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Jenni Nuttall

Jenni Nuttall has been a College Lecturer in English at St Edmund Hall since 2006 and has also held Research Fellowship at Wolfson College. Before teaching at the Hall, she was a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College. She was elected to a Fellowship at St Edmund Hall in 2013.

Starting to write 

I knew that I wanted to be a writer of books before I had worked out that I wanted to be an academic. As a teenager I wrote teenage novels.  As a starry-eyed undergraduate at Magdalen College I wrote poems and short stories. Then I joined the University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing. There, as I gave up on the idea of being a novelist, the idea of researching and writing up a DPhil thesis seemed to me to be a type of writing which I could do, no matter what.  And so I came back to Magdalen to work on fifteenth-century political poetry. I was blessed with a supervisor, Professor Paul Strohm, who frequently reminded me of the need to write with clarity, with verve, and with an unconventional structure if necessary.

Writing a thesis and writing a book

In writing that thesis, and then in rewriting it into a research monograph, I found a writing process which I found satisfying. More importantly, I found a form of writing which gave me the nerve to get it from start to finish without giving up. This part of academic life, the writing up of ideas and research in the form of lectures, conference papers, chapters and articles, is now a vital part of my thinking process. Drafting and editing one’s work from thoughts and notes to final manuscript teaches me just as much as does reading and note-taking. 

Writing accessibly

My second book was a reader’s guide to Geoffrey Chaucer’s great masterpiece, Troilus and Criseyde. The guide was designed particularly for student readers of the poem. Writing it proved to be a great challenge and a transformative education. I learned how to keep pace with the poem and how to write accessibly, assuming little knowledge yet trying to convey as much of the text’s complexity and sophistication as possible. It was also hugely rewarding to complete a book which I felt needed to be written and which had a real purpose. Alongside writing up my research in the form of journal articles and book chapters for specialist readers, I will continue to explore the boundaries of academic writing, especially those forms which bridge the gap between academic research and the needs of learners and students.

Blogging and Tweeting

My current project is rather large and unwieldy: a study of all of the forms of Middle English and Middle Scots poetry, along with all of the words which medieval poets used to describe the techniques of their own poetry and some of the more extreme poetic experiments they invented. It’s taken a long time to research and write, so I’ve taken to blogging and tweeting about my research to let the world know what I’m up to. It’s been hugely helpful to draft out sections of the book as informal, accessible blog posts and glossary entries – trying to get at what’s important without overcomplicating matters or overwhelming readers with too many details.  Now it’s proving hard to let go of that informal, friendly blog voice as I turn that material into a conventional (or partly conventional!) book.

Translating

As part of blogging and tweeting, I’ve often had to come up with Modern English translations of Middle English poetry for those readers who can’t easily decipher the original Middle English text. This has made me realise how much I like modernising Middle English, and I’ve starting working on translations alongside my academic research. I’ve published some short translations on my blog, and published a longer translation of James I of Scotland’s Kingis Quair as an e-book. These first translations have been in prose, but I’m now working on some verse translations of Middle English poems in my spare time.  Perhaps I’m coming full circle, heading back towards writing poetry again?

Read Jenni's blog Stylisticienne.com or follow Jenni on Twitter at @stylisticienne.

The covers of Jenni Nuttall's 'The Creation of Lancastrian Kingship' and 'Troilus and Criseyde: A Reader's Guide'