15 October 2013

Damian Barr (Sociology and English Literature, 1998, Bowland, MA Contemporary Sociology 2000) reflects on his recent writing successes and the decision to give university a second try.

I was a drop-out. A great big drop-out, all the dropper for having over-achieved at school-six Highers and Certificate of Sixth Year Studies, thank you very much. Napier University accepted me on to their journalism degree after I sneaked a peek at the interviewer's paperwork thus proving my investigative powers. After a year of media law, teeline shorthand and writing stories even my mum wouldn’t cut out and keep, I dropped out.

That was it for me and university. I spent the summer making my friends envious - soon they would return to essays and I would remain at ease. I did very little. I started full-time at the Chinese restaurant where I'd been a waiter. Did I even get a bit fat?

That lost summer is a time I don't want to think too much about, but I keep returning to it. It's what happened next-what happened after the end of my memoir Maggie & Me, my story of growing up near Glasgow in the 1980s. I wrote it after leaving the Times and it came out the very week Thatcher died; almost suspiciously fortuitous. The Sunday Times made it their Memoir of the Year and it was a Radio Four Book of the Week. It catapulted me on the Pink List of the 100 most influential LGTB people in the UK and I won Stonewall Writer of the Year.

All of this was unimaginable that summer. As all my friends packed to return to campus I rationalised that I had it good, I had it easy. The day my best friend, Heather, returned to Lancaster - Fylde college - I picked up the phone and called Clearing. I spoke to a tutor in the English and Sociology departments and the Secretary of Bowland College and by the end of those calls I knew Lancaster was for me. I couldn't afford to have photos taken for my student id but the secretary, Diane, assured me it was ok to cut myself out of a family wedding photo. When I arrived she threw her arms around me as did her colleague Pam. Discreetly, hardship funds were found. Advice was given and taken. I sprinkled glitter over my eyrie in Bowland Tower and filled the shelves with books from the library.

Term began and my new life with it. And what happens next is for the next memoir, or maybe the one after that.