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dc.contributor.supervisorCaleshu, Anthony
dc.contributor.authorParsons, Robert
dc.contributor.otherFaculty of Arts and Humanitiesen_US

My project has two elements: a memoir, titled 'A Knock at the Door', and a critical dissertation.

On December 23rd, 1975, Ronnie, a homeless man who had spent the majority of his childhood in care and had educational challenges, knocked on our door. At that time, I was a young lawyer and had been married for four years. I invited him in; my wife and I gave him a meal and offered that he stay the night. He never left. He died in September 2020 having lived with us for forty-five years. During that time, we had children, brought them up and they subsequently left and had children of their own. Through all this time Ronnie was part of our family.

My research is practice-led: a literary rendering of the challenges and opportunities that can occur when a family takes a person like Ronnie into their home. In my memoir, I aim to achieve what Judith Curry, in making the case for literature to change the world called, “smuggling some serious topics into the consciousness of readers” (Bloom, 2014). The memoir interrogates and examines what I learnt from the unique experience of living with Ronnie over almost half a century. I consider the complex relationship that my family had with him, whilst also narrating episodes from my own life. Though, unlike Ronnie, I didn’t spend my childhood in care, I too was subjected to some of the attitudes that he experienced in the ‘backward school’. In the memoir, my reflections about Ronnie prompted me to reflect on my own life. For example, how when I was age fourteen my teacher said of me, “He is making no use of what little ability he has” (Lewis, 1963, p. 17 / Appendix A) and how my father later warned me not to attempt to join the legal profession – “People like us don’t become solicitors”. Writing Ronnie’s story, I realised how important it was for me to write my own, to explore the genesis of my social mobility, of how I learnt to care for myself and others, despite the labels I experienced as a young person.

Supplemental to my memoir, in a 15,000-word critical dissertation, I examine a variety of narratives that explore ‘care’ and the care system. I consider two recent works of creative non-fiction in detail: firstly, Alan Bennett’s, 'The Lady in the Van', which tells the story of Miss Shepherd living in a camper van on Bennett’s driveway for fifteen years; secondly Lemn Sissay’s, 'My Name Is Why', which relates Sissay’s experience as a ‘looked after child’ in both his foster home and later in various care facilitates. I show how these narratives influenced the telling of my story both in motivation and the actual craft of writing – in particular, with regard to tone, setting and motive.

Before Ronnie joined our family, his likely social trajectory was not good. He had no fixed accommodation or job: he had a gambling addiction and had been involved in minor criminal activity. The progress that he made in life was remarkable: he held down a full-time job as a dustman for almost thirty years, became a volunteer in a homeless centre, and eventually had a £1.6 million health centre named after him. My story seeks to highlight interventions that helped to facilitate this progress, but also aims to show the many regrets and apparent failures my wife and I felt as the ones who took him in. The project gives the opportunity to grapple with the question of what it means to ‘care’, and how to best tell that story.

dc.publisherUniversity of Plymouth
dc.subjectFictive relationshipsen_US
dc.subject'Looked after children'en_US
dc.title'A Knock at the Door': A memoir with a supplemental dissertation about its craft in the context of Alan Bennett's 'The Lady in the Van' and Lemn Sissay's 'My Name is Why'en_US
dc.rights.embargoperiod12 monthsen_US

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