Thursday, 17 September 2015

Modelling William Hayley's relationships

First baby steps

Inspired – and emboldened – by having battled my way through Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist, I decided to try applying what I've learned from the book to modelling William Hayley's relationships.

I started with a blank A3 page and my trusty Muji mechanical pencil, and got as far as this –

First attempt at modelling Hayley's relationships. HasMaster and hasMistress will be replaced by hasEmployer. And hasInBed (well, it was a first attempt) will be replaced by hasMistress.

– before realising
  1. I needed a different term for "mistress". HasMistress could be used to describe both William Hayley's relationship with Mary Cockerell, the mother of his child, but also the relationship Mary Cockerell had with Eliza, Hayley's wife: Mary was, for some of the time, Eliza's maid. (I'll now be using hasEmployer for the servant->master/mistress relationship, and hasMistress for sexual relationships. Not yet sure what I'll call the inverse relathionship, though, but would welcome suggestions in the comments or via Twitter).
  2. before starting this process, I needed to list all the people Hayley had relationships with, and then select those who were most significant.

Urk. Is this really a good use of my time?

So, worrying that this might all be a colossal waste of time, I trawled through the 1,858 relevant records in my database, identifying 375 individuals with whom Hayley mentioned contact, along with a number whose work or reputations influence his work or behaviour. Then I picked 87 out of the 375 whose relationship with him felt significant enough to model.

There's a second page, too…
The highlights mark friend and/or family relationships, the ticks signify predominantly work relationships, although some of these are debatable. For instance, I've ticked Dr Nathaniel Cotton but although he and Hayley didn't have a lot contact over time, their interests and relationships had several significan overlaps.

My next step will be to take that list of 87 people, and further explore the nature of their relationships with William Hayley and each other. This will involve thinking about what makes a relationship significant – endurance, impact,  and how I signal the different kinds of significant relationships. Please send large sheets of paper, coloured pens and caffeine.

Impact on the narrative journey

Even this first, hesitant, part of the process has prompted me to think in more depth about the overall reader journey:
  • How many of Hayley's friends, relatives and other contacts do readers need to know about?
  • How much do they need to know about them?
  • How – and when – will they find out about them?
  • How and where do readers fit into Hayley's network?
This sparked another, related, question about communicating content. What do I do about those topics Hayley wouldn't want to raise? Or, at least, that he wouldn't want to raise with just anybody?

For instance, from the sheer number of mentions money gets throughout his memoirs and letters, managing his finances, limiting expenditure, and bringing in enough to support his household, were clearly major preoccupations, and cast light on what life would have been like for him and his dependents. But he's unlikely to raise the subject of his own volition.

So how do I build that into the narrative?

Two ways spring to mind
  • cover financial matters in my commentary
  • have Hayley write personalised accounts to certain readers - which will require a form asking people about their work/status
I'll explore both options. But probably not for a couple of weeks as next week I'll be bodyboarding in the south of France. There will, undoubtedly, be embarrassing photos…

Incidentally, another good thing that's happened as a result of embarking on this, has been contact, through Twitter, with artist China Blue, who's been working on social "connectome" paintings highlighting "the odd and interesting connections that we do and don't know about peoples lives", focusing on artists and artistic genres.

Yep. An excellent use of my time.

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