Life as a mature creative writing student

When I started a full-time creative and professional writing degree in September 2011, I had planned to write about my experiences as a mature student. Can I blame the lack of posts due to partying hard, as a student does? Not really. Can I blame it on studying hard, as a student should? Not really.

Still, I’m here now, so how have I been getting on, as a grumpy 42 year old who doesn’t like being around adults all day, let alone a bunch of 18 year olds?

Brilliantly!

(One of my tutors doesn’t like sentences on their own. He says only writers who have been on creative writing courses do that. But I am on a creative writing course, and he’s teaching one, so I’m going to ignore him on that point for now.)

There are only 14 of us on the course (there were a couple of others but two have dropped out. To be fair, one didn’t even really start; we only saw her three times in the first term. The other said she already knew everything; I’ll look forward to her teaching us next year then) and four of us haven’t been 18 for a long time. I never thought I’d say this, but I love the youngsters. We’re like one big happy family. A family who may have the youngsters on one side of the room and the older ones on the other, but we all get on fine (especially at our end-of-term lunch, which went on into the afternoon… into the evening… into the night… where Lisa and I proved that youngsters are lightweights, when we were the last two standing (or at least upright, maybe slightly swaying)).

As for the course content, it wasn’t what I was expecting. The first term consisted of poetry, contemporary English usage, drama, and craft of writing modules. Poetry was poetry, contemporary English usage was a relentless onslaught of adverbials, morphemes, transitivity, declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives and other stuff I’d never heard of (my boyfriend said our tutor was making up words and there was no such thing as an adverbial). We loved our tutor though. Especially as he looked like a wizard. We miss him.

Drama (which we’re still doing), in the early days, consisted mostly of reading the play of and watching the film of Educating Rita. Craft of writing was all about writing clearly and not pissing George Orwell off (if he was still alive).

I got a shock when we got the briefs for our first assignments. I thought I was doing a creative writing course. I thought it would be like a real life Open University course and all we’d have to do is write some stories then write a bit of commentary explaining why we wrote what we did.

Uh uh.

The poetry assignment was to write an essay. An essay? I’d never written an essay before (I left school in 1986 without even a CSE). I looked at the questions and felt like Rita did when asked how she would resolve the staging issues in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Put it on the radio instead.

Quite. But that’s not the 2000 word in-depth analytical argument and discussion they’re looking for. I chose a question about how the poets we’d studied so far used voice. I told my tutor I didn’t like the poets we’d studied so far because I wasn’t really into old stuff (I’m hoping my vocabulary improves over the next three years and I get more descriptive than ‘old stuff’) and she said ‘that’s easily solved, find some modern poets you do like and write about those instead’. I love my tutor. This cheered me up and I skipped off home, opened The Norton Anthology of Poetry at the back (if you don’t know the book, it’s 2,200 pages long and the poems are listed by the poet’s year of birth starting with the old stuff at the front) and found Killing Time by Simon Armitage that I actually liked and Flowers by Margaret Atwood (can’t say I actually liked that one but it seemed to be one I could actually talk about voice-wise). I also showed willing by analysing the stupid flea poem (or The Flea by John Donne, as other people call it) that we’d studied in class.

I wasn’t sure I’d stuck to the question and didn’t know what I was doing as it was my first ever essay but I was hoping to scrape a pass, so was delighted to get a 2:1. Whoop.

Then we had the contemporary English usage assignment which was to analyse three different pieces of text (one non-fiction, one fiction and one speech) and say why the writer of each piece had used the words he had and why they were appropriate to a specific audience, and then compare and contrast all three. Again, I wasn’t sure what I was doing but got another 2:1.

The craft of writing second assignment (we’d already had one in class where we had to write approximately 1000 words about a piece of writing, saying what was wrong with it, was it clear, were there any unnecessarily long words, would George Orwell like it, etc.) was to choose a piece of text (fiction or non-fiction), analyse it and then write our own piece in the same style. Fuck me that was hard, and I thought that would be the easiest one. I chose Nigel Slater’s Toast to emulate and managed to pull that off with a 1st.

So, that’s the end of the first term. For the essays we’ve had back so far, I’ve had 3 x 2:1 and a 1st. We’re waiting for the grades for our poetry portfolios (I’m not expecting a good mark; I’m not the world’s best poet, although I am pleased with two of them), the second contemporary English usage assignment (where we had to write two pieces of text in different genres (I wrote a piece of satire [it was about a creative writing lesson; I’m hoping they don’t throw me out of the course – I did change all the names…] and a recipe for a Victoria Sponge Cake) then analyse them regarding use of verbs and stuff) and the third craft of writing assignment (where we had to write a piece of text (fiction or non-fiction – I chose fiction) and then go through in detail any changes/choices we made when writing it).

Now we’re into the second term and there’s no more poetry or contemporary English usage or craft of writing, but we still have drama and now we have fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, fiction has involved reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I don’t like Jane Austen. We also have to read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I have now discovered I don’t like Virginia Woolf (despite it being one of those books I had always thought I ought to read). Also on the reading list is Foe by JM Coetzee. I love this book. I probably don’t understand (not even probably, I’m not very deep, I just see what’s there) the deeper side to it but I still love it. Our essay, that’s due in in a couple of weeks, is either on Austen, Woolf, or Coetzee. This would be fine and I would choose Coetzee (when I’ll have to find out enough about what the themes are to write a 2000 word essay on it) but we’re not actually studying it in class until after the essay’s due in. Duh.

Another essay we have due in soon is one for drama where we have to – as dramatists – analyse one or two scenes from Educating Rita. I’m not sure how this will go until I start. My problem is underwriting. I’m like Rita, I can say what I need to say in a sentence. I do not need to ramble on for 2000 words (and yes, I can see the irony in that, seeing as I’ve just written over 1200 words so far in one blog post).

Then we’ve got a non-fiction assignment due in, which will be an interview I did with my writer pal Peggy Riley, who’s just gone and got herself a book deal with Little, Brown.

So, this blog post was supposed to be about being a mature student but I don’t really have anything to say about being a mature student, as I don’t feel old, I don’t feel out of place, I love my fellow coursemates and the tutors are OK too.

It would be perfect if it wasn’t for Jane Flipping Boring I’m Glad She’s Dead Austen.

Oh, and I could live without the 9am start, too. I am a student, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. “I thought it would be like a real life Open University course and all we’d have to do is write some stories then write a bit of commentary explaining why we wrote what we did.” Na, this is a degree – it’s big 😉
    Does your first year count towards your final degree grade?

  2. Author

    Um, the Open University does degrees too… You need to get over your OU/’real’ uni snobbery!

    No, the first year doesn’t count towards the final degree grade.

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