The past fortnight has been an absolute whirlwind. I have officially begun my MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University, which I’ve decided to do part time over two years. The course is low residency so I shall be staying in Hertfordshire and completing most of the masters online. However, last week was my first residential which took place in Corsham, a town three miles from Chippenham, Wiltshire. The residential was designed to meet my fellow students and spend five full-on days getting used to postgraduate teaching.
It may sound like an exaggeration but the campus was incredible. Built in 1582, the building is a stunning English country house complete with sweeping grounds and even peacocks that strut comically up and down the walls. I couldn’t help imagining moving staircases and translucent ghosts as I wandered the corridors in search of the library. Although small, its shelves are crammed with books including an enticing selection of nature writing, both old and new.
I am sharing this year’s course with sixteen other writers. While there is a broad range of ages and experience, all but one of us are women – an interesting contrast to the typically male-dominated world of nature writing in previous generations. Everyone is incredibly friendly and I already feel comfortable reading my work in front of them and getting great feedback in return. We were set two writing exercises this week: a piece inspired by senses other than sight and an observational piece from time spent in Corsham High Street. Description is a favourite of mine so I often explore sound, smell and touch as well as visual stimuli, but it was particularly useful to hear what everyone had written and see what details they picked up. Although writing did feature in my undergraduate degree, there was definitely more of an emphasis on visual media, so it was really useful to discover my strengths and identify what I could try next.
Now I’m back in Hertfordshire and already missing the change of scenery, not to mention the time spent chatting with new, like-minded people. We will now mostly be communicating and learning via Google Hangouts until the next residential in February, but I did enjoy meeting face-to-face. I’ve never been taught online before so it will be an interesting new educational experience.
We’ve already been set our first assignment, due next month: an essay on the act of “Writing In The Field”. It will be the first time that I design my own question and I’m a little daunted by that at the moment! I’m sure that once I get reading, I’ll start generating some ideas.
My course leaders are Stephen Moss and Gail Simmons, both successful authors in their own right. I’m so happy to be learning more about the craft of writing, especially on a course tailored to nature and travel. I’ve been stuck in a slight rut this past year and was in need of a new challenge. While I still have the passion and drive, I felt like I was lacking in some of the specific skills I need to pursue a career in writing. I’m convinced that this MA will be a great step for me.