Living Articles

“I quit my job and went back to university”

Anna-Marie Crowhurst knew life needed to change. Here's what she did.

Just over a year ago I was working in an office doing a job I didn't enjoy. I had started to experience some strange symptoms that made me feel a bit like the heroine in a Victorian novel: crippling stomach pains, epic night sweats, daily migraines, and, rather less poetically, random vomiting. After numerous appointments, medication that didn’t help and lots of tests my doctor finally said: "The only thing left for it to be is stress. Something is wrong. You need to change your life."

Dear reader, I went into work the very next day and I quite my rubbish job. And then, because I’d always wanted to further my education, as well as write a novel, the day after that I applied to do an MA in Creative Writing.

I got in.

The course at Bath Spa looked like the kind of thing I needed to further my writerly ambitions - not too much academic faffing about, and focused on the business of actually getting a book written, with lots of teaching and lectures by successful novelists and poets and visits by editors and agents to boot. I'd been wrangling with a novel for the past couple of years, but as my mind started to untangle in my new literary surroundings, a better idea started to take over my mind and poke at me during odd moments. I dropped my original idea and started a new one.

I've spent the last year working on said novel, and experiencing the novelty of being a bona fide full-time 30-something student, and it’s been wonderful, strange, tiring, difficult, endlessly inspiring. I'd forgotten the horror of the first day at school. The torturous pain of essay writing. The joy of being taught. The weirdness of being marked. The loveliness of making new friends. The amazingness/horror of workshopping sessions (it is a bit like that scene in Girls).

I had to make some sacrifices to indulge myself in my year of writing. I’ve spent most of my savings and lived on a budget – I stopped buying clothes and pretty much, going out. I’ve often had to work seven days a week to get my epic reams of homework done alongside the freelance articles which have paid my bills. And I’ve suffered a fairly torturous London-to-Wiltshire commute.

But, I think it was worth it. I stopped being ill. I’ve been lucky enough to have the novelist Tessa Hadley as my tutor and dissertation supervisor who has been inordinately helpful and endlessly inspiring. My campus, Corsham Court is ridiculously pretty: a 17th century manor house where peacocks roam the Capability Brown grounds. One study room has a view through ancient leaded diamonds over the gables (and the gables have gargoyles). Another has antique hand painted silk wallpaper. Everywhere you look there is wood paneling; gilt framed oil paintings; precious antiques. It has been a peaceful and beautiful place to think and write and study.

In two weeks’ time I hand in my dissertation (help me) – the culmination of my endeavours, and then I’ll get on with the business of finishing my book. I don’t know what will happen. But I’m glad I had my year of writing. What would it be for you?

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