Decades after my first degree I have the freedom to study an MA. Both children graduated; one with a job and the other just setting out on finding a path in the world
Corsham Court Campus at Bath Spa University is very Jane Austen. Hobbling on crutches up the long driveway as peacocks squawked and sheep gazed beyond the ha-ha I felt as antique as the surroundings.
As a mature student I wasn’t in the minority; there is a great mix of ages though with any gathering of writers there are egos and anxieties to be managed. I was surprised at the distance students were travelling to the campus; London, Taunton and someone from Moscow – who suggested that I should have Gucci crutches or at least decorate them. I said I’d think about it.
We met in ‘the Barn’ around the back of the building, and to my delight Fay Weldon was there – one of the first writers who challenged and gripped me as a reader.
The grand piano was full of lecturer’s books – I was in the right place. These academics are writers who have grafted and worked and lived their craft combining this with teaching others. One by one they spoke about their first memory of writing and read from current work. We heard extracts from Fay Weldon, Gerard Woodward, Richard Kerridge, Nathan Filer, Gavin Cologne-Brooks and Tim Liardet.
I’ve written down scraps of insights/ discussions which I won’t attribute as my notes aren’t good enough to be accurate.
- Keep your reader in mind at all times. Surprise them. Keep them hooked (Fay Weldon)
- In your novel have a cosmic statement. What is it really about?
- Are you writing about your father or your mother?
- It’s important to read aloud, to pace your novel, and to hear that (Nathan Filer)
- What do you need to say in your novel?
- (When thinking about subject matter for a novel) What do you care about ?
- When writing get’s hard that when the work starts – and you need a great deal of hard work and application (Tim Liardet)
On re-writing: The essence of re-writing is being able to see why and clarify again and again and again.
On poetry: When poets try and put a collection together sometimes they have enough poems to fill a book, but that doesn’t make a great collection. ‘Poems need to hear one another, to run as a smooth sequence. Be aware of silence and how it is used in a book of poems. (Tim Liardet)
Favourite quote of the day; When Flaubert was asked where he got his ideas for Madame Bovary he said: “I thought of a woman in a dress the colour of a woodlouse” He didn’t think of the great sweep of things. But I think writer’s work in different ways and that’s allowed.
This quote led our seminar group to a discussion of observing precise objects and how we could use these in our writing. In our group we looked at black and white photographs from August Sander. Everyone spotted something different but the quality of the observation marked some students out. My old anxieties returned. The students who had just come from the BA course being good at this game.
Overall a very satisfactory first day, despite the hobbling up the myriad staircase.