The truth is that education changes lives, at whatever level, in whatever subject area. Through education comes betterment, for the individual, and wider society. This is not to say that an undergraduate, or postgraduate qualification makes us better writers, or indeed people – but in a month in which we are celebrating education and academia, it is the perfect opportunity to share with you our personal experience of postgraduate study and its benefits. Maybe we will light a fire in somebody who is considering a return to education.
Today, I am seven months into my MA Popular Culture at Edge Hill University; by the time I submit my dissertation, I will have been in education for nine of the last ten years. It, education, has quite literally transformed my life. I began study after an accident in the workplace, I spent seven years locked in my bedroom studying with The Open University and gained a 2:1 in English Literature and a Children’s Literature module directed me towards a career in teaching. I took a year out after I graduated and returned to the work arena, before going back and embarking on my PGCE Secondary English in September 2019, oblivious to what was to come. In March 2020 my PGCE placement ended abruptly as the world went into Lockdown. While I was able to complete my study and graduate with QTS and 60 MA credits, I was worried about heading directly into the classroom against this COVID-19 backdrop. I had a choice to make, what was I going to do?
For the second time in a decade a return to education was my salvation. I made the choice to go back to Edge Hill and undertake my MA, it is a multi-disciplinary course (combining History, English, and Media), and it has provided me with opportunities I never fathomed. The opportunity to read widely and research my subject area (comedy theory and masculinties studies) has been life-affirming, while the world around me has turned to mush. My tutors at Edge Hill have been incredibly supportive and understanding in these most trying circumstances. I have met some wonderful people, and engaged in some passionate debates on a series of subjects not least my areas of interest. I spent almost ten years out of work, and through study I have encountered a whole host of opportunities that might have otherwise passed me by. Along with Paul Robert Mullen, I started my own literary press, I have published my own collection of poetry, I have switched careers, proven to be an inspiration to my children, and hopetfully to those I teach. I owe it all to education. While the last seven months have been difficult, I was somewhat used to the blended learning model from days as an undergrad and those early COVID-19 days last spring. Today I feel confident, and look forward to what might come next.
Alan Parry, Co-Founding Editor
Finishing my undergraduate degree during a global pandemic was difficult to say the least.
Studying an entire Masters degree throughout it is another story. Only three times have I set foot on campus even though I can see my university building outside my bedroom window.
Trying to stay motivated when everything is taught through zoom is hard, headaches and eye strain are problems I never expected to encounter.
The saving grace has been the comradery my MA cohort has found. Whether it be a video call to debrief after a chaotic seminar or proof reading each other’s work multiple times. It is bizarre to have formed such deep connections with people I have never seen face to face. We have managed to come together despite the difficulties we are all facing and make the most of our time studying.
Lucy Aur – Co-Fiction Editor
My area of master’s study is slightly different – instead of an MA, I am undertaking a Masters of Research which is, in essence, a junior PhD.
Officially, it comes under the label of “Arts”, but in reality, my work is focused on the Grand Theft Auto series of video games, analysing how the series is essentially a breeding ground and microcosm for neoliberalism, how men in the series are presented and indeed, how men who play present themselves as a result, as well as how the American Dream is discussed.
My background is in English literature and I was, and still am, thrilled by the idea of using the skills of analysis I have learned and transposing it onto the medium I am most passionate about.
Game criticism and theory is a burgeoning academic field that I have sunk myself into and as the artform of video games grow, so will the academic criticism, something that I hope to be part of for years to come.
The end result of my course will be a 30 000-word dissertation on the aforementioned topic, which is daunting, but I am more than proud of the progress I have made so far, and hope that I will be able to continue my research work as time continues.
Ben McCurry – Live Stream Host
While many can, and do, write without a formal education, for me, having the structure and support that both my BA (English and Creative Writing) and the MA (Creative Writing) I’m currently studying afforded me was necessary. They literally made me write. I think I might be a little inherently lazy, I need deadlines and pressure to push myself. The assessments and class workshops made me into someone who writes almost daily – forged that into becoming habit. I’ve also been introduced to books on craft, authors and poets I would likely never have encountered – or looked for – otherwise. Tutors seem to have never ending pools of reading suggestions, some of which have become favourite and life-altering books. Many of which have changed the way I write. Like everyone, at times I questioned why I studied something that many can do without a qualification (mainly when transferring fees out of my bank, or when a deadline is looming). The imposter syndrome of being a writer is not lessened by my first-class BA, or the work I’m currently completing on my MA, but it is nice to think that someone has marked me a good writer, that I do have grades to show that (not always, mind, but we’ll forget those moments).
More than anything, my time learning creative writing had given me the opportunity to workshop with peers and build a network with writers. This community has been imperative to my growth. Scriptwriters have taught me about dialogue, fiction writers about narrative, poets about scarcity, non-fiction writers about honesty – by having this hive mind critiquing my work, I have been able to see my work in ways I never would have on my own, and thus expand, improve and refine my own voice as a writer. The supportive people I’ve encountered throughout my creative writing education have been incredible. They have helped me to carve out my own space in writing. By studying multiple genres and forms of writing, I have found a way to write that allows me to combine poetry and fiction prose – something I wouldn’t have dared without the encouragement and guidance from my tutors and peers.
Elizabeth Kemball – Co-Fiction Editor
I look back on my Masters as one of the fondest periods of my life.
I was 26, and a little bit lost. I was on the descent towards thirty, and my very fabric needed something more than the 9-to-5, underachieving grind I’d found myself in. Education has become less of a taboo as we get older; it’s no longer just a young person’s game. And so, I remember the moment I decided I was going to apply for a Masters – I was running in to bowl in a local cricket match, and the idea cemented itself in reality.
By that September I was enrolled on a part-time Writing Studies MA at Edge Hill University under the tutelage of the brilliant poet and critic, Robert Sheppard. Absolutely thrilling Wednesday night seminars on campus at Edge Hill, that almost always culminated in four or five pints in Ormskirk’s quaint and otherworldly The Buck I’Th’ Vine pub, amidst conversation and sharing our joy of the written word. It was something that my week, and my lust for literature, and, if I’m honest, my mental health needed. The very act of being a part of a group of like-minded study folk roused something more than just motivation and a reinvigorated sense of happiness in me.
Robert Sheppard is an inspiring character. At the forefront of the movement sometimes referred to as “linguistically innovative”, he is a sensitive poet with a wide appreciation for all styles and purpose. Even though I write nothing like him, and share very little in terms of approach, he was wonderfully encouraging, and really helped me to understand the craft behind good poetry. He also introduced me to some brilliant writers that were new to me, but have now become flag-bearers on my bookshelf: Lee Harwood, John Ashbery, Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, Frank O’Hara and Gwendoline Riley. I thank him for that, and feel honoured that he is still a friend, and has been involved in The Broken Spine Artist Collective.
In short, my Masters pulled me from a period of rot. Life can do that to you, if you let it. I started reading again, writing again, enjoying and indulging in creativity again. Going to sleep at night is so much more satisfying when you’re a few chapters further in a book. The realisation that you might be, consciously or subconsciously, putting together a collection of poems, or tackling a novel, or scripting a memoir is a satisfaction like no other. My Masters did all of this for me. It put me back on a path with direction – the fact that I write for a living these days can be traced back to those fantastic days of enlightenment and discovery.
If you happen to be weighing it up, I’d say this….just do it.
Paul Robert Mullen, Co-Founding Editor