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Always learning.

When I posted in 2017, I told you I had enrolled on an MA course. Happily, I graduated in 2018 with an MA in Creative Writing, despite some challenges. I enjoy learning and the academic world, so I thought the natural next step would be a PhD. I am a researcher at heart.

The first issue was actually finding a university that offered online research opportunities. It may surprise you to learn that inclusivity doesn’t include everyone – it surprised me. Organisations are keen to encourage those with physical or mental challenges to participate (which is great) but don’t always consider those whose challenge is actually getting to a place to study. Telecommunication is good (although, again, won’t suit everyone) but many universities actually require students to physically attend at least once a term. Even once a year is too much for some people. Sadly, conditions like ME and anxiety don’t give you time off to attend uni. I’m using those as they are the conditions that I’m familiar with – there are many, many others. I can only write about this from my own experience.

I found a university that ticked all the boxes.  What next? A research proposal. Neither of my previous courses prepared me for a PhD application. I don’t know anyone, personally, who has studied at this level so turned to Google. I found it lacking, for once. I felt like people like me probably shouldn’t be trying to infiltrate academia and that it must be knowledge passed on like hereditary titles, to those in the middle or upper classes.  I cobbled something together, after reading that a proposal is simply stating the direction you’d like your research to take; the supervisor would guide you and, as you progress, you will fine tune it. 

I was invited, by email, to attend an interview. Another hurdle. At this point they knew I suffered from ME, so I explained that I had difficulty in travelling. They kindly agreed to a telephone interview, which I stumbled my way through (it wasn’t a good communication day and I think I overused the word ‘thingy’). Apparently, I got my point across and I was asked to narrow down the focus of my research (as I’d expected). My potential supervisor was friendly and I think she understood my strengths and limitations. I was thrilled, as I know how hard it is to be accepted on a research degree course.

As time went on, I heard nothing more. It felt silly to email them and ask when I’d get more details (I had funding to apply for). Weeks became months. The supervisor had taken a sabbatical and then asked for more information, which I provided. Still nothing. I corresponded with someone else, who acted as a liaison between me and the potential supervisor. Nothing. I emailed at the beginning of September and received an Out-of-Office reply – that person had retired (no mention of that). I sent an email to the Admissions office and was finally told that they’d now decided my research was not robust enough. I was told by several people that I had four worthy projects within my initial proposal, so I was gobsmacked. There was no offer to help me pinpoint the proposal that would work for them so I assume they didn’t want to work with me. Again, it’s just an assumption because I have no-one to ask. I googled ‘working class PhD’ and was really disheartened by what I read. I’d hoped to be inspired but it seems like it’s somewhat of a no-man’s land: considered elitist by family/friends and not elite enough by colleagues/peers.

My disappointment turned to annoyance. There are few PhD opportunities; fewer if you’re from the wrong background. There are fewer still if you have any kind of condition that limits your physical attendance at the university (while they still claim to be disability-friendly). It feels like organisations need to be educated on the fact that we, the limited, exist and want to learn. In the days of computers and tech, it should be easier than ever. I’m applying somewhere else. They’ve made it clear that they prefer students to visit the campus, but there was a note of a ‘But…’ I don’t want special treatment. I want to be able to have the same opportunities as a standard applicant. And if I fail, I’ll do so on my own merit or lack thereof!

 

 


All new!

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog and WP has changed a lot since then. I might make a mistake (or many). I’m going to try and blog more regularly, particularly about my trials and tribulations with higher educations. This is just a test post, to see if I understand the WP tools, so I’ll speak to you again soon. Keep your fingers crossed that this works!


Reflections

This year has passed by in the blink of an eye – it doesn’t seem long since last New Year’s Eve. I always like to reflect on the year gone by, but I don’t really want to dwell on this one: it has been a nightmare. I wish you could switch the year off and on again at midnight, to reset things and make everything ok, but sadly, it’s just not possible.

I generally try to stay positive but I’m going to struggle to find them for 2017. It began with my in-laws being hospitalised and, a week in, we lost my mother-in-law. That left us to try and get the best possible care for my father-in-law and, let me tell you, it was not easy. There are obstacles thrown in to your path and you suddenly have to become an expert in elderly care. You also have to find the courage to stand your ground and a voice you didn’t think you had! You also have your eyes opened as to the lack of dementia support. Luckily, we fought and got him the best care but, sadly, we lost him last month. It was a release for him but a loss for us – a generation of the family. There’s still a lot to sort out, I’m sure. The Elf Walk was a great way to honour Arthur and I hope we can all do it again in 2018 – it raised valuable funds for The Alzheimer’s Society.

Even our dog had dementia, and we dedicated a lot of time to caring for her. Lots of people will read that and roll their eyes. I feel sorry for those people. We loved our dog like a child (nobody can quantify that) and when her day came, we did what we could to make it as easy as possible for her. It was three months ago and we miss her. She left a hole bigger than her size.

My grandad had a fall down the stairs a few weeks ago and is being cared for in hospital. Well-cared for, thankfully. That left us to care for my grandma as the council is too short-staffed to provide full care. The family is drained but what other option is there? I hate to use the term ‘Tory Britain’, but I detest our current government and I wonder if 2018 will bring our first workhouse (cleverly named, but a workhouse all the same).

Foolishly, despite all of these things going on, I embarked on an MA. What a fool. I’d love to say that all the factors above contributed to my poor feedback but I’m just not engaged in the course. Dare I say that I’m lazy or not clever enough? I want my own voice, rather than that of an educational establishment. I’ll never conform, so I can’t imagine that 2018 will bring me a graduation ceremony. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with saying that I’m not good enough – writing, art, etc. It doesn’t mean that I’ll stop doing those things…

I want to look for some positives for 2018 but I just don’t want to feel the pressure to achieve anything. I think we just need to…’be’…for a while. We’ll do our bit to support others and maybe treat ourselves a little more kindly than we have done but I’m not going to force resolutions upon us this year.

Sorry for the negativity but if you can’t be honest in a blog, what’s the point. If you’ve read this (or even if you’ve just skimmed to the bottom), I wish you the year that you deserve: good health, good fortune, good friends and happiness to you and those you care about. I genuinely hope that 2018 is an improvement on 2017.


Pre-Christmas Catch-up!

Where do I start? On a light note, perhaps? We went to see The Killers in concert in Newcastle and they were incredible. I have wanted to see them live for years so we splashed out on the VIP Package – let me tell you, VIP obviously stood for Very Impulsive Purchase because it certainly didn’t get us any preferential treatment. Yes, we got a decent seat but aside from that, still had to stand in the cold (even though we were led to believe we’d get in early). There was a VIP ‘host’: this host simply passed us our special ‘merch’ – a cheap-looking tote bag, supposedly designed and endorsed by the band, and a VIP pass that didn’t even bear the band’s name. The fact that these items littered the arena seating after the show says it all… We also had our pre-Christmas lunch at the fantastic Blackfriars in Newcastle – if you ever get the chance to eat here, do, it’s a wonderful place: warm ambiance, great service and the food is always delicious.

And then there was the bad stuff. My father-in-law was taken in to hospital at the beginning of November and the family got The Call on the 3rd. We were all around his bedside but he obviously didn’t want to leave until we gave him some peace. He passed away few hours after we left, having been stable all day. It’s been an awful year for loss and it never gets any easier.

Paling in comparison, my MA isn’t going well, either. It’s not what I expected (poetry-heavy and very little input from tutors). I just had my first round of feedback for the first module and it wasn’t good (I know there was a lot going on with Amber and Arthur passing away but I can’t say I’ve given it the attention I should have). Essentially, I don’t know how I’ve dared claim to be a writer for the past decade – I have issues with structure, my poetry is rubbish (I agree) and so on. I must admit, it’s making me regret my decision. I wanted to learn how to write properly and, although I accept the criticism, there are no pointers as to where I went wrong. Not one of my better decisions…

Back on a higher note. We were honoured to take part in the first ever Elf Walk in Newcastle (The Alzheimer’s Society) and we participated in memory of Arthur and Amber, who both suffered from Dementia. Our team (me, my husband, two nieces and my sister-in-law) raised around £500. It was a 5km walk, which sounded impossible (or improbable) but we took it slowly – there was a woman, walking alone, on two crutches – inspirational! Check out the ITV and BBC local news websites and look out for me among the sea of elves. It’s like Where’s Wally (Where’s Holly?)

That’s all for now. Going to try and come back more often.


Overload!

I’m feeling a bit overloaded at the moment. Doing an MA in half the time is, as most people would expect, doubly demanding but it feels almost impossible. I’m wondering if I have the creativity in me to do the course justice. Life is regularly trying to get in the way and the hectic schedule leaves no room for M.E. crashes and general seasonal exhaustion. I’m hanging on by my fingertips at the moment and don’t think I’ll resign up to the additional Creative Writing classes next year – it’s too much. Oh, and the reading is intense too: reading about writing is hard when you know you should be writing! Temporarily giving in to a sinus headache and risking being the dunce of the class. Nap time!


Review: Impractical Jokers Live!

It’s been an ‘annus horribilis’ this year and we had very little to make us smile. However, my sister introduced us to a programme that I should have hated, on paper. I’m really not a fan of practical jokes at all, as I don’t like people being made to look foolish just so someone else can get a cheap laugh. The difference with this programme was that the group of four friends (who’d known each other for decades) tricked and embarrassed each other. I didn’t expect to be amused. I didn’t anticipate laughing out loud but, in our deep, dark days, we howled like idiots. Laughter really was the best medicine. We heard that they were touring so decided that, even though funds were short, it would do us good to get out Ticketmaster struck again: fourth row tickets in the basket, Ticketmaster glitches – no tickets. Second time a similar issue and third time was the charm. Not only were we going to see ‘The Tenderloins’ but our friends were going too. The ‘horrible anus’ struck again and our poor friend ended up practically bedbound and is awaiting back surgery as I type. We all felt guilty for going without her. Really guilty.

Security for shows is tight now. The queue to be screened snaked around the arena but better to be safe than sorry. It took us about half an hour to get in but we were so glad they postponed the start as the warm-up act was absolutely hilarious. He was an American comedian called Steve Byrne and his act revolved around audience participation…and those that did participate were great sports. The atmosphere was improved further when the whole arena sang along to Mr Brightside by The Killers (my favourite song). Steve shook my hand as I perched, on one bum cheek, almost in the aisle, as I tried to see around the high-haired gentleman in front of me. ‘Hi, I’m Steve!’ – I wavered on one buttock as I stretched to meet his handshake.

After a short intermission, Sal, Q, Joe and Murr came out to thunderous applause. I didn’t know how the show would work on stage but it did. It was a mixture of anecdotes, sketches, jokes, audience embarrassment (involving an iPhone and the sentence ‘I tested positive’), unseen footage from their show and basically, lots of warmth and good-natured mocking! We rarely stopped laughing (my cheeks began to ache) and the time flew. It was worth every penny and I am still disappointed that there was no ‘meet and greet’ option. The guys seemed really down to earth (Q wandered on to the stage with a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale in his hand) and it would have been fun to meet them.

I know this really wasn’t a proper review but I don’t want to give too much away, in case you ever get a chance to see the show. It’s really not my type of thing…but I’ve seen every single episode of Impractical Jokers many times and laughed each time. It’s rare in life to get a little time when you get a few hours to set aside your worries and just laugh. I recommend it.


Week Three already.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my tendency to procrastinate get in the way of my MA, considering that I’m also doing a local writing class. However, life didn’t get the memo and decided to throw in its own spanners. Broken boiler, leaky bath and, worst of all, we lost our beautiful dog, Amber, who will forever be the ‘A’ in Holly A Harvey. I’m not going to lie: it’s been tough to concentrate; tough to focus on anything, really, but I kept my promise to stay on top of my coursework (albeit by the skin of my teeth, last week).

Strangely, I’m feeling invisible on this course. I’m doing the right things. Commenting on the forums; replying to other people (often just to show that I have read what they have to say) and doing the writing exercises. So why do I feel invisible? My own posts remain unanswered and my efforts with no feedback. Even the poem I so reluctantly submitted didn’t appear in the workspace this week. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good, but it shows that I’m participating. I wonder if other people can see my posts and I’m starting to get a little uneasy. I already felt, after the first week, that my list of books that I read wasn’t up to scratch. I just don’t enjoy the classics (aside from To Kill A Mockingbird). I’m starting to wish I hadn’t travelled down this rabbit hole…


Back again!

Are you wondering where I’ve been? I’m not great at keeping up with Twitter (marginally better with Facebook) but the blog has been quite mischievous and has kept disappearing on me. Hopefully, it’s all sorted now.

So, what have I been up to? Doing some artwork for charity – something I’ve dabbled in for years but never really taken seriously. I’ve done another Creative Writing course (just started term 2) and, the big news, finally enrolled on an MA course! My MA Creative Writing begins on Monday and I’m already wondering if I’m out of my depth because the online stuff seems very complicated. It’s a distance learning course, so I’ll be doing it from the comfort of my chair, and I’m hoping to try and keep my procrastination gene in check. It will be quite full-on, as it’s a two-year course taking place over one year – I’m now, for the first time since I was eighteen, a full-time student. I’m terribly nervous, not knowing what to expect. My imagination tells me that the rest of the course is full of literary genuises (or is in genii?) and I’m a toddler with a crayon in comparison. I hope to use my blog to let you know what it’s like being a full-time student with the challenges that distance learning brings…oh, and being, what they call ‘mature’. That and the pesky M.E. which is still an issue. Perhaps I’ll inspire you to take your education further or perhaps I’ll be a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t procrastinate. My husband wants me to do well and sign up for further study, because we’ve discovered we can get a reduction in council tax if you’re a full time student. Always nice to be motivated!


Ten years! Where did the time go?

Can you believe that, on 26th February 2017, it will be Karma’s 10th anniversary of publication? I was so naive back then and thought that it would be the beginning of something wonderful – and it was, in some way – but not in the way I expected. In 2007, I had a new book, a publisher and lots of enthusiasm. I was excited to be able to participate in Hexham Book Fair (a new even, back then) and that was soon squashed, when I realised that the weren’t involving me: merely letting me sell a book or two (I didn’t, as the publisher didn’t even send any). It made me feel terrible and I haven’t been to the Festival since. I did some interviews (terrifying but fun) and I’d hoped to possibly turn my good fortune in to a career. Sadly, that never happened: the publisher tried to run before walking and went out of business, and my M.E. made it difficult to do anything but write for fun, for an hour or two a week, if I was lucky. On the plus side, I met some brilliant, amazing people and made new friends (something I never thought I’d do at my age, considering I rarely go out). I didn’t think I could let Karma’s big anniversary pass without doing something so, from the 24th-26th, it will be free on Kindle via Amazon (note that you don’t need to have a Kindle to read it as there’s an app). I’ll post the link when it goes live. Perhaps you could spread a little good Karma to those who haven’t read it?