Have booked trip to subject’s birthplace, an island off the coast of Britain for the end of April. Have had an email back from local librarian saying they have a couple of books I didn’t know about so that will be interesting to look at.
Also finished reading a book about writing a biography – not a how to book, but how I did it. It’s called “Dreaming of Rose, A biographer’s journal” by Sarah Lefanu and it charts her journey writing a biography of Rose Macaulay. It’s very interesting insight of the ups and downs of a biographer’s life, particularly as she is not the first person to write a biography of Rose, so has other people’s previous thoughts on Rose to contend with and some of Rose’s friends and relatives were still alive at the time.
Unlike Sarah, my subject was born in Victorian times and, to date, no-one has written a biography of them. There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to writing about someone who has died in the recent past – you can talk to people who knew them. However you also have to be careful of not causing offence or risk being done for libel. In contrast, I have to construe my subject’s character and personality from what they wrote about themselves and from what little else others wrote about them.
Good news – Found out that I have been awarded a small travel grant which means I can go and visit my subject’s birthplace for 3 days 🙂
I now need to contact the local librarian to arrange access to the paper held locally. Trip planned for end of April 2014.
The bad news is that I heard on the Radio that there was a fire in the National Archives at Kew, London, UK. Don’t know yet how much damage has been done or how long Kew will be closed . It is another place I need to visit.
Discovered I need to get permission from the donor to access one set of documents held at Cambridge library – another bit of bureaucracy and time constraint.
Still need to apply for larger funds for the longer trip which I would like to do in October/November because the weather would be suitable then. Found that it is quite difficult to get funds for non-fiction research if it is not part of a PhD. Doing a biography excludes you from Arts Council funding in the UK, and also some funds are only available for previously published authors.
Well, I suppose it was too good to last – all the excitement about the maps, only to be told during last week’s visit that in 1880s, the RGS didn’t necessarily keep everything they were sent, i.e. they do not appear to have kept the original journals of my subject, although they do have the transcribed account, which I know my subject did not agree with, so it wasn’t published in The Proceedings of the RGS as planned. However, saw some amazing contemporary photos of the areas my subject travelled to, so not all downhearted.