Our Reading Lives

On Going Back to University to be a Writer

I left university in 2012 after four years of reading Law, and I never thought I’d go back. I thought I was done with lectures and reading, writing and researching—but it’s funny how you get drawn back into something almost without thinking about it, when the time comes.

I’ve been writing since I was a small child and felt the thrill of publication for the first time when I was 16. As a little kid, nothing made me happier than making up stories and living them in my head, sometimes for months at a time, trying out different plot points and characters, daydreaming the hours away.

In all the part-time jobs, city moves, and even emigration, writing is the one thing that has stuck with me no matter what, through poky flats and long bus journeys between cities. But my writing has been nonfiction, political, and full of purpose for the past 12 years, driven by real-world events and that jobs I’ve held. The pull back to fiction has been building for a couple of years, this slow burn in my chest and my head that’s pushing me back to making up stories and filling them with richly drawn characters.

I’ve seen bits of the world now—Japan and Korea, Hawaii and France, New York and Mexico. Every place I visit fills me with inspiration and I’m never quite sure what to do with that adrenaline-rush of creativity at the end of a trip. Usually, I file it away in scrapbooks and diaries, unable to do anything too tangible with it. Living in London, museums and galleries abound and a walk down a small alleyway can lead to the middle of Elizabethan England without a moment’s notice. The dome of St. Paul’s rockets to the sky alongside my office in Farringdon, peeking out from behind the grey glass cement of the concrete jungle; a moment of respite in an otherwise dense landscape. There’s just so much to take in, every single day, and I’ve never worked out what to do with it all.

With the building weight of the things I’ve seen and learned, the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met, stories have been drawing back into their midst—and suddenly I found myself on Google in mid-August, searching for a chance to get into a writing programme in London that would challenge me to return to creative writing, demand accountability from me, and push me to be the best writer I can be. I found one at Birkbeck, University of London and lodged my application. An interview later, I found myself with an acceptance letter.

Sitting in a room with 12 other people and discussing books and short stories is now my favourite part of the week. Jotting down notes and thinking about reading as a writer has changed my perspective on the books I swallow each year. Each week, someone holds me accountable for what I write and give me ideas for how to push forward. I’ve been challenged to read things that I always thought would be too complicated or intimidating, and found that I loved them—or that, if I didn’t, I understood where the author was coming from.

Going back to University is absolutely terrifying. I walk into the building and see young people embarking on their first learning experiences and they seem fearless. I don’t remember being fearless, so maybe it’s all a front—but man, it’s scary! They all know where the bathrooms are and how the little swipe-card gates at the entrance work. Better yet, they know where the (multiple) entrances are in the first place!

I’m scared that I won’t be any good at this, but my mother always told me that you’d be better off trying and failing than never trying at all. So…here goes nothing.