Monday, 17 May 2010

So, University. What did you teach me?

With my degree now pretty much done, and graduation in July, I thought I'd look back on the last three years and ask them: what have I learned from you? 

More specifically, what have the last three years done for me in my writing?

My degree is in English Literature with Creative Writing, which means I've spent three years attending workshops once a week where the group critiques each other's submissions. That, obviously, has done wonders for my writing: I've learned control, I've learned to be disciplined (usually), and I've learned how to avoid the common mistakes that appear in my work. I've also learned to critique other people's work effectively, which in turn makes you look at your own work more critically and objectively.

What about the English lit part? I really think reading a lot helps you write better, but I have to say, looking back, there have been so many concrete moments of inspiration that I've derived from specific texts and ideas we've explored.

In my first year, we looked at Robert Browning's poetry (amongst many other things, obviously) and that was when I learned about beauty, death and the attraction these ideas had for writers of the time. This didn't have a direct impact on my writing but now, three years on, I often find myself, when writing about death, touching on the intensely physical and beautiful aspects of it. The cold skin, the sound of a waning heartbeat, orchids and lilies, all these things that intertwine beauty and poetry with death and tragedy.

In my second year, I did courses on Romanticism and Victorian lit. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights each inspired, in different ways, what eventually became my novel ECHOES, while Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' inspired the albatross that appears in TEA WITH DEATH, DESIRE AND RAGE.

This year, my third year, I wrote a dissertation on dystopian fiction, which lent me so much material and understanding and theory that I've been able to apply to the slightly dystopian Weaver/echo premise of ECHOES. One of the novels I used was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which gave me a wider grasp on clone-related fiction and helped me research the subject a bit more. ECHOES is about a fantasy variant of clones.

I also did a course on modernism, which made me really passionate about using the city or the landscape as a heaving, thriving force in my writing. Now I very rarely write a story or novel without making the setting a hugely important and almost alive part of the text.

And finally, being at Lancaster University gave me Lancaster: an old, beautiful city surrounded by absolutely incredible countryside. This setting is significant to ECHOES, and will continue to be hugely important if and when I write the sequels.

There's a parking lot in the city where, if you look out over the city's skyline, you could actually be standing there a hundred years ago and it would probably have looked just the same.  I find that incredibly poignant and amazing.

It's worth mentioning too that some of my best memories are set in Lancaster, on campus, around this university. It's not just my writing that fell in love with this place. I have too, and, awful weather aside, I'll miss it dreadfully.

Can you trace your ideas and stories back to a specific root or inspiration? Has school, university or just learning something new triggered off a story or a passion for you?


  1. First, thanks for visiting my blog and entering the contest :D

    Second, I LOVE Ishiguro!

    Third, great settings just trip me out. I, too, try to make the setting as much a part of the novel as the characters themselves. Great post!!

  2. I envy your ability to look back so clearly over university, I don't think I could summarize my three years quite that neatly. I still have one to go, though, so maybe some themes will emerge next spring...

    Themes emerging. *snorts* I don't think I would talk about themes emerging in my life without English and Honors courses, so maybe that's one thing I've taken from it already.

    Also, thanks so much for your comments on my WIP! It's so nice to hear there's interest from someone who doesn't already know the story.