The second year of my PhD started with two funded trips enabling inspiring research on location, following desk research at home during the pandemic.
For context, my PhD is a creative and critical response to ontological suffering in a pre-modern context that resonates with contemporary interest; that is to say, among other themes it draws on contemplative approaches which are used today as a holding space for life’s pains and paradoxes. A novel can turn abstract concepts into fictional human experience. My thesis therefore comprises a novel and critical reflection, exploring creative responses to primary texts of the late 1400s, and is built on empirical research into geo-political dynamics and the heterogeneous landscape of faiths and beliefs.
The project was inspired by an interest in my ancestors, the harpers (‘cruit’ > MacCruiter) of the Gaelic ‘Lords of the Isles’, focusing on the isles of Islay and Iona. A Celtic sense of the story growing from the land is vital for this novel and fits with contemporary interest in narrative nature writing.
Centre for Scottish & Celtic Studies Seedcorn Funding – Islay research
With an award of £500 CSCS Seedcorn Funding, I fulfilled several objectives on Islay: research selected archives at Finlaggan Trust Visitor Centre and seasonal nature research for some locations.
Several rare historic and out-of-print books at Finlaggan draw on many documents that may have been since lost. While my research builds on the latest academic thinking across relevant disciplines, historical perspectives provide useful resources and are rich in useful language and details. The 1894 Book of Islay, for example, drew on documents and charters dating back to 1614. A particularly poignant, relevant document is the royal charter of forfeiture to the Lord of the Isles in July 1476 on the grounds of ‘acts of treason’; the original wording will inform a scene of the novel. A 1774 copy of Pennant’s ‘A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides’ provided another reference to / evidence of the Bishop of Durham as a signatory for the 1462 Treaty of Ardtornish & Westminster and to an ancient Gaelic prophecy which helped to build Iona’s medieval status. There are also descriptions of Islay, such as the ruins of the medieval pier providing clues as to its original scale and functionality which have since been lost.
I hope to return during Spring to explore the archives at the Museum of Islay Life and carry out further seasonal nature research.
School of Critical Studies Strategic Research Fund
£250 of funding paid for a week’s accommodation in the medieval Iona Abbey staying with the Iona Community. Writing on location in the ancient library, I innovated an oneiric new voice for the novel that reflects a sense of interiority, which my supervisors feel is a strong new direction. Empirical research included visits to local museums and locations in nature. The Iona Cathedral Abbey Trust archives held many useful sources and I was able to arrange access for a day. Rare antiquarian books such as an 1862 edition of the Book of Dean of Lismore provided evidence that medieval Western Highland sennachies and bards were either of Irish descent or were sent to train in the Irish Bardic Schools. Language found in antiquarian books will also inform my writing. I hope to return again to carry out further research.
As the medieval contemplatives proposed, there is no end to knowing. But there will be an end to this PhD. I hope the final result will be an enjoyable story, my debut novel for adults, that speaks on several levels.