Lucy English: Poet and Professor on Studying Creative Writing

Lucy English

Photo from Bath Spa University Website
Lucy English.  Bath Spa University Website

Born in Sri Lanka. Grew up in London. Went to Uni in East Anglia to do English and American Literature and Fine Art. Had kids. Kept writing. Did an MA in Creative Writing in 1996. First book published 1998. Started doing performance poetry in 1996. Started teaching. Further novels published in 1999 and 2001. Kept doing poetry. First collection published by Burning Eye 2014.

I started working at Bath Spa as an hourly paid lecturer in 1998. I got a permanent post in 2001. I became a Reader in 2013.

My latest project is for my PhD. It’s a contemporary reimagining of a Book of Hours, which were originally religious texts containing a selection of readings and pictures. My version is going to secular and digital. It consists of 48 poetry films which will reflect the month and time of day. As well as the creative project I will be examining audiences for poetry films. I have become fascinated in the poetry film genre recently and I run a small poetry film festival in Bristol and Bath. Poetry films have a small but intense following and I would like to explore ways of expanding this. The Book of Hours is a collaborative project, as film makers will be making the films and an interaction designer will be creating the site. It’s all in the early stages right now but the first batch of films have been made in collaborations with Marc Neys. I adore his work. It’s moody and reflective. Just what I want for The Book of Hours.

The Book of Hours

 

Reading inspired me to write!!!! I learnt to read very young and right from the start I wanted to write books. Somewhere I still have a collection of stories I wrote when I was eleven. They are pretty awful but I enjoyed writing them and drawing the pictures. I have always loved the connection between visuals and text. I love illustrated books. I suppose The Book of Hours is my attempt to extend this.

What work are you most proud of and why?

That’s a tough one!! I am very proud of my first novel. I wrote it when I was a single mum on benefits so It was an achievement to get it published. You have to be determined to get a book into print and I was determined. It was steep learning curve. I did the MA in creative writing and my writing improved massively. I am also proud of ‘Prayer to Imperfection’ my latest collection of poetry. This represents nearly twenty years of performance poetry. Until Burning Eye started nobody was interested in publishing spoken word. Clive Birnie, I salute you!!! He has pulled together a most spectacular list of current spoken word artists. I feel very proud that I am one of them.

Are there any techniques/ exercises/ rituals that proved invaluable in helping to to shape your ideas?

Every year I try to go away for a writing break. One week. Nobody else. Just me and the writing. I choose somewhere rural and beautiful. The countryside and the solitude inspires me. Women often don’t spend much time on their own. It’s tough at first and scary, but you get used to it. I wish I could go away more!!!

What are the benefits of becoming a student of the Creative Writing department?

The greatest benefit is becoming part of a huge community of writers. Writing is a solitary craft and finding other people who are interested in your work is crucial. My fellow members of staff are generous with their time and expertise and share this as much as they can with the students. I love to see the students linking up with each other and starting to create new projects. Bath Spa is a hot bed of creative ideas right now!!! The students are involved in all sorts of enterprises, from creating beautifully designed books to running spoken word nights, and teaching creative writing in schools.

In this current ecumenic climate do you think studying Creative Writing is value for money, particularly the MA?

If you want to develop your craft you should be prepared to spend money on it. The MA is not cheap but it turns wannabe writers into professionals. When students finish the MA they have a completed, or nearly completed novel, the craft to know how to develop it, the knowledge to know how to get it published, an address book full of contacts, and a lively relationship with their tutor, which sometimes continues for the rest of their writing lives.

Explain to us a little about the Bath Spa University campus location?

There are three campuses!!! The largest is Newton Park, in the grounds of a Georgian Mansion. This is home to the undergraduate programmes. It’s beautiful. It has a lake and acres and acres of grounds. A new multi purpose teaching building was opened last year. So now all our teaching rooms are airy, well equipped and stylish!! The department of art and design has its campus at Sion Hill in central Bath. Finally the postgraduate campus is at Corsham Court, a Jacobean Mansion. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and the grounds and gardens are exquisite. We are very lucky to have such beautiful campuses!!!

What are your favourite modules?

I teach performance poetry, public speaking skills and an MA module called ‘The Love story’. I like all three of these for different reasons. Performance poetry at Bath Spa was started by me so it is close to my heart and I love to see the students grow in confidence. In the public speaking module students learn how to give a presentation, give a lecture, and run a creative writing workshop, among other things. It’s good to see students become less scared of public speaking!!! In ‘The Love Story’ we look at range of texts and produce writing inspired by them. It’s a glorified book club!!!

What have been the success stories coming out of the Bath Spa alumni?

There are many!!! Anna Freeman’s first novel, ‘The Fair Fight’ was published to great acclaim. She is also a performance poet, runs a night at the Old Vic in Bristol and has been featured at many festivals, such as Glastonbury and Latitude. She came on tour with me for the 2013 production of ‘Flash’, sponsored by the Arts Council.

Laurie Bolger runs a spoken word radio show for Roundhouse radio in London. Jack Dean is also a touring spoken word poet. These are undergraduates.

The successes of the MA students include Nathan Filer, whose novel ‘The Shock of The Fall’ won the Costa Prize. In 2014 five of our graduates were on the long list for the Authors Club best first novel including Lucy Cruickshands, Nathan Filer, Be a Hitchman, Anthea Nicholson and Jack Wolf.

What’s next for the Creative Writing department?

We are becoming a Liberal Arts College. This means that there will be more opportunities for students to create cross disciple work and more sharing between schools of study. There will be a greater emphasis on global opportunities and international collaborations.

Where can we see some of the work being created by the Creative Writing department?

Check out our website!!!! Look at the Creative Writing pages to find out our latest news. https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/schools/humanities-and-cultural-industries/courses/undergraduate/Creative-Writing

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