BA French, Journalism and Creative Writing student and Commonwealth Short Story Prize nomineeReyah Martin, UK
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
I grew up just outside of Glasgow, and I’ve been writing since I can remember. I came to university straight from school, knowing for sure that I wanted to study Creating Writing, but the interest in it went back to my childhood. There wasn’t a definitive moment when I decided I wanted to write, but the passion for doing it came from reading other authors before anything else. I devoured any book I could get my hands on. I read wherever I went, and the whole time I was inspired by the idea that people could create stories for a living. Could bring imagination to life, and could reach out to people using their work. The more I read, the more I wanted to do what an author did. I knew from a really young age that I wanted to connect with people. And I wanted to help bring stories alive.
Why did you choose Strathclyde for your degree study?
When it came to choosing a place to study, I was lucky in that I had a good friend who’d studied at Strathclyde. She was – and still is – an invaluable writing mentor, and she was the first to recommend looking into securing a place at Strathclyde. I knew the course had a brilliant reputation, and I was really impressed with its approach to teaching and its flexibility. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, but I knew what I loved to do. Sometimes Creative Writing has a stigma attached – personally I’ve had a lot of people question how you can study an art, and how an art can be taught to students – but I loved that Strathclyde offered such a clear approach to how it could be done. And from the beginning I was impressed at how well the classes dispelled that stigma. Personally it really validated my choice of study. It’s helped me to become more confident in my own work, even when I’m having doubts about what I’ve written – which happens a lot! I think it’s a bit of a writer thing…
When did you start sending off your work to competitions, and did you have anyone around encouraging you?
I started sending off to competitions when I was still in school. It definitely wasn’t the ‘done thing,’ but I was fortunate to have a lot of encouragement when it came to submitting. Whether it was family, friends or people I met, people were mostly positive about the idea. There were always people who questioned the idea of aiming for a creative career, and I think that will always be the case, especially since the arts are often portrayed with elements of uncertainty, but I was lucky that the positive outweighed the negative. I’m really grateful for the support I had – and still have – when it comes to submitting work and entering competitons. It’s amazing, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
Can you tell us more about your experience studying Creative Writing?
Studying Creative Writing at Strathclyde is brilliant. The modules are taught in small workshops, and the truth is, you get back what you put in to the classes available. The workshops give you a great opportunity to hone your skills as a writer, really developing your craft, and lecturers are very invested in encouraging that development. I’ve found that this helps the most in terms of improving, and it really puts a sense of value on the contemporary work done by the artistic industries, particularly in Creative Writing itself. I’ve always been a fan of the short story, and have a background in poetry too, but the course involves teaching about so many writers and written forms that there’s something to suit everyone. Personally, I’d love to continue experimenting and learning about forms and styles, especially after being introduced to so many contemporary writers. At the moment I’m enjoying learning more about modern writers – and poets – we were introduced to who have a Scottish connection, such as Roseanne Watt and Kathleen Jamie. Poets and authors who are out there making a mark on the creative world, and coming from my home country. Being a Scot myself, I find the idea of that pretty inspirational.
You’ve just been shortlisted for the hugely prestigious international Commonwealth Writers’ Short Story Prize. Can you tell us something about the prize, and what being nominated has involved so far?
The prize is incredible, and it feels like a dream to be shortlisted for something so prestigious. I’m really grateful for the opportunity. As a competiton, Commonwealth Writers made sure submission was very inclusive, and getting involved was easy to do. There was no specific theme, and a generous word limit, which left a lot of scope – it was a little daunting, but it also left room for exploring loads of possibilities with form and structure. Being shortlisted was completely unexpected, and it’s been amazing. It’s really helped to validate my craft, and inspire me to keep writing.
What about the story itself, ‘Wherever Mister Jensen Went’. What’s the story about, and is it typical of your work so far, or is it new territory for you?
‘Wherever Mister Jensen Went’ is very much about the twisted nature of hysteria, and the power of truth in society. It started as a bit of an experiment, between drafts of my novel, and it developed into something quite different from what I’d usually write, although the themes were very similar. The language was a challenge, since the story is set in the Deep South, but it was refreshing compared to previous work, and since the story itself is so much about the influence of words, it was a key component in the short story I submitted.
What have you learned about the world of writing from the shortlisting experience?
The shortlisting experience has taught me a lot about the world of writing. It has helped me to understand the importance of believing in a piece of writing, and sticking with the process to the end. It’s made me more resilient, and really challenged what I thought I could do with my abilities. On a lighter note, it’s helped me to hone my skills in keeping a secret – I had to keep the shortlisting a secret for quite a while, and that was tough, but it was worth the wait! It’s been an amazing experience overall.
At the moment you’re studying French and Journalism as well as Creative Writing. Do you know what you want to do next year, or even beyond?
In an ideal world, I’d love to make a living from writing. It would be a dream to live somewhere French-speaking, and to finally finish and publish my novel! Apart from that, I’m trying not to think too far ahead, but I’m really excited about the future!
Do you have any final words of wisdom for future writing students considering coming to Strathclyde next year?
Don’t give up! Even when you have doubts, trust your ability. You’ve got this!