Sep 13

The Business of Books: When Academic Research Matters – Jane Cable meets academic Ria Cheyne

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What is your book related job?

I’m an academic (university lecturer) who specialises in genre fiction, particularly the representation of disability in literature. This means that I spend a lot of my time talking with students and colleagues about books, and reading fiction and what other people have written about it. A big part of my job is teaching students and all the administration that goes with that, but another key part is producing new interpretations of or theories about literary texts, which I present at conference and publish in journals and books for other academics. You can see some of my presentations and publications on my website.


What is the most rewarding part of it?

It’s a privilege to be able to spend so much of my time reading, writing, thinking, and talking about books. Teaching is also very rewarding: I love the performance element of lecturing, and it’s immensely satisfying when a student who has struggled finally grasps a key idea or offers a really original insight. Like most academics, I could earn more, and work fewer hours, doing something else—it’s not a job you do unless you’re passionate about it.

Recently, I’ve been working on a new project, the Disability and Romance Project. I’m working with romance readers, writers, and publishers to explore how readers respond to depictions of disability in romance novels, and why authors write disabled characters. I’ve found it really satisfying to work directly with people in the industry, and there’s been a really phenomenal response from the romance community so far, with over 500 people taking part in our survey of romance readers.

What do you consider to be your major successes?

The academic job market is so over-subscribed at the moment that managing to get a stable academic job has to be considered a big success for anyone in my field – after my PhD I spent several years doing the academic equivalent of temping before I got a permanent position, and lots of people aren’t that fortunate.

More recently, I’ve just finished writing an academic book on the representation of disability in genre fiction, which will be published by Liverpool University Press. It explores how the portrayal of disability in science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime and romance might shape public attitudes towards disabled people, and it’s been a really long-term project; I first had the idea for the book almost ten years ago! I was also really pleased to receive the Romance Writers of America Academic Research Grant for the Disability and Romance Project. It was great to have that confirmation that one of the key organisations for romance values my research.


Have you always loved books, and what are you reading at the moment?

I’ve always loved books, and been a voracious reader. When I was a child I’d switch my light off and pretend I was asleep when my parents came to check on me last thing at night…then put the light back on and read for hours after they went to bed! As usual, I’m reading a mixture of non-fiction academic books and genre fiction. On the non-fiction side, I’m reading Mad at School by Margaret Price, a brilliant book about mental illness and the university system. I’ve just finished The Burial Hour, the latest in Jeffery Deaver’s series of novels about quadriplegic investigator Lincoln Rhyme, and I’ve started Rook Song, a science fiction novel by Naomi Foyle, after really enjoying Astra, her previous novel.


Bio: Ria Cheyne (@riacheyne) researches literature and disability at Liverpool Hope University, where she is a Senior Lecturer in Disability and Education. She runs the Disability and Romance Project – follow on Twitter or Facebook.