Alison Summers – PhD Proposal

Alison Summers, a full-time student on the MA course, is continuing her academic studies with a PhD. Here Alison talks a little about what she is doing and why, and shares her PhD proposal.

Why did you want to do a PhD?

It has been a long-term plan – publish a book and get a PhD, mainly because I want to teach in Higher Education and recruiters keep raising the bar. I have taught for seven years in the Adult Education sector. I adore teaching and see it as a really good accompaniment to writing.

Why this particular subject?
My older sister was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease two years ago. Very shortly after receiving the diagnosis of what she calls this “hideous” disease, she said to me, “Ali, I really hope you get some writing out of all this.” So although I will not be writing about her, my novel will be based on what I have observed about her experience.

Where are you doing your PhD?

I’m studying in Newcastle. I won’t be upping sticks as I won’t have to attend very often, so I will commute from Edinburgh.

For how long? How will this work? What is your life going to look like over the duration of the work?

I’m doing it full-time over three years. I will keep on some of my teaching in Edinburgh, hope to get some teaching in Newcastle and do some workshops about dementia. The rest of the time I will divide between writing on my sofa (not on the upholstery), in the Scottish Poetry Library, the National Library of Scotland and Starbucks. I will visit care homes and carer groups. I will be studying experimental fiction as part of the project so it should be three years full of variety.

I’m really excited about the next three years and with any luck I’ll soon be able to write a book about being a Masters student and then about being a PhD student.

Wordstore Workshops Writing Workshops for Health and Happiness contact:

For more information on Pick’s Disease, start here

Alison’s Proposal

stories possess an aura that information lacks”1

Temporal Sentence, an experimental novel about a person suffering from Pick’s Disease.

Pick’s disease is an early onset dementia which destroys the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain causing difficult behaviours and twenty-four hour dependence on carers. Symptoms include loss of short-term memory, repetitive behaviour, double incontinence, lack of risk awareness, overeating, lack of empathy, lack of sexual inhibition and eventual immobility and muteness. At present there is no known treatment or cure. The sufferer dies within an average of eight years from diagnosis.

One in five voters in the UK is over 502. The increased percentage of the population living into their late 80s, and 90s and a dwindling birth rate among younger people increases the likelihood of more people developing dementia.

Facebook is a social networking site on the internet. Users can add friends, send them messages and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. In 2009 there were 250 million users of the site. 3

There is a correlation between the fractured communication strategies of Facebook users and the experience of a sufferer of Pick’s disease whose identity, attention span, disclosure habits and linguistic ability splinter. The correlation is formal, linguistic and visual. This discovery made me consider a way of writing this story using narrative devices suggested by those on Facebook.

The PhD will comprise a novel and a critical response. The novel will draw attention to Pick’s Disease. The project will research the experience of how someone makes sense of the world when they have lost the temporal and frontal lobes of their brain. This knowledge will inform an experimental fictional work in which the characteristics of social networking communication are used to portray the world of a person with Pick’s disease.

The features of the fictional work may include experimental typography, layout, multiple viewpoints and hypertext. The project combines practice-based research in the form of a narrative with critical research into experimental writing methods.

No research into the link between Pick’s Disease experience and Facebook characteristics has been done. It is an artistically compelling challenge for creative writing. It has a social purpose which will comment on what is happening in society now. It will push the boundaries of current narrative practice. The critical response in this project will reflect research into three areas of experimental narrative.

  • Formal experimentation
  • Textual/typographical experiments
  • The non-fiction novel

Refer to Bibliography for texts

Novels including Poppy Shakespeare, The Trick is to Keep Breathing and The Silver Linings Playbook brought knowledge of mental illness into the public domain. It is now time for a fictional account of someone suffering from Pick’s disease to be written.


  • Year One:  Research into experience of Pick’s Disease, Facebook and Experimental Narrative.
  • First draft of creative work
  • Year Two: Further research, first draft of thesis and second draft of creative work

Year Three:  Final research, final draft of thesis and final draft of creative work

  • This project will go beyond current enquiries into the relationship between narrative and online communities
  • The project will create a new form of narrative
  • It will bring the reader alongside sufferers of Pick’s Disease in a way that leaflets, broadcasts and news articles cannot
  • The Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts is currently running workshops encouraging older people to write and this project could give rise to creative workshops on narrative and dementia
  • The project will create material for a longer narrative, a website and a twitter novel4
  • The link between Facebook and the narrative will reach a larger audience than a traditional narrative

It is appropriate to undertake this research at Newcastle University because it has world-renowned Creative Writing lecturers and writers, excellent research programmes and it runs the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.

I will use novels as my sources for investigating experimental narrative. I have access to a residential home where I may observe behaviours and care of clients with Pick’s disease. I will investigate organisations that support clients and carers. I will investigate strategies used by Facebook users.

Research Methods:

  • Observation
  • Content Analysis
  • Interviews
  • Case Study

I have been trained in research methods as part of my Masters degree. I have written experimental narratives and will complete an experimental work for my Final project. I have observed my sister as her Pick’s Disease progresses.


This project is timely and topical. It will produce a new kind of narrative, give a voice to Pick’s Disease sufferers and it will reach out to new audiences.


Experimental narratives

Ballard J G, The Complete Short Stories, 2010, W W Norton & Co

Danielewski, Mark Z, House of Leaves, 2000, Doubleday

Danielewski, Mark Z, Only Revolutions, 2006, Doubleday

Crumey, Andrew, Sputnik Caledonia, 2008, Picador

Crumey, Andrew, Mobius Dick, 2004, Picador

Eggers, Dave, Issue 17, McSweeney’s, 2006, Hamish Hamilton Ltd

Etchells Tim, The Broken World, 2008, Heinemann

Hall, Steven, The Raw Shark Texts, 2007, Canongate Books Ltd

Johnson, B S, Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry, 2001, Picador

Creative Non Fiction

Eggers, Dave, Zeitoun, 2009, McSweeney’s

Eggers, Dave, What is the What, 2006, McSweeney’s

McGregor, Jon, Even the Dogs, 2010, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Theory Texts

Lyotard, Jean- Francois, The Postmodern Condition, 1984, Manchester University Press


Lacy, Sarah, The Stories of Facebook, YouTube and MySpace, 2009, Crimson Publishing


Moody, Rick,






One response to “Alison Summers – PhD Proposal

  1. thanks so much- am trying to write a PhD proposal and yours is so informative and I would like to read more. Fantastic you got a scholarship, and good luck with the writing. Your sister sounds really amazing too.

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