In our January Zoom chat, drmllz and tiny_bookbot discovered they had met in real life! Cannonballers in the wild – a rare sighting!
What’s your favorite subject/angle to teach as a literature and media studies lecturer and researcher? What gets your students the most fired up?
I’m happy to teach most things! In my ‘have PhD, will travel’ years, which were precarious and stressful, I taught everything from post-modernism to medieval poetry to ‘the eighteenth century’ to news framing in the media, often at very short notice. I enjoy the challenge of supporting students to find beauty and meaning (and sometimes anger and ugliness and disintegration) in ‘big texts’–like Jane Eyre, or ‘The Waste Land’. But I also really enjoy looking at ‘big things’ with students, like justice, or morality, or power, or trauma, or sex and death, in popular texts and genres–I research and write about crime fiction mainly, which is a genre that’s often dismissed as light or formulaic entertainment, but which can offer a window on human nature as well as challenge official narratives of law and order and progress. I like seeing students’ responses to Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)–if you know, you know.
I also like looking at form and style in popular fiction–again, something that’s often sidelined in literature studies and teaching, although that is changing now–there’s a tendency to think that plot-driven or genre fiction can’t also be innovative and beautiful when it comes to the writing, but that isn’t the case at all. My students tend to respond very differently to things each year, which can be challenging but also keeps things interesting–this year students have been inspired by thinking about memory and healing via cooking and baking in Ella Risbridger’s cookbook/memoir The Year of Miracles: Recipes about Love and Grief and Growing Things (2022), in an MA unit on ‘Narrating Identities’ and also the bleakness and decadence of Raymond Chandler’s LA in The Big Sleep (1939) in my ‘Crime and Terror’ unit.
What’s your go-to genre to reset and recharge when you need a break from the required reading you do for your job?
It used to be detective fiction! But now that’s work. I think early to mid-century English ‘middlebrow’ novels by Stella Gibbons, or Nancy Mitford, or Rumer Godden kind of fill that void–I may write about them at some point but I have about nine different projects going on with crime and gothic fiction so they’re fairly safe at the moment. I love Terry Pratchett–also an excellent example of stylistic brilliance in genre fiction, of course. I like reading commentary on TV shows–I miss Television Without Pity with a passion, as I’ve just re-watched Veronica Mars and I’m halfway through Buffy. But I often just watch Netflix or YouTube makeup tutorials (I don’t really wear makeup) when I need a break.
How many chapters/pages do you give a book to hook you before you move on to the next one, or are you one of those ‘must finish’ readers?
I’m a ‘must finish’ reader which means I have a pile of guiltily unfinished books lurking in a basket.
What was the last book you gave as a gift?
I gave Lauren Graham’s latest collection of essays to my sister-in-law, and Black Drop, a historical spy novel by Leonora Nattrass to my brother, for Christmas. I also ordered my lovely new-ish niece a cardboard picture book of Midsummer Night’s Dream but the UK postal service has been a hot mess over the last few months and it hasn’t arrived yet.
Do you prefer to cook, bake, or order in?
My favourite thing food-wise to do is have lunch at a local cafe with outside tables under the pine trees–but I have both cooked (Rukmini Iyer’s Roasting Tin series is amazing–healthy-ish recipes, one roasting tin in the oven, 25 minutes to 1 hour, minimal washing up, boom) and ordered in (chicken burger and chips and milkshake at the end of a nine-hour day and an hour’s walk home) in the last week. I wish I baked more!
Now that you’ve learned all about drmllz, head over and see what she’s been reading lately. Or meet other Cannonballers we’ve interviewed.