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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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!

Start Writing Fiction: Halfway point

I’m now halfway through the 8-week course Start Writing Fiction that I have undertaken as part of an initiative to gain more insight into the craft behind my writing, and it’s been going quite well!

It’s weird, but on reflection I definitely feel that I’ve penned myself into a corner as a “sci-fi writer” – it’s too much of a comfort zone! Part of the challenge I feel this course is opening me up to is that fiction can be the genesis of even small and seemingly-insignificant situations, and it’s the writer’s job to interpret those as the basic planks of a story to which to attach a convincing plot and dress with their personal cares and beliefs. Thusly, some of the exercises I have undertaken have had me drawing on even fleeting details to create mini-stories and characters.

To me, this is quite refreshing and enlightening, and this revelation alone – that I can indeed stitch a story together that is out of my comfort zone of science fiction, the otherworldly and outlandish where I am cocooned from a sense of reality – means the course has achieved its desired purpose. I’ve been quite surprised to learn that crafting characters is actually quite easy once you have a mantra behind how you do that – are they just names in a situation or is the situation centred about them?

One thing the course has really drilled home is the sense of a “writer’s notebook” being a source and repository of ideas. I still find this notion a little romantic for my liking – sure, I’d love to sit and draw ideas for characters for an afternoon but unfortunately life has a certain regularity that does make this a bit impractical. I will definitely be investing in a brand new notebook after the course concludes however, as I feel that despite my latent reservations, nothing ventured, eh?

Week 5 of the course gets to the real “meat” that I’m interested in – creating vivid and believable characters! I plan to post a couple of the pieces of short fiction I’ve written so far as part of the exercises this coming weekend, so keep an eye!

Actually, an afternoon people-watching isn’t such a bad proposition now I think about it…