…on why I’m studying for a Degree

Recently someone asked me if I felt studying on a creative writing course is useful – have others who have done the course gone on to become best sellers? My reply is below as I thought it might be of interest here.

Well, I started on this path when I became quite ill and I needed (in my mind) to keep my brain working. I felt that my body was giving up on me and I wanted to make sure my mind didn’t follow suit! That led to my completing the Open University Diploma in Creative Writing and Literature but I felt a bit short changed and wanted to get a full degree – I never did go to university in my youth. I then discovered that the University of Essex – a short journey from my home, runs the degree course I had wanted to study.

What all this study has given me, are tools and techniques, but more than that it has given me the chance to nurture my writing in a safe environment, rather than putting myself out there for the wolves straight away. It has given me feedback and criticism of my work, from well published authors and academics, which I can trust. This is not a speedy pass through the system, but rather a way of growing. Essex has its fair share of alumni, some of those from our department are mentioned here: http://www.essex.ac.uk/lifts/creative_writing/

I don’t think I am aiming for the best sellers list, rather to have learned to have a little faith in my ability as a writer and story teller and to be a little less fearful of trying. I’m not comfortable with some of the ‘clever’ prose and poetry that some of my colleagues are turning out – I prefer to write in a voice that anyone can access. I have felt at times that my writing is somewhat ‘vanilla’ in comparison to my peers but I now feel that it is just different – and that’s no bad thing.

The technical aspects of the course have prepared me for things such as rigorous editing of my own work and how to work within deadlines and tight word limits, and to do so almost as second nature. For those things alone, I think it has been worth the effort. Most of all though, I have met and worked with some amazing people. We have two Royal Literary Fund Fellows on staff. One is Jim Kelly, a crime novelist who has given lectures and one to one advice and guidance with writing. The other is Gillian Richmond, a dramatist for TV, Radio and Theatre who has written many plays and episodes of Eastenders among other credits (though not being a lover of Eastenders, I’m not sure how much of a recommendation that is). I have had the privilege to be taught by leading poets, authors, playwrights and so on, who are all so very inspiring. Last month we had a playwriting workshop led by Amy Rosenthal (MA Playwriting, Birmingham University) – daughter of Jack and playwright in her own right. In October we have Steve Waters delivering a workshop. Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott is one of our Professors….the list goes on. All this will not give me a free pass to the best sellers list but oh boy is it inspiring and that helps to bring out the best in me.

I’m thinking about studying for a Masters’ Degree in 2015-16 and at the moment, I’m undecided as to where to do that. Goldsmiths has a terrific reputation too – perhaps I should think some more. I’ve got time on my side though. I may try for a Masters in Journalism if Essex runs the course!

So, to finally answer your question as to whether a creative writing course would be of any use – Well it’s as useful as you make it. For me, it has been immensely useful, for some others perhaps less so. Like so many other things in life – you get out what you put in. I would heartily recommend it but bear in mind that no course will open the door for you – you have to tug on that particular handle yourself.

…on being a Mature Student at Essex

​As I come to the end of my first term as a mature (and disabled) student at the University of Essex, I thought now might be a good time to write a little about my thoughts and feelings on the subject, so here goes…

Essay submission apart, it has been on the whole a positive and stimulating couple of months. I’m still here, I’m still finding my way around the campus and finding little gems hidden around as I go. I have yet to venture into Frango’s which is a matter of finding disabled access – not immediately obvious and I’m afraid there is no way I am going to attempt the metal staircase up and then whatever steps await me on the inside of the door to go down into the restaurant. That is a voyage of discovery for another day I feel. It seems a shame as the rest of the university campus has been largely simple to navigate even given my inability to use steps and staircases. The lifts are well placed with only one small niggle – that of the split floors 5A and 5B in the LiFTS Department. As that is the area I spend most time in, I have had to find a workaround or brave the half flights of stairs to get up or down. When the corridors are quiet I can take the stairs, with trepiation and a lot of time but when there is a heavier footfall around me, it’s off to find a way around the lifts.

Looking at academic life from the viewpoint of a woman rapidly approaching the age of 50, it has been a mixed bag. The university itself has been most supportive, as have Student Services who deserve a highlighted mention for all their fabulous staff and the work they do.​ The negatives are really based not on academe itself, but on the wider student life such as the Student Union. The ‘SU’ in Essex is not terribly oriented toward entertaining or supporting mature students. As one other such student said to me last wee – ‘we really don’t want to go to “Foam Parties”, we’d rather something a little more grown up.’ Perhaps if the SU could address this, the huge number of mature students studying at Essex, would, like me applaud their efforts. We wait and watch with baited breath the Student Representative Forum this week and see if they will support the efforts of the current Part-Time, Volunteer Mature Students Officer and his partner in crime the Part-time, Volunteer Postgrad Students Officer, as they go in to bat for what amounts to 1 in 3 of the current student cohort who have little appropriate or proportional representation at the Essex Student Union.

I for one would love them to take me seriously and see me for what I am – a well-past forty woman with one hell of a lot of life experience, a gaggle of kids and a grandchild, a home to run and a passion for learning. I could do with the support of my peers on all those fronts…please! (This week’s SRF is on Thursday at 6pm in LTB 8 – please attend if you feel the same way I do and let your voice be heard.)

…on Re-Styling My Blog

In order to reflect the huge amount of my life now taken up with University life, I will be re-styling this blog over the next couple of weeks.  Much of the current content will be archived by placing into a new ‘Archive’ category, thus giving me more space to tell you about life at Essex University and what I get up to there. 

University life eats in to all areas of your life, even as a mature student so it makes sense to be able to give a clearer picture of that here.  Hopefully you will still want to follow the blog if you are already a follower.  If you are yet to follow it – go on – click the button, sign up and walk a few yards in my shoes as I make my journey through Uni and maybe even out the other side!

…on Being at Red Brick University

Three months on – how do I now feel about being at the University of Essex?

I’m having the time of my life on so many levels!

First things first – Freshers Week, a nightmare in many ways, yet it was also an amazing start to my time at the University.  I will say that as a ‘mature’ student, the Housewarming Weekend put on by the University in September was by far and away the best introduction I could have wished for in that we were a small number of new students, all with similar fears and hopes and issues who were all treated with kid gloves and given every opportunity to find our feet in our new spiritual home.  Freshers Week, by contrast was manic, high adrenaline, high speed, and I fear if it had been my introduction to Uni, I would have run for the hills as fast as I could.  It was great for the younger students, but for us older codgers, perhaps a little too much at times.  I didn’t indulge in any of the partying or mad raving music or sporting events – far too old and knackered for those, but even if I was much younger and fitter, I’m not sure it would have been my scene.  The events that were useful were the ‘meet and greet’ type affair where we were introduced to the ‘LiFTS’ Department (Literature, Film and Theatre Studies) and the staff.  I was glad to find that I am not alone in being a mature Undergraduate on my course though!  During Fresher’s Week, I also met some wonderful ladies who I am sure will be friends in the years to come as we plough our respective furrows in the fields of academe.

Two months into the first term and just a couple of weeks before the winter break, I am really starting to find my feet and getting involved in some other areas of University life such as the Mature Students Society and the Student Union.  This is being its own education – 0ne in which I am learning far more about my fellow students and the way in which the University is run…loving it!!

As far as studies are going, I am writing and reading so much that I sometimes have trouble remembering which module I am working on and I have finally had to resort to making a weekly plan of everything that is going on.  I managed to submit my first 2,500 word essay on time, though I cannot yet vouch for its quality until I receive my marks…fingers are tightly crossed on that count.  Another is due for submission this week and I should really be typing up my final draft instead of blogging, ho-hum… its on the table beside me – honest.

I made the right choice in converting to Essex from the Open University, the right choice for me at any rate.  I know that it’s not for everyone but I would heartily encourage anyone considering studying for a Degree to think about a full time course.  I have found this more challenging, more fulfilling and more stimulating by far.  The camaraderie of my fellow students is a great motivator and also the lecturers work to encourage the best from us, all the time.

A wonderful side-effect of all this is that I have lost 2 stone in weight since starting Uni in October. I can’t quite believe it myself and just hope that I can keep it all from piling back on over the month of the winter holiday.  Posting here should give me a little more incentive to keep on working and walking – I hope.

Ivor Crew lights
Christas lights at the Ivor Crew Lecture Hall, University of Essex, Colchester Campus

Ohhh…..another good thing – I have now had three articles published in the Uni newspaper – The Rabbit, with a fourth on the presses as I write this blog post.  I am now more than self-published – I have by-lines!!  Check out a couple of my submissions in the electronic versions available here: http://issuu.com/therabbitessex  The next one to come is a longer piece, but I am still proud to have had articles accepted and printed so early in my time here.  On that note, I had better tell you all my name so you can find them… Hi, I’m Ruth Raymer!  You’ll find me on page 4 of Issue 147 and page 3 of Issue 148.

Onward and upwards then, and time to get this final draft essay typed up and submitted.  Keep your eyes peeled for more of my exploits here @UniofEssex @MSXUoE  and so on.

…on entering Red Brick University

For the last few months I have been quietly brewing behind the scenes, having decided that whilst the Open University has given me the very best of jump starts back into education after a good few years spent in the wilderness, I don’t think I want an ‘Open’ degree.  I want to complete my study in the area I first chose – I want a BA in Creative Writing and Literature.

I achieved a Diploma in Creative Writing and Literature with the OU, for which I feel great pride and even affection, but it’s just not enough – I want more.

At the beginning of this year I started to search for an appropriate way for me to reach my goal, only to discover that right on my doorstep, in Colchester, the University of Essex runs the degree course I had always wanted.  Then began the process of application…a journey of many emails, much form-filling and even more form-filling.  In August I was accepted, and offered a place on the course of my choice, with entry into the second year as I already have the OU Diploma.

Today I have completed pre-registration at #Uni_of_Essex.  Course modules are chosen and I am quaking in my boots – what have I done?  Am I up to the challenge of the next two years or am I an impostor, just waiting to be caught out in an environment constructed for those somewhat younger than my 48 years?

What do I want to do with this degree?  Well perhaps what I really want is to prove to myself that I can do it.  Becoming a best-selling author is a pipe-dream but learning my craft from the best teachers in the field is a pretty good way to give myself a fighting chance of at least writing something worthy of perusal by eyes other than mine.  One day I may even gain a by-line in some impressive publication but for now I shall be happy to write essays and reports, attending lectures and workshops and impress myself by meeting deadlines for the same.

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to share what I have learned with others walking a similar path – that would be an honour.

For now, breathe deep.  On Friday, my first time to meet other ‘mature’ students as I go to the Housewarming event.  There are promises of meal vouchers, buffets and even a barbecue by the lake.  Of course there will also be the odd beverage imbibed I have no doubt.  Most of all, I will be meeting folk who are like me, scared witless on their first encounter in this strange land we have chosen to visit.  Among the talks and tours I hope I will find some comfort in the company of others.  Wish me luck!  (…and come back to see the photos after the weekend!)

random thoughts from a woman searching for the meaning of life

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