I decided to go to University on a whim. I’m a bit like that. Spur of the moment kinda woman. I hadn’t discussed it with anyone other than my partner and, at 36 years old, I had always thought it was something that wouldn’t ever happen for me. Seems I was wrong – (this has been known to happen only on two prior occasions.)
I didn’t even tell him I’d applied in case ‘the people that be’ at University laughed me out of Canterbury. Because I didn’t have sufficient qualifications, I had to write a short story to prove I had at least some ability. Praise the Lord, they must have seen something in me that even I didn’t see at the time. Not sure what it was, mind you, but it was enough to get my size 7’s in the door.
I left school at 16 and attended college for a year. 110 wpm shorthand baby! I then spent the next eighteen years working full time in London (apart from three months I had off to pop out my eldest) in a job I did well at, but one that never fulfilled me. Being a single mum for seven years meant enjoying my job was a luxury I couldn’t afford.
During my four years at University, a lot of women said to me that it was something they could never do themselves. That they didn’t know how I coped, juggling studying with a family. Yes, it was hard, but I always disagreed with them as I believe everyone is capable, it’s just whether you want to do it. I studied a subject I’ve always been interested in, and found a course that suited me (English/American Literature & Creative Writing.) Now, it was just a case of embracing it and getting my study on.
And then came the first hurdle. I hadn’t taken A levels, in fact, I was the last year of the O levels (Christ, I really am that old.) Being asked to produce creative writing was what I found easiest. We studied many genres and tried our hand at writing children’s stories, horror, sci-fi, fantasy – even poetry, and I loved every minute of it – (my Marnie & The Dragonfly story, still a favourite of my youngest.) Being asked to write an academic essay, however, was a different story. Pun intended.
I had no idea where to begin. I’m far from stupid, but I just didn’t know what was expected of me. It’s just an essay, right? Wrong! At University level, no tutor takes you aside to tell how what they need from you – they expect you to already know. Damn them!
I tend to write how I speak and, creative writing wise, that’s always worked for me. When it came to writing about Shakespeare or Middlemarch, however, and I was in big trouble. I scraped by in the first two years, always passing, but never getting the marks I continually strived for. I was determined to get a First. It became a mantra for me but it was pressure only I put myself under – perhaps because no-one else in my family had studied at that level and, in the beginning, I wanted to prove a point to everyone. That soon became unimportant and it instead became about proving to myself that all along, I had been more than capable of doing well.
Over time, and by trial and error, I finally got it. I understood how to speak their language and in my final two years, I began to get Firsts for essays (although my 19th Century Literature tutor and I didn’t really see eye to eye – bitch gave me an average of 56! And so I got my essays moderated and the marks increased! Ha!)
Essays at University are just like anything else in life. Learn the method, apply it, put your own spin on it, and you’ll do alright. You may even shine if you try hard enough – but you have to try hard enough. Nothing was ever handed to me, on the contrary, and my time at University was a constant struggle.
But I loved every minute of it.
My eldest son is approaching 16 and wants to go to University. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen and in two year’s time, it may not be the right path for him. Or it might. Time will tell. Either way, we will support him in his choice. But he’s been inspired enough by my journey to want to find out for himself and that’s all I can ask for – he has the freedom of choice to make his own decisions.
At least he won’t struggle with the essays like I did!