Thursday, 25 January 2018

Former Creative Writing Students talk about their experiences at the University of Chester in an interview with current Creative Writing student, Isabelle Carey

Edward Little

 Elizabeth Milne
Key: EL – Edward Little

         LM- Liz Milne


I had the opportunity to ask some past Creative Writing Students from Chester about their experience at the university. Edward Little and Elizabeth Milne have both graduated and are still very much involved in creative writing inside and outside their careers. Here is what they have to say about the BA Combined Honours course and what they get up to now.


Can you, first of all, say a little bit about why you chose the University of Chester to study a Combined Honours Degree?

EL: I chose the University of Chester as I liked the idea of being a part of a small community, and I thought that doing a Combined Honours degree in English Literature with Creative Writing, in such a tight space, would give me the chance to make friends with similar interests, who would enjoy performing their creative work. My assumptions were very correct here. Also, I chose Chester so that I was close enough to Liverpool to visit home, but far away enough that getting drunk at open-mics was a valid excuse not to.  


LM: I chose University of Chester because it was the university closest to my home. With two children still at school, I wouldn't have been able to travel long distances or to stay away from home. I went with a Combined Honours degree as I wanted to take Creative Writing, but there is no single honours creative course.


Did the course meet your expectations? What did you find the most useful?

EL: I feel like the course met my expectations, as the course presented me with opportunities to not only write, but perform my work. One major example being the university’s magazine, Pandora’s Box. Seminars, a place where you could workshop, really helped with re-drafting creative work: especially when it came to Flash Fiction and Poetry. 
Every tutor I experienced at the university was enthusiastic about students’ work, which really helped with motivating me during my studies. It was not only the able tutors that pushed me through my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, but the English department in general. They were a great help, especially when I showed up stressed with questions, or simply to calm me down with a cheery greeting when I nervously picked up an assignment.


LM: Yes, absolutely. The opportunity to have my own writing critiqued by both tutors and other students – often, fresh eyes can pick up plot holes or narrative gaps that the writer misses.


What did you find most enjoyable? 

EL: The most enjoyable part for me was not only the creative community of the university, but the Chester community in general. Chester University’s Creative Writer’s Society and the magazine Pandora’s Box pushed me through my years at university, and I found that it was easy for me, as well as fellow students, to then take the work these platforms produced and perform it at open-mics dotted around the city. Being a part of a creative community outside of the university without a doubt helped me in my academic studies.  


LM: I loved the whole experience – even the exams! Probably the best experience was seeing my writing become tighter and punchier – seeing sloppy long paragraphs reduced to elegant, concise ones is a great feeling.


Now that you have finished your degree, are you still involved with Creative Writing?

EL: Since finishing my degree I have performed at various events in Liverpool, Chester, and Ormskirk, performing flash fiction and poetry. In November, myself and other writers were a part of ‘New Voices’ at Chester’s literature festival, reading the introduction to our upcoming novels. If it wasn’t for the support of the creative writing staff at the university, especially the support that I have been given since I have graduated, I wouldn’t be as motivated to write as I am now.  


LM: Yes, I still write fiction, although less than while taking my degree. I also write blog posts and internet articles for writing clients – less creative but it is still writing! I am also currently volunteering for someone who works for Storyhouse, trying to set up a community writing/ performing outlet for the wider Chester population. He has also put my name forward to represent Lapidus International (the 'Words for Welfare' people) in the North-west, so I am waiting to hear back about that. In October 2018 I will start the MA Creative Writing: Writing and Publishing Fiction at the University of Chester, after which I will see what jobs are available in the publishing/ editing world –so creative writing, in one form or another, is going to be a big part of my future!


Is it helping you in any way with your career?

EL: I believe both of my creative degrees are helping me with my career as I was able to learn not only about creative writing, but how it is published, where specific genres are published, and where my genre of writing would best stand a chance. Recently I have had flash fiction accepted in the magazines Reverb and RumbleFish , and I have finished my TEFL course, with which I am planning to teach English abroad. 
I plan to always write, possibly in new scenery, and it is because of my education as a Creative Writing student at Chester that I have such confidence in my general abilities. 


Finally, can I ask if you have any advice for current Creative Writing students at the University of Chester, or for potential students?

EL: By this point I’m sure it’s already predictable what I’m going to say, but for any creative writing student at the university, try and show your work off in any way you can from the beginning. This is definitely terrifying, but you will quickly realise that everyone has an opinion about your work, and that in this career path, you will continuously be criticised. The tutors are there to help you, not tear you down – even when you think the cliché you used is perfectly justified. 
Listening to the criticism from tutors and fellow students is all well and good, but the main priority when it comes to your creative assignments is to re-draft. Forget everything you learnt reading Charles Bukowski, because even if the meaning is there, the grammar isn’t going to be perfect on the second draft, never mind the first. Be meticulous when it comes to your assignments, because the fun comes later on: at open-mics, reading a page of prose to your mate over coffee, stumbling home after a successful launch night at Pandora’s Box. 
You get the idea. 
The hard work is worth what you can get out of Chester, even if you are not one for reading your work in public, as the Creative Writing tutors are more than willing to help any student who shows they are willing to put in the effort.  


LM: Yes, DO THE READING! At the very least, read through a couple of synopses and reviews (more than one, more opinions will give you a more balanced view of the work, but if at all possible, do the reading and then do a bit more reading – you cannot understand any text without reading it, not only once, but two, three or more times. If you want a good end result, it begins with making time to do the reading. And finally, enjoy it. Attend classes, plan assignments well in advance and speak to your tutors if you have any worries – university can be a challenge, but it can be fun with the right preparation.
Isabelle Carey
Interview conducted by Isabelle Carey,
Second Year Creative Writing student at the University of Chester

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