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What Some of Our Past Students Say About Studying for a PhD in Creative Writing
Martin Goodman, PhD 2007
The rubric for the PhD called for a ‘publishable’ novel to form part of the thesis, but the process at Lancaster goes way beyond the bounds of honing something into commercial acceptability. I’d already worked out how to do that. For a PhD I really reckon you should raise the bar and refuse to play safe. With experienced writers and readers in charge, ready to give quality feedback through different stages of the writing, you really don’t need to write within a comfort zone. I gave myself the command: ‘Don’t censor yourself.” I couldn’t not write something because it might upset or others. Even so, I stayed as prone to smugness and self-satisfaction as anyone.
Many were the times I thought the job was complete only to be told to dig deeper, to go further. Without the PhD process, the novel would not have become the completed whole I now feel it to be. Then the hard part began, shaping the expository element of the thesis. In writing the novel, I was encouraged into finding my, and the novel’s, own voice. That expository element felt more like writing like someone else, and adopting an academic persona. I wrote scores of thousands of words, all intriguing in themselves, that got dumped. It was at times a baffling and painful process, but ultimately worthwhile.
The work saw me prepared for my viva for a start, well armoured to engage in battle in an academic arena. It’s natural to be shy about articulating the creative process, but once that shyness is overcome and new skills learned the articulacy is a real bonus. I also supplemented my own teaching practice from appreciating the ways my own supervisors, Graham Mort and Lee Horsley, taught me. The teaching process was refreshingly collegial.
What’s happened since? I teach English and Creative Writing at Plymouth University. And that PhD novel? Set seventeen years into a world in which no girls have been born, largely narrated by the gay male twin of the last girl, Ectopia gave my agent at the time hallucinations and had him up in the night sinking whisky sours. It’s now with a tougher agent. The book is not an easy sell, but it was never meant to be. Lancaster brought it into being and honoured it, and that was very precious.
In 2007 Martin published another novel, Slippery When Wet, and an acclaimed biography of Haldane, Suffer and Survive: The Extreme Life of J. S. Haldane. He has just been appointed from his lectureship at Plymouth to a Chair in Creative Writing at Hull University, where part of his new duties will be to direct the Philip Larkin Centre. Click here to visit Martin's website.
Ray Robinson, PhD 2006
The Creative Writing Ph.D. at Lancaster University has offered me a fantastic opportunity to explore the craft and context of my writing in depth over a period of three years. I was already a practicing writer, and had also successfully completed an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster in 1999, but I felt that I needed a new challenge and that I was ready to produce a body of work which would, hopefully, make an original contribution to learning and knowledge in creative writing.
Half way through my second year of Ph.D. study, Electricity was accepted for publication by Picador (released in trade paperback on March 17th 2006). I feel incredibly lucky to be in this situation after years of struggle and rejection and self-doubt. For me the apotheosis of Graham Mort’s excellent supervision is not only the fact that I am now published, but that his influence over the past three years is continuing to shape my development, and my new creative work.
Click here for a more detailed account of Ray Robinson's novel Electricity, which was published on 17th March. Click here for the Guardian review of Electricity. Electricity was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (alongside Cormac McCarthy - one of Robinson’s major influences) and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. It has also been optioned by Stone City Films. His second novel, The Man Without, was published by Picador in July 2008.
Rebecca Irvine, PhD 2009
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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