Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Voice.

It takes me a month to fill in the online form. "It's a sign," I tell anyone who will listen, "if I can't even fill in the form I'm not meant to do the M.A." But all the people who will listen tell me I can fill in the form, especially my parents. I manage the bit about uploading some writing, I even find someone to write me a reference, but when I get to the section entitled 'personal statement' I nearly have a nervous breakdown.

"Ha!" say my two older sons, "now you know how we felt when we applied." But I already know how they felt when they applied because I was there.

My dad sends me encouraging emails. In one he suggests I check out an open evening at Kingston University, so I drive all the way over to Kingston University on the hottest June evening for 40 years and sit talking to an academic while wearing an inappropriately heavy dress, drenched in sweat.

As she describes the M.A. to me in more detail, a voice in my head keeps interrupting. "You are not good enough," the voice says. "You are a failure. You are an idiot. You definitely cannot do an M.A." It is a voice that has dogged me and many other women I know for years. Possibly forever. It is a voice my husband has never heard, or any one of my sons, because it's a voice reserved for women who had children and then mislaid their career like it was a beloved old handbag at the back of the wardrobe. But then something she says gives me hope: "have you ever written anything?"

I go home and research the Creative Writing M.A. at Goldsmiths. I nearly went to Goldsmiths once before but on that occasion when I turned out of the station on my way to the university to attend the interview - a skinny little kid from York, who once briefly lived in the beautiful city of Vancouver - New Cross in south east London terrified me.

Somehow I manage to complete an online application to Goldsmiths and while on holiday in the States I receive an email inviting me for interview. You cannot go to an interview, the voice says. You will not know what to say at an interview. At an interview they will discover you are a fraud and an idiot. In any case, you cannot make that date for the interview, so, phew. I reply to say I can't make that date for the interview and immediately receive another email with another date for an interview. 

When I get back from the States and the second date arrives I walk up to Balham Station and from there catch a train to New Cross Gate. Upon leaving the station I turn left towards the university, exactly as I did 33 years ago, but this time something about the kebab shops and the graffiti and the inner-city smell of dog shit and exhaust fumes seems right, because now I live in Tooting.

I'm early. I search out where the interview is due to take place, passing students sprawled on steps in the summer sunshine, then retreat to a cafe where I find a table in the window, and there, with my feet beneath it and my elbows on it, spend a pleasant hour looking things up on my phone. I realise I must have met the woman who is to interview me at a Voice Box event at the South Bank in the early 90s.

I go to the interview and this time I'm not drenched in sweat; I'm wearing my favourite blue dress, and when we get to the bit about why I want to do the M.A. I say something about my sons and how the second one will soon be going to university and that I'd like to do something for myself and have to wipe away tears, again. She asks me about reading: what books have been important to me? and my mind goes blank. This is when she discovers I'm a fraud, I think.

"Oh, you know," I say, delving around in my memory and finding the usual stuff there by Jane Austin and the Brontes, but then I hit a seam. "Madam Bovary, Anna Karenina, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Ruth, The Dubliners, particularly The Dead, Atonement, Birdsong, Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, The L-Shaped Room, The Bell Jar, although when I reread that recently I couldn't believe how silly it was, novels by Margaret Forster and her biography of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and..." The voice in my head interrupts. You do realise, it says, that all these books are about being trapped in one way or another, so I say this out loud.

When I get home I find an email offering me a place. Wow, I think, so perhaps the voice will be quiet now.

Love E x


P.S. A week later I receive a reading list and the voice shouts - what the fuck have you done!

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