Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Student Loans, OUSBA and paying for the course

I'm sure that some would find it very helpful to know about funding for this course. I have put some links in the left hand side bar to guide you, but thought I would try to summarise things here as it can seem a bit complicated. I know it was a bit of a headache for me to sort it out, though it is only fair to say that both Student Loans UK and the OU were incredibly patient and helpful.

As befits a course of this magnitude, it is very expensive. The first year (worth 60 points) is £1920 and I should think the second year (120 points) will be roughly double that. Few of us have that sort of money hanging around, but there is help out there, if you qualify.

Student Loan
If you are under 60 years old, and British, you can try for a postgraduate student loan of up to £10,000, which will cover the course fees and any other costs, such as books, laptops, travel etc. This only has to be paid back if you earn over £21k per year. You can claim up to £5000 the first year, and the rest is paid in the second year.

However, there is one drawback in that the monies are not paid into your bank until after the course begins, but there is help with that.

OUSBA  Account
An OU Student Budget Account is a low interest loan that can be claimed from the Open University. They will pay for the module, then you can start to pay them back monthly after the course begins. For this course it works out at roughly £244 per month. However, if you get your student loan in place, you can pay it off immediately without accruing too much interest. If you do take this option, and don't pay it off, the interest charged over the period is only £36 on top of the £1920 course, which I believe is quite reasonable. And if you pay it off immediately, it will be less than that (if anything at all).

If you do intend to pay this off with your student loan, it is important to email the OUSBA when you make your application to let them know as it could mean the difference between you getting accepted or not.

You might also be able to apply for a bursary to help with costs. The OU has two: The Crowther Fund and The Robert Beevers Memorial Fund. The funds are dependent upon financial circumstances, and as the applications close in February each year, it's too late to apply for this year, but perhaps it's something to keep in mind for future years.

Other avenues of funding

This Open University page lists other options for funding, including help for disabled students. Because I have arthritis in my hands, all my course books (when I took my degree) were comb bound to make it easier for me to use. It's a simple thing, but incredibly helpful.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Looking Forward...

I might have given the impression yesterday that I'm being a bit negative about taking this course. Certainly the lovely messages of support I received, both on the blog and privately, suggested that. What a smashing lot you are! I already feel as if this blog is going to be a warm and welcome place to relax between coursework. (I should point out that all comments are moderated before appearing on the blog, so don't worry if your message doesn't appear straight away. If it doesn't appear at all after 48 hours, do let me know).

The truth is that the wobble was only brief, but as I want to share all my feelings about taking this course on this blog, I didn't want to leave my worries out and pretend that it's all rainbows and roses on this journey. There will be times when I am convinced I've bitten off more than I can chew, and other times when I know without doubt that it's the best thing I've ever done. Knowing myself as I do, it is possible there will be times when I feel both emotions at the same time.

In reality, I'm monumentally excited by the course and October 1st seems a long way off at the moment. I'm itching to get started! Whilst I do intend to stay true to myself, I am looking forward to being challenged, enthralled and hopefully taking my particular style of writing to new places.

I intend to take Fiction as a first subject, with Creative Non-Fiction as a second.  I have been looking at the sample exercises for the course and these are things I feel I can really get my teeth into, perhaps more so than trying to make something meaningful out of the clutter in my living room. There seems to be room for individuality in both subjects.

I particularly like the idea of trying three different openings for a novel. All the writers here will know how hard it is to get those first lines down (and how often we then go on to change them!) Having the freedom to play with the opening will be a valuable exercise.

The Creative Non-Fiction exercise suggests writing about something that interests you, trying different points of view, such as first or third, or more general terms ('you' then 'I'). This idea excites me and I'm already thinking about what I want to write and how I want to write it.

I already have a notebook which I intend to devote to the exercises for this course, and have created a folder on my laptop to save exercise samples and course materials. So metaphorically speaking I have my white tie and top hat. All I need now is the course...

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Wobbling and all that...

As I said I'm going to be honest on this blog, it is only right that I share all my feelings about taking this MA in Creative Writing. I am not looking for validation here. I just want to be honest and share my feelings as they occur.

As soon as I had sorted out all the admin related to taking the course (Student Loans, OU Budget Accounts to tide me over till the student loan comes in etc) I was faced with the reality of actually being committed to doing it. Here I was, on an MA in Creative Writing. It has been my dream for so many years. I did once apply to go to Sheffield University for an MA in Creative Writing, but was turned down. I didn't know if the reason was because I write genre or because I simply wasn't good enough for them. There was no reason given so I still don't know.

So my fears are not without foundation. To add to my wobbles, when I attended OU Summer School many years ago, I took part in a poetry workshop. When the time came I proudly read out my work, only for the tutor to look at me and say, 'Oh. It rhymes,' before quickly moving on to the next person. Talk about bursting my bubble! I had no idea that rhyming poetry was an anathema in academic circles. I do know that I didn't write an awful lot of poetry after that and intend to actively avoid it on this course if I can.

I am a genre writer. It is how I've made my way through the writing world and I've loved doing it. Whilst I'm not a well-known author, I have carved out a nice little niche for myself writing pocket novels. What if this is not good enough for taking this MA in Creative Writing? What if the tutor does the equivalent of 'Oh, it rhymes,' every time I submit work to him/her? What if I come across fellow students who are sniffy about romance and other genre writing?

As part of the preparation for the course, I've been reading one of the earlier set texts for the OU writing courses. There are lots of exercises in there, including one about taking in your surroundings. It is illustrated by an extract from Virginia Woolf, about the ice she sees in garden. It's very poetic and deep, as befits one of the best writers of the early twentieth century.

So I do a little mental exercise of my own to see if I can equal it (ha!). And all I can see is my untidy living room, with a letter next to the phone from the council, some crockery in the display cabinets and another letter from the hospital. And I can't find anything poetic to say about any of it. All it does is remind me that we're still having trouble with that neighbour, that some of the mugs in the display cabinets were made by grandchildren we don't see anymore, and the letter from the hospital is about my husband's appointment at the cancer unit, where we'll undoubtedly spend another few hours worrying what they're going to tell us this time. And I know that the reason I don't want to write about any of this is because this is what I'm trying to escape when I write. I want to lose myself in convoluted plots involving impossibly handsome heroes and beautiful heroines chasing Nazi gold whilst falling hopelessly in love. Or a nice, dastardly murder mystery, with twists and turns aplenty.

Virginia Woolf might find poetry in the ice in her garden (perhaps because she didn't have to do her own housework!) but I can't find poetry in my messy living room. Only a wish to escape it, if only for a few hours. I suppose I could just tidy up...

So already I feel at a disadvantage because I can't produce what seems to be expected of me.

When I put these fears on Facebook, I was immediately reassured by friends who have taken MAs or are about to take this same course. They assure me that genre writing is not sniffed at, so that helps, though I still won't know for certain until I begin.

I think that in the end, even if I do meet 'sniffiness', I'm going to have to remain true to myself. If I try to write 'literary', it will look forced and probably not be very good. If I stick to what I enjoy writing, it may not be high art, but at least it will be me and surely that's worth something?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Getting started - Call me Tracy

Welcome to my new blog, on which I hope to chart my adventures taking an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University.

I intend to use this blog as a sort of writer's journal, so will share the highs and lows of taking the course with you, and give everyone an idea of exactly what is involved in taking an MA in Creative Writing (without infringing on the privacy of others).

For those who don't know me, I am a well-published author (under a pen name). On this blog I am using my real name of Tracy (the vagaries of Blogger mean that all my posts are signed 'Quillers', which is a version of my pen-name).

I have had stories and articles published in magazines in Britain and abroad, and I have had over 20 novellas published, mainly by DC Thomson's Pocket Novel imprints by My Weekly and The People's Friend, and in large print with Linford Romance Library. But this blog is not here to sell my work. I have another blog for that. I just thought it would be nice to give a bit of background.

I have wanted to do an MA in Creative Writing for years, and the new rules about loans, and the fact that the OU ask for no other entry requirements other than a first degree (I have a 2.1 hons degree in Humanities and Literature), have led me to signing up for this.

At the same time I am taking care of my husband, who has Esophageal Cancer. The course is my way of taking time out from the worries of that (when it's appropriate and he doesn't need me) and it might also mean that I cannot finish the course within two years. But I have ten years in which to complete it, so that gives me the time I need to prioritise my husband and family.

I hope you will enjoy taking this journey with me. I cannot promise to update every day, or even every week, but I hope it will be regular enough to make it worthwhile you sticking with me.