What background did you have in education before doing the MEL course?

I did a degree in Linguistics and German at Sussex University in 1988. I then worked in publishing for 10 years in book production. I stopped work to have my family and worked part-time for my husband’s business as a bookkeeper. The children got to an age where it became imperative that I do something else because I was going a bit frantic!

What made you apply for the MEL course?

I had always wanted to do a literature degree. I was too scared to go straight for an MA because I didn’t have confidence after so many years out of education. So when I looked at MEL, it seemed a very good level. I liked the subject matter it was going to cover – drama, a novel and poetry – and the fact that it was not just one period.

What was the course like?

It was fantastic. It was very unthreatening and welcoming. We were all different ages and stages and we were made to feel you could say anything you wanted without fear of ridicule. You could say what you thought and have it discussed. The tutor, Stephen Derry, is very entertaining and witty but incredibly well read – so he made it fun as well. I learnt a lot about essay writing and about close reading. I’d never done that before: unpacking paragraphs and seeing other ways of reading books than as a straightforward form of entertainment, which was crucial before going on to the MA. And I discovered that I liked poetry!

You’re now studying part-time on the MA in English Literature?

Yes, I had to apply for the MA and got accepted. It’s been great. I could enthuse forever. Again, it’s been supportive. You get the confidence from MEL to open your mouth in a seminar. It’s incredibly well taught and I think it encourages you to be independent in your thinking but at the same time you’re not left on your own. I took a module on Dickens. It was a huge amount of reading but I absolutely loved it.

What are you planning to do next?

I’m quite interested in archive work or research in that area and the MA is going to give me the confidence to pursue that. Society gives you some sense of status if you’re in employment. If you choose not to be, to raise a family, then you do feel as if you’ve stepped into oblivion. Coming back to do an MA has made me feel I have something to say that is of value and has given me the confidence to go back into work.

What would your advice be to anyone thinking of applying for the MEL course?

Do it! Without hesitation, whether you want to go on to MA or not – because it opens your eyes to literature in a way you may not have looked at it before.

A student’s perspective: Harriet’s story

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