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Creative Writing

Fin Cattanach – Writing and the pandemic, a summary of an unexpected Second Year

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When things went from normalcy to “what is going on” a year and a half ago, my first thought regarding university was that I’d gotten pretty lucky.

Creative Writing is above all a flexible discipline. It can be utilised in a thousand different fields, it provides skills applicable to a massive variety of jobs, and, most importantly for study, it doesn’t require much in the way of specialist materials.

Fearing for my safety and that of my partner who was vulnerable to the virus, we took the decision to move back up to my parents’ house before the first lockdown came into effect. A contentment and calm seemed to overtake me for at least the first few weeks, surrounded as I now was by family, pets and friends in a large house within a small village, part of a rural county that was no stranger to the virus but most certainly more removed from its effects than the cities. But my situation was still not perfect in that it couldn’t alleviate all anxiety or prepare me and my partner for the strange new paradigm our learning now faced.

Online learning was, to begin, fine. It was easy, and it meant we could lie in until five minutes before class. Having written most of my main bodies of work, including whole novels, while at home, the familiar environment was another aid in completing early assignments and coursework. But I had underestimated just how much social contact really meant.

In truth things didn’t change a whole lot for me in the second term, as my energy was drained, my patience living in a busy household was frayed, and my nerves were only getting worse. It’s at this point the reason any of us made it through the course should be brought to light. That reason is the course lecturers.

I cannot overstate that my second year of university was a challenge, but I still managed to enjoy it. And the main reason for this is James, Natalie, Stephan and Kevan. Our course lecturers were faced with a challenge I feel I can safely say none of them had ever been faced with before, and their dedication and passion for the course ultimately saved it, and saved me, from an unmanageable situation.

First there were the guest speakers. With our trips for the year as likely to progress as I was to get covid and then develop telekinetic abilities, the number of guest speakers that our lectures brought in was astonishing. We had one every week by the end of the course, sometimes more, about double the previous year of the course. Each brought interesting ideas and perspectives to their talks, and I know that at least someone from the class got something of value from every single one of them.

Next was the responsiveness our lecturers showed to feedback. During the first term, workshops proved a remarkable failure, with attendance to these optional online meet-ups to compare and critique work falling as low as single digits. The team totally reworked the structure of these sessions, moving platforms, splitting into smaller groups, and bringing in Stephan, a new but highly energetic man with a knack for in-depth analysis of literary work from all genres. Workshops are just an example though, and every problem the course faced was rectified by the team’s ability to act swiftly and with advice from us, the students.

Finally, most importantly, was their compassion. In the face of a crisis unlike anything seen in recent decades, James, Natalie, Stephan and Kevan found the time and energy to be kind, to listen, and to prioritise the mental wellbeing of the class above the grades. The knowledge that any problem could be brought to them, and they’d be able to listen and often to help was precious throughout the length of Second Year.

The pandemic is at its tail end now, and Second Year concluded some months ago for me. I cannot claim to look back on it with some mystical admiration. It was a difficult time for me, for my partner, for my class, for my lecturers. What I do look back on that time with is a sense of gratification for the solidarity I didn’t know I’d need, and pride in overcoming a year of university I could’ve scarcely imagined would unfold in the way that it did.

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