Uncovering the Past

After A PhD and master’s at Birkbeck, Dr Patricia Oakley (PhD Occupational Psychology, 2000 & MA Victorian Studies, 2011) is set to publish her first historical novel in 2023 — and will be donating the proceeds to the College.

“I promised myself if I had time in later life, I’d go back and study the nineteenth century.”

While working as a pharmacist in London’s teaching hospitals, Patricia became interested in medical politics. She first made her return to education with a master’s at London Business School, which encouraged her to pursue a PhD. Birkbeck was recommended to Patricia for its strength in her chosen subject, Organisational Psychology.  

Patricia completed her PhD in Medical Politics and Conflict part-time, while working full-time. During her thesis, she came across an interesting footnote about a dispute at Guy’s Hospital, where a nurse was blamed for the death of a patient. Patricia’s research indicated that her victimisation had a wider context in attempts to discredit the modernisation of nursing practice in the 19th century. “I promised myself if I had time in later life, I’d go back and study the nineteenth century so I could understand what was going on.”  

Years later, Patricia returned to Birkbeck for a Master’s in Victorian Studies: “I wish I had studied it from the beginning. The course was a gift to myself.”  

“It’s a perfect degree for anyone interested in the nineteenth century. The combination of literature and history is magical.” Even after graduating she found herself returning to the interesting case of the nurse at Guy’s Hospital. Delving into the archives at Kings College and the Old Bailey, Patricia researched the story of Louisa Ingle, who became a scapegoat for warring factions at the hospital when a conflict tumbled out of control in 1880.  

“My original idea was to write a textbook about it, but a friend suggested it would work better as a novel, which was rather worrying; I’d never written a novel before! So, I did some courses on creative writing and assembled a readers’ panel to give me feedback.”  

When it came to the daunting task of sitting down to write, Patricia’s PhD training at Birkbeck prepared her well: “I was used to writing long pieces and sorting out lots of complex information.” Similarly, the Master’s in Victorian Studies provided vast cultural knowledge of the 19th century and many of the essays she wrote on nursing and the press served as groundwork for chapters in the book. 

The result of years of study and research is Louisa’s Lament, a historical novel Patricia wrote under the name Annie Graham. It will be released in Spring 2023 and Patricia will be kindly donating the proceeds to Birkbeck’s comprehensive programme of student support.  

“The great thing about Birkbeck is that it’s full of people like you, with lots going on in their lives. The World Needs More Birkbeck because it’s important to offer second chances for people to redirect or refocus. Higher education is often beyond the means of many who wish to study, so as part of the Birkbeck community, it feels important that we continue to make opportunities available for the next generation of students.” 

You can find out more about Patricia’s book, its illustrations, and release at Pat Oakley Publishing.