I had considered my world to be a sort of paradise – a beautiful loving wife, a smallholding home and two wonderful children. Okay so we didn’t have much money and things weren’t easy, but hey…something will turn up.
Now toddlers and babies are hard work. They’re hard work for two parents. When one of the infants has a disability and one of the parents is absent for a large portion of the week, the work is multiplied to a dangerous level. Dashing back home to West Yorkshire every Wednesday night, only to return to Newcastle very early on Thursday morning hardly brought any relief or sanity back into my wife’s life. No sooner had we got the children bathed, changed, fed and to sleep, then we’d grab something to eat before collapsing into bed for some brief sleep before Charlie called time on that rare pleasure. Domestic jobs became prioritised, the less important ones sidelined for the weekend which in due course was consumed and passed in a blur, only for the whole process to start again on the Monday at 05.00. There was no respite.
As Catherine put it, “Life was hard enough before. What were we thinking? Why would we go and make it ten times harder?” She had a point. Now we had an income but no life in which to spend it.
Additionally Catherine did not like being alone. Secluded 200 year old properties can be idyllic during the day but after dark can take on a more sinister demeanour, especially when you’re the type of person who’s scared of clowns.
On the upside, I had moved off Eddie’s boat and into much drier accommodation. I was now the proud owner of the only Citroen Xsara estate with a toilet, curtains and a 240V electricity system. I was getting a few funny looks as I brushed my teeth into the gutter on Kensington Terrace each morning but overall it was an improvement.
As for the job, well essentially that was great. I was at the forefront of a close team doing something innovative and challenging – risky even. The trouble was that the strain of trying to divide my time between two places was beginning to take its toll and neither of us was happy. The only solution we could see was to rent a house in Newcastle, move up through the week and move back at the weekend. Surely that had to be easier?
In preparation for last week’s job interview, I read articles about the social benefits of writing residencies in prisons, re-read my application and re-read the brief they sent me. There was a wealth of information on the Writers In Prisons Network website and the interview pack they sent me contained sample questions as well as a detailed run-down of how the day would go. On the morning of the interview, I had a friend mock-interview me.
Unfortunately I did not get the job.
Now there are two types of leak on a boat. There is the leak below the waterline where seawater enters the boat and there is the leak above the waterline where rainwater enters the boat. One might imagine that the former is the more serious but this is seldom the case unless it is a catastrophically large leak. Seawater leaks do no more than accumulate a little water in the bilge and generate some damp. They can be managed by occasional bilge pumping. Rainwater leaks however are the real enemy that transform life afloat from mild hardship to abject misery. Everything gets soaked. Books soak up water and expand like toilet rolls that have been accidentally dropped down the loo, computers, radios and televisions commit hari-kari in hours, bedding doubles in weight and mugs taken from the shelf are found to be already filled.
Eddie’s boat had both kinds of leak.
It was just about possible to find a position where one could sleep without being dripped on by moulding one’s body into the right shape and not moving all night. Even then you have to be prepared for the ‘stealth leak’. This is the leak that accumulates on a ledge or other interim surface and builds until its pregnant meniscus rises to the limits of captivity, the surface tension ruptures and a torrent of cold water descends onto the sleeper/computer/book below. A joy to experience.
I thought I could withstand this existence for three nights a week but the combination of discomfort, lack of sleep and too much driving meant that every time I returned to the boat my resilience was eroded. The damp was permeating my body and it felt as though I had entered an accelerated aging programme. The boat was turning me into Eddie.
It was clear that I would have to make alternative arrangements, but there was another problem – trouble was brewing in paradise.
This morning I received a welcome phone call, informing me I’ve made the interview shortlist for a position as a Writer in Residence for a prison. When I applied for the job back in May, I put a lot of thought into the application because i) I really wanted the job (always a good start) and ii) I felt certain I’d be good at it.
Now that I actually have the interview, I’m nervous. Read the rest of this entry »
Calling all international students, you have until June 21st to enter the inaugural International Student Short Story Competition! Students from anywhere in the world can enter, providing they are studying at a UK university, or have graduated within the past two years. Entrants can write about any aspect of their experience of studying abroad, such as the challenges of adapting to life in a different climate and culture, the ups and downs of ‘international living’, culture clashes, coping with food/cuisine in a new country, homesickness, love (or the lack of it), social lives, job hunts and struggles to make ends meet.
Run by the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and judged by award-winning writer Jackie Kay, first prize is a whopping £1,000, second Prize is £500 and third Prize: £200 so pick your pens up, get tapping on the keyboard and give it a go.
Full submission guidelines are on the NCLA website.
This Thursday is the ‘Creating Friction’ conference: the UK’s first interdisciplinary creative practice postgraduate conference. Working with steering committee members Isabella Streffen from Fine Art and fellow Creative Writer Jane Thomas has been both fun and useful. When we started, we had no idea that chat between Creative Writing and Fine Art PhD students would throw up so much common ground to grumble about and share tips over, as well as highlighting future networking possibilities. Read the rest of this entry »
When I tell people I’m a writer, they ask me what my novel is about and if I have a publisher. When I tell people I’m doing a PhD in creative writing, I’m usually asked how a creative discipline functions within a traditionally academic environment. Actually, people usually ask if I think creative writing can be taught. For my answer, read this recent article in the Guardian Review by Rachel Cusk and pretend I’m there, reading it out loud and passing it off as my own words.
As a writer, there’s a clear – albeit financially unrealistic – career path: write a book then publish it. Repeat ad infinitum. As a creative practise-based academic, the boundaries over what I’m writing and why I’m writing it are much less clear, as are my thoughts about where I want to go next, and how I want to get there.
My PhD has prepared me for a career in academia but, having gone straight from my undergraduate MA Hons in English Literature at St Andrews University to an MLitt in SELLL here at Newcastle University, and then staying on for a Creative Writing PhD, I feel like I’m due a break from foot-notes.
So, for the first time since I started my PhD, I’m looking around the recession-scarred landscape to see what jobs both interested in and qualified for and trying to work out what I want to do once I’ve submitted my thesis
Over the next twelve months I’ll be finishing the writing-up process, going through my viva, and looking for paid employment. I’ll be blogging here regularly about the ups and downs of career hunting as a writer and a researcher, and what I’m doing in terms of professional development.
Viccy Adams is a final year Creative Writing PhD student at Newcastle University, funded by the AHRC. Her research examines the intersections between single-author short story collections and novels, with a particular focus on the contemporary British publishing industry.