AHGBI 2022 Conference Presentation: Who Run the World? Girls? Esther Martínez Lobato, Postfeminism, and the Showrunner as auteur

Screengrab of Vimeo Presentation

This week I (virtually) attended the annual conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI). I presented a paper connected to my new research project on intersections of gender, voice, sound, and silence in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. I recorded my presentation just in case there were issues with the live link (thankfully there weren’t!) so I thought I’d share the recording in case anyone is interested in taking a look at it.

As this is very much work-in-progress for me, I’d love to hear any feedback/thoughts on this so please feel free to share!

Soundscapes of Gender: Project Update / February 2022

Last month I joined the University of Stirling as a Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies. This has meant a shift back into academia full-time and the opportunity to engage more fully with my research (rather than squeezing in an hour of reading, writing, and/or thinking on the sofa in the evening, exhausted after a full day of mumming and/or working!). It has been such a delight to be able to dedicate more time and energy to my research. I’ve managed to make a start on some actual writing of my monograph on Fernando León de Aranoa (if you want to know more about this project, check out this; for posts looking at some of his works read this and this). But I’ve also been able to spend some time thinking about another research project I’m developing currently: on intersections between gender and sound in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures.

I’ve already written about this project on the blog (see here and here). This project started out as the basis for a (ultimately unsuccessful) British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship application in 2020, which I developed under the guidance of the fabulous Dr Abigail Loxham at Liverpool University. Despite the application being unsuccessful, I’m eager to pursue this project, especially now I am working in academia and I’m able to officially count research as being part of my job. Part of the motivation for writing this blog is to document a short and informal presentation I gave as part of the work-in-progress research series within the Division of Literature and Languages at Stirling yesterday. I outlined the project at this session and spoke with colleagues about how to develop the project – I was lucky to receive really useful advice from several of my new colleagues and wanted to take the time to document this, while it’s fresh in my mind. I should also acknowledge my colleague and friend Dr Hannah Grayson who suggested this in our virtual writing session this afternoon – thanks Hannah!

The premise of the project is to examine intersections between gender and sound in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures, specifically works in which female creatives hold prominent positions behind the scenes. The original motivation for this focus on female-led content is the regret I have concerning the cinematic corpus of my monograph, Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance (shortly available in paperback at a more affordable price point than the hardback if you’re interested – and if you’ll excuse the shameless self-promotion!). With my subsequent project, I knew I wanted to address this imbalance in my own work to date and contribute to bringing attention to alternative creative voices within mainstream Spanish cultural production.

Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance eBook : Noble,  Fiona: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store
My book! Addressing one of the gaps in the cinematic
corpus of this is one of the motivations for my new project.

The wider context of the project is characterised by contemporary postfeminist impulses to mobilise women to use their voices and to speak up/out about the systemic inequalities, biases, and abuses both within and beyond contemporary audiovisual production industries. Contemporary popular movements in both Anglophone and Hispanophone contexts, such as #MeToo or #MasMujeres, impel women and other marginalised genders to speak out and vocally condemn the subjugation of women within and beyond such industries. (As a brief parenthesis, I am acutely aware of the problematic politics that often lie behind such movements, and the fact that not all women are called upon or offered space to articulate their experiences, and I am eager to explore this as I move the project forward – if you are interested in thinking through these questions further, I recommend reading Alison Phipps’ brilliant and incisive book Me, Not You: The Trouble with Mainstream Feminism as a starting point).

My working hypothesis is this: that the postfeminist emphasis on voice and speech translates productively into dynamic depictions of sound and gender in Spanish female-led creative production. I am keen to think through these questions not just in relation to feature-length fiction film, which is what I’ve focused on in my research to date, but also to consider the ways in which these issues manifest in documentary and in television/streaming series. The little work I’ve been able to do so far on this project has concerned the latter, mainly for pragmatic/practical reasons connected to time available for research. I’ve been thinking mostly about the work of Esther Martínez Lobato – a screenwriter, producer, and showrunner and a prominent figure of the contemporary Spanish television industry. Lobato is the co-creator of globally successful series such as La casa de papel [Money Heist], Vis a vis [Locked Up], and Sky Rojo [Red Sky]. All three of these series feature female-led ensemble casts and explore contemporary conceptualisations of womanhood that defy and subvert conventional understandings of femininity. The female characters in these series are usually far more iconic, dynamic, and memorable than the male characters, and while Lobato cannot be deemed solely responsible for these given the collaborative nature of these sorts of works, I would argue that her influence is a decisive factor. I have done some thinking on sound and gender in Vis a vis, though more recently I have been looking at La casa de papel, particularly the selection of protagonist Silene Oliveira/Tokio (Úrsula Corberó) as the series’ narrator, technically rendered through her reflective and retrospective voiceover. I’m intrigued by the way the series not only makes visible mediations of gender, but also aurally constructs gender identities. As it stands, I watched the series purely for entertainment purposes, so I am now at the stage of needing to go back and watch the series, taking detailed notes, and really thinking through these questions in more detail – a nice position to be in, really!

How Will Money Heist End? | Den of Geek
One of the series I’m focusing on in my current research: La casa de papel/Money Heist

In terms of outputs, I haven’t fully decided what I what to do with the project. I would love to write a monograph on the topic of gender and sound in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures, but that feels like a more distant goal at this point. I am in talks with the brilliant Dr Anja Louis at Sheffield Hallam University to collaborate on a minigraph on La casa de papel and possibly a critical guide to the series. I have a couple of abstracts under consideration for chapters in edited collections, one on Vis a vis, one on La casa de papel. I would also love to curate a series of events encompassing series and interviews with some of the female creatives whose work I’m engaging with on this project. And indeed, this was one of the aspects I discussed with my colleagues yesterday. It’s difficult to know where to begin at this stage or what to focus on, given that this feels like a big project that could occupy my research for some time.

I think the approach I’m going to pursue is to take this project in small chunks rather than focusing on the big picture (a bit like performing a Charade word by word rather than tackling the whole thing in one go – niche analogy perhaps but my family love a bit of Charades). So I’m going to start with La casa de papel and I am very much going to enjoy rewatching that series and really thinking about the diverse gender representations and the play with the sound that takes place within the series. I don’t want to make any promises or commitments in terms of blogging but I think it could be quite helpful for me moving forward with this to chart my research progress, even as a record of how the project is developing, what I’m reading, what I’m thinking, what I’m watching, what I’m writing.

I hope you enjoy following the project and my thoughts on it as they develop. I’d love to hear comments, questions, general feedback so please feel free to comment below or give me a shout on Twitter: I’m @FionaFNoble and it would be great to hear from you 😊

AcWriMo2021 Day 15 – Book Reviews

As some of you may know, I’ve been working on getting back into writing by participating in Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo2021). Mondays are one of my days at work so writing can only happen on the sofa, post-kids-bedtime. For today’s #AcWriMo2021 offering, I thought I would write about book reviews, as one of my current deadlines is a book review of Deborah Martin’s monograph on the films of Lucrecia Martel.

The cinema of Lucrecia Martel
Image taken from: https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9780719090349/



I’ve written quite a few book reviews over the years, and I think it’s a really important and valuable contribution both to scholarship and to my own research. Here’s why:

  1. Inspiration
    I really enjoy reading. I assume most academics are similar, but for me, reading also always inspires writing. Reading monographs that are well-written, convincingly argued, and cleverly constructed inspires me to write, and to write better. I agreed to review Dolores Tierney’s brilliant book New Transnationalisms in Latin American Cinemas while working on my own monograph. At this stage I was doubting my ability to carry the project to fruition but reading Dolores’ magnificent work made me believe that I could indeed do so.
  2. Community
    Another key aspect of writing book reviews for me is becoming part of the community of scholars that constitute your field. Again, this is mutually beneficial – not only do you get to know those working in your field (the authors you are reading, those working for the various journals relevant to your discipline) but you can also start to get your name out there.
  3. Criticality
    Writing a book review is a skilled exercise in criticality. It reminds me, in a way, of working on annotated bibliographies during my postgraduate studies. In fact, annotated bibliographies are still a tool I use today in my research – I tend to keep a list of what I’ve read for projects along with a very brief blurb about what I liked about this book and how I think it might be relevant to my own work. A book review needs to be generous and yet analytical. It needs to highlight the focus of the book, its key claims, its methodologies, its themes, but also pinpoint any potential oversights or shortcomings. It goes without saying though, that these must be sensitively addressed.
  4. Books!
    I remember being so careful with the first book I received to review as a PhD student and asking my supervisor if I was allowed to annotate it. Typically, if you are invited to review a book, you keep it as payment for writing the review. Academic books can be prohibitively expensive and accessing new titles in your field through reviewing that you may not be able to afford to buy can definitely be helpful. On that note, keep an eye on any mailing lists relevant to your field – journals often put out lists of titles they have for review and/or calls for reviewers for which you can put your name forward. Another strategy I have adopted over time has been to approach journal reviews editors directly. There is no harm in this, I think. If they don’t have the book you would like to read/review, or have already commissioned a review for it, they can always say no!

So there you have it! My thoughts on why writing book reviews are an integral component of academic work and scholarship. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if it also might be of interest to write a post on how I approach writing a book review. Would this be something you might like to read? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments below 😊

#AcWriMo2021 Day 10/14 – Spanish Viewing Recommendations

It’s been nearly a week since my last post and my last #acwri setting. Life is pretty hectic right now at the best of times but throw a poorly child into the mix and it further complicates the possibility of having any time or headspace for writing. Today is my first day of the week where I’m not at work but rather at home with my two-and-a-half-year-old. He is currently singing away to himself in his bed (instead of napping – I fear the nap may be disappearing on me but that’s another story!) so I thought I’d take a moment to do some writing.

So I’m returning to #AcWriMo2021 with some Spanish viewing recommendations based on series I’ve been watching lately. The truth is I am a little out of touch with recent Spanish cinema releases and have been spending more time watching series on online streaming platforms. Indeed, one of the aims of my most recent research project is to broaden the focus of my work to focus on Spanish audiovisual cultures rather than just cinema.

Some of the recommendations below are series I have watched specifically with research in mind, while others are more for entertainment purposes. Admittedly though, it doesn’t take much for me to start thinking about research and how what I’m watching might fit with my current work!

  • La casa de papel [Money Heist] (Netflix)

Money Heist' Season 5 Wraps For Netflix – Deadline
Image from: https://deadline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/money-heist-part-4-preview-netflix.jpg?w=1024

Probably my favourite Spanish series to date, La casa de papel is the product of creative duo Álex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato. A group of misfits break into the Royal Mint in Madrid, take hostages, and become the heroes of an anti-elite movement that spills out onto the streets. As the series has progressed, the storylines have admittedly become more and more farfetched, meaning that a significant degree of suspense of belief is required prior to watching. Relatedly, I can usually only watch one episode at a time due to the high stakes and tension that permeate each segment! The narrative structure tends to flit back and forwards through time to build tension and create drama and the series frequently utilises a narrative voice-over to filter and frame events from the perspective of the criminals, more specifically from the point of view of protagonist Tokyo/Silene Oliveria (Úrsula Corberó). My favourite thing about the series is the cast: Corberó’s performance as the hardened Tokyo is standout, as is Alba Flores as Nairobi/Ágata Jiménez. Cast additions in later series, such as Fernando Cayo as Colonel Luis Tamayo and the inimitable Najwa Nimri as the pregnant National Police Corps inspector Alicia Sierra, are inspired choices. I thoroughly recommend, especially if you like suspense, thriller, edge-of-your-seat action!

  • Vis a vis [Locked Up] (All 4)

Image from: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/UJZgmhHVV5Q/maxresdefault.jpg

Another series created and produced by Martínez Lobato, Vis a vis is another of my favourite Spanish programmes I’ve watched recently. I watched this specifically for research but was also hooked from an entertainment perspective. Pitched as the Spanish equivalent of Orange Is The New Black, Vis a vis focuses on middle-class Macarena Ferreiro (Maggie Civantos) who is sent to prison for embezzling funds from the company she worked for and for the boss with whom she was having an affair. Like La casa de papel, the series becomes more dramatic with each season and additionally moves away from the privileged white protagonist to become much more of a female ensemble drama. This was reportedly strategic due to Civantos’ success in and commitment to Las chicas del cable (more on this below!) and, therefore, her absence from the show. However, as a result, other characters become the focus and are allowed to shine. Once again like La casa de papel, the cast is noteworthy with Najwa Nimri and Alba Flores playing multi-layered characters whose identities as women cut against stereotypes of femininity. Although it has been compared to Orange Is the New Black as already mentioned, moments of light relief are far fewer in Vis a vis. This series will appeal to viewers who enjoy prison dramas as well as thrillers.

  • Las chicas del cable [Cable Girls] (Netflix)

Image from: https://enfntsterribles.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/EnfntsTerribles-Netflix-Chicas-Del-Cable.jpg

The first Spanish original produced by Netflix in collaboration with Bambú producciones, period drama Las chicas del cable follows a group of women who become telephone operators for a telecommunications company in Madrid in the late 1920s. Like La casa de papel, the series utilises the device of a narrative voice-over, that of protagonist Lidia/Alba (Blanca Súarez) as well as a time-hopping narrative to create tension and suspense. Alongside the female-led cast, the series posits gender and specifically femininity, addressing themes such as women’s rights and liberation, domestic abuse, homosexuality and trans identity. Las chicas del cable will be of interest to those who like period dramas and female-centred melodrama.

  • Valeria (Netflix)
Image from: https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMjc4M2YyZGQtZGRmYi00NjEwLWJjMjAtOTQ4MGYxNzdhZmE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@.V1_FMjpg_UX1000.jpg



If Vis a vis is the Spanish Orange is the New Black, then Valeria is the Spanish Sex and the City. Full disclosure: this is a series I watched purely for entertainment purposes, though I do still think it is important in terms of representations of women and femininity in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. Based on Elísabet Benavent’s novel En los zapatos de Valeria, the series follows protagonist Valeria and her friends, a group of young professionals living in Madrid and negotiating their various personal struggles. Like Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie, the eponymous Valeria (Diana Gómez) is a writer. Unlike Carrie, Valeria is married though this relationship is not without its challenges. This is a fun and yet poignant series with both contemplative and comedic moments. But the series also addresses important political feminist issues, such as the opening sequence of Series 2, Episode 5 (‘Fundición’) which evokes the #NiUnaMenos movement and sees the girls all navigating problematic scenarios on their walks home after a night out. I really recommend this as fun, light-hearted viewing!

There are so many others on my list that I’ve yet to finish, or indeed start! But these would be my favourites I’ve seen of late. What have you been watching/enjoying? Let me know on Twitter and/or in the comments 😊

#AcWriMo2021 Day 4 – Update

Continuing my blog post series for #AcWriMo2021, I thought today I’d write a very brief entry on my current work situation. If you are following my #AcWriMo2021 writing, you’ll know that I mentioned yesterday that I was on campus at the University of Stirling – as of Spring 2022, I will be Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies there.

I’m really excited about this new role. It’s been three years since I officially worked in academia. In the interim, I have had various plates to spin: I returned to university as a student to complete my PGDE; I had a baby and a brief spell of maternity leave; I subsequently completed my probationary period and am now a qualified secondary school teacher; I also wrote, edited, and finalised my monograph. So it’s been a busy ol’ time!

There were several moments throughout the last three years where I’ve questioned what I’m doing, where I’ve struggled to juggle research, work, and family life. But I kept going because ultimately, I wanted to keep researching. To have been offered this position in Stirling makes it all seem worth it.

#AcWriMo2021 Day 3 – AHGBI 2022 Abstract

Day 3 of #AcWriMo2021 and the post I’ve decided to share today is a bit different to the first two. Today I’ve had a really exciting day of being on campus at the University of Stirling meeting my new colleagues and finding out more about my new job role (more on this tomorrow, I think!). I also had a rather dramatic car-related incident which ended up with me having to wait two hours for a mechanic to fix the car so I could drive the 2.5 hour journey home!

As I sat in my car waiting for the mechanic, I contemplated what time I might get home and whether I would have any energy left to write today’s #AcWriMo2021 blog entry. But then I realised, I had actually already done some writing today – I had used some of the time waiting for the mechanic to edit my abstract for next year’s AHGBI (Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland) conference. So I’ve decided to pop it here as my blog for today.

This very much represents preliminary research for part of my gender and sound project and I’d love any feedback or thoughts you might have on what I’m planning on looking at in this paper. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter: @FionaFNoble – it would be great to hear from you!

Who Run the World? Girls?: Esther Martínez Lobato, Postfeminism, and the Showrunner as auteur

Fiona Noble, University of Stirling

Intersections amongst gender and voice constitute a vital nexus of contemporary postfeminist politics. The vocal mobilisation of women against endemic imbalances, biases, and abuses within audiovisual production industries has recently become a prolific feminist enterprise, seen in movements such as #MeToo, #MasMujeres or #NiUnaMenos. Representations of women onscreen increasingly ruminate both thematically and stylistically on tensions surrounding voice and gender. Moreover, the predominance of men and the concomitant absence of women in positions of creative control behind the scenes highlight a systemic misogyny that inhibits the professional progression of women and their authorial presence within this sphere.

A counterpoint to this, Esther Martínez Lobato is a prominent figure of the contemporary Spanish television industry. Screenwriter, producer, and showrunner, Lobato is the co-creator of series such as La casa de papel [Money Heist], Vis a vis [Locked Up], and Sky Rojo [Red Sky]. In this paper, I take Lobato as an important case study of on- and off-screen dynamics of contemporary postfeminism within and beyond Spain. My methodology is threefold: 1) theoretical investigation of the showrunner as auteur; 2) analysis of Lobato’s media discourse relating to women on-/off-screen; 3) detailed exploration of women, both in terms of representation and production roles, in La casa de papel. Emphasising the need to examine the role of women behind the scenes in conjunction with onscreen depictions, I contend that series such as those upon which Lobato works have the potential to reformulate conceptualisations of female subjectivity centred on gender and voice.

Fiona Noble is a researcher of contemporary Spanish cinema and audiovisual cultures and a lecturer at the University of Stirling. Her current research encompasses two key projects: a monograph on the work of Spanish sociorealist filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa; and a research project on the intersections of gender and sound in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. Her monograph, Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance, was published by Bloomsbury in 2020 and she has additionally published on depictions of migrants, intercultural lesbian relationships and children in Spanish cinema.

#AcWriMo2021: Day 2, Tuesday 2nd November 2021 – Fernando León de Aranoa Monograph Update

As I blogged yesterday, I am hoping to participate in #AcWriMo2021 after my friend Leticia tweeted about it. Once again, my only #acwri time today is on the sofa post-bedtime (for the kids!). My motivation is pretty low and I am really tired after a couple of busy days back in the routine at work (coupled with two nicely-timed early wake-ups from the two-year-old!). But having made the commitment publicly, I do want to see it through (I am a people-pleaser and hate letting people down, least of all myself!).

So for this evening’s #AcWriMo2021 blog instalment, I thought I would write a brief update on my Fernando León de Aranoa project. The monograph is under contract with Manchester University Press to form part of their Spanish and Latin American Filmmakers Series, which I am really excited about. The series includes some excellent monographs by equally excellent academics, and I’m delighted that my monograph will sit alongside these.

For those not familiar with his work, Fernando León de Aranoa is a Spanish sociorealist filmmaker and the director of Spanish-language films such as Familia, Barrio, Los lunes al sol, Princesas, and Amador, as well as the English-language A Perfect Day and Escobar, and a range of documentaries. León de Aranoa has enjoyed critical success in his career to date, winning Best Director Goyas for his first three feature films. However, more recently, his work has failed to attract the same degree of critical appraisal. In a similar vein, the absence of any English-language monograph dedicated to his work is notable, especially given that the prevalence of his films on university courses in the UK and beyond.

The initial monograph proposal focused on marginalisation in León de Aranoa’s oeuvre. His generic focus on sociorealism means that his works often centre on protagonists who belong to compromised factions of society: adolescents (Barrio), the unemployed (Los lunes al sol), prostitutes (Princesas) and migrants (Amador). The really helpful readers suggested a slight shift in focus to consider questions of genre and transnationalism more specifically and this is where my current research on the project lies. I’m interested in thinking through the recent transition León de Aranoa has made to English-language filmmaking in this regard. The Spanish specificity of his earlier works are not necessarily easily translatable to other contexts but what does transfer well is León de Aranoa’s authorial style, characterised by cinematographic motifs and dynamic soundscapes, as well as his narratives and storytelling.

I’m still navigating what this will look like and feel a long way off being able to write seriously about this project. However, I’m glad to have taken this time just to remind myself, through writing this post, about my aims and ideas connected to the project. I’m going to sign off now as it is nearly 10pm and my bed is calling me!

#AcWriMo2021: Day 1, Monday 1st November 2021

Earlier today, my friend and fellow academic Dr Leticia Villamediana González mentioned me on Twitter in relation to #AcWriMo2021 – the academic writing equivalent of #NaNoWriMo whereby authors aim to draft a novel during the month of November. With the academic version of the hashtag, participants can make writing goals and commitments in a manner that suits them. I currently don’t have much time or headspace for research or writing to be honest, though if anything, this for me makes it even more appealing to attempt to join in with Leticia’s virtual #AcWriMo2021 pledge.

The whole point of these hashtag ventures, at least as far as I can see, is to inspire a commitment to writing despite the challenges and demands that can obstruct a writer’s progress. The idea is that pledging to write every day can lead to significant results in terms of actual words on the page – an aspect of writing that can often prove problematic. The movement inspires writers to make a start on a project that they have been putting off or to make headway with a work-in-progress that has stalled for one reason or another. An important part of #AcWriMo2021 is the virtual solidarity at its core – precisely what Leticia inspired this morning with her tweet.

I’m not sure I will be able to commit to writing every day but I’m going to give it a go. I’m currently writing this at 9pm on the sofa after a busy day at work. I don’t have much capacity for writing right now – thanks to my two-year-old getting up for the day at 5:20am, the aforementioned busy day at work, the work/home juggle etc. etc. But I wanted to make an effort to write something tonight, to make a start on #AcWriMo2021, to be part of the community called upon by Leticia this morning.

I have various projects on the go as things stand: I have a contract with Manchester University Press for a book on the works of Fernando León de Aranoa, and a research project on gender and sound in Spanish audiovisual cultures. However, both of these are in the early stages of research, and I feel a long way from being ready to do any proper writing for either of these works. So I think I’ll make it my #AcWriMo2021 project to revive my blog writing. I might end up writing some posts related to these research projects but, then again, I might not. I’m happy to go with the flow here and use this as a means of getting back into some sort of academic writing groove.

Will you be participating in #AcWriMo2021 or #NaNoWriMo this year? If so, what will your writing goal(s) be? Let me know by commenting below or sending me a message on Twitter (@FionaFNoble).

From PhD Thesis to Monograph: Some Thoughts

A wee while back on Twitter, my fantastic friend and fellow Hispanist Dr Jade Boyd contacted me to ask if I had any advice about transforming my PhD thesis into a monograph. Jade’s question made me reflect on that whole process from a position of relative distance (my monograph Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance, which is based on part of my doctoral thesis,was published by Bloomsbury in August last year) and got me thinking about how helpful a blog post on this topic could be. My blog series on my experience of and advice for the PhD viva are some of my most popular posts on here and my hope is that this post could be just as useful. Below are some of my thoughts on this process and some general pointers to get you started. I’ve also incorporated the advice of some of my friends and colleagues who have been through this process too – thanks to Dr Katie Brown and Dr Paula Blair for sharing their thoughts on this.

My first piece of advice with regards this process would be to not feel constrained by the parameters of the thesis and to really reflect on what you want to be your focus. Think of it as the chance to polish your thesis with the distance and knowledge you now have. Don’t be afraid to make radical decisions about which aspects or sections of the thesis you want to keep and which you feel are best left aside. Do you want to retain the structure or do you want to completely revamp it? Are there any new developments or research you want to incorporate into your work? What did you not cover in your thesis that you wish you had? Did you get any pointers in your viva from your examiners that could help you with this process? If not, could you contact them again to ask them for advice? For me, this was a crucial part of the transition from thesis to monograph. To contextualise, my monograph is based on one of the chapters of my PhD thesis. While the thesis draws connections between three key figures of post-Franco Spanish cinema (the child, the performer, the immigrant), the monograph focuses uniquely on the figure of the performer and the concept of performance. The case study films I used in the thesis chapter on performers and performance remain in the book, albeit radically reworked, but are spread across distinct chapters rather than being grouped together. Besides drastically redrafting relevant sections from the thesis, I also incorporated a lot of new research. I would advise speaking to those who know your thesis well (your supervisors and examiners) for their thoughts on this as well as reflecting yourself on which sections you think are the most successful, have the most potential or indeed require further exploration and analysis.

Even if you are not making radical alterations to the thesis, you will need to reflect on which sections of the thesis need to remain and which need to be cut. To help her with this process, Dr Katie Brown opted to print out the bits of her thesis that required the most work and then chopped it up, saving the sections she wanted to keep, moving them around physically and taking notes about what needed to go in between these sections. I think this is an excellent piece of advice in terms of allowing you to visualise how the monograph is taking shape and to develop an understanding of further research that may need to be completed in the process of preparing the monograph.

In terms of editing, it is worth remembering that you will need to adapt the thesis in the process of transforming it into a monograph due to the distinct purposes of these two documents. Dr Paula Blair pointed out that for her, this was crucial given that the thesis is a document used to assess suitability for qualification and so must demonstrate your thought process and working out. For Paula, sections illustrating your working out (the literature review for example) do not need to feature in such detail in the monograph. As she notes, the intended audiences of each document (examiners versus readers) directly influence the material included in each case. I must admit, editing is not my favourite part of the writing process, but I did find this aspect, being able to cut what felt like the more didactic sections of my thesis, rather liberatory. You do not need to explicate your methods and processes to the same extent as you do in the thesis.

Still on the topic of editing, I cannot emphasise how important it is to have others read your work. I found it helpful to have others read the manuscript, particularly those outside my field as I wanted the book to be accessible to those with an interest in Spanish cinema, not just to specialists within the area of Hispanic cinema studies. Friends and colleagues both within and out with my field (you know who you are!) very kindly and generously offered to read sections of the manuscript and provided me with detailed feedback about how I might improve each section. Their feedback was vital in helping me shape my thinking and ultimately improve the manuscript. I was careful to select people whose expertise was relevant to the distinct chapters of the monograph so that I could benefit from their insights on my work. I would definitely advise that you ask colleagues and friends to read sections of your manuscript at various stages of the drafting process to assist you in pinpointing potential pitfalls as well as to help you identify the successful sections of the work.

With regards useful resources to consult during this process, I was recommended this book by a colleague: William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book. I used this when I was preparing my book proposal rather than actually writing up the monograph but it certainly helped me in terms of reframing and restructuring the material for the book. I found this a useful read in terms of thinking through the logistics of transforming the thesis into a book. There are sections on thinking about practicalities such as timescales which were invaluable in forward planning. On this note, I would suggest you are generous and conservative with your estimates for timeframe as things always take longer than you think they will!

In sum, here are my basic pointers for transforming the thesis into a monograph:

  • Reflect on your focus (retain from thesis or alter slightly/drastically?).
  • Consider what to keep and what to cut (keep in mind the purpose of the work).
  • Have others read your work (within/outwith your field).
  • Read William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book.

I hope these meandering thoughts prove useful! Do let me know either in the comments or on Twitter if you think of any further pointers that you could share with academics attempting to transform their doctoral research into a monograph. I am contemplating writing a post on preparing a book proposal too so please do let me know if you think that might be helpful.

AHGBI Conference Paper on Vis a vis [Locked Up]

IMAGE: Screengrab of the Prezi presentation that accompanied my AHGBI paper.

“Ten mucho cuidado con lo que tú vas diciendo por allí”: Silence, Sound, Gender, and Voice in Vis a vis [Locked Up] (Globomedia/Fox Networks Group España, 2015-2019)

In March 2021, I virtually attended the annual conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI). I participated in a panel on the topic of ‘New Female Subjectivities on Television Made in Spain’ alongside Dr Abigail Loxham and Dr Anja Louis and presented a paper entitled ‘“Ten mucho cuidado con lo que tú vas diciendo por allí”: Silence, Sound, Gender and Voice in Vis a vis [Locked Up] (Globomedia/Fox Networks Group España, 2015-2019)’. This paper details preliminary research I have undertaken for my new project on soundscapes of gender in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. I am going to outline the paper here and would love to hear your feedback as I develop this project. Please feel free to leave me a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@FionaFNoble).

My paper focused on the Spanish television series Vis a vis [Locked Up], which is one of the proposed case studies of my new research project on soundscapes of gender. The aim of this project is to investigate intersections of gender, sound, silence, and voice in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures, with case studies including feature-length films, documentaries, and television series. While I acknowledge the collaborative character of such works, I have deliberately selected case studies created principally by women in order to investigate the correlation between onscreen depictions of women and the prominence of women offscreen.

The impetus behind my new project emerges within the wider context of feminist popular movements sparked by persistent prejudices against women, both within and beyond audiovisual production industries. The most prolific of these is the #MeToo movement, initiated by Tarana Burke in 2006 as a means of raising awareness of, and creating solidarity amongst, women who had suffered abuse. In 2017, the movement gained traction when the hashtag was tweeted by actress Alyssa Milano, who accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and encouraged women to speak up if they too had been abused. Other relevant movements include #SayHerName, a campaign that that illuminates Black women and girls who have suffered racist police violence, and, in the Spanish context, #MasMujeres and #Cuéntalo, inspired by both the #MeToo movement and the Pamplona Wolf Pack case, in which five men were acquitted of rape charges. What interests me about these recent popular iterations of feminism is their specific concern with voice, in both literal and symbolic terms, as well as their emphasis on the twin processes of the refusal to remain silent and the need to speak up/out.

My theoretical approach for this project is informed by contemporary postfeminist theory, particularly the work of Alison Phipps, Angela McRobbie, and Jilly Boyce Kay. In the Spanish context, Laura Martínez-Jiménez highlights how ‘In the (post)crisis setting, thanks to feminist activism against precariousness, institutional patriarchy and everyday sexism, gender justice has penetrated Spanish common sense in a way that the broad formal/legal development of equality during the last 15 years was unable to achieve’ (2020: 2). More specifically, in the context of audiovisual analysis, my focus on sound considers not just technical aspects such as soundtrack and dialogue, but also the conceptual, thematic, narrative, and visual dimensions of sound. The work of theorists such as Kaja Silverman, Mary Ann Doane, Michel Chion, Britta Sjorgen and Liz Greene informs my analysis of sound, as does that of Tom Whittaker and Sarah Wright in the Hispanic Studies context. The correlation between sound and gender onscreen was underscored as early as 1988 by Kaja Silverman: ‘sexual difference is the effect of dominant cinema’s sound regime as well as its visual regime, and […] the female voice is as relentlessly held to normative representations and functions as the female body’ (1988: viii). An oft-neglected facet of audiovisual scholarship, the premise of my project is that sound constitutes a key site of gender expression onscreen.

Turning to my case study for this post, the first two seasons of Vis a vis [Locked Up], of 16 and 19 episodes respectively, were produced by Globomedia and Atresmedia and broadcast on Spain’s free-to-air television channel Antena 3. Antena 3 subsequently cancelled the series but Fox España stepped in to produce a third and final fourth season, of 8 episodes each, which were broadcast on Fox’s pay-TV networks in Spain and Portugal. A further spin-off series, Vis a vis: El oasis,was released in 2020 focusing on protagonists Macarena and Zulema, constituting the last instalment of the series. Netflix bought global streaming rights for the show which was also streamed on All4 in the UK as part of Channel 4’s Walter Presents video-on-demand service.

My interest in Vis a vis for the project on soundscapes of gender is twofold: the first concerns its female-led cast and its prominent female producer/screenwriter; and the second, its emphasis on sound. With regards the cast, the series initially focuses on protagonist Macarena Ferreiro (Maggie Civantos), a young white privileged woman who finds herself facing a seven-year prison sentence on account of various charges including fraud and theft. However, as the series develops (and Civantos becomes a regular in Las chicas del cable [Cable Girls]), Vis a vis evolves into a female ensemble cast drama/thriller with several of the inmates forming focal points for various storylines. Relatedly, one of the key figures behind the scenes of the series is Esther Martínez Lobato, who is also known for her work on La casa de papel [Money Heist] and, most recently, Sky rojo. Besides the importance of gender in Vis a vis, sound is also highly significant, intrinsically linked to power and agency, to memory and temporality, and a site of resistance to hierarchies of power, an argument I make in relation to Katie Hemsworth’s article on the various sites of tension (spatial orientation/disorientation; connection/disconnection; power/resistance) within prison soundscapes.

There are various ways in which gender, sound, silence, and voice converge in Vis a vis. In terms of form, music plays an important role. For example, the music accompanying the opening credits becomes a musical leitmotif throughout the series, playing at important moments in terms of the plot. Music also functions as a coping mechanism for many of the prisoners, most notably Saray (Alba Flores) who sings and performs at key moments throughout the series, and Zulema (Najwa Nimri) who is often linked with classical and operatic music in interesting ways. In later episodes, music additionally emerges as being interconnected with maternal relationships for both characters. Intersections amongst motherhood, sound and gender is an area I am keen to explore as part of the wider project. Alongside music, ambient sound constitutes an important component of Vis a vis’s soundscape, with noises associated with prison, such as the slamming of cell doors, frequently audibly exaggerated and enhanced. In terms of theme, listening constitutes a prominent narrative trope in Vis a vis, emerging through audio surveillance with prison officers and police often listening in on prisoners’ phone calls and tapping mobile phones. Relatedly, remaining silent features as a regular theme throughout the series, with the plot and narrative action often hinging upon characters not speaking up about something they have witnessed or being forced to remain silent about mistreatment or abuse.

For the purposes of this post, I produce a close reading of a pertinent aural technique in Vis a vis: the voiceover. Although my research is still in its preliminary stages, I have identified a growing field of audiovisual scholarship on the significance of female voiceover and its distinct uses including in relation to nostalgia (as Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai argues in relation to Out of Africa), female agency and sexuality (as Ashli Dykes contends regarding Sex and the City), and trauma (as Kathleen A. McHugh argues with respect to Jane Campion’s films). With regards form, the voiceover constitutes a significant sonic site in audiovisual cultures insofar as it exposes the technical illusion of unity upon which the audiovisual image hinges. In audiovisual media, the soundtrack is most typically assembled in postproduction, using a range of sonic material such as recordings made on set/location, sound effects libraries, and music. Indeed, as Tomlinson Holman notes, ‘Sound for film and television is thus a thoroughly constructed experience, usually meant to integrate many elements together seamlessly and not draw specific attention to itself’ (2010: xi). However, moments utilising the technique of the voiceover specifically emphasise a mismatch between sound and image, whereby the voice we hear does not correspond to a talking body on screen. The voiceover is thus a disruptive site of disjuncture in the audiovisual soundscape, making it an intriguing aspect for analysis in context of intersections of sound and gender.

The importance of the voiceover as sonic technique in Vis a vis is underscored in the opening sequence of the first episode of the series (Season 1, Episode 1, 00:00 – 01:30). (If you want to watch this clip, or indeed the series in its entirety, you will find Seasons 1-4 free to stream on Channel 4’s on-demand streaming service All4 at time of writing 16.04.2021). The opening scenes depict protagonist Macarena in her plush apartment in the centre of Madrid, initially watching her yellow canary flap around its cage before unwrapping a larger birdcage. The sound of a telephone ringing interrupts the gentle melody that accompanied the opening images, and a conversation ensues between Macarena and her mother, as the young woman reveals that she is to embark on a sailing trip with her boyfriend Simón and so will not see them or be in touch for a while. Rather than directly depicting Macarena speaking on the phone, the sequence deploys the technique of the voiceover so that we hear Macarena detailing her plans as we see her prepare to leave her apartment. Just before she is about to leave, she returns to the canary and opts to set it free. Her mother asks her ‘¿Y cuánto tiempo vas a estar?’, the question echoing and fading away, remaining unanswered as the voiceover draws to a close.

The mismatch between sound and image here, insofar as the voiceover emphasises the disjuncture between voice and body, exemplifies both the voice and the voiceover, as sites of tension and conflict. This technical discord is further underscored by the plot, in that Macarena’s conversation with her mother is disingenuous. Rather than heading off on an extended holiday, Macarena is about to begin her prison sentence, a fact revealed to the viewer in the subsequent scene when the action cuts to Macarena being read her charges before then resuming the telephone conversation in real time as she prepares to enter prison. This underscores the separation of sound and image inherent within visual media, as underscored by Mary Ann Doane: ‘Sound carries with it the potential risk of exposing the material heterogeneity of the medium; […] In the discourse of technicians, sound is “married” to the image’ (1980: 35). However, this sequence and its use of the voiceover also posit the voice as a site of agency and control: Macarena uses her voice as a means of exercising agency over her impending imprisonment. This is particularly significant given that she is about to become a prison inmate and therefore have very little control over her surroundings, circumstances, and actions.

The voiceover as technique itself exercises agency and control over both sound and image by pushing at the boundaries of the visible, exemplified in instances of voiceover as internal monologue. As Mary Ann Doane contends, ‘In the interior monologue […] the voice and the body are represented simultaneously, but the voice, far from being an extension of that body, manifests its inner lining. The voice displays what is inaccessible to the image, what exceeds the visible: the “inner life” of the character. The voice here is the privileged mark of interiority, turning the body “inside-out”’ (1980: 41). An example of the voiceover as interior monologue occurs in Series 1, Episode 2 (29:30 – 30:50), in a sequence that details Macarena spending time in solitary confinement. She awakes to the sound of diegetic classical music which is being played for the prisoners as a reward. We hear Macarena’s voice, once again in voiceover, describing her experience of prison so far in an imagined conversation with her mother in which she compares prison to boarding school. As in the introductory sequence of the first episode (discussed above), the accompanying images betray the words spoken by Macarena in voiceover and emphasise her dishonesty: the protagonist at this point is in solitary confinement having been forced to carry drugs for her cellmate before being caught and punished. Macarena’s internal monologue prefigures a conversation with her mother that occurs later in the same episode in which she repeats elements of the monologue as she attempts to reassure her mother, and arguably herself, about her wellbeing.

In spite of the disunity conveyed by this voiceover, the sequence once again depicts the voice, and specifically the voiceover, as instruments through which one can exercise agency and control even in severely restricted circumstances. Here, Macarena imagines using her voice to reconfigure her reality within solitary confinement while, in formal terms, the recourse to voiceover similarly reconfigures the audiovisual image through its provision of access to Macarena’s thoughts and imagination. Interestingly, Macarena’s voiceover is interrupted by the voice in situ of another inmate who addresses her through the vent of her cell. Macarena confides in this unseen individual about who had asked her to collect the drugs, only for the camera to then travel through the vent to reveal that Macarena has been set up by Miranda, the prison director, their conversation recorded to be used as evidence against the prisoner in question. This once again highlights how the voiceover functions as a disruptive site of disjuncture characterised by dishonesty and discord between voice and image.

While this post on Vis a vis constitutes part of a much wider project at a preliminary stage of research, I do hope that I have succeeded in conveying the importance of analysing soundscapes of gender in the context of contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. The examples detailed constitute just two instances of intersections amongst voice, gender, sound, and silence in Vis a vis and demonstrate the importance of this series as a case study for this project. This is very much work-in-progress research and I would very much appreciate any thoughts/feedback readers might have!

REFERENCES

Chion, Michel. 1999. The Voice in Cinema. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press.

Doane, Mary Ann (1980): “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space”. Yale French Studies, 60: 33-50.

Dykes, Ashli. 2011. “And I Started Wondering…”: Voiceover and Conversation in Sex and the City. Ed. Rhonda V. Wilcox. Studies in Popular Culture, 34: 1, 49-66.

Eswaran Pillai, Swarnavel. (2015). The Texture of Interiority: Voiceover and Visuals. Studies in Visual Arts and Communication: An International Journal 2:1, 1-12.

Greene, Liz. (2009). Speaking, Singing, Screaming: Controlling the Female Voice in American Cinema. The Soundtrack 2:1, 63-76.

Hemsworth, Katie. (2016). “Feeling the range”: Emotional geographies of sound in prisons. Emotion, Space and Society, 20: 90-97.

Holman, Tomlinson (2010). Sound for Film and Television. Third Edition. Routledge: New York; London.

Kay, Jilly Boyce (2020). Gender, Media and Voice: Communicative Injustice and Public Speech. Palgrave Macmillan: Cham, Switzerland.

Martínez Jiménez, Laura (2020): “Neoliberal postfeminism, or some other, sexier thing: Gender and populism in the Spanish context”. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 0, 0, pp. 1-7.

McHugh, Kathleen A. (2001). “Sounds that Creep Inside You”: Female Narration and Voiceover in the Films of Jane Campion. Style, 35:2, 193-218.

McRobbie, Angela (2004): “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture”. Feminist Media Studies, 4, 3, pp. 255-264.

Silverman, Kaja (1988). The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema: Theories of Representation and Difference. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Sjogren, Britta H. (2006). Into the Vortex: Female Voice and Paradox in Film. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago.

Whittaker, Tom and Sarah Wright, eds. (2017). Locating the Voice in Film. Oxford University Press: New York.