Why it's never too late to go back to school

13 April 2015

By Pan Macmillan

When I told friends I was about to embark on an MA in Creative Writing, quite a number of them looked baffled. Not that a creative writing degree is an especially unusual activity these days. What is less usual is someone attending one – as a student - when they have been writing professionally for over twenty years.
     
Shouldn’t you be teaching the course?’
 they’d ask.

Well, no. For one thing, despite years of writing experience I don’t have a teaching bone in my body. Apart from that, I wanted to learn. I wanted input. In all that time previously, my writing had been crushed into the side-pockets of time available around bringing up my four children.  There had been very little occasion for branching out, or for playing around, which is one of the best parts of creative ‘work.’ I had barely seen another writer for years because I was so busy. From my point of view I was in a rut and, increasingly, a lonely one.

And what were all those people doing on those MA degrees? I took myself off to Oxford Brookes University, to find out by doing one part time, around writing my other books. 

I can’t tell you if the degree at Oxford Brookes is good. I have nothing to compare with. It’s certainly not bad. What’s more important is who you are and what you bring to a course which is more creative than academic. All I can say is, I had a brilliant time.

We wrote. A lot. We read and discussed. We workshopped our final projects. My writing had developed through regular workshopping sessions and I had missed the process, having moved away from the city of my most formative workshop experience. So I was back home again. We did the usual moaning and grousing people do on any course, but mainly encouraged each other and we shared ideas.

Cliché alert! - The course was a journey, for all of us.

Many people – myself included – arrived with a writing project in mind, only to find that in the passing of a few stimulating months, new ideas had hatched, fat and unexpected as cuckoos. We tried different, sometimes braver, things. Those projects, in many cases, learned to fly, drunkenly at first, but most stayed in the air. For me there were special rediscoveries, like the pleasure of writing by hand and of writing in odd, less ‘professional’ places: on the bed, the train, on the river bank fighting off swans… Instead of being lashed to a laptop. I felt like a real writer again!

One of the things that I wanted from it, and have achieved in more magnificent ways that I could have imagined, was company. My classmates were great – supportive, unpretentious, brave and of course, talented. One, within a year of the course, achieved a major publishing contract.  Others have also been published. And we did not want to part company …

From the MA course, two workshops have come into being – one in Oxford, a Brookes continuation workshop, another, Leather Lane Writers, in London. This has entailed meeting another shoal of impressive new writers.

On the wall of the room where I mostly write is a list: ‘33 Ways to Stay Creative.’ Number 12 reads, ‘Be open.’

There’s always something new to learn, new people to meet.
I’m having a ball.

Annie Murray was born in Berkshire and read English at St John's College, Oxford. Her first 'Birmingham' novel, Birmingham Rose, hit The Times bestseller list when it was published in 1995. She has subsequently written many other successful novels, including A Hopscotch Summer, Soldier Girl and the bestselling Chocolate Girls. Annie has four children and lives near Reading and her latest book War Babies is out now in paperback! (£6.99, Pan)

War Babies
Chocolate Girls