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What Our MA and PhD Students Say About Studying Creative Writing

Catriona Child, Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing, 2008-10

Photo of Catriona ChildMy name is Catriona Child, and I live in Edinburgh. I have a degree in English and have always loved reading. I think it’s inevitable that if you love books and love to read, then eventually you will try your hand at writing your own. I’m currently working on a novel and have been developing this throughout the MA, as well as writing a few short stories.

I have found the distance learning MA to be very worthwhile. The tutors give great feedback, and I feel that my writing has really improved since I started the MA. The other students are friendly and enthusiastic, and it’s a joy being able to interact with such talented writers.

John Corless, Distance Learning MA student, 2006-2008, and Creative Writing PhD student 2009 – present

Photo of John CorlessI live and write in County Mayo in the west of Ireland. I completed an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster (part-time, distance learning,) in 2008 which I thoroughly enjoyed and I’m delighted to have been accepted onto the PhD programme.

I write poetry, drama and prose. My debut poetry collection Are you ready?, was published by Salmon in summer 2009. I have had many stories, poems and other pieces published in magazines and collections over the past few years.

My PhD project is a novel set in a present day rundown monastery in an affluent part of Dublin where nine ageing nuns pray all day. One nun wants to gain control of the community and build a new monastery and build-up the order. Along the way she meets many obstacles.

The distance learning MA worked extremely well for me. The online conferences and the summer-school were some of the best experiences of my life. I’m hoping this forum will match my past experience of Lancaster. I’ll give it my best shot at any rate.

Scott Daly, Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing, 2008-10

Photo of Scott DalyMy name is Scott Daly, I’m 31, I’m from Swansea in South Wales and I’m just starting the second year of the distance learning creative writing MA. I decided to study online because I live and teach abroad, in South Korea when I applied, New Zealand when I started and now Qatar for the second year. I’m currently in the middle of my second novel, and have been using the feedback from the MA to help develop it.

Through the course I’ve received ongoing feedback on my novel from my tutor (Brian McCabe) and the other students in my group. I think the course differs from some in that there isn’t a curriculum as such, it is purely feedback and commentary based so is probably better for those who feel that they want guidance with an existing project rather than to start from scratch. I had a very positive experience in year one and expect that year two will be the similar, if a little more intense. Having a tutor who is familiar with your work in progress and can offer advice and criticism (as well as encouragement) is something I’ve found very helpful at this stage in my development and being able to engage with peers of different ages, countries and cultures who are serious about writing is just as beneficial. The summer school was also a good experience and I would recommend the MA to anyone who feels that they are fairly comfortable with their writing but could benefit from intelligent input to help it grow.

Sarah Dobbs, Creative Writing PhD student, 2007 - present

Photo of Sarah DobbsI am currently in my third year of a PhD in Creative Writing, supervised by Graham Mort and Lee Horsley. I am interested in Reader Response Theory, the dialogue between author and reader and how both can construct and navigate the gaps in a text producing, potentially, an ever-changing variety of individual interpretations upon each active engagement with the text…. I have just acquired an agent for my PhD novel, Killing Daniel, and other work critiqued at Lancaster has been broadcast on the BBC, published in Enigma and shown as part of Measure's art installation with Conrad Shawcross.

Before embarking upon the PhD I remember Graham Mort saying how difficult the process was, both emotionally and intellectually. At the time, I thought, But I can handle it! I'm still adamant about that but Graham wasn't wrong. The last two years have been incredibly challenging, but I feel that ultimately this is the process that will equip me for my future career, whether that's writer/academic or, most probable, a combination of both. There is a lot of collective experience in this department and people who want you to do well. If you can access that, apply yourself and are prepared to have every concept you hold true demolished and reconstructed, then you should definitely consider Lancaster.
Read the whole of Sarah’s profile in our Creative Writing PhD Student Profiles section.

Geraldine Green, Creative Writing PhD student and AHRC Award holder, 2006 - present

Photo of Geraldine GreenHere's what I do for a living: I'm a published poet, I run creative writing workshops as a freelance. I mentor and teach creative writing part time at the University of Cumbria; tutor on Cont. Ed. creative writing courses, Lancaster University, both face to face and online distance learning; give poetry readings, mainly in the UK and north America, tho' I have read in Greece and Italy. I also enjoy organising and MC-ing poetry readings at the Bluebell Bookshop Penrith. My PhD is an 'Exploration of Identity and Environment through Poetry'
I chose Lancaster University for a couple of reasons: one, it's where I studied and enjoyed my MA in Creative Writing Poetry; its Creative Writing Department has a good reputation; it's also convenient for me to attend supervisory sessions every 2-3 weeks, tho due to work and personal matters I can't get down to Lancaster more than this. Email contact with my co-Supervisors, Dr. Graham Mort and Dr. Lee Horsley, has been excellent and supportive.
I would recommend undertaking a PhD through Lancaster University to others. Ensure that you take time to consider both the course and supervisor/s, as the PhD experience is intense and time consuming, enriching, demanding and exciting! Developing a close study relationship with one's PhD supervisor/s is critical - thankfully, my experience has been positive and expectations have been met.

Geraldine was also a student in 2003-05 on our campus-based MA in Creative Writing, in which she gained a Distinction. Here is what she wrote in 2005: “My decision to take an MA in Creative Writing was made after enjoying a BA in Imaginative Writing/Literature Life & Thought, completed 2000. I'd never written poetry before; most of my adult life was spent working in offices. I'd read poetry widely for many years and fell into writing it with passion. I needed to meet other writers to expand and explore this passion and to sharpen my skills as a critic. I was impressed with what I'd researched about the tutors and the course, so decided to take an MA at Lancaster. I enjoyed my experience at Lancaster and came away with a deep sense of achievement. The space was a safe one in which to take writing to be workshopped and to help others develop theirs. This sharing was, for me, one of the greatest delights. I'm also delighted that my poetry collection, written on the course, has been accepted for publication next Spring.” [Geraldine’s collection, Passio, was published by Flarestack in April 2006]

Christina Lloyd, Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing, 2006-08

Photo of Christina LloydI applied to Lancaster University's Distance M.A. In Creative Writing because I knew it would give me the structure and guidance I needed to take my writing to the next level. I have no reservations in recommending the programme. The tutorials and online conferences were productive and extremely helpful in advancing my understanding of poetry. The department's high standards ensured that my craftsmanship improved.

Thanks to the master's I am now teaching English and Literature in the San Francisco Bay Area. Several of the poems I submitted and workshopped during the course have been published in literary journals. Enroling was one of the best personal and professional decisions I have made.

Cath Nichols, PhD Student, 2006 - present

Photo of Cath NicholsI'm in my final year of a PhD looking at Poetry and Radio. I enjoy performance, and this 'out loud' aspect of poetry has led me to consider the possibilites of writing for radio. My portfolio is likely to be a sequence of poems, a script and / or recordings. I am aiming for a 50/50 split on the portfolio/thesis. My supervisor is Prof. Paul Farley.

I completed an MA at Lancaster in 2007. My first year of the PhD produced two characters exploring particular griefs through specific locations - New York and the north-west of England. I've also created a five minute radio script 'Frog Love' about a girl's unrequited love for a gay frog (!) 'Frog Love' was made and recorded on an Arvon course in 2008. My most recent work is around myth and mermaids - particularly the way that these hybrid creatures are permitted sad endings, in contrast to the usual happy-ever-after of most fairytales. My general themes, also present in earlier work, appear to be grief, lack of voice and hybridity/transformation. My poetry collection is My Glamorous Assistant (Headland, 2007), and my pamphlet, Tales of Boy Nancy (Driftwood, 2005).

I chose Lancaster because I was looking for a campus-based PhD in poetry with different opportunities to those offered in nearby Manchester and Liverpool. The opportunties have been fantastic: my supervisor is internationally renowned; I have read for the Wordsworth Trust in the Lakes; I have worked on projects with the city's litfest and been published by its imprint Flax. I've also gained teaching experience here with a bursary that offsets my fees. I receive additional financial support from the university's college funds, the Peel Award and the Alumni Award.

John Rippey, Creative Writing PhD student, 2007 - present

Photo of John RippeyI have lived most of my adult life in Tokyo. (I am originally from the U.S.) My particular literary love is poetry. I have become increasingly interested recently in the formal dimension of writing, in those elements of organization that align and combine to construct the poem as the writer works at expressing something of personal significance. I am also vitally interested in the longer poem and am currently writing a poetic sequence which is set in everyday life and in which the stanzas are sonnets. The critical side of my research involves reflection on the poetics and craft issues implicated in this creative endeavor.

Studying in the department has exceeded my expectations – high as those were on entering the program. I am sure that I am fortunate and privileged to have been accepted into a community that is actively and rigorously committed to helping me develop as a writer – and one that succeeds, at the same time, in reaching out with a warm, caring, and generous atmosphere. The department is dynamic and passionate. The mentoring is so effective it is mysterious. As a distance learning student, I appreciate, as well, the recognition and treatment as a member of full standing within the writing community. To anyone hoping to funnel inspiration more fully into language, wanting to fulfill more potential as a writer, I would recommend the department without reservation.

Val Waterhouse, Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing, 2006-08

Photo of Val Waterhouse'Can writing be taught?' This question is so frequent that it has become a cliché -- but after completing a two-year DLMA at Lancaster, my answer is a resounding ‘yes!’

Before starting the course, I had worked for several years as a journalist -- but had only written a handful of fictional short stories, which I was too embarrassed to show to anyone. Looking at those early stories again now, it seems fortunate that no one read them. But during the course, the discipline of writing regularly, combined with feedback from my tutors (Michael Carson and Brian McCabe) and fellow students, dramatically improved my technique. Specifically, I learned to eliminate the journalistic technique of ‘telling' and to develop a more precise and visual style.

Unlike many MA's , the Lancaster course has no prescriptive exercises or set agendas. Each student generates their own syllabus, working on what inspires or interests them. This, I believe, leads to less homogeneity among the apprentice writers -- and to the development of a strong, individual voice.

At times, the going was tough. Being a distance learning student demands a high level of self-motivation. Inevitably, students face setbacks, difficulties and disappointments and have to overcome them more-or-less alone. Receiving negative feedback on a story you have put your heart and soul into can be a draining experience. But it strengthens your resolve -- and your writing, too.

Of course, there are also highs, moments when it all seems worth it! One of mine was on learning that a story I had written in the first year was runner-up in a Fish contest. It subsequently appeared in the Fish Anthology, 2008.

Since leaving the course, I haven't achieved as much as I'd have liked -- but I have the satisfaction of seeing the gap between the ideas in my head and the stories on the page narrowing daily. I am currently concentrating on writing Flash Fiction and on a longer non-fiction work, inspired by a story written during the course. Oh -- and as a bonus, I believe my journalistic writing has improved, as well!

Read what some of our past PhD Students say.


Student Journals

Cake publishes poetry, flash fiction and reviews with work from established poets and newcomers alike. Go to Cake»

Share research and make connections with other researchers. Go to the Luminary»


The Flash Journal is an undergraduate run termly journal which publishes fiction, poetry, critical and hybrid work by current Lancaster undergrads. Go to Flash»

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