I’ve spent the last year doing a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Northumbria University, alongside my day job at the Uni, my family stuff and my other life as a writer. I was very fortunate that my employers financed the degree as staff development, and there were obviously outcomes there that had to feed into my day job as well to allow them to do that. I was a bit worried about committing to it as a ‘full time’ student and finishing it within the year, but it was all part of the staff development and I have to say, now it’s over, I’m appreciating the downtime; and I’m having fun writing my current Choc Lit novel and my funny short stories for Weekly News again! It’s been full on but very much worth it. I got the chance this year to experiment with different styles and voices which I probably wouldn’t have pursued otherwise – I doubt I would have taken on Emily Brontë’s fictionalised lust over a Gypsy on the moonlit Haworth Moors or Lizzie Siddal’s feelings about being a Victorian celebrity. I most certainly would not have researched either of those ladies with an academic slant, and would never have discovered how much of herself Emily poured into Wuthering Heights and how Lizzie played the crowds as a wilting Victorian heroine; which hid, in my opinion, a very astute lady who knew exactly what role to play as the original supermodel and an icon of the Victorian world.
I’d already done a considerable amount of research for The Girl in the Painting, which revolves around Lizzie’s influence in the art world, and I have read Wuthering Heights more times than I care to count, as well as studying it in depth for my Literature degree – but I’ve never analysed these woman, or how they might be portrayed, in such a structured way. The Master’s has opened my eyes to so much more and so many layers that can be found in writing, that it’s been a fantastic experience. Alongside those two Research modules (which are designed to lead you onto a PhD if you fancy it), I did two other modules which were more craft-focused and straight-forward for want of a better word. Those two modules were a lot simpler to produce work for – but that’s not to say they were an easy ride. Far from it. I got my lowest mark for one of those, which just goes to show!
I took advantage of the Master’s for my writing life, as well as my day-job life, and my dissertation is the first few thousand words of a new Choc Lit novel. It was a great opportunity to get some professional feedback on it, and also I did the research again to back up my creative work. It was fascinating to see how much academic research has been carried out on paranormal romances, timeslips and even stone-tape theory on haunted buildings. So I have a nice academic side to the dissertation about how and why I’ve written what I’ve written, and it’s all neatly bound up now and in the hands of the markers. Eek. That picture, by the way, is my desk at work – which is slightly less chaotic than my desk at home! The museum on the front is the Angus Folk Museum in Scotland, which is a row of cottages turned into a folk museum – the place that the Hartsford Folk Museum in my dissertation is based on.
I just hope I’ve done enough to pass and they don’t think writing romance or ghost stories or timeslips is too ‘easy’ for a final project. As my tutor said, ‘it’s difficult to write this sort of genre, because you have to write it well but make it look as if it’s been easy. And I know it’s not easy.’ Sensible man! I just hope the markers have the same opinion!