By Eve Kenworthy, MA Creative Writing and Publishing student
Imagine the perfect place to study creative writing.
It might be a grand house filled with creative people. You could be in an oak paneled library with large windows facing manicured gardens, towards the rolling Sussex countryside. From your desk you can see sheep safely grazing under a blue cloudless sky. Eight other students chat happily about their latest writing projects and at the end of the table is a Booker Prize nominated author who teaches in a relaxed style. In the middle of the table amongst neat stacks of books, note pads and laptops, is a pyramid of homemade cakes brought in by your fellow students.
The only thing that might make the picture more perfect would be a nice, chilled gin and tonic. But wait, there is a bar in the building with squashy Chesterfields and tables of newspapers and magazines to pick up and peruse between lectures. In the evening you wait here for your new classmates to join you for a pre-dinner aperitif. After dinner you retreat to your bedroom and spend the evening writing up your notes at your dedicated desk before nesting into your comfortable bed.
If it sounds perfect…. it is, but this is my West Dean College experience. Friends ask me what I love about West Dean, and I tell them it’s the academic rigor. I may keep the rest to myself.
In my real-life, I have my own hairdressing business. From hairdressing to an MA in Creative Writing is not a usual progression maybe, but as most people know, us hairdressers have a way with words so why not write them down? In lockdown and with no natural outlet for my words, I finally got round to writing the book I always threatened I would. It will probably never be published but was proof that I could give one of my stories a beginning, middle and end. I am still fascinated to hear where my clients went on holiday, but now it might end up in one of my books.
No one is more surprised than me that the master’s degree course at West Dean College was available to me. I enquired despite feeling pessimistic about my chances and have been met with nothing but encouragement from all the staff at West Dean.
At 59 I have only a few O’levels and they are so old that they are in black and white. I didn’t think my City and Guilds certificate in hairdressing and barbering would help my admission to the course, but I found myself scouring my loft for them, as they still have weight. I submitted the first 10,000 words of my novel along with some references and was offered an interview. We were in the teeth of the covid storm, so everything was done online, including the interview with Course Leader Mark Radcliffe. The obvious difficulties the pandemic presented were navigated beautifully by West Dean, and in September 2021, I found myself crunching up the gravel driveway dragging my suitcase and book bag behind me. I felt as though it was the first day at Malory Towers and hoped no one would pull my pigtails too hard.
Every Creative Writing tutor at West Dean is a published author and they are all still writing and being published alongside their teaching. Every teaching block we attend, we meet a new award-winning writer-in-residence, and we frequently socialise with them in the dining room bar.
To gain my master’s degree I will complete the first draft of my novel and a final draft spread over two years. The course is part time leaving me enough time to keep my clients happy whilst I write in the early morning before work. I try to think of my progress in stages from hairdresser…… to hairdresser that writes……writer that styles hair, and who knows, maybe one day just … writer?
After 40 years on my feet, I think I deserve to sit down for a while now.