May 15, 2005

Portrait of the Artist.

George Orwell has said many interesting and perspective things in his writing, which have great social and political resonance, and impact. However, in reading through his essays, the sentence I most related to was the opening paragraph to his essay, Why I write, in which he says, “from a very early age I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but did so with a consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books” (Orwell, 1). Erase “seventeen and twenty four” and insert “twelve and sixteen”, and that, in brief, is the history of my attitude towards writing. When I was very young, I wrote several stories, few of which were ever finished. These included a continuation of both The Little Princess, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, which I still have, and treasure. My one finished piece that I wrote when I was about ten, was a tale from the Arabian Nights, that I called “The Life of Hemsetherus”, in which I came up with some of the most bizarre names and plot twists! And yet, I’d like to think that one day, maybe I could come back to this, and re-write it, in what I would hope, would be a more sophisticated way. However, high school began, and I spent the next six years or so determined that I would not follow a career path based on English Literature. I ranged from wanting to be archaeologist, to being a vet, to being a historian, to being a lawyer. I refused to write, knowing, perhaps, that if I did so, I’d fall into the abyss and never get out again. But, I think a part of me always knew I was fighting the inevitable. Not only was English in my blood, but also it was always far and away my best class, both in the sense that I always got high marks, and it was the one class that I always enjoyed, without fail.

I can’t remember when I made the decision, but suddenly, sat infront of me was my UCAS form, filled out with four applications to do English, and two to do English and Creative Writing. Where they had come from, I had no idea, but I like to think of it as my inner self, knowing instinctively what I wanted to spend the foreseeable future studying. As for the creative writing components, I don’t think I ever held up much realistic hope to get in. For a start, since I was younger, I had done very little writing. I attended a weeklong course at Ty Newydd, Wales, at the end of lower sixth, but that had been it. The course opened my eyes to writing, especially poetry, and convinced me that perhaps I did have a talent. But it was a talent that I did not believe would ever actually get me anywhere, nothing that was out of the ordinary. And yet, here I was, applying to the one of the most prestigious courses in the country.

It wasn’t until after I received my offer that I began to realise the importance of what I had decided to do. As I struggled to make what, then, seemed like the impossible decision of deciding between English and Creative Writing, and just a straight English degree, I slowly became aware of the significance of the fact that I had received this offer, from this university. As I read more about the course, and I as I re-read my own work, I knew, with absolute certainly, that I was meant to come here. If ever there was such a thing as fate, it was at this point that she intervened in my life, and brought me to the Warwick Writing Programme.

The first seminar was on our third day here, at ten in the morning. I walked down from Westwood, the sun was shining and it was a lovely autumn day. I was the first to arrive in the seminar room, and went round opening windows, which were closed the minute the next person entered. I don’t remember who it was, or what I thought of them. Once again, time skipped, and suddenly, I was sat in a room of strange people, and a man called Michael Hulse was talking to us. I think Fresher’s week is probably a blur for most people, and most of it certainly is for me. But I vividly remember the following week’s seminar. I remember Joe reading out his sonnet, and I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach, as I heard how’d he’d tied the words together to create something that was beautiful, and rhythmic, and everything that I didn’t feel my sonnet was. I spent the rest of the seminar praying that Michael wouldn’t ask me to read mine out, and he didn’t. But that seminar gave me purpose, determination, and I knew that never again would I almost beg to not have to read out my writing. The next week, and the week after that, I worked tirelessly on my poems, life writing, fiction and non-fiction, until I produced something that I knew was beyond my best. With each week I grew with confidence, and my writing got better. But one of the most valuable lessons that I learnt after that first seminar was that each of us has own style of writing, our own trademark features, and none are better than the other, they are just different.

I think to begin with, as is natural, I was slightly intimidated by my fellow students on the course, but that didn’t stop me wanting to get to know them. Within a few weeks we’d become fast friends, and I was in the centre of one of the strongest friendship groups ever, which was made up of people who were all very like me, had the same interests and passions. Now, I cannot imagine my life, let alone my writing, without them. Everything I write is somehow influenced by them; whether it is because we have had a conversation about a particular form, or style, or whether the subject matter is somehow related them, or because they have read a draft and helped me amend it. We work very well together, helping each other with critism and advise. If I was asked what was one of the best aspects of this course, I would answer, that because it is so small, the people on it (and I am including the tutors in this) form a close community that quickly learn to play off each other, and use the network of writers to their literary advantage.

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