Over the last couple of months I have been existing in an hermetically sealed hive of creative frenzy; just unfortunately not one iota of all that finger scribbling genius has been directed at our novella. In fact the story has positively languished in that time and a good deal of dust and detritus has been allowed to settle over it. From the look of things this will continue to be the status quo until early summer and the reason for this and the creative frenzy is that in September I was accepted onto an MA course in creative writing!
Some of you will already know this, while others will have been wondering about the growing colony of cobwebs blowing about the corners of our Inky Fingers blog. The opportunity was a complete gift that hit me unexpectedly out of the sky in the aftermath of failure and has thrown me into the path of an adventure I had resigned myself to never having. Here follows the long version of how it came about and what that all means for The Waves, the Waves.
Now in my mid-twenties I finally decided, in the summer of 2013, that I wanted to go to university to study for a degree. Being intelligent, articulate, hardworking and highly creative it never occurred to me that I might be turned down. I didn’t have traditional qualifications granted, and I was vaguely aware that this was unusual, but I naively assumed that as OCN’s were listed as an option on UCAS they would be widely accepted and understood to be equivalent to GCSE’s and A levels by universities. Besides which the subjects I was applying for (creative writing and drama) weren’t from the top echelons of academia and I believed my age and considerable backlog of experience in my chosen areas of study would weigh heavily in my favour.
Oh contraire! One university in the East of England rejected my application without even offering me an interview. On requesting feedback I was informed that I did not hold the required number of A levels. My BTEC counted for two but they wanted to see at least three. I wrote to inform them of their error, that in fact, including my five OCN’s at level three, I had seven A levels (over double their minimum requirement) but they responded by thanking me for my amendment but saying they would not be changing their decision because qualifications over ten years old would not be counted.
Is there now an expiration date on qualifications? After ten years does the knowledge you amassed to gain the qualification in the first place become void? After ten years are you then incapable of studying an academic text and divining its meaning? Are you more likely to turn up late for lectures, go on a drunken party bender, hand in assignments after their deadline, not be able to construct an intelligent sentence or contribute to a discussion then your eighteen year old counterparts? And to be honest that wasn’t even the problem because my qualifications weren’t ten years old.
They later clarified that what they had meant was that they were keen to see that I had qualifications taken more recently then six years ago but the implications were clear: the selection process was a box ticking exercise and I had failed on nearly every count. Another mark against me was because I didn’t have a maths GCSE.
No, I don’t have a GCSE in maths. I do have to balance the takings at the shop where I work on a weekly basis but that doesn’t come with a helpful tier system. And why should a maths GCSE be a more appropriate qualification then a level three OCN in drama? Not forgetting of course that a level three OCN is a higher qualification then GCSE and drama directly relatable to what I wished to study. Because an OCN isn’t graded A*-U so fitting into the prescribed boxes is harder and requires them to deal with you as an individual and not a letter of the alphabet.
It speaks volumes about an education system that is, frankly, in tatters. It’s no longer about learning, but learning to conform. Diversity isn’t good for statistics and statistics are vital for a successful business which is what universities are these days. Just as soon as a university gains enough of a reputation for academic excellence it becomes less about what they can provide for you, student, and more what you, student, can add to their credentials. Individuality is being sacrificed. It is no longer a requirement, apparently, that you can exhibit a passion for your subject and a desire to improve; more and more it seems you must demonstrate you possess the knowledge you want to gain from your BA before you’ve even been accepted onto a BA course, totally missing the fundamental principle of learning I would have thought but, like any business, universities want certainties to minimise losses and are therefore risk averse. The ability to jump through their hoops is now paramount and wanting to learn has become irrelevant to gaining the opportunity of learning. The only lesson to be had is that knowing how to market yourself as a desirable commodity is key and the old piece of advice just be yourself no longer stands you in good stead. Certainly the presentation of myself as simply not a complete, utter moron didn’t do me any favours.
And until September 2014 that was the end of the story and I had found peace with the fact that I would probably never go onto higher education. My sister and I decided to work together to create an illustrated novella and then you, our lovely readers, came into the picture and we posted our first blog posts and The Inky Fingers was christened.
Then, one evening, I got a phone call from a friend with an offer: The MA course in creative writing he was supposed to be starting in two weeks had just been cancelled due to low numbers but he had gained permission for me to send a portfolio of my writing to one of the course tutors with the potential that if he liked my work he would be willing to offer me a place on the course and get the MA up and running.
So I found myself, a week and a half later, in the first lecture of my MA in creative writing at UEL, without a single GCSE, A level or BA to my name and feeling rather like it was Abra, champion of sticking to your guns, 1, the entire education system, nil!
And I disappeared into the hermetically sealed hive of creative frenzy and emerged, slightly vampiric but elated, a month ago, having handed in my very first assignment.
Be assured, The Inky Fingers is not a door nail and as dead as! But work on The Waves, the Waves has gone into temporary stasis until a block of time makes itself available, probably at the end of May or at any rate the beginning of summer.
I wanted to share this story with you not only to keep you in the loop regarding our novella and its progress or current lack of, but also with the desire that it is met with a certain sense of hope. I was about ready to believe I was an academic failure, not even able to prove I had the capability of stringing a competent sentence together. But in refusing to limit myself to the narrow perception of what success is in academic terms, I ended up with far more than I had aspired to. If you’ve found yourself at the back end of our narrow education system, so have I, and despite the many pep talks I have given myself and I have received from family and friends, it’s their loss, you can make it on your own, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid, there’s always next year, it still pretty much feels like you’re simply not unique, talented, clever enough to make the grade. Well maybe they’re just blind to the fact that you’re so beyond the grade they probably need to catch up with you. And if you want to succeed academically, you should still strive for it because what I’ve learned is, the system is totally beatable!
To end with a line of song from the fabulous family film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which I’m sure I’m not alone in having watched gleefully over Christmas: From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success.