Congratulations to Trudi Holland who has won both the V.Press Prize for Poetry and the Black Pear Press Prize for Fiction 2022. We asked Trudi some questions about winning two prizes and her time studying Creative Writing at the University of Worcester.
Why did you choose to study Creative Writing at the University of Worcester?
I’m going to start getting soppy here. I started writing to cheer my family up during some difficult times. I had applied to be a Bioarchaeologist. I realised that I would be a good, but miserable Bioarchaeologist, but a happy, if perhaps terrible, writer, so I risked starting off terrible.
To be completely honest, I was a carer at the time, and my circumstances meant that I couldn’t go too far from home. I came to Worcester through Clearing as it offered the course I wanted, and everyone had been very friendly, so I just went for it. It wasn’t until I got here that I realised how perfectly I had fallen on my feet. Pretty much from week one, I fell completely in love with the course. The large choice of optional modules meant I could tailor the course to the writing that I loved, the lecturers are not only literary geniuses in their own rights, but also lovely people and there were opportunities being thrown at me faster than I could take them. I cannot advocate enough for this course; I just think it is the perfect balance between being academically fulfilling and providing a supportive atmosphere that gestates growth.
What was your joint combination, and what was the experience of studying them together?
I took Creative Writing and English Literature (although I changed from Screen Writing to Literature, mainly because I missed old books!). Honestly, I think it’s a great combination. I kind of saw English Literature as the theoretical, and Creative Writing as the practical. I could go to an English Lit lecture and dissect a piece into the minutiae, find things that worked and why, examine what the writer was doing, then apply that to a creative piece. Although the Creative Writing side was excellent on the theory front in its own right; if you are looking for a Creative Writing course which is also clear and engaging when it comes to theory, Worcester is for you! Also, you can never read enough books on the Creative Writing course, and English Lit made sure I read plenty!
Any advice for new students studying Creative Writing?
Please don’t be afraid of workshopping. I know it can be uncomfortable sometimes but sharing your work will make it 100% better. The lecturers don’t make you do it because they’re mean, it is probably the most valuable part of the course!
Do extra reading. While at university, you have access to a wealth of amazing papers, (for free!). You don’t just have to read stuff directly relevant to your course, read everything. If you are interested in writing about children, read Early Years papers. If you’re writing murders, dig through psychology magazines. Those papers are super expensive when you finish uni, (I mean like sometimes £100 per paper…) so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Maybe I sound really boring, but as long as you are looking at stuff you find interesting, it’s almost as fun as Netflix!
Finally, don’t let the fear of being bad stop you, you are practicing. Would you pick up a violin and expect to be virtuosic? No! Write something terrible, then write it again, better. Stop trying to play Tchaikovsky on your first draft, start with Twinkle Twinkle!
A few quotes that help me get through drafting are:
“If writing is a sculpture, then the first draft is mining the stone.” (No idea who said this!)
“The first draft is just telling yourself the story” and “There is no first draft worse than a blank page”, both Neil Gaiman.
Best experience whilst on the course?
I really am going to get all soppy now! I think the course gave me my confidence back. When I came, I had a plethora of mental challenges, including severe social anxiety, to the point that I found it difficult to leave the house. The turning point for me was probably when I went to Unislam and performed in front of a few hundred people, staying overnight to attend the semi-finals. It is not false modesty when I say I was terrible, but for someone who, just a year earlier, was rendered catatonic by the thought of going to shop on their own, this was a massive deal. My family couldn’t believe I had signed myself up for it, and the way they were texting me, you would have thought I had just been nominated for a Nobel prize! I think that was the point I began to find myself again, and I would never have done it if I hadn’t felt so comfortable and supported by everyone who attended. My partner gets emotional because I am absolutely a different person at the end of this course than I was at the beginning. That is what is unique about the Creative Writing course; of course, it is a degree in writing, but it is also like taking a degree in the self. With every poem, every story and every workshop, you learn a little bit more about yourself.
Congratulations on winning both the V. Press Prize for Poetry and the Black Pear Press for Fiction. How did it feel finding out?
Thank you and shocking! Especially as I knew the standard of work being produced. I was proud of myself, but also so proud and grateful to all the amazing writers and poets who workshopped both pieces to death with me! Neither piece would have gone beyond the first draft if I didn’t have a community of phenomenal writers to inspire, improve and challenge them. If I may, I would like to name a few of the other writers who inspired me and urge you to take a look at their work! Amber Horne, Lisette-Elouise Fiddler, Talis Adler, Christianna Curtis, Ray Vincent- Mills (both last year’s prize winners), Sophie Hartland, C. S. Barnes and of course, Ruth Stacey and Jack McGowan.
Can you tell us about the two pieces of work that won the prizes?
So, the first piece is Braised in Wine, my poetry pamphlet. It’s confessional poetry examining relationships through the lens of food and eating disorders. I like to think that it marries sensitivity with humour and is overall an uplifting investigation of life after disordered eating. This whole pamphlet was inspired by one lecture Ruth gave about confessional poetry, Sharon Olds and writing the things that are difficult to write. It completely changed my approach to poetry, just being honest with the page was a revelation to me. I have always had that temptation to truss up a poem like a pig roast, but good poetry shouldn’t need any of that. I also think that seeing Jack McGowan perform some of his humorous spoken word pieces reminded me that poetry didn’t need to be solemn, I could have fun with it.
My second piece, The Lady Doth Protest: Famously Female, is a short story collection of humorous, feminist retellings. I wrote a tiny paragraph at the beginning of one assessment, and several lecturers suggested I took that fragment and blew it up into a collection. I can honestly say it is the most fun I have ever had writing, although I think a little bit of pent-up feminist rage seeps out sometimes! I love humour writing and am passionate about pulling it into Creative Writing courses, I find humour is usually the best way to approach difficult topics, people are much more likely to listen to you if you can make them laugh.
What are you doing now?
I am currently studying an MA at the University of Chichester, as well as running some writing workshops and free-lance editing. I’m hoping to take Creative Writing all the way to PhD level and eventually lecture myself, so a few more years of study left to go!
And finally, what is your current writing project?
Since I’ve started the MA, it’s been a mash of short stories and poems, but I have an adult fantasy to finish, a contemporary humour novella to redraft and a Fantasy humour novel to incinerate and start again. I am trying to make a start on my second poetry pamphlet, and I’ve started drafting a non-fiction novel too. I hope it sounds impressive, but really it’s because I can only stand to do the same thing for a week or two before I get frustrated and have to do something else for a while!
How can we keep in touch?