Monthly Archives: June 2019

News from Special Collections

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Lunchtime workshop

In April we held a very popular free lunchtime workshop on Preserving your family history where participants were able to explore methods they could use at home to preserve their family history documents and photographs.

Workshop participants learn more about preserving documents from Special Collections Librarian, Katie Flanagan

Due to popular demand, we are running the workshop again on Tuesday 2 July at 13.15pm. The workshop lasts for 45 minutes and is free, but please book a place as space is limited. The event is open to staff, students and visitors to Brunel University.

Please contact us if there are other lunchtime workshop topics you would be interested in.

That tone by Kathryn Gynn

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Some individuals may find the topic covered in this blog post distressing. Should you require support please contact:

Brunel Students: Student support and welfare team

Non-Emergency NHS Helpline: 111

Samaritans: 116 123 (open 24 hours)

He often found it unbearable, the tone of voice she used when she was talking to her sister. Not that it was his place to say anything; it wasn’t his sister, and she never used that particular tone when she spoke to him. But he would sit and listen to her talk on the phone, and he would hate it. She seemed to only talk to her sister when he was around, and always in that same tone. It was insincere, that’s what it was. She wasn’t an insincere person. It was one of the things he loved most about her. She was kind and gentle, and oh so genuine. She would never lie to him. But when she spoke to her sister, she would change. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like the smile that crept across her face, a cruel smile, he had decided. He didn’t like her laugh. Too sharp, too loud. He didn’t like that they talked about everything. Private things. And most of all he hated her tone. She was so sarcastic (1). When she spoke to him there was no sarcasm. Her voice matched her. She was the sort of girl who wore sundresses and cute ballet pumps. He made sure of it, throwing away anything that didn’t fit, and buying her dresses for her birthday. She didn’t know, just assumed she’d lost things.

‘Yes, I’m sure you took that red scarf to work, but you didn’t have it when you came home,’ he would say.

She’d smile, and roll her eyes at herself, asking him to remind her to buy a replacement. He never did. Her voice belonged to someone who baked cakes, which she often did, or wanted to have children, which she had agreed with him would be lovely.

‘One day,’ she had said, and he knew that day would be soon.


Her voice matched her. But when she spoke to her sister in that tone, that sarcastic tone, she didn’t sound like his girl. She sounded like someone who wore leather jackets and high heel boots, who had piercings and tattoos, and ate takeaways, and wanted to travel the world. He hated that woman, and he hated that tone of voice. That sarcastic, horrible tone of voice. Like she was having a joke. A joke he wasn’t privy to. He didn’t like those moments, his girl talking to her sister, and not including him. He had a right to be included, but whenever she asked, she just brushed him off.

‘It’s not actually funny,’ she would say. ‘Oh, you know we don’t really talk about anything.’

If they didn’t talk about anything, there was no reason they had to talk at all. It wasn’t necessary, and it made him feel uncomfortable. That tone. That sarcastic, cruel voice. Not like his lovely, sweet, kind girl. He’d tried suggesting that she didn’t talk to her sister on the phone, but she lived on the other side of the country and his girl insisted they needed to talk, to keep in touch. He’d deleted her sister’s number one day, when she was having a shower, but it turned out that she had learnt the number by heart. He blamed that on a phone glitch. He’d stopped talking about her sister, in an attempt to not remind her of her sister’s existence. None of it had worked. She still spoke to her sister. She still used that tone.

(1) ‘Autobiographical Letter’ by May Owen (2:576), p.8, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

© Kathryn Gynn, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘That Tone’ was inspired by ‘Autobiographical Letter’ by May Owen (2:576), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Kathryn Gynn is an aspiring writer, born and raised in East London, where she still lives. She has studied English Literature with Creative Writing (BA) at Swansea University, Children’s Literature and Writing (MA) at Birkbeck University, and is currently studying Creative Writing (MA) at Brunel University, London. She also used to be a Secondary school English Teacher, but left when they started mock-GCSE exams for 11-year olds. Kathryn enjoys learning about new things, and about new ways to experiment with words, and likes writing on things that aren’t paper. She recently embroidered a short story onto a t-shirt.

First Day by Katie Higgins

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Harper couldn’t deny the feeling of betrayal as she looked through the car window at the group of girls gathering for field hockey practice. Alyssa had said she didn’t want to play field hockey anymore, that she wanted to do a summer softball league. She hadn’t said that Harper couldn’t make the switch too, but it was clear to her twin that Alyssa wanted some independence. ‘We are fourteen now, after all,’ Alyssa had said with a complicated smile that was more mean than understanding, a facial expression Harper could never quite get to appear on her face. Her face that looked a lot like Alyssa’s.

‘Go on, sweetie,’ her mother Paula said. Her mother smiled encouragingly at the group of girls beyond the car window. ‘Daddy will pick you up in a few hours, okay? Have fun and make sure to drink water. It’s another scorcher today!’

Harper repressed the need to roll her eyes and tried to control her expression like Alyssa.

‘I’ll be fine, mom. I’ll see you later.’

She hopped out of the car, her field hockey stick banging against the doorframe a little, and jogged over.

She felt lopsided without Alyssa, like she could fall over any second. Or that the Earth was tipping drunkenly beneath her and she wouldn’t have anyone to hold onto.

A few girls in Harper’s grade looked over, but none of them made any sign of recognition and Harper was fairly sure they knew her name. Twins stood out like that. They were probably unsure of which twin she was.

‘Hey! It’s Harper, right?’ A tall, supermodel of a high schooler noticed her first.    

‘Yeah,’ Harper said, trying not to sound too relieved.

‘I’m Stacy, I’m the captain this year.’ Stacy gestured to the clipboard in her hands.

‘That’s great,’ Harper said a bit breathlessly. There was no way Stacy was only eighteen, with her long limbs and stylish bob haircut. She looked like someone from the cover of the Cosmo magazines she and Alyssa stole from their mom, before their little sister Delia ratted on them.

‘Okay, girls, gather round!’ Stacy called, turning to the group at large. Harper took a half-step away, not wanting to look like the teacher’s pet. Or captain’s.

Stacy went over the plan for the day, all of it sounding incredibly difficult and though Harper would never admit it out loud, she was thankful that her mom had made her bring three bottles of water.

Her eyes slid over the group of girls. There were about fifty in total. They all had similar willowy builds to Stacy, all lean muscle and tanned skin from tropical vacations no doubt. How were some of these girls only a few years older? Her own age? They all looked like superheroes. On closer inspection, she also noticed that most of them were wearing similar shorts and fitted tank tops. Each one had a shimmery logo, something designer. Harped tugged at the hem of her Backstreet Boys t-shirt and tried not to give in to the sudden itchy-feeling she associated with bad omens. Her body instinctively leaned to the left, but Alyssa’s familiar form wasn’t there to catch her.

They were told to warm up with a jog through the neighborhood that ran along the school grounds. The group stretched and fragmented, not every girl able to go in a uniform pace. Harper, to her surprise, found she could keep up with Stacy and the other seniors. She and Alyssa had taken up going for jogs in the spring to get out of the house and avoid homework. Harper hadn’t realized the runs had actually done anything besides make her brain blank and fuzzy for a little while. A small smile crept around the corners of her mouth and she breathed hard.

They looped back to the starting point, each older girl complaining of being rusty, or having drank too many Mike’s at the party last night. Stacy barely looked like she’d moved at all. She grinned at Harper around her water bottle.

‘First freshman to complete the Fun Run!’ She said to the other seniors. A few of the other girls took notice of Harper for the first time. Not all of their stares were friendly, but in the giddy fog of adrenaline, Harper didn’t find herself cowed. Stacy’s praise washed over her, protecting her.

‘The Fun Run is roughly 5K and we do that for every warm-up,’ Stacy said to Harper. ‘Most girls don’t keep form off-season. They’ll all trickle in over the next twenty minutes or so. The good thing about finishing early is a longer break.’ She winked.

When the last girls showed up, mostly shell-shocked freshman, Stacy grouped everyone to start running drills. Harper found she had more energy than before she’d started running and hadn’t thought of Alyssa once.

A large group of boys coalesced on the other side of the field, kicking soccer balls and each other. Linnea, a tall, sharp-eyed girl in Harper’s grade, straightened up. She looked like a hawk that had just caught a scent. Harper was infinitely grateful the gaze wasn’t trained on her. It looked positively vitriolic.

‘Oh, shit,’ a mousy-looking girl next to Linnea whispered. ‘Gavin will be over there, won’t he?’

‘No fucking shit, Jill,’ Linnea snapped, not taking her gaze off the group of boys. ‘He’s the captain of the varsity team, isn’t he?’

‘Youngest one in years,’ Jill said, almost in reverence.

‘Don’t praise him, you zealot.’

‘Come on girls, let’s get back to our drills!’ Stacy called, noticing their group standing, facing the boys. ‘There will be time to ogle boys later!’

A few other girls around them laughed. Harper blushed furiously but Linnea looked meaner than ever. Disregarding the drill to dribble through stout orange cones, she whacked the neon green ball with righteous force, sending it zooming away from the field of play. Jill ran to retrieve it.

‘You live near Gavin, don’t you Harper?’ Linnea said, as if noticing her for the first time.

It was true, Gavin Hawkins’ family lived in the same neighborhood as Harper’s. Her mom was good friends with Mrs. Hawkins. Her dad wasn’t a fan but he certainly was good at faking it at barbecues and birthday parties. Alyssa must’ve gotten that skill from him.

Harper shrugged. ‘Our moms are friends but I don’t really know him.’

Linnea nodded, as if Harper had something that could be agreed or contended with. Harper didn’t know how to answer and bent to receive a pass from Jill on her return.

Harper needed an excuse to break eye contact with Linnea. She knew Linnea was Gavin’s recent ex-girlfriend. She hadn’t been entirely truthful though. Just because she said she didn’t know Gavin now didn’t mean she hadn’t ever. She swore Linnea was still watching her as she ran the drill.

Fortunately, Stacy was too. ‘Nice handling, Harper! Linnea, you try.’ She had jogged over to watch Linnea, teeth bared, receive the ball.

Stacy leaned in conspiratorially. ‘It’s always dangerous practicing on the same field as the boys’ soccer team.’

Harper laughed as if she too thought boys were nonsense.

‘My boyfriend is heading off to NYU in a couple months,’ Stacy said, watching Linnea maneuver another cone. Harper didn’t know whether or not to answer, as it didn’t sound like Stacy was talking to her anymore.

Stacy blinked and her glamorous smile was back. ‘Nice job, Lin!’ she called, before jogging away to watch another group.

Stacy seemed so lovely that Harper almost felt a pang of annoyance towards this mystery boy for making her face crease like that, if for a moment. Harper glanced at Linnea, who kept sneaking glances over at the soccer team, who admittedly hadn’t looked over at the field hockey team once. She thought of Alyssa, striking out on her own and forcing Harper to do the same. Harper found that she was still standing.

© Katie Higgins, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘First Day’ was inspired by Alice Pidgeon, Looking Over My Shoulder to Childhood Days and After, (2:619), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I was really stuck on the line Alice Pidgeon wrote about waking up to find out a dolly her father had ordered for her had arrived. I started thinking about how ideas of status and class permeate to children and how those ideas create their own sort of social structure amongst young people, teenagers in particular. ‘First Day’ came from wanting to frame that idea in a contemporary (suburban American) context.

Katie Higgins is from Chelmsford, Massachusetts. She earned her BA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2017. During her time at UMass, she worked as a writing tutor, helping students and faculty alike on a myriad of writing projects. In 2015 she studied at Trinity College, Oxford, where she won the award for the best essay in English literature. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in creative writing at Brunel University London. In her free time she can be found window shopping for funky hats, knitting scarves she’ll never wear or breaking a sweat at the gym. She writes primarily for young adults, firmly believing that teenagers are both the most compelling characters and engaging readers. She and her funky hats can be found on Instagram at @katmarhii.