On Thursday I handed in my final project for my degree in English literature. It marks the end of six years of part-time study with the Open University. It began back in 2010, with a module called Approaching Literature. I was starting my English teacher training the year after and I wanted to have a refresher after finishing my first degree in journalism in 2001.
That first module was wonderful. We studied Shakespeare, Romantic writing, the Realist novel, and literature and gender. I loved it all, so much so that I knew I wanted to continue with another module. The only problem was that I had a busy year of teacher training ahead of me. I put my Open University studies on hold for a year. Between 2011 and 2012, I completed my teacher training at the University of Sheffield, and the minute I’d finished, I signed up to my next module.
This was in creative writing. After so many years of wanting to be a writer, I finally felt that I was doing something about achieving my dream. My tutor Anne Caldwell was amazing and really encouraged me to keep writing, saying that I had a talent, particularly for life writing. I’d never done any life writing before but I really enjoyed it. I gained a first class result for the module, which gave my confidence a real boost. After so many years of not daring to tell anyone of my dream to be a writer, I finally had the confidence to voice my ambitions.
Onto the next module, advanced writing. This included fiction and life writing, but we also looked at writing for television, stage and radio. Again I had a very inspiring tutor who pushed me to develop my writing. It was a tough module, as you’d expect of a level three, but it was worth the hard work. My writing really improved and I achieved another first class result. I was also attending a writing a novel group in Sheffield with novelist Laura Wake, who was also very encouraging.
With the writing group and modules, I had the makings of a portfolio, so used some of the stories I’d written to apply for a place on the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. I’d first looked at this course after graduating in 2001. Back then, I was keen to start working, and I didn’t have the confidence or portfolio to apply for a master’s in writing, even though it’s something I wanted to do. I decided it was something for the future, and began my journalism career instead.
Thirteen years later, in 2014, I was accepted onto the MA Writing and was delighted to be making progress with my creative writing. The only problem was that I’d come so far with the Open University literature degree, gaining 180 credits, that I didn’t want to waste them. I decided that however difficult it would be I would try to keep going with my studies. For the next module, I opted for a level one module, the arts past and present, which included a bit of everything – literature, art history, history.
On the master’s degree, my first module was writing a novel, then contemporary literature, before working on a life writing project. That was the certificate in writing completed. I’ve just handed in the diploma stage, which involved a 40,000 word novel submission.
Alongside this, I decided to make things really hard for myself by enrolling on the Open University nineteenth century novel module. As you’d imagine, this involved a very long reading list. I found it incredibly difficult to juggle a full-time job, a master’s degree and all the reading. I had to be selective about what books I focused on for my exam revision, but the revision paid off. I did really well on this module and it meant that overall I could perhaps hope for a first class result (we’ll see when the results are out).
With five modules completed, I only had to do one more, and it only needed to be a level one to make up the credits. Doing a level one alongside the 40,000 word novel submission would have been manageable, but I decided that I wanted to do a level three instead. This was a module in twentieth century literature. In all my previous studies, I’d never focused on twentieth century literature and it was something I really wanted to explore. I knew it would be incredibly difficult with everything else going on, but I thought what the hell and enrolled anyway.
Also, at this time, I’d started working with two mentors on a life writing project. I gained some funding from EnRich, a local arts charity, and have been working steadily on developing this book-length piece of writing. For my MA, I was working on my 40,000 word piece. I was working full-time. I was running. I was planning a wedding. And then there was the small issue of the twentieth century literature module.
This last year has been hectic! There were times when I thought I would never get to the end and achieve my ambitions. But, in May, I handed in my MA diploma submission. It wasn’t my best piece of writing, part of the first draft of my novel, but I was so pleased to submit. I’m currently keeping my fingers crossed that I pass the diploma so I can move on to the full MA, and complete the novel. After this, my focus was on the final assignments for the Open University, with a final project to re-write the criteria for the Man Booker Prize and select the winner. What a fantastic project to end my degree with!
On Thursday, I submitted. My English Literature degree came to an end. I was emotional, probably because of the hard work and the stress, but also because I was proud of what I’ve done. I’ve completed a degree in English Literature! I can’t quite believe it.
So many things have been put on hold during those six years. Juggling everything has been difficult, but I wouldn’t change it. The degree has been fantastic. I’ve met some wonderful people, read some amazing books, and learned and developed so much academically and in my own writing.
Now it’s all over, I’m looking forward to focusing on my writing. And, after working my way through some very heavy reading lists, I’m looking forward to reading whatever I like. After six years of work, I think I deserve it.