Reviewing the Literature

There are two reasons why the blog has been a little quieter than usual recently. One is that an element of my ‘other life’ intruded – hopefully the side that will continue to pay the bills in future.  I had to submit an assignment for my Open University MSc in Software Development. I’d set aside a fortnight or so to concentrate on this but I ended also producing going on for 7,000 words of ‘The Angel’, which diluted my efforts somewhat.

I ended up sitting at the laptop in the end from 6am one day until 2am the next morning to try and complete the assignment before the deadline.  The way this OU course works is to build up the final dissertation of about 15,000 words in incremental assignments so you start off with a proposal and then add the literature review and the draft research before submitting the whole thing at the end all polished up and with a conclusion.

What I had to complete was the literature review – which isn’t an enjoyable account of a few choice novels read recently but an attempt to track down academic literature relevant to your subject and assess its contribution to the body of knowledge. My topic is Enterprise Architecture, which is basically how one organises the many IT systems within an organisation to work effectively rather than, as usually happens in practice, allowing IT to re-inforce the warring sectarianism and factionalism within any large organisation.  The term ‘architecture’ has been appropriated by the IT industry to the annoyance of some of the building variety but the analogy transfers quite well. (And I believe that the same sort of skills used in this line of IT work transfer well into novel writing — being able to see the underlying structure of plot, pace, character and so on which lie beneath the surface detail and complexity — I think some of the feedback I gave in the City course owed something to these skills.)

In this area, where IT interacts deals with the corporate strategy of an organisation, it’s quite difficult to find any contemporary academic literature in the first place. This is probably because, despite IT all being based on the work of very clever people in universities, many contemporary practitioners are militantly anti-academic – wanting to prove) how macho, hands-on and problem solving they can be to ‘the business’ (a meaningless and self-loathing term that is used to elevates the status of anyone in a company NOT in IT the IT department as doing the real work).

In ‘The Angel’ James is motivated to leave his City job by this sort of philistinism. Despite his outward gaucheness  and blokey good nature, he’s actually a very bright chap – he has some Masters degree in Finance – his (ex-)job is in the application of clever computer systems which few people (including Will, his boss) can understand. He wants to learn – except now about art and cookery – and he’s pretty appalled by the crass anti-intellectualism of those around him.

So I’ve been finding recent academic papers in my area from places as diverse as Venezuela and Taiwan and I’m a little guilty of not really reading them properly – just finding a quotation which illustrates a point I’ve wanted to make. Doing the novel writing course has made me aware of the main criticism I’m likely to get from my supervisor for what I submitted – the narrative coherence could be improved.

There are a reasonable amount of references and it’s all pretty much on-topic but there’s probably far more work require to relate these to my own argument and research question (and the vagueness of exactly what it is what I’m meant to be analysing in my own research is another bigger flaw).

Even so, this is exactly why the OU structures these dissertations as it does — so when you make a cock-up of the first attempt you have plenty of time to improve it before the eventual submission deadline. Hopefully!

It’s an interesting time management challenge to juggle a serious MSc project and trying to complete the novel started on the City course — a distillation of the question about what I need to do to make a living against what I think I’d like to do.  However, I read a few writing magazines on holiday which gave some information about average published novelists’ earnings suggests that no matter how successful the writing goes, the day-job is likely to be needed for a while yet.