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Student Granny arrives on Campus
Student Granny arrives on Campus

The nickname, Student Granny was suggested by my friend Foz, who currently lives in New Zealand. Student Granny for me conjures up a character from that north-east publication Viz Comic. Anyone remember the ‘Fat Slags’? At the ripe old age of 57, I am returning to University and have got a place at Newcastle to study for my MA in Creative Writing. I want to write books!

My pencils sharpened and new bag packed, and the day I had been waiting for had finally arrived. Despite feeling rough following a terrible night’s sleep, I eagerly boarded the train at Bardon Mill. Menopausal insomnia wouldn’t be one of the reasons for bleary eyes amongst the younger students during Fresher’s Week, I guessed. I wondered if I would be the oldest, and worried about things like forgetting names, not being about to cope with the technology, needing the loo in the middle of lectures, and above all, being fat.

Stupid really, how being fat should be a worry. How on earth does size make you a better or worse writer? I am of the generation that was brought up with fat shaming, and I guess it runs deep.

Newcastle was busy and as I walked up the hill from Central Station, and I spotted groups of Fresher’s being shown around the town. They all looked so young! Flyers were being handed out for night-time events; banging techno nights, karaoke events, foam parties and the such, but despite the fact I am officially a ‘Fresher’ no one handed me one. Maybe it was the grey hair that did it?

 Walking past Eldon Square, I ducked into ’Hotter’ to get a couple of pairs of wide fit, comfortable shoes that would help with the walk both to the station at Bardon Mill, and from Newcastle station up to Uni, looking forward to the benefits that this will bring, in getting ‘fit for purpose’. I asked the assistant in Hotter to put my shoes in a tote bag I’d brought with me. Far better to arrive on campus with a canvas bag sporting the cover of Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’, than a carrier bag advertising the fact I needed to buy shoes from the fat feet shop.

Still, I was here, and all worries left me as I walked up the steps into the University compound. Toploader’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ was being played from a stretch tent, and I grinned.  I was going to university to learn how to become a writer. This has been on my bucket list for most of my life. Stopping a couple of young guys who were passing a rugby ball between them, I asked them to take my photo. Student Granny had arrived on campus!

Over the next couple of days, induction talks and activities were planned, and it was great to get to know some of my fellow students. I was relieved to find that I wasn’t the oldest (or the fattest) Everyone was so friendly, and our minds were put at rest by a panel of PhD researchers who were MA ‘buddies’, answering any questions we might have.  I stuck my hand up and explained that the last time I had written an essay was back in 1984, and had done it using a typewriter and Tippex. Was there any help in formatting, referencing and ‘how’ to write an essay in 2019? I was reassured that there would be tutorials on just this, plus the ‘Academic Skills Kit’ on the website, and a very useful department based in the library who would help with the nuts and bolts of written work.

At the meet and greet the wasabi peas and wine flowed, and despite initial nerves, I struck up several conversations. In this small world, I found the nephew of a very old friend, and a friend of a friend who had gone to school with another friend. I was interested to see a lot of international students and thought them very brave to be coming to a strange country all by themselves, starting life in a city that is totally new. I chatted to Maggy, who was here all the way from Florida, to do a PhD in Victorian female travel writers. How interesting! I hoped she’d brought some warm clothes.

I had been looking forward to discovering the library, and set off on the second day, in torrential rain to find it. Set behind The Hancock Museum, this four-storey building did not disappoint. The staff there were incredibly friendly, helpful and very patient with Student Granny who was struggling to log onto the system and navigate both around the technology and the geography of the building. It was like a city! We had a reading list for one of our modules, ‘Process’ and being a bit of a ‘girly swot’ (topical joke) I thought I’d get in there quick and bagsie some of the titles. Someone had obviously got thought the same and got in there first. I found a few and am happily reading them at home this week and making notes. It is the first time I have studied a text-book in over thirty years, and it feels great! I’m sure my note taking is far too diligent and I am reminded of the mature students that were on my teacher training course back in 1981, who seemed to take the course far more seriously than us youngsters who were far more committed to propping up the college bar.

Next week teaching starts in earnest. We’ve chosen out modules, and being a part time MA student, I am doing a compulsory module on the ‘Process of Writing’, taught by the fantastic poet, Jacob Polley, and the Craft of Prose, taught by Dr Lars Iyer in the first semester. After Christmas I have signed up for a Masterclass in ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ which will be taught by Ann Coburn. I met Ann when I did a Saturday workshop run by the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts, called ‘Write like David Almond’ – anyone read Skellig? I loved Ann’s teaching style and found her enthusiastic and approachable. It was Ann who suggested I apply to Newcastle. I am very much looking forward to this module, as I’ve always fancied having a go at children’s literature.

My whistle was well and truly whetted by Jacob Polley at the introductory talk. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to study at the ripe old age of 57, and to be attending such a prestigious university. Not only is the teaching and support of a high standard; Newcastle English Department is ranked number ten in the Times Good University Guide for English, Creative Writing and Linguistics. The buildings are simply wonderful, steeped in history with wonderful architectural design. I wonder in whose footsteps I walk as I tread the corridors.  Although I’m yet to find a painting of a woman amongst the many academics, dignitaries and benefactors portrayed in oils on canvas in gilt frames.  

I’ve walked through the quad many a time over the last decades using it as a thoroughfare from the car park to the shops, but now I am a student here. I keep having to pinch myself, and maybe I’ll stop making silly noises as I walk along the corridors of the Armstrong and Percy buildings once term starts and the initial euphoria dies down. I’ll write more later in the semester and let you all know how Student Granny is getting on.

Newcastle University
Newcastle University

Thanks for reading!

With only six weeks to go until I start at Newcastle University, I’ve decided to retreat for a while and put myself on a detox in more ways than one. There’s the obvious healthy detox, food, wine, gin. A mission to shed some pounds and get fitter but there is also an intellectual and work based detox needed.

After coming back from Tuscany, where I was invited by Bill Breckon to put a proposal forward to run a ‘getting to grips with social media’ course at The Watermill, I ran away with ideas. It is a way with me, and I can be very impulsive. I’ve soon realised that if I launch another business, supporting folk with social media, then I am not allowing myself time to read in preparation for Uni, or will have the time to give my MA all I want to give it once term starts. I’ve decided, therefore, to knock the social media support business on the head. I am pulling back and cutting myself some slack.

Jacob Polley, the renowned poet and one of our course tutors advised me at the Open Day to read all I can. I find this fine in the evenings, once the day’s chores and work are done, but to allow myself time to read in the day time is going to get some getting used to. It feels like a total indulgence. However, a friend suggested that I look at is as a ‘reading month’. Many universities have a ‘reading week’, and I have a lot of reading to do, so am giving myself permission to have a reading break for the rest of the summer holidays


I have a huge pile of books waiting to be read; don’t we all? I also thought I’d give myself a treat and read works written by my University tutors. I’m beginning with the wonderful poems of Jacob Polley and the work of Jackie Kay and William Fiennes. I am thrilled to be discovering the work of these fine writers, and have just finished ‘Red Dust Road’ by Jackie Kay, which was a wonderful autobiography. It has made me even more excited for the course to begin. I’d just like to give a shout out to the excellent Northumberland Libraries Service, who are keeping me well supplied with books. I can’t wait to get into the university library!

I’m also going to detox from social media for a while. How many hours do I waste in a week by scrolling through my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds? I know I have a wonderful following thanks to The Woolly Pedlar, but I need a break and I need social media out of my life for a while in order to free up the time needed to read and write. I feel on a psychological level, I’ve had something to prove. The Woolly Pedlar helped me to get my confidence back after losing my teaching job, but it was all very showy. I want to be quieter, and to listen and learn rather than shout and pontificate about what I’ve been doing.

I feel I’ve rather run away with the notion of ‘being a writer’ and need to get off my high horse, and learn the craft of writing from the very beginning. I am not a writer; Sue Reed does not yet write (apart from the odd short story and blog). I am learning the craft of writing, and with this needs to be some humility and understanding that I am at the very beginning. I am a child and my writing will be childlike until I have learnt and learnt some more. Student Granny is off to learn, and I hope very much that one day soon I can hold my head up and say, ‘I am a writer’.

I will pick up my blog and social media in six weeks, when Student Granny starts Uni, and I hope you will follow my journey, but for now, I’m retreating with my nose in a pile of books.
I do hope you enjoy the rest of your summer holidays. I’ll see you in September!

Over and out for now,

Student Granny.