The one where I passed my Masters

IMG_7453I got the results through this morning for my Masters in Creative Writing and I’m so excited to have secured a distinction. I know that, in the great scheme of things, the individual grade doesn’t really matter and it’s simply getting a Masters that counts but, for me, this was a personal journey and a goal I really wanted to achieve because of what happened with my undergraduate degree.

Screenshot 2019-12-09 at 16.57.19I have a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance from Loughborough University (Leicestershire). Studying my degree was full of highs and lows. When I applied to Loughborough, I wanted to be a bank manager and I hoped to secure sponsorship from one of the major high street banks to go there. I was fortunate enough to secure a place on TSB’s sponsorship programme which meant a small financial sum each year (positioned as being for text books but actually spent on pints of Purple Nasty!), holiday work in a local branch if I wanted it, a year out working for them, and potential to secure a place on their management trainee scheme after graduating.

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Image from Pixabay

So, at age 17, I’d already partially-secured a place on a graduate scheme which was an exciting possibility. The only challenge was whether I could pass the degree – something that proved more challenging than I could ever have predicted.

I remember sitting in my first economics lecture and listening to the professor stating smugly, “If you haven’t studied economics at A level, you’re going to struggle. And if you haven’t studied maths at A level either, you are going to massively struggle.” I hadn’t studied either of them and that professor was right. I struggled. I didn’t understand macro economics, I didn’t understand micro economics, I couldn’t do accountancy and quantitative analysis gave me nightmares. Thankfully, we studied banking law and business organisations too; subjects which I did understand. We could choose options and picking Marketing and HR also saved me. I finished my first year with a 2:2 average, although a 3rd in certain subjects. Oops.

 

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After my final exam (I’m in the purple jacket)

My second year was worse. I could continue with my preferred options but I couldn’t drop any of the subjects I hated. That same economics professor made a joke about anyone who hadn’t understood the first year not having a chance of grasping the second year. Also right. I spent hours in the library or locked in my bedroom with the course textbook and a dummy’s guide to the subjects yet still nothing made sense. Even with the subjects I liked, I couldn’t seem to secure a decent grade and I was at a loss as to what I was doing that was so wrong. Frustratingly, I now know that a lot of it was down to poor referencing but none of the tutors thought to tell me that at the time. Cheers for that!

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Final year fun drinking games (I’m on the left)

If struggling with my studies wasn’t bad enough, my social life fell apart. I’d chosen to stay in the Halls of Residence on the committee, where I was social secretary. One of my best friends from Halls in my 1st year was also on the committee and we’d chosen rooms on the same floor of our tower block with all sorts of plans for the fun we’d have. But we didn’t have fun. When we came back after the long summer break (bearing in mind that this was the days before social media, email or mobile phones so we had only exchanged a couple of short letters), he was very distant and didn’t seem to want to spend time in my company. I’m not sure what happened there. He quickly became part of a clique on our floor and the group would regularly go out together without ever asking me to join them. They’d return in the early hours, crank up the music, and shout at each other around the corridor while I curled up under my duvet in tears. I hated that year. I’ve never felt so lonely in my whole life. The only friend I had on my floor was a mature student from Ireland who also seemed to be an ‘outcast’ but, sadly, he was missing his girlfriend back in Ireland too much and made the decision to drop out at the end of the first term.

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My 2nd year was never fun like my final year (I’m at the front)

All alone again, I tried to throw myself into my studies but that’s not easy when you don’t understand your subjects. I tried repeatedly to get help from tutors but every discussion was over my head and I’d leave their office more confused than I was when I arrived.

It never entered my head to drop out – it wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned – but that year really was horrendous. I will be eternally grateful to two friends of mine off my course, Darrell and Andrew, who were there for me in my final term. We never talked about me being lonely and I always put on this display of confidence around them, but I think they both just sensed it. They’d both drag me out for something to eat or a walk around a park to stop me festering in my room. Darrell, in particular, was a Godsend, because he tutored me too, helping break down some of the concepts I just couldn’t get my head around.

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Graduate Day – in front of my Halls of Residence at L’bro Uni (Towers)

If I hadn’t had a year out, I don’t think I’d have looked back very fondly on my university days but that year out made me. I’d worked every holiday in my local TSB branches but I had an opportunity to work in their Head Office in my third year and it was amazing. I shared a house with another two sponsored students from Loughborough and we had so much fun. I loved my job and had some great work experience alongside a brilliant social life, mixing with the other sponsored students and management trainees.

When I returned to Loughborough for my final year, it was with a fresh perspective and a new confidence. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

I found the work experience added value in subjects like HR and Marketing and I had finally been able to drop most of the maths and economics-based subjects although there was one compulsory one called business finance which, for me, might as well have been conducted in Russian for all I understood of it! I made a mess of my business finance exam, which I fully expected, but I did well in the others. I didn’t dare to dream that I could get a 2:1. I wasn’t even expecting a high 2:2 yet I did somehow manage to secure the 2:1. It was only by 0.1% but it was still a 2:1 and I was beyond thrilled with it. I also made some really good friends that year and had the social life I’d been lacking in my second year, meaning I could graduate with happy memories instead of feeling relieved to escape from the loneliest time of my life.

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Graduation Ball … after a much happier final year!

Because I’d studied Marketing, I had a chance to get my marketing professional qualification at the end of my final year by doing a few more lessons and an exam after my main degree exams had finished, so I did that. I secured a position on TSB’s management trainee scheme, as hoped, which meant studying my professional HR qualification as well but, when I was in my mid-twenties, that was it. I was finished with education. I had a degree and two professional qualifications and no way was I studying again. Ever.

For the last 3.5 years, I’ve been a home-based tutor for the HR professional qualification that I possess. I run webinars, mark assignments and respond to student queries. Working in education got me thinking about studying again and, even though I’d sworn I never would, I started to weaken. My problem with my undergraduate degree had been that it included subjects I didn’t care about or understand. What if I studied something I was passionate about instead? So I enrolled on a Masters in Creative Writing with Open University which started in October 2017.

IMG_7456Working full-time, writing and studying is not easy. One sacrifice I knew I had to make was ceasing my role as Brown Owl. There was no way I could fit in planning and running a Brownie Pack as well, unless I wanted to give up on sleep.

After my experiences with my undergraduate degree, I was determined that I wouldn’t struggle through my Masters. I’d self-taught myself much of the content and had put it into practice in writing several books already so the actual subject area wasn’t a challenge for me. What I struggled with was the commentary we had to submit with some assignments. It took me quite some time to get my head around what was needed and the feedback seemed to be inconsistent and contradictory which was frustrating. When we did our secondary option – script-writing for me – I actually challenged the marking of it because it was so contradictory and the second tutor agreed I had been under-marked on it. But she decided I’d been over-marked on my fiction and ended up downgrading my whole assignment from distinction to merit. I was absolutely gutted. Lesson learned the hard way.

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Right from the start, I had a goal of coming out with a distinction to show that I could do something academic to a high level instead of struggle all the way through it like I did with my undergraduate degree. It was very touch-and-go, though. I’d get a distinction, then a merit, then back to distinction and that dream of the top grade overall started to drift away.

I was surprised when I ended the first year on a distinction but the second year was independent of that grade. Again, I was up and down with the scores and every time I ‘repaired’ something, a new ‘problem’ appeared to arise. However, a particularly strong assignment helped pick up my year two average and I went into the final submission at 88% (distinction being 85%). Whether I got a distinction overall was resting on my final assessment – 15k words of fiction.

There was a grade predictor on our student home page and I calculated what I needed to get in my final assessment to come out with a distinction overall but it advised me I needed 85% – a distinction – in that to get a distinction overall, despite being at 88% already.

Screenshot 2019-12-09 at 15.06.08I was never going to fail but whether I got a distinction or a merit overall was not a foregone conclusion. Most of my fiction had scored highly (a couple of submissions being 94%) and I’d submitted part of the assignment as a formative, for which I’d had really positive feedback so this had to bode well … but there was this nagging doubt that I might not quite make it.

The results were due today and I kept refreshing my home page to see them. Turns out I was looking at the wrong part of the page and, when I scrolled up looking for something else, I saw the final grade had actually appeared.

IMG_7455It confused me, though, and I have to admit that it felt like an anti-climax. The word ‘distinction’ was there in large bold letters. But it stated I only had 83% for my final submission and I still had it in my head that I had to have 85% or above because of that damn grade predictor. I was therefore convinced I was looking at the wrong thing and perhaps that was my year one grade showing instead. It was correct, though, and clearly the grade predictor was wrong. Thing is, disappointment had then set in. Firstly, it was disbelief that I had really received the distinction. Then it was: why only 83% for that piece of fiction when I’d had 94% previously? How had I fallen a full 11%?

I know, I know… I shouldn’t focus on the negative but, because of the grade predicator, I was so confused by my score and could only focus on the fact I’d dropped marks and got a merit for my final submission without it really registering I’d still received a distinction overall.

IMG_7454It still hasn’t sunk in that I have actually achieved what I set out to do; putting my study demons to bed. I might treat myself tonight by not working for a change! Don’t judge me but I’ve already eaten tomorrow’s advent calendar chocolate as a congratulations treat!  And I’ll have a very large piece of cake when I go out for the day tomorrow with my writing friend, Sharon Booth. It may sink in then. Also, I’d just spotted the result and then had to pick up the munchkin from school to take her to her first piano exam so I was a bit distracted thinking about her and whether she would be nervous or not. It will sink in. Soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported, encouraged and believed in me but the biggest thank you of all has to go to my tutor group. Tracy, Mandy, Janet, Georgia, Angie and David – your feedback and friendship has been invaluable. I look forward to watching you all publish your first novels! You are all super talented writers and deserve to have success with your writing.

Jessica xx
(MA!!!)

Indie Jules & the SP Quest

Tuesdays are normally a fairly harmless day. Perhaps they’re a little closer to a Monday than I’d like and not quite close enough to the weekend but, generally, they’re ok. Today was an exception. 

Today started off with the usual battle to get out of the house for work with the munchkin washed, dressed, brushed, fed and watered. But we managed it. We usually do. Today didn’t start with me having to clean cat mess up in the kitchen, dining room and hall thanks to Pixie clearly having a dicky tummy. No, that was yesterday’s pleasure so today was already looking much better than Monday.

So I arrived at work this morning with a plan of activities and priorities and was looking forward to a productive day. But the best-laid plans usually come unstuck and today they unravelled before my eyes. I won’t bore you with the details but I had to spend most of the day re-working some stuff that I really shouldn’t have had to re-work at the 11th hour because it had been out there for comment 2-3 weeks ago and nobody commented then. Grr.

Hubby picked me up from work and I had a little rant then felt much better. Next stop was Currys to return an iPhone dock that declared on the front that it was “iPhone compatible” but is actually only compatible with an iPhone 5. And I don’t have one of those. Cue sarcastic young chappie on the desk who says, “That’s why it says on the front of the box that it’s got a lightning connector”. Yes, young man, it might well say that. But if you don’t have an iPhone 5 and don’t have an interest in technology, how the hell are you supposed to know that a lightning connector is something that connects into an iPhone and not some technology that just makes the sound better or the connection stronger. He ignored me when I tried to point this out. Rude. But at least I got my refund.

We made it home a little after 6.30pm and I logged onto my computer while the munchkin had her bath and the day deteriorated even more …

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my decision to go indie and then, last week, a spanner was lobbed into the works when one of the eBook publishers I’d pitched to at the Conference got in touch, apologised for the delay, and said my book would be the next she read. For a few days, I was incredibly excited because this was the eBook publisher who, out of all my submissions, I believed I fit with best. And for a brief moment, despite them having taken nearly nine months to respond to my submission despite having asked for a full in person at the RNA Conference, I forgave them and started imagining what it would be like to receive “the call”. For me, “the call” has always been about that affirmation that I can write because a publisher thinks highly enough of me to take me on.

But then the doubts set in.

You see, I really did (and still do) believe that indie is the way for me. I consider myself to be pretty good at my day job which includes planning, organising, engaging with customers, promotional activities and many other skills that I could directly transfer from a company to myself as my own business. Why wouldn’t I do that? Why would I let someone else take control over deadlines, edits, promotion etc when I believe I have the skills (and would pick up the experience) to do it myself and buy in professionals to do bits I can’t do? I met my lovely writing friend and fellow-Write Romantic Alys, for a drink and a spot of sticky toffee pudding (would be rude not to) at the start of last week and we chatted about her wonderful news that she’s secured an agent (read more about it here) and my dilemma of indie v “the call”. We discussed the pros and cons. We even got out the calculator and did some sums. And everything still pointed to indie so I posed the question to the other Write Romantics and asked them what they’d do. Everyone admitted they’d struggle to say no to “the call” and I should accept it as a platform to get cracking, perhaps becoming indie later. Yes. Very sensible. Probably the right thing to do. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that indie was still for me and the longer I waited to hear back with a decision, the more convinced I became. Let’s face it, did I really want to work with an editor who had kept me waiting for nine months, then told me I’d be next, then kept me waiting another fortnight?

Let’s return to the bad day. I logged on to my computer and there was an email from the ePublisher, a day shy of two weeks since I was told I’d be next. And it was a strange email because it didn’t say “no” but it certainly wasn’t “the call”. Instead, it was a further apology for the inexcusable wait and a thanks for my patience (believe me, I have NOT been patient!) Then there was something nice about the premise and the setting. Then there was something not so nice about it needing further development and three tips to help me improve this book and “future ones”. I’m not going to list these and declare that I disagree strongly with these tips because that will sound like I’m being all defensive. All I’ll say is that feedback is subjective and the three points raised are ones that my NWS critique and beta readers also raised … but in the opposite way i.e. they think I’ve done those things very well. Who’s right? Who knows?! I’d like to go with the NWS critique and my beta readers. There’s more of them. My little army!

As for the end of the email, it just said to ask if there were any further questions. That was it. No, “so regretfully it’s a no from us but we wish you every success in your future writing” or “please do these changes and resubmit” or any other variation on these themes. It just ended. No offer. No rejection. No next steps. No good luck message. Have I really waited nine months to hear that?

Four submissions are outstanding. I’m sure one must be a no as this is the other ePublisher who I pitched to, who wanted a full, who didn’t respond and who hasn’t replied to chase emails despite a promise that everyone will hear either way. The other three will, I am sure, be rejections but I won’t prolong this post with the reasons why.

I actually cried when I read the email this evening. I cried lots. Those proper fast-flowing tears that drip down your cheeks and wet your blouse and feel like they’re never going to stop. And it wasn’t because I’m upset at the rejection. I’d believed I’d been rejected a long time ago and somebody just forgot to tell me. No, that wasn’t it. It was because I’d been built up only to be trampled down again. It was because I’m frustrated as a frustrated thing that’s really frustrated with this whole ludicrous dance we do to try and get noticed. And it was because, quite honestly, I’ve had a crap day and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I nearly cried at work so I was already teetering on the edge.

Have you ever been interviewed for a job that you don’t really want but you need a job because either (a) you hate your current job and are desperate to leave or (b) you’re out of work and desperate to be earning again? Do you find yourself hoping it’s a “no” so that you don’t have to make the difficult decision as to whether to accept or turn it down. I’ve been there several times with jobs and this situation reminded me so much of it because, deep down, I wanted a no so that the decision would be made for me and I wouldn’t have to push indie aside for fear of turning down a publishing deal. I got what I wanted, didn’t I? The decision has been made for me and that particularly publishing footpath leads no further.

But is it a case of be careful what you wish for? Watch this space …

 

I can’t sign off without saying thank you so much to the wonderful kindred spirits that are Jo, Alys and the other Write Romantics for their valuable guidance, support and advice and to honorary WR Sharon Booth. And to hubby who let me cry on him too. There may have been some snot in there too. Sorry about that! xxx