The Path to Postgrad: Alan Smith

With the end of undergraduate study only a mere year away for many, we on the Beyond the Walls team have decided, we would like to help any of you looking towards the future in postgraduate study. As part of this initiative, we will be talking to those who know the path best: actual MA and PhD students at YSJ itself, to paint a helpful and guiding picture as to what can be expected if you decide to continue your study beyond undergraduate level.

Our first interview is with Mr Alan Smith, a mature PhD student in Creative Writing:


How did you get into PhD study?

”I started all this off with the hope of writing professionally plus obvious enthusiasm for the project I am undertaking, as yet my enthusiasm hasn’t left me and I’m very pleased with things so far.

I completed a Masters degree in Literature Studies a few years ago and wouldn’t have been confident in starting PhD work if I hadn’t. I’m not a typical PhD student (is there such a thing?) in that I was 60 when I started and largely because of ill health only come in to the university when I’m seeing my supervisor or need to access the library”.


What differences did you encounter from undergraduate study?

”I’m not following or attending conferences presenting papers etc. A further difference in my experience as opposed to most doctoral candidates is that I’m following a part-time practice-led (creative writing) route and in that I’m one of YSJ/ Leeds pioneers in this area.

What is most striking when you embark on what I’m doing is that it is the individual who has to devise their own structure/ work pattern – there are, especially in the area I’m working in, few rules to adhere to. My supervision at YSJ has been good but academic staff have increasingly heavy work loads and you can’t expect to be cosseted.  As with all aspects of study, organisation is key to progress and you soon realise that you are very much becoming the expert in the niche area that you’re working in”.


What would you say is required of you as a postgraduate student?

”The content of my programme will comprise of the adaptation for a television series of four short stories by Thomas Hardy plus the writing of one original, all the material coming very much from the ‘darker side’ of Hardy, a side ignored by television/ film adaptations. My scripts will be accompanied by a thesis of at least 15000 words. In April of this year I will have done three years of study”.


Expect our next interview in the coming week.


November Round-Up

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSo it’s been a pretty exciting November. On the 7th we had a fabulous book launch with Nuala Casey and Matt Haig here at YSJ. Matt read from his latest novel, The Humans, and reminded us all why it’s great to be a human, from the point of view of an alien. Matt’s lively and moving writing is highly recommended. Nuala Casey, a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing here at YSJ, read from her debut novel, Soho 4 a. mNuala held the audience with her atmospheric and gritty prose, taking us through the shady streets of Soho. Nuala doesn’t wait around either, her next novel, Summer Lies Bleeding will be out next summer. Both writers responded to questions from the audience with generosity and refreshing honesty, and we all got an insight into the discipline and hard work necessary to become a successful writer.

Last week we were incredibly proud to see our first SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTUREScohort of joint honours Creative Writing students graduate in the grand York Minster. We were all dressed in our finery, struggling to balance our hats and comparing our gowns. JT Welsch definitely won that particular contest…



We know that all our students are going on to do great things, and are happy to have the pleasure of continuing to teach some on our MA.


Finally, novelist Barrie Sherwood gave a wonderful reading of his latest work, Sandia, yesterday evening. Barrie was a lecturer here at YSJ for five years and recently left to teach in Singapore. It was lovely to see him again, and lots of his previous students turned up to wish him well and thank him for being an inspirational teacher. Barrie’s new novel is remarkable, a work that shows a novelist at the height of his ability. I was bowled over by the control and power of the prose. I can’t wait to read the whole thing.


There are more exciting events coming next year, including a reading of Holophin by Luke Kennard, who will be joined by Tom Chivers of brilliant independent press Penned in the Margins. We are also welcoming an literary agent, and looking forward to the York Literature Festival, where we’ll get to see Germaine Greer, Nicholas Royle, Alison Moore, Emily Berry, Helen Mort, Rebecca Goss (to name only a few).