have almost universally slept better. Why? Because I ditch my phone and am really present in a low energy state, generally feeling chilled. I do audit what read before bed, but I also have very familiar audiobooks I listen to at night to counteract any triggering content.

            I would love to tell you that this reading spurt has made me more decisive about what I read but that would be untrue. As we speak, I am “stuck” with a book I want to like, but find dull, and can’t quite commit to abandoning. This is really silly given that, when this happened during the alphabet challenge, I immediately picked up pace when I accepted that I was never going to “get” Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. The writing is beautiful but after 15 minutes I would be fidgety and disengaged. In fact, it put me to sleep for one of my two naps in the last 18 months. I wanted to love it and be immersed. Almost all of my reading pals speak very highly of it, but truth be told, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe after writing this post, I will commit to hiding the volume by my bed, removing it from my Goodreads “currently reading” list, and see if I experience any inclination to return to it.

            What else have I learned? I really, really enjoy a reading challenge that has very open parameters. I set myself a monumental task when I took on my own “Reading The Alphabet” challenge. I wanted to tackle my 100+ book To Be Read (TBR) pile and so I committed to read a book by authors with surnames beginning with every letter of the alphabet. I had to supplement here and there. (Thank God I did, because The Autobiography of Malcolm X was a standout read.) But I also got caught up in reading (1)in alphabetical order, (2) at least one fiction and non-fiction entry, and (3) [DON’T DO THIS] as many entrants per letter as possible. What should have been 26 books could have become fifty-two books plus any bonus “extra” reads. The problem here came when I hit A Brief History of Seven Killings. I had read lots of “heavy” books at this point and was really looking forward to a graphic novel a lot of letters away. Finally, I decided to “break” the order and read what excited me, which is perhaps the best lesson of this year. I also committed to skim the James in a 90-minute speed read and move on.

            Not so long ago, I wrote a blog about my trepidations in approaching The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel because it was such a big book! All of my neurodivergence warning bells go off if I could hurt myself dropping a book, the word fatigue means it could take weeks, and it’s a dense story. HOWEVER, I am so glad I started my lockdown reads with it because (1) I loved it, (2) I managed it in a weekend, and (3) it prepared me to try out “bigger” books. I pre-ordered some hardbacks and for the first time in my life, am almost entirely on top of them where I would ordinarily reach for a paperback first. I have no idea how many more books I will read this year. I am loving doing The Black Book Challenge with Leighan so that is pushing me along. I have so many exciting unread titles in the house that I am on a real book buying ban for a while.

            I thought I would end with a list of my highlights of 2020 so far. Note: these are books I have read in 2020, not necessarily books published in 2020. I hope you enjoy some of them, and I look forward to writing up many pending reviews.

P.S. I went to look at my Goodreads to compile this list and got very overwhelmed by how many of these books I really loved.

Hannah’s Reading Highlights so far:

  1. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  2. The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo
  3. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  4. Trans Power by Juno Roche
  5. Asha & the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
  6. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  7. Heartstopper (Vols. 1-3) by Alice Oseman [ALL of the volumes are great]
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  9. Flèche by Mary Jean Chan
  10. Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
  11. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  12. The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin
  13. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
  14. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  15. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  16. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  17. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  18. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  19. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  20. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  21. Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown

20 Books By Black Authors to Pre-Order

This post is tailored to British fundraising and release dates but anyone can back these folks and causes.

First. Support Black Lives Matter. Support Black Pride. Invest in the Free Black University.

Some of these links are to organisations that don’t really need your money. Try to back independent bookstores before you go to Am*zon, please.

Children’s Fiction

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin – Roseanne A. Brown (Pre-Order)

The Gilded Ones – Namina Forna (Pre-Order)

The Dark Lady – Akala (Pre-Order)

Anita and the Dragons – Hannah Carmona and Anna Cunha (Pre-Order)

You Should See Me in a Crown – Leah Johnson (Pre-Order)

Ikenga Nnedi Okorafor (Pre-order)

Adult Fiction

Black Sunday – Tola Rotimi Abraham (Pre-Order)

Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold – Bolu Babalola (Pre-Order) (Pre-Order)

Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark (Pre-Order)

Saving Ruby King – Catherine Edel West (Pre-Order)

The Space Between Worlds – Micaiah Johnson (Pre-Order)

Memorial Bryan Washington (Pre-Order)


On Reflection: Moments, Flight and Nothing New – Adjoa Wiredu (Pre-Order) (Pre-Order)

Here Is the Sweet Hand: Poems – Francine J. Harris (Pre-Order)

Burning Sugar – Cicely Belle Blain (Pre-Order)


Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen – Samantha N. Sheppard (Pre-Order)

African Europeans: An Untold History Olivette Otele (Pre-Order)

Loud Black Girls. 20 Black Women Writers Ask: What’s Next? – (ed.) Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene (Pre-Order)

It Takes Blood and Guts – Skin and Lucy O’Brian (Pre-Order)

Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance – Ntozake Shange (Pre-Order)