Welcome to my blog

10 02 2009

Having had a few stories published here and there, I gained a place on the University of Glasgow’s Creative Writing MLitt.

This blog charts my progress as a fledgling author and mature student.  Feel free to have a nosey around…

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First steps into Academia

18 09 2009

Tuesday was Induction night. The train to Glasgow takes me just over two hours and then I was running against the clock to see how long the short walk and tube ride to Hillhead would take. It took about half an hour. This is important. My Tuesday night classes will finish about 7.30 and I need to get back in to Central Station for 8 or I have a three hour wait for the last train home. Something I’d like to avoid as it would mean not getting home till well after midnight.

My stomach was in knots all last week and as I walked the last few steps up towards Gilmourhill I could feel the nerves taking hold. The campus was buzzing with Freshers, who all looked so young.

I had a rough idea where I was going but when I got to where I thought I should be I realised I’d wrong footed somewhere. I thought about asking somewhere but to be honest all the youngsters looked as lost as me. I retraced my steps and then spotted a tiny A4 sheet taped to the wall. ‘ Creative Writing MLitt’ and an arrow. Through the big old doors and in I went.


We were all handed our timetables, classes, and a sheet with a short biography of each student (nice idea, means we can at least crib up on our classmates and try to think of something to say when we meet). There are a few published novelists, a handful of journalists and a smattering of teachers, plus recent graduates and then the rest of us. I checked out my entry trying hard not to compare myself unfavourably but starting to feel more than a little out of my depth. At the introduction we got a chance to hear from the course team. We were gathered together in the Anatomy lecture theatre. I sat near the back looking down and wondering how many brain surgeons had once had their bum right where I was sitting and whether any of that genius might rub off!

The course team all sound passionate about the craft and this raised my spirits. And they want us to take risks.

‘Risk failing an assignment. It’s the best way you’ll grow and learn,’ said one.

Afterwards there was a Reading Party in the Anatomy Museum. A macabre setting full of skeletons, and body parts in formaldehyde. Wine was gratefully received and I sat to hear the first of many previous years students read short stories, poems and extracts of longer works. This resulted in me feeling intimidated once again. The stories were beautifully created, punctuated with just the right amount of humour, some grittiness, and some awe inspiring metaphors. To be able to hold someone’s attention with only the spoken word is a real skill I think. Words on a page you can backtrack and check if you missed something first time round. Spoken out loud you get one shot at entertaining the audience. The performance poetry in particular impressed me.

How am I ever going to be as good as any of them?

Oh. And I’m taking the Mlitt full-time now rather than part-time. Part time classes ended up being spread over a Monday and Wednesday evening (with occasional speakers every Tuesday). This would mean me either staying overnight in Glasgow two nights a week or else travelling up and down twice a week. I don’t really want to be away from the kids for that long and and at over £35 a journey I can’t really afford to go backwards and forwards.

Time to begin again

2 09 2009

So…the summer was good.

Haven’t written much lately, partly due to the (pleasant) distraction of family and friends, facebook and finger-painting.

Okay I lied about finger painting.  I just liked the alliteration.

The point is, I figured that with my MLitt starting soon this would be perhaps the last chance I’d have to really chill out and not have to write.  The next two years I’ll be doing pretty much nothing else.

I’m looking forward to this, but still I indulged fully in having a proper summer break first. ‘Writers write’ they say, but I reckon good writers know when to make sure they still live enough to have something to actually write about.

The best news  is that the financial side of things has greatly improved.  I’ve just had official notification that I’ve been awarded a Carnegie Cameron Bursary.  This will cover almost all of my tuition fees.  Winning it has been a real boost, both to my confidence and to my determination to use this opportunity to its fullest.

So my blog will evolve this year.  It will become a repository, not only for my thoughts on writing but for setting down my experiences as a mature post-graduate student.

My journey has begun and I reach the first station in less than two weeks ‘Induction at Uni’.

Bilingual writing

2 05 2009

One of the things I’ve always wished I could do is learn to speak another language fluently.  I’m able to order a beer in French, German, Spanish and Czech and can say cheers in several others (including, for my sins, Klingon) but I envy people who are fluent in two or more langauges.  It opens up so much more in life, from being able to share jokes to being able to read more books as the author intended.

So I was chuffed to bits to have one of my short stories accepted by OFF_magazine.

OFF_ are a English/Polish collective based in London and the magazine aims to

bring writers together around an independent magazine/press
promote new literary talent in English and Polish translation
create a cultural bridge between Poland and the UK
publish books/anthologies under the OFF_Press banner
use multimedia tools/networks to promote literature worldwide

I feel really honoured to be involved with it.

Go check them out, and I hope you enjoy my latest short story.

A short guide to following your dreams

21 04 2009

After many nights of talking and counting up the pennies it was clear. I wasn’t going to be able to afford to study my MLitt course at the full time distance learning option.

I was ready to give up. Postgrad learning was obviously not meant to be.

I’d knuckle down, get a job in an office somewhere locally. Keep on writing of course, but never experience the joy of putting MLitt after my name. Hell, most published authors don’t have an MLitt anyway. Who needs it?

And my dreams of becoming a professor somewhere one day. Pfah! Who was I kidding anyway? Teenage mother, mentally ill, working class woman. Out of my league.

Maybe I could teach others at some point but I’d need to get a few more publications under my belt.

Maybe I could retrain and teach secondary school English to spotty teenagers, most of whom would be wishing they were somewhere else.


My long suffering, beautiful, warm husband said ‘No!’

He said, ‘Jenny, you worked really hard to get your degree, with distinctions. Glasgow University is one of the best in the country, top ten or something. You’ve been given an unconditional offer to do postgrad study at one of the best Universities in Britian. You have to take it.’

So we thought about other options.

If I study part time, campus based, we could just about afford it.

If my mum and dad let me stay at their place one night a week I could do it, in a practical sense.

I emailed my mum.

She spoke to my dad.

They said ‘okay’.

I emailed the department and they said ‘yes, we can switch you, we’d love to have you.’

So this September, I begin a new journey as a student. A mature postgrad student at an actual brick university. Okay, so it’s ten, fifteen years later than I maybe should have done. But I’m going.

Its going to take me two years of living on a student budget, spending more than five hours a week on a train travelling 200 miles each way, living with my parents one night a week (having left home at 16), and juggling all this with writing, working part time in a museum and most importantly being a mum to my kids but do you know what?

I can’t wait.

Why is education only funded to a certain level?

6 04 2009

Good news, bad news. The good news, the amazing, wonderful news is that I managed to get an unconditional offer of a place in Glasgow University’s MLitt in Creative Writing.

Little old me, doing a master’s degree. Overjoyed isn’t the word.

And given fantastic reputation of Glasgow University, one of the top ten in the UK…how proud could i be?

The fees are £4k for the year.

But potentially I could apply for a scholarship and so I replied immediately. I sent off the information required to apply for a scholarship, I waited.

Last week I received the news. My application for a scholarship was unsuccessful.

Dreams shattered like cheap plates in the dishwasher.

In the UK, postgraduate education attracts very little in the way of government funding, far less than there are places. The poorest in society are ‘allowed’ to go so far in education but not too far. We have to know our place. Funding if we want to do good for society, be a teacher for example, but not if we are potential academics. Leave that to the ones with the power already.

My husband works in a factory to support me and the kids (while he studies for his own degree). Though we could just about manage for me not to earn for a year in order to study full time the fees are beyond us.

It’s so frustrating. If I were rich, if my husband or my parents were rich…I could take my place, take the place offered to me. But I’m not, we’re not. Poverty is standing in the way of me taking this wonderful opportunity. It’s not fair.

Is writing like sex?

3 03 2009

After yesterday’s question…today I found an answer.

Writing for a living: a joy or a chore?: nine authors give their views | Books | The Guardian

“The joy of writing for a living is that you get to do it all the time. The misery is that you have to, whether you’re in the mood or not. I wouldn’t be the first writer to point out that doing something so deeply personal does become less jolly when you have to keep on at it, day after cash-generating day. To use a not ridiculous analogy: Sex = nice thing. Sex For Cash = probably less fun, perhaps morally uncomfy and psychologically unwise.”

So says AL Kennedy anyway.

For me I can see the analogy.  I lot of what I write is done furtively in my bedroom.  In secret.  When everyone else is out of the house.  I avoid talking to friends about it.  Unless they are writers too I worry they won’t understand.

My contact with publishers is often done through the internet.  I send them seedy examples of my work.  Some ask for a short bio.  Some even want a picture first.

Given that I’m not writing for money.  Not yet.  Not really.  I suppose I don’t have to worry.   That I’m like a prostitute learning her craft? Practicing on the boys at school?  For free?

I’d like to think the publications that are accepting my work so far are a little more upmarket than that.

To be honest..right now I’d be grateful if someone paid me.

I do have a paid piece in the pipeline.  A story has been accepted for publication in a notable and paying literary magazine.  Not many of them about.  And no I can’t say which it is yet.  I’m scared I might jinx it.

But when it does come out… I promise I’ll kiss and tell.

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New story published

2 03 2009

First off, it feels  like this is going to be a good year for me.

My writing is going well and I’ve already had some good responses to pieces I’ve sent out.

My first publication of the year can be found here…

The Battered Suitcase – March 2009.

The rest of this week I’m going to devote to getting my assignment finished.  I’ve enjoyed the poetry I’ve been writing but not sure it’s suitable for marking.  Some of the subject matter is a bit heavy going and I’m afraid my tutor might not “get it”.  And because I’ve put my heart into it I’m really not sure if I want to risk that.

To put your emotional heart into a piece is part of the joy of writing.  It can be like therapy, even if (as with this poem I’m thinking of) you’re using a different experience, the emotions are yours, you feel them, as you try to put life into your characters.  And that’s part of what makes it so frightening to send them into the world to be read, and judged, by others.  If a person doesn’t “get it” it can feel as though they don’t get you.  As though your emotions aren’t valid.

I’m sure this is part of the reason why so many good writers do it in secret for years, manuscript after manuscript gathering dust in a drawer.  The writer too terrified of having the feelings inside his or her head held up to public scrutiny.

I may stick to the softer option.  I have another short story I’ve been working on, and though I’m not sure it’s as good I think I’d be less personally hurt if the tutor tears it to bits.  But am I just copping out?

Is it my job, as a writer, to lay it all out on the page and hope that whatever genuine experience I’ve mined and carved into a new shape, resonates with the reader?  Should I trust that if I write “the truth” as I see it, that the reader will sympathise with my characters?  Or should I play safe and only write about stuff that has less depth but which will hurt me less if criticized?

How do other writers cope with sending out personal writing?

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