Opportunities at Surrey: The Iain Sinclair Masterclass

Something Old, Something New, Something Unexpected, And Something Grew

At Surrey I have found that there are an incredible number of opportunities for its students to take advantage of. As a master’s student studying creative writing I receive plenty of opportunities including the option to attend lunchtime readings where I can not only here some of my course mates work, but some work our lecturers have been working on as well as share some of my own work. At the University of Surrey we also have several ‘Writers/Poets in Residence’. This means that we have access to some hugely successful writers who share their tips and advice with us aspiring to make it in the writing world. This year we have Iain Sinclair as our distinguished writer in residence. Iain is a hugely successful writer and filmmaker who offers one-to-one surgery sessions with a select number of students to help them individually fine-tune a particular piece of work. Iain also runs a masterclass session for a selection of students. I am lucky enough to be one of the eight students taking part in this masterclass the year.

When the opportunity to join the masterclass was advertised at the beginning of the year I heard that previous students who undertook it found it hugely invigorating and absolutely loved it. I could I pass on such an opportunity to work with such an incredible writer whose advice is so valuable for any hopefully writer. We were asked to include 250 words prose with our applications (or equivalent for poetry or screenplays). I decided that I would send a snapshot of a creative non-fiction piece that I had been working on for a while – please read below:

“I sat there, watching that controlling bar slowly turn more and more blue while the percentage slowly went up with what I can only assume was 30 seconds left it said that word that meant I had made it – complete. Rejoice! I made it onto the video interview with my potential employers. After shifting my position so that hopefully they couldn’t see the public toilet sign right behind me, the interview went off without a hitch. Later, walking out of Starbucks I felt I could now calmly walk down the hill and try and release some of the stress I had built up over the day. I was speaking with my best friend on the way to the bus about our jobs, the interview I just had, and how I hope that they consider me so that all the drama wasn’t for nothing. No more than 20 minutes later, sat on the bus I got a call from the recruitment guy. To be 100% honest, the first thought that went through my head was “oh my god, they hated me, and this poor guy has to break the news to me. Maybe I’ll just let him slide to voicemail and he can break it to me there and save us all the awkwardness of a phone conversation that no one likes hearing or conducting, and then we can move on with our lives and forget any of this ever happened”. But where would we be if we avoided and ignored everything that scares us, it’s what makes us feel alive.”

Very soon after we had our first session. Of course because of COVID-19 we had it over zoom, but I still felt the intensity in the atmosphere. Iain spoke of some recent reading and research he had been doing and how it was all going to become an amalgamation of works to create a follow-on book from last year’s masterclass book Unlocking The Grid. That’s when it hit us – we were going to contribute to a book with Iain Sinclair. Everything Iain says is so insightful and deep and thought provoking. Everything he says is so smart that the rest of us question whether we are good enough to work with him. We are all so excited to be working with him and who knows how this will go but the experience alone of sharing our work, our writing with someone so impressive and talented is a true pleasure. The way he sees the world is so different to the rest of us, he sees things we didn’t even know were there. Even in our own work, we will share what we wrote and the inspiration that lead us to it and what we hope to achieve with it and the messages we are trying to convey, and he will see something completely different and more impactful that we even realised. He can make everyone feel good at what they do without even trying.

These masterclasses have given me so much confidence in my work. So much confidence in me. I’ve felt confident enough to try new styles of writing. At the first masterclass I was very much a creative non-fiction writer with no interest in writing fiction or short stories/flash-fiction but by the second class I had tried both, and by the most recent masterclass I have tried erasure poetry as well as traditional poetry (to the extent that I even submitted poetry for one of my assignments). I think back to when I first got that email offering the chance to work with Iain and I hesitated thinking “I’m only a creative non-fiction writer, I have nothing to offer this class and this class has nothing to offer me”. Now, I’m glad I only hesitated and didn’t just send that email straight to the bin. I so glad that I took that chance and now my writing has expanded so much more than I ever thought it would. It has developed more that it would have if I had only done the degree and not taken up the opportunity to embrace something new and unexpected.