Jim Campbell

MA Creative Writing, 2016

Jim Campbell

The input of the visiting fellows, all of them published writers, is hugely valuable. We had to read their books and they gave us assignments to do in class. I had to write suddenly in class for 15 minutes and then read it out – I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with that, and I actually liked it and I miss it when semesters are over!

Before enrolling on the MA Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes, I had worked as a high-school teacher, teaching English and History in a variety of countries, ending up at the European School just outside of Culham, Oxfordshire. After that I chaired the leadership and public policy programmes at the University of Oxford, working predominantly with international students and mediating on educational issues.

I wrote poetry as a student at Oxford University and had a book called First Time Lightly published by London’s Fortune Press. After a gap of many years I decided that I’d like to get published again, having spent most of the time writing reports for schools and the city council having spent 20 years as a local councilor, including a year where I was very privileged to be the Lord Mayor of Oxford. After stepping down from work I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was over 70 and thought I’d like to do something with my spare time, and one of my very good friends had done the MA Creative Writing programme at Oxford Brookes and said that it’s really good.

I wanted to see if I could still write creatively. I didn’t particularly know if I wanted to carry on with poetry or to try other forms of writing - academic or not. I’d once tried a novel many years ago and I got nowhere so I thought I might do other styles of writing, and luckily the first semester was quite open. The last few months I’ve been focussed on poetry again, and I’ve had two tutors who are very good published poets: Hannah Lowe and Emma Jones. That was hugely important for me, knowing that I was working with really good poets - and they got me writing. I think I’ve learnt a lot from them, and of course from my fellow students. There’s a group of us who meet maybe every 6 weeks and have some cake, coffee, and submit work beforehand and comment on it. The result is that yes, I would like to be published - and that’s what I have been working towards. In the last couple of months of my course I have had poems published in the Oxford Magazine and The Spectator. I also had a poem "highly commended" by the Poetry Book Society and included in their 2015 student anthology.

I remember going to the induction and looking around and thinking: gosh, what’s this all about, being a student again. But even then I remember meeting two of the students who were on the programme with me, who were so friendly and I thought: this must be good. And I have to say, although obviously the teaching is very good too, the real strength of the programme for me has been some of the fellow students. We are, as a group on the whole, friendly but critical. I think that’s invaluable, and I think that’s been stimulating. I’m the oldest, not by a stretch though. What’s interesting is that the people doing the programme are quite a varied bunch between part-time and full time, there were people aged from 20 right through to 60, with me being 70.

The input of the visiting fellows, all of them published writers, is hugely valuable. We had to read their books and they gave us assignments to do in class. I had to write suddenly in class for 15 minutes and then read it out – I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with that, and I actually liked it and I miss it when semesters are over! That was very useful for me, to get me thinking sideways and up and downwards and inside-outwards. For our major project we have to choose two of the visiting fellows to work with, and I’ve chosen two poets: Kate Clanchy and Patience Agbabi. We also hear from publishers and agents and other published writers, who give us information and advice about getting published.

The two modules that were most effective for me were Voice, which was with Hannah Lowe, where we looked at different voices in literature and then used what we’d learnt in an assignment. We’d read a book and then try and emulate that voice or reply to that voice with a different voice, and that was really good. And then with Emma Jones, we worked specifically on poetry. It was lovely as our group worked well off of each other, I was worried about the informality at first but she got us all writing – I’m really indebted to both of them.

When it comes to my personal work I’ve definitely learnt some things not to do – for example in poetry, people often don’t want conclusions. They want to make up their own minds, not be told what my mind is. After having been a teacher all my life – telling students what to do – that’s been very very valuable.

The enthusiasm of the course lead, Jim Hawes, is great – and whatever Morag Joss, associate lecturer, says, is always worth listening to. Overall I’m very pleased with the programme. The sessions are two and a half hours where you’re never sure what’s going to happen, and you nearly always learn something new. I would absolutely recommend this programme. I’ve kept a group of friends and fellow writers for these last two years, which is a very valuable part of the course.