My last term at West Dean College

Second year MA Creative Writing and Publishing student Eve Kenworthy talks about her experiences on the course during the last term, the guidance and support provided by the course tutors and dreams of her future as a writer.

I’m sure that last term at Malory Towers wasn’t as much fun as my last residential study block at West Dean. There was lashing of fizzy drinks, but it owed more to the wine fields of Italy than the local lemonade factory.

The past two years at West Dean have been the best thing I have ever done (apologies to my daughter, but there were less nappies and not so much crying). When I first picked up my scissors and comb at hairdressing college in 1979, and cut the first of millions of haircuts, I never imagined I might one day be writing books. Whilst I don’t yet have my elderly arthritic grip on my Master’s degree, I am assured by my tutors that conversations would have been had by now if there was any doubt. I am a self-employed mobile hairdresser, at least until I throw away my scissors and hairdryer, following the launch of my best seller, and fend off the hordes of film producers bidding for the film rights. I’m on my second book now and can’t imagine a world where I don’t use my geriatric insomnia to write. No time wasted!         

Well, a girl can dream. In fact, I heartily recommend it.

It took a worldwide pandemic and a few lockdowns to make mine come true. I think the universe may have gone a bit over the top, but I got the message. I stumbled across West Dean on Facebook, of all places. It described a practical hands-on course run by experienced writers, who are still writing and publishing as I type. If I had read the small print and realised it was an MA, I might have scrolled past. After all, the last time I was in a classroom flunking my CSEs, phones were still attached to walls, and a McDonalds burger was an exotic foreign delicacy. I’m glad I didn’t keep scrolling.

The course leader Mark Radcliffe had his latest fabulous book, Three Gifts published during my final year. I know, because I was at his launch party nicking vol-au-vents and wine. It was organised by his publisher Sean Campbell at Epoque Press, in Waterstones in Brighton. I was in the naughty seats at the back with the rest of my fellow students, Mark’s unofficial fan club. I felt comfortable at the back as I’m more accustomed to seeing the back of people’s heads and I had to suppress the urge to ask if anyone had been on any nice holidays recently. Laura Wilkinson and Bethan Roberts were there too, along with Mick Jackson. They have all taught us and I felt like a breathy teenager amongst my favourite pop group. I also felt breathy because I’d had to walk up three flights of stairs. Another reminder that my standing-up-all-day career is drawing to a close. Better find a plan B. As if all that wasn’t enough, bestselling authors Elly Griffiths and Lesley Thompson pop in from time to time and enrich us with their wisdom between world tours. Is there no end…?

West Dean isn’t all mouth and no trousers. There is no doubt that the course is not just about the joy of writing. We are directed and guided towards publication with agents and publishers regularly popping in and teaching us about the industry as well as encouraging us. One of my cohort Catherine Kurtz had a feeding frenzy of agents hoping to sign her, and we are all looking forward to the launch of her book. With one of our class already off the starting blocks, we are all rooting for her and hope to follow her example.

If inspiration is in short supply anywhere, it is in abundance at West Dean. Leather chesterfields, oak paneled halls and log fires abound. As a treat, award-winning authors are tempted to West Dean by the promise of a week-long writing retreat in the grounds. Only once they are supine and relaxed is the news broken to them that they might have to stand in front of nine aspiring writers gawping and hungry for tips and hints on the road to success. They are ushered to our classroom door, pushed in and the door slammed behind them. They must like it, as they usually spend a couple of nights eating and drinking with us at the bar. We are a friendly lot really, don't believe all the rumors... not all of them.

Did I mention the food? West Dean has food. Lots of it. I can name parts of my body that are exclusively made in West Dean. Sometimes I gave in and missed a meal just so I could have a nap in my comfy room overlooking the rolling hills dotted with fluffy fat sheep.

But you never know. One day, in-between launch parties and negotiations with film producers, I might be invited back to take a turn in front of a class of aspiring writers. I’ll treat them with caution, and at least I know where the Prosecco is stashed.

Keep dreaming. I know I will.