In September 2015 I started a PhD in Creative Writing at Birkbeck under the supervision of Julia Bell. Julia and I met many years ago on an Arvon writing course. It was the first that Julia taught, and the first that I attended, having recently left my job at Time Out magazine. We got on well and she was very encouraging. In fact, it was Julia who suggested I study for an MA, which I did soon after (and completed with a distinction and a published novel). Many years passed before we met again. Over lunch, I found myself telling her of an idea for a new novel. She suggested I write it on a PhD, under her supervision. I applied to Birkbeck and was offered a place, and then found myself studying again.
The PhD has been wonderful in lots of ways. My initial novel idea soon died a death, and Julia encouraged me instead to write a kind of hybrid memoir about my relationship with my late father, which I initially resisted. Partly because non-fiction is a new genre for me, but also because I’d felt I’d done that already through my novel. But then, life circumstances meant that I began to feel compelled to revisit parts of my relationship with my father and so I found myself writing personal essays, which I then randomly sent out to various publications, to see if any would bite. When my first essay, The Fog and the Sea, was taken up by Granta, I knew I was on to something.
The PhD combines creative and critical, in two pieces of work. The creative will be of publishable length (around 70-90,000 words), whereas the critical will be more an extended essay (around 20-30,000 words). My hybrid memoir is now complete, titled STARMAN, and combines, an enquiry into my father’s life, addiction and its intergenerational legacy. I have yet to sit down and thrash out the critical piece, but have a year yet to finish it. I’m interested in questions around exposure in writing about the self, and ways that we can objectify our lives.
The most amazing thing that has come out of the PhD, though, has been its introduction to teaching in HE. I did a teacher’s training course at Birkbeck and took my own class of undergraduates. Realising how much I loved it, I soon after landed an Associate Lecturer role at Bath Spa University. I now teach both HE and have set up London Lit Lab with friend and fellow author, Zoe Gilbert. We teach private courses and mentor writers across the country. We teach beginners and intermediates, both in fiction and creative nonfiction.