Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Category: University

After the Ball Is Over… (On Ending the Creative Writing MA)

It’s been a long time since I’ve done an update. In the meantime, a lot of things have happened. Including this:


I ended up finishing my dissertation early, partly thanks to an incorrect assessment of how long it would take to bind (it turns out I was allowed to get it spiral-bound, which only takes ten minutes), partly because I had some proofreading work coming up and wanted a clear brain, and partly because sometimes you get to a point where you have to stop or go insane (or, alternatively, stop before you drive your partner insane). I’ll be handing it in on the 7th of September, and then that’s it. My MA Creative Writing course is done.

It’s a strange feeling being finished on the course, but I’m proud of the dissertation, and of how I’ve done. Especially in the last semester, I’ve gotten what I needed out of the course, and it’s given me a serious amount of knowledge to build on. There are plenty of articles out there saying why Creative Writing courses are a terrible idea, and I can’t say for certain that this kind of course would work well with everyone. But I was at a point where I needed to learn and gain some confidence, and it has really helped me. I know for certain that I’m a much better writer now than when I started. And much of that is down to the support I’ve had from Emma, especially when I was fretting about what to do for my second round of Fiction Workshop pieces and ultimate dissertation, and was convinced that I had to do something ‘with a bit more weight’, and she told me to not be so daft and submit Bradley & Hoyle, my romantic comedy fantasy adventure romp. I’m glad I did – it wasn’t necessarily the ‘typical’ thing to do on what’s a very well-respected course that’s strongly oriented towards literary fiction, but it got a lovely (and very helpful) response in the workshops, and it finally made me realise that I need to stop worrying about being taken seriously or doing the ‘right thing’, and just concentrate on entertaining people.

I’d never have come to that conclusion if I hadn’t gone ahead with Bradley & Hoyle, and concentrated on the kind of thing I really want to write. And that, in turn, has made me realise that that’s okay. There are things I’m good at, and there are things I’m not good at, and it’d be much more sensible for me to concentrate on my strengths than feeling somehow inferior just because I’m not writing something DARK and LITERATE and PROVOCATIVE. There are people out there who are great at that kind of thing. I’m not one of them. If you need me, I’ll be over in the corner having fun, blowing stuff up and coming up with the craziest ideas I can possibly manage. Hopefully it’s going to work out.

Future plans? Well, I went into the MA considering a PHd (to possibly go into teaching), but my struggles with longform literary essays taught me that maybe I don’t want to spend a large proportion of three years of my life doing that kind of thing. I am still bearing the teaching idea in mind, but at the moment it feels like the best thing I can do right now is work on getting myself published. There’s all sorts of stuff I can do and plans I can make which will ‘unlock’ if I can actually go from general all-purpose freelance writer/proofreader to ‘published novelist’. Even if the novel in question is blisteringly daft at times. There are no guarantees, of course, and I also know that getting published won’t solve all my problems and will also bring me an exciting collection of new problems, but that feels like the next step. I’ve got around 30,000 words of Bradley & Hoyle that feel pretty much finished – all I’ve got to now do is finish the rest of it.

(Before I started rewrites, it was weighing in at 135,000 words, which is far too long. I’m hoping to get it in at somewhere around 110,000. Which will still be the shortest piece of longform fiction I’ve ever managed…)

But in the meantime, I’m grateful for what the course has given me, and for the help I got from the fellow students in the fiction groups, and from the lecturers, especially Geoff Ryman (who was amazingly helpful with his feedback) and Jeanette Winterson (who is an amazing personality and one of the most scarily intelligent people I have ever met). It’s been a wild and fascinating ride. And now all I’ve got to do is sort out paying my Dad back for the money he lent me to actually do the course in the first place…




Update: (7/9/2015) – I wrote the above last week, but didn’t get around to posting it, mainly because despite my sunny conviction that the story was over, it wasn’t. I opened up the dissertation file last Friday to get the electronic submission out of the way… and discovered that the file was corrupted. It turns out that sometimes, using Track Changes on an MS Word document will completely nuke the formatting of the document and, in this case, left me with large stretches of the dissertation that was incomprehensible gibberish. Panic is too light a word for what happened next, and a difficult weekend followed – but it’s all finally been sorted, and after a lot of effort and struggle, the dissertation was submitted electronically late last night, and the physical hand-in will happen today on my return to Manchester. And once again, I have to say a massive thank you to Emma, who offered a tremendous amount of support and help throughout the weekend, and without her I wouldn’t have made it.

And at some point, I am actually going to get to rest…



Fragments of Time (Creative Writing MA: Week One)

I don’t remember students being quite so young. Yes, I was that young once, but it’s still rather hard to believe. If you’re in your latter thirties and want to feel disorientatingly old, sign yourself up back to University and watch your brain turn somersaults. Last week was Fresher’s Week (or ‘Welcome Week’ as it was more officially referred to), and I spent a fair proportion of it trying not to think about how I was old enough to actually be a parent to most of the newly arrived students who were thronging around in a way that occasionally made me want to shout “For God’s sake, stop being so YOUNG!” like a crazy person. (My Dad was pretty much my age now when I went to University first time round. That’s certainly given me pause for thought.)

But thankfully, not all of it was spent consumed with going “Aaaarrrggghhhh!” at the concept of morality and time passing. It’s been a fairly action-packed first week, and the first day – last Monday – turned out really well. Honestly, I was kind of terrified before I went in – I’d been working towards this course for so long, and there’s a lot riding on getting this right, and there’s all sorts of issues connected with my writing confidence as well – but the day went well. A big meeting of the whole Arts, Languages and Cultures school was followed by the first official meeting of the Creative Writing MA, and while it was intimidating, it went well and also fired a ton of information at me. (I was also able to sort out the dates that I’m going to be submitting fiction in the first semester – dates that, considering I just decided to junk my original idea and start with something new – are thankfully far enough in the future to give me room for manouver.)

Then, there was a drinks reception where I once again discovered the socialising aid that is free red wine. I was soon talking nine-to-the-dozen to a lovely bunch of my fellow students, and the conversation continued into the Chinese meal that followed at the Red Chilli Restaurant just across the road from the University (where the food was pretty damn splendid), and afterwards there was an equally talk-filled session at a nearby bar. I even ended up having a pretty lengthy conversation with author (and course lecturer) Geoff Ryman about a dizzying number of subjects, and I came out of the whole day with my brain fizzing – both with alcohol, and with ideas, thoughts and writing approaches.

Since then, there’s been a lot of sorting out to be done – I’ve gotten myself a Student Union card (hellooooo student discount), a bus pass for this term, I’ve sorted out access to the University wi-fi, and gone to a relatively interesting lecture about coping with an MA as a part-time student. I also briefly visited the ‘Welcome Fair’ on Wednesday, the event where you can join up with any university society under the sun, and which felt like an even more intense version of a Comics convention, except where the stalls were all about Neuroscience, Board-Games, politics, religion and BEER. There was an excellent event on Friday at the Manchester Museum (which is also part of the University), where I got to hear a talk from one of the curators about their fantastic Egyptology department, and the whole week essentially left me with my brain spinning in a very positive way.

In certain ways, I’m wishing I could have gone somewhere like Manchester first time around. In other ways, I think it’s possible that wherever I’d gone to University first time round, it wouldn’t have been ideal – I was a naive late teenager who knew nothing about the world, and really needed to grow up. Sometimes, it takes a while to find your path. It took me a while, but I feel like I’ve found it now.

The real challenge begins from here onwards. I’ve already critted the first piece of work for my Fiction workshop (which officially kicks off tomorrow), and I’ve got an idea for what I’m going to be submitting that I need to hammer into something resembling a decent shape. I’ve even – shock! horror! – had an idea for a short story that I actually want to write. Balancing what I need to do with what I have to do (especially since I’ve got a trio of articles to complete over the next couple of weeks) may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it feels achievable.

For the last eighteen months or so, my life hasn’t been at its best. Lots of things have gone wrong, or not turned out how I’d hoped. My confidence took some major knocks as a result. But now, for the first time in a long while, I feel like I’m on the right path. And I think it’s going to be an interesting challenge finding out where it goes…


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