The start of a new year and we're back into lockdown. It's been hard of late to be excited about much, but weirdly, I am starting to feel more optimistic. It's odd though: 2021 should have been the year that I finished my PhD and I had been really determined to get it done in the three years I'm funded for. However, I'm not all that disheartened by it.

In a way, it has given me something to look forward to. I'm hopeful that next academic year will be a little more sociable and with more opportunities for rowing, and I do love my research so much that spending an extra year with the story of the YMCA will hardly be a sad thing.

As it stands at the moment I've written drafts of three of my (possibly) seven chapters, so I'm nearing the halfway point in my content with the rest at least roughly planned out. Last term I found myself unable to focus on writing too much so it did take a couple of months to get the last one done. However, despite how difficult it felt to complete at the time I now look back proudly at that chapter and pleased with what I'd achieved in it.

In the Groundhog Day of lockdown life I'd lost quite a bit of my motivation to write and to create the things that I'm passionate about. Most notably this was shown in the slow progress in my thesis writing, but it also meant that anything I didn't have to do - namely my blog and other articles - also suffered. I've got loads of ideas, but putting them down on paper (or screen) has been another matter.

Despite all the doom and gloom that I know is shared by a lot of people at the moment, we have turned the page into 2021. I love the New Year with its psychological opportunity for a fresh start and I enjoy setting myself resolutions. This year my main resolution is to write more. Yes, I need to be writing my PhD, but I also want to put more of my writing out there and to finish more projects.

That starts here on this blog. I've got a number of half-written or researched ideas that will hopefully be coming out over the next couple of months and I'm sure I'll come across other stories I want to tell from my research. I'm determined to get back to my once a week schedule. But please also, dear reader, feel free to suggest any topics you'd like me to write more about. If you're curious about anything to do with the YMCA, religion or social history in the First World War, or would like me to write about any specific topics to do with PhD (/DPhil) life, please do ask either in the comments below or via twitter.

With everything so up in the air with Covid restrictions of late I have very few concrete plans for the year, but I'm seizing that New Year Energy to set myself new goals. My other major resolution is to run an 80km (50 mile) ultra! I find that I'm much happier and study a lot better if I'm exercising regularly so I set myself this challenge as something to work towards. As I didn't want to sign up to a race that may get cancelled, I've chosen to run the Oxford Greenbelt Way as a solo-effort at some point in the Summer once I feel ready for it. It's going to be difficult, but I'm already enjoying the motivation it's giving me to get out and run, even when it's cold and muddy outside.

While I am excited for a few more productive months ahead, the last quarter of 2020 wasn't a total write-off. Back at the start of December, I appeared on the Unknown Warrior podcast, where I talked about the chaplains of the First World War. You can listen to it here, or find it through your usual podcast app, and I'd recommend checking out some of their other podcasts too as they tell the story of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey really well, in addition to now covering other wartime topics.

One thing I haven't done on this blog in forever is a book review, and that's partly because I'm now contributing them to Salient Points, the in-house journal of the new Great War Group. If you haven't yet heard about it, it's a fantastic organisation of history enthusiasts, sharing research about the First World War. It wonderfully brings together people from different academic and interest backgrounds and is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the period (including children, who are catered for in an additional magazine). I would wholeheartedly recommend at least following them on twitter, if not also joining the group, to get involved.

So that's what I'm up to in this, the weirdest of new years. Until next week!

Kathryn

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