In September 2015 I started a PhD in Creative Writing at Birkbeck under the supervision of Julia Bell http://www.juliabell.net/about-ba/. 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.
It’s been great so far. Like any new creative project, it’s taken me a while to refine my subject, but the road is beginning to open up to me. Julia has been keen that I 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 it’s difficult to write about something so close to home. But I’ve been dabbling in this new medium and have already had an essay accepted to be published by Granta (autumn 2016). I am also fascinated by Life Writing in its various forms.
The PhD combines creative and critical, in two pieces of work. The creative will be of publishable length and standard (around 90,000 words), whereas the critical will be more an extended essay (around 30,000 words). Julia will advise me on the creative, and a more academic supervisor on the critical. The critical component demands a lot of reading, and I’m still struggling with the concept of work time equalling crawling into bed with a good novel or collection of essays. That’s not to say it isn’t challenging. A PhD must contribute something new to academic debate, which is no easy feat.
I also enrolled on the PhD so I can teach in higher education. Birkbeck offers teachers’ training once you’ve upgraded (which I hope to do in the Spring of 2017), and then I can think about applying for work. In the meantime, a friend and PhD colleague at Chichester, Zoe Gilbert http://mindandlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/ and I have set up London Lit Lab http://www.londonlitlab.co.uk/ teaching creative writing courses from a lovely cafe in Shoreditch. We’ve so far taught a beginners’ and intermediate course and have a number of exciting courses booked for next year, including one on Life Writing and one on the influence of the folk tale. I also teach creative writing to a group of recovering addicts in Hackney, which I love.