Three years ago I was still relatively unpublished. I’d previously had a short story called Farming Tsiolkovsky placed with Demensions magazine and a handful of non-fiction gaming articles (albeit paid articles) published with the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. What I really wanted to do was write novels.
At this point I’d completed three ‘practice’ novels: a historical/Lovecraftian thriller set aboard a British airship, a mundane hard-SF novel with a rather turgid plot and a dystopian cyberpunk novel set in near-future London. These had all been sent off to various agents and publishers and I’d received the usual ‘no thanks’ response slips or just nothing at all. I decided that my writing needed help, especially at a technical level, and so I looked around for a local evening class. I eventually ended up swapping emails with Jon Glover, head of Creative Writing at nearby Bolton University, about joining that year’s intake for a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing.
Now, I have to be honest, I never had any intention of finishing that master’s degree. Each semester was paid for individually and so I planned to attend one or perhaps two semesters before quitting. I was, after all, a genre writer. What use did I have for a literary degree? I realise now, looking back, that I simply didn’t believe that I was capable of completing the entire degree. I guess I’d figured that I would hang on for as long as possible before quitting, bagging whatever knowledge I could, in an attempt to improve my hacky genre scribbling.
Well the rest, as they cliché, is history. Sometime around the second semester I started to wonder if I might actually stick a chance at completing the entire degree. I started to place short stories with various magazines (both genre and literary), I enjoyed the opportunity to co-edit a literary magazine and I went on to win the NAWG David Lodge trophy. At some point I guess I realised that my aim had shifted away from wondering whether a degree pass was possible towards considering if I could actually score a distinction.
So, three years after embarking upon a master’s degree that I was never going to finish, I received my marks and discovered that I’d received a distinction. Then, whilst attending the graduation ceremony just a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that I’d also received the Vice Chancellor’s Prize!
The last three years have been an incredible experience. My writing has certainly improved and for that I have to thank my tutors Zoe Lambert and Anne Caldwell as well as Jon Glover. I also have to give a quick nod to my fellow writers at the Manchester Speculative Fiction writing group because a chunk of this improvement is also down to them.
Would I recommend to my fellow writers to embark upon a creative writing master’s degree? What about genre writers?
Yes. Definitely. Just do it!
I think that all writers, no matter which genre they follow, have something to gain from the experience. The development of literary fiction across the years is an interesting topic. As a genre writer I was quite surprised to discover that many techniques that I thought were quite new, such as post-modernism or meta-fiction, were in fact several decades old. I’d also suggest that a writing group be attended for a few months before starting the course to prepare for the experience of critiquing and being critiqued. Just go easy on your fellow creative writing students because most of them won’t have followed this advice and they can be a sensitive bunch!
Throw yourself into it. Don’t tread water. Don’t kick back. Listen, experiment, allow yourself to feel foolish, make mistakes. Let your writing change. Allow yourself — you as a writer and you as an individual — to change. Keep writing.
So, what next?
Well I’m still sending out the odd short story. My last piece was published with Anamesa earlier this year. I’ve had some interest from a publisher for a historical fantasy novel I’ve recently completed called Seven Souls and I’m around 16k into a new SF-mythological novel called Canton Station.
And many other daft hobbies, of course!