Graduation

I was thrilled about a week ago to officially graduate from my Creative Writing with English Literature degree course at Kingston University, attaining a not-to-be-sniffed at Upper Second Class degree. I wasn’t the only one – definitely check out my friend Charlotte’s similar blogpost about graduation!

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Freshly graduated! 😎🎓 #KingstonUniversity

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Overall, I was thrilled by the day and it’s a moment to cherish and be proud of as it’s the culmination of three years hard work. Yes university for me has been a mixed bag, especially at Kingston, and it’s something I want to explore in depth later as I feel it could be an important learning point for future students. But ultimately… I don’t regret the choice I made as I made some excellent friends who all share a core passion – and I do believe I did the right thing in the end by pursuing with University a subject and field I genuinely enjoy and have an interest in (as opposed to a degree just to get a job). Despite all that I feel about the misgivings and inadequacies of the Kingston Creative Writing course from a purely academic standpoint… I’ve had the privilege to meet some great people and that has made the experience a net positive, and I can actually say that my writing is markedly better than what it was.

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I do look back at the time a few years ago when I was mulling over this big decision – was it the right one? Time will tell. Right now, I don’t regret it fundamentally; again I have a lot of mixed feelings about Kingston as an institution… but I’m actually thrilled and proud of myself for this achievement, considering my road to University was a meandering and winding one.

But, as Charlotte said in her post, the answer to the inevitable questions of “what now?” are prominent. For the time being it’s relaxing to be able to work on my personal projects again but I’m determined not to rest on my laurels. I’ve started working on something new while I let The Thaw sit between edits, but I’m also taking a long look at where I stand here, at 28, and where it is I want to go. And you know what, I’m finally challenging the comfort zone mentality.

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Do I feel different after graduating? I’d say yes – it’s the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of something new and exciting – and although I mention it frequently, my age is ultimately irrelevant to this. Despite my constant concerns about the academic quality of my course… it’s an achievement nonetheless and that shouldn’t be sniffed at!

Once again, and because I am a terrible procrastinator, I would like to sincerely thank all that supported me through University – to Charlotte, Rosie, Tom and many others (some of whom I won’t link to as a courtesy) for being excellent classmates and friends; to all those who know me who supported me through good times and bad; and lastly to my longstanding friend Sam for being a wise counsel about his own experience studying Creative Writing at Portsmouth that was the genesis of all this – let’s just say, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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Kingston University: Things on my mind approaching year 2

Edit: my friend Alice also posted about her experiences of the first year of university. Read her post too!

Later this week I will be getting started on my second year at Kingston University studying Creative Writing with English Literature, and it’s as good a time as any to reflect on what I picked up on during my first year – not so much academically; rather, what skills I’ve picked up and what I’ve learned about myself during my first year.

Why am I doing this? I really feel it’s important, with university, to take away some personal improvement as well as the purely academic stuff. I definitely feel that my writing has improved as a direct result of what I’ve been learning in my studies so far. This is great! But I feel it’s definitely worth a quick bit of reflection too on how it’s shaping up for me, personally.

Before I started at Kingston I was unsure if returning to education – I’m in my mid twenties now – was something I was able to do. Was I too old? Could I re-adapt to the rigours of study? I recall my A-levels with some affection, but I was never quite totally fond of things like exams. I guess it was a heavy dose of reservation and doubt about my own abilities – like most writers, I suppose, we all seem to think we’re terrible hacks.

Long-term readers may recall that I started a course, initially, with the Open University (a distance-learning institution in the UK which I feel has a bit of an unfair reputation as “not a proper university”). I found it especially useful; my results of my assessments were really good and, considering that the Open University requires a lot of discipline to keep up, especially if you’re studying from home and have all the necessary distractions and I was pleased I had the willpower to see the first year through. The only disappointment I had was the relatively slow progress of studying one module a year; this meant I still would only just be starting the actual creative writing aspect I was interested in about now.

Approaching my first day of Kingston was a bit of a challenge – a lot of nerves and anxiety. This was a big change, and as a pretty heavily introverted person, I get very suspicious about change to things. And yeah, I went away from those first few days – where I felt totally out of the comfort zone to which I was accustomed – genuinely questioning if I’d done the right thing.

I would say two things have made my first year at Kingston really good and really empowering, in that I feel like I made the right choice. First: my grades are pretty darn good, even for the aspects of the studies of first year I truly hated. There was definitely parts of my first year I enjoyed more than others; I didn’t care for my module focusing on literary theory, but I still (somehow) managed to knock it out of the park in the assessment. I certainly enjoyed my creative writing seminars and lectures and feel I gained a lot from them that has already made a material difference in my writing (heck, I feel confident enough to try writing a novel again).

Secondly (largely due to my seminars) I’ve mixed with a lot of people and I think there’s a great bond between our group. Funnily enough, I’m part of a pretty great Facebook group chat and I feel that, in a strange sense, has helped me overcome the boundaries I have in terms of real life socialising (likely to do with my in-progress dealings with my mental health) and, better, feel a part of a group and included. I do feel that, through this, I have a group of people who I know at Kingston now and it certainly gets past the feeling of apprehension about being totally alone in this big place. Plus, in terms of work, it’s great to have a group so ready to discuss each other’s writing; there’s a definite sense of camaraderie and respect for each other not just as writers but as friends too.

But yeah, it wouldn’t be all rosy-cheeks going into second year. I know I need to be less distracted and focus more on my work; even though I did well in first year, that is not a licence for complacency. No, I can’t “skip the reading” if I forget. No, I can’t sleep through the occasional 9AM start. Yes, I do have a job as well as my studies and I’ve balanced it well, but I need to make sure I keep up that momentum. It’s only going to get… I don’t want to say “tougher”, but more challenging and I need to be ready to face those challenges, but I feel I’m definitely in a better position now than I was a year ago to go get ‘em!

Reconsidering Ender’s Game

I’ve pretty much finished the first year of my degree in Creative Writing and English Literature at Kingston University. I’ve mainly been concerning myself with the creative writing aspect but one aspect of the literature side of my studies has gotten me thinking.

About three years ago I wrote about how I would not be reading the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game because its author, Orson Scott Card, was extremely homophobic and espoused personal views I found quite disgusting. I didn’t want to be seen to endorse those views by reading his work or support him by purchasing it.

Early on in my degree I read a literary essay published in the 1960s, The Death of the Author; this was before 4PM Friday lectures sapped my enthusiasm for dry literary theory, and, considering the essay, I began to rethink my approach to Ender’s Game.

The gist of the essay is that the “author” is merely a conduit for “work” to be created from, and that we must not consider a work as a vehicle for the author’s views and political standpoints but in the context of other contemporary works that existed at the time of writing; a work is not a singular piece isolated from the rest of the world. The responsibility is on the reader more to take their own message from a work than to try to decode the author’s intentions.

This, on first glance, does not seem to bode well for creative writers but I would argue that it allows a lot more freedom for writers to not worry about being psychoanalysed after the fact through their work and, on a personal level for me, anyway, means that the author does not become one with their work, and both cannot really be judged by the merits (or otherwise) of the other. One of the main reservations I have about my writing is being judged by what the fictional characters I create do, as if they’re always a representation or reflection on some part of my own personality.

What does this mean for Ender’s Game? For all intents and purposes, I have heard it’s a stellar piece of military science fiction. The book tackles themes such as inclusiveness, friendship and identity. Whether Orson Scott Card believed in this personally is, in hindsight, irrelevant; he however brought together this piece of work and, putting my reservations aside – I feel I’m being unfair on the book if I shun it wholly due to its author being a d*ck – I look forward to objectively taking Ender’s Game for its own merits.

I feel I was almost there when, in 2013, I wrote:

A book should be criticised separately from the personality of its author, though the personality of its author should be instilled throughout its pages. But with Ender’s Game this whole issue the proverbial elephant in the room and the scale of it means it really can’t be ignored. 

I’m happy to have finally found a personal, tangible use for all the dry literary theory I’ve been studying. Oh, and to circumvent supporting Mr. Card? I borrowed it from my local library, which is probably a far better cause!

Kingston University: reflections on my first semester

 

In September I took a pretty big step by enrolling on a Creative Writing and English Literature degree at Kingston University. I’ve now got to the end of my first semester there and I feel it’s a good time to just look back on the last three months and reflect and review my time there so far.

I was nervous as hell on first arriving, starting University proper being a scary change (I’d previously completed a year of higher education study with the distance-based Open University) both academically, I was pretty unsure of my own abilities and had a nagging self-doubt that permeated the initial weeks and socially; being quite introverted, big social gatherings scare me and make me very nervous.

In terms of the academic side of my studies so far, I feel that it’s definitely been a good move. I’m enjoying soaking in the knowledge from lectures and seminars thus far; my degree is comprised essentially of two “halves”, the Creative Writing side which I am really enjoying on a practical level as I feel I’m already learning both how to re-evaluate my own writing, and that of others, and learning new skills that are definitely what I want from the degree; whereas with the English Literature half I am exposed to more critical analysis of both genre texts and literary theory. However, I feel that due to both the material I am studying in English Literature (especially some pretty dry theories and essays; though I understand the application of them to a set text to an extent) and the scheduling of some of the classes (our main lectures that cover different literary theories and essays each week are scheduled at 4PM on Friday afternoons; the backside of the week where everyone’s attention has already left the building) I would rather focus on Creative Writing in my second and third years. As the semester progressed, I did face a bit of self-doubt and worry if any of the material or teaching really was sinking in; however, my first Creative Writing assessment scored pretty well and that has certainly gone a long way to re-energising my confidence and I want to absolutely harness that in January.

Socially, it was hard – walking into a daunting environment and knowing not a soul was truly scary. However, I’ve certainly made some efforts to get to know classmates, particularly those I share both Creative Writing and English Literature classes with, and there is a certain sense of camaraderie that is really nice. My Creative Writing seminar group has been notably great (I’d certainly call them all friends, they’re all nice, and diverse, people) and I feel at ease with them. Everyone was very welcoming and, approaching with an open mind, it’s made University certainly a lot less scary!

Accordingly I’ve set myself a few goals for my second semester to “clear out” the naughty and lazy habits that crept in a little, as my assessments prove I’m a capable student. I wouldn’t have been offered the place if I wasn’t, after all! There’s a lot of work due in the second semester so I want to make sure I’m mentally ready for it! So no more “forgetting” to write up class notes, and I’ll be dedicating a stricter schedule for coursework and feedback (one of the reasons I love my Creative Writing group is the feedback – definitely acquired a “taste” for that analysis!). I’ve crossed an important first hurdle and I aim to fully capitalise on it!

I want to write more about my general goals for 2016 soon, so stay tuned!