Above my laptop, I can peer through the grime of the tiny four-paned window in the gable end of the house and glimpse passing sheep or maybe one of our three cats. The tortoise-like shell of a collapsed shed contains the abandoned gleanings of a hoarder to whom we once granted temporary storage space. Last year a pine marten clambered across it in broad daylight, no doubt a young male searching for new territory.
Whatever distractions this aperture offers, I must remain focussed on the screen. Always a laggard when it comes to new technology, this is one of the many challenges I face as a mature student. Returning to full-time study after thirty-eight gap years was like leaping onto a galloping horse. Nevertheless, I have gripped the reins between my teeth and I’m still in the saddle.
As a teenager, I was disillusioned and easily diverted from my first attempt at undergraduate study. Leaving home was an awfully big adventure, and the temptations of parties, girls, music and radical politics dominated my life.
Now I am more conscientious, committed and determined to complete the course. I love writing so much I know I’ll make it a major feature in what remains of my life. After sixteen years of writing in my spare time, with two self-published novels, dozens of poems and several short stories written, I decided it was time to take this writing malarkey seriously and enrolled on a Creative Writing honours degree with the University of the Highlands and Islands.
My interview was with a woman not much older than my son, and I confessed to her that I was nervous undergoing my first interview in thirty years. She reassured me, saying I was her first ever interviewee, and I believe we both felt more relaxed after these admissions.
Halfway through the second semester of my second year, I feel I can reflect on my experience as a mature student. Some of the tasks before me have been daunting. I was terrified of giving a live presentation and had never used PowerPoint before. However, I learned how to use the programme and by my third presentation, I was no longer nervous and actually quite enjoyed it.
The aspects I like least are report and essay writing. I am a creative rather than analytical thinker, so scrutinising texts for meaning or technique does not come easily. I also feel lost without a compass in the stormy seas of research and struggle to distil the ocean of material into the teacup of relevant information required.
My favourite parts are the creative exercises. By practising different skills, such as varying narrative voice, point of view or trying different tenses, I can conjure stories with diverse tones using approaches I may not have previously considered.
The tutors and learning materials are of a surprisingly high quality, and as an online course it is very well designed. All in all, I am learning a lot, rechannelling my childhood Teacher’s Pet persona, and having quite a lot of imaginative fun.
To be continued…