Mary Talbot

Walking onto a London stage to receive a Costa prize is not something author Mary Talbot could have even imagined herself doing, when she was working in a vegetable shop in Preston.

Now with the 2012 Costa biography prize for Dotter of Her Father's Eyes (shared with her husband, Bryan) under her belt and work in progress on a second graphic novel, Talbot looks back on her time as a postgraduate at Lancaster in the eighties, with affection and gratitude for the way it helped her to transform herself.

She says: "I arrived there thinking that I was capable of very little and being unable to say boo to a goose, and left having become very ambitious and confident in giving formal lectures."

Her arrival at Lancaster University in 1984 to study for a PhD in critical discourse analysis, was primarily prompted by convenience.  She was married with small children and living in Preston, having left school straight after A levels and worked as a sales assistant in a greengrocer and a dress shop.

She had taken the enormous step, for her, of embarking on an English Literature and Linguistics degree at Preston Polytechnic as a mature student, for which she was astonished to be awarded a First. This unexpected success made her curious to explore further. Lancaster's reputation for linguistics was a big draw

During the course of her studies at Lancaster, which included teaching and research, she had her first academic paper published, gained her PhD and established the foundations of her academic career as an international expert on critical discourse analysis with a particular interest in the 'synthetic sisterhood' offered by teen magazines.

She remembers on arrival experiencing a sense of liberation bordering on 'agoraphobia' at the rich diversity of what was on offer on campus - the lectures she could attend at will, the vibrant multiracial culture, the seemingly vast library and the quality of the facilities on hand for her research.

"I had no idea it would be so wonderful," she says. "I consider myself to have been very privileged to be there."

During her time there she came across the concept of gender and language, which has been the focus of her academic career ever since leaving Lancaster University in 1990.  Before her appointment as Reader in Culture and Language at Sunderland University in 1997, she lectured at a number of academic institutions, including 18 months commuting between Odense, Denmark and Preston.

She retired from Sunderland University in 2009 and is now concentrating on writing, focused on gender and language which Lancaster inspired in her. She is working on her second graphic novel based on suffragette history, seen through the eyes of the fictional Sally Heathcote.

Her Costa-winning book, Dotter of her Father's Eyes is part personal history and part biography, and contrasts two coming-of-age narratives: that of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, and that of herself, the daughter of the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton.

Mary and Bryan Talbot are founder patrons of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, which takes place in Kendal.
She says: "My time at Lancaster University gave me a sense of freedom and open-ended possibility. There was a feeling of stretching yourself and not limiting yourself."