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Life after Graduation
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Life after Graduation
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The Importance of Destination
Carolyn Waudby
Carolyn Waudby reflects on the turning points in her career as a poet, journalist and lecturer since graduating from Sheffield Hallam University with a MA in Writing in 2003.

As I was approaching the completion of my MA in Writing in 2003, several work associates asked me what I planned to do afterwards. I was surprised at the question and a bit lost for an answer. I had studied the MA 'for me' rather than for career enhancement. I simply answered: 'Carry on as I am doing'. Looking back, I can see how vague and unimpressive this was and can now understand their baffled looks.

For the next four years I did just that - carried on as I had been, carrying out a number of disparate jobs on a freelance basis. They were certainly varied. I was teaching journalism on casual contracts at both universities in Sheffield. My work at the University of Sheffield was in The Institute of Lifelong Learning where I had first taken up creative writing.

My seminars were in the evening, from 7.30 - 9.30 pm. During the day, I was carrying out press work for a South Yorkshire MP who was also a government minister. Luckily, the work was flexible but it did mean travelling to his constituency, which wasn't in Sheffield where I live, at least one day a week. And part of the work was 'reactive', where I had to drop everything and instantly respond to an issue, event or a negative piece of press. This is not a complaint - the role involved a degree of research, and I felt involved in the process of politics - something I have always been interested in.

In addition to this, I was running occasional workshops in journalism for Sheffield Schools' Network under the Gifted and Talented scheme and two-day summer schools for the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth. With my poet's hat on, I also went in to a Primary School one day a week for six weeks working with nine-year-olds and ran day-long poetry workshops in one of the Sheffield parks and an art gallery. Oh, and I was also co-organising a free live poetry event in a bar called Bukowski's which brought renowned guest poets to Sheffield.

And what of my own writing? There isn't much to report from those years. I'd had the odd poem published in a journal and the rare feature in a magazine or newspaper but I couldn't understand why I didn't seem to be making progress. My health was still a concern. At one point I was doing four different casual jobs at once, trying to do enough work to earn a modest income and keep my professional hand in, whilst not overtiring myself. My own goals were buried under this messy heap.

So how did I turn things around? It was a gradual process but I can recognise significant landmarks. The first step was to realise that I was giving my energy to everyone else and not myself. I made a conscious decision not to become involved in the organization of events and to resist my natural urge to do this. (Bcuk Off, the live poetry event, had by now died a natural death.)

I decided to marry my two passions - writing and travel - by specialising in travel writing rather than general freelance features. This had the added benefit that I could offset the costs of the travel as a business expense - as an old school friend, now a financial director, pointed out. Success in this field followed, with articles for the Press Association, The Yorkshire Post, Sheffield Telegraph, Fortean Times, Britain magazine, and various in-train and in-flight magazines, plus enriching trips to the Central Algarve, Paris, Suffolk and the Yorkshire Dales.

My travel itch had been scratched - but there was still the poetry. Then, in late 2007, I received an email from a friend and colleague on the MA at Sheffield Hallam who was training as a writing coach. Bryony Doran was looking for 'guinea pigs'. I was intrigued to see how the coaching would work and whether it would help me accomplish more. Bryony sent me a form to complete before our first session. I was taken aback at how probing the questions were. How did I describe myself professionally? What did I want the coaching session to achieve? Before I'd even met with Bryony I was being forced to think very deeply about where I was, and where I was going, and it took me a long time to answer those questions.

The two goals I wrote down were to increase my confidence as a writer, as I believed this was one of the things holding me back, and to 'do something' with a small collection of poems on Cuba I had written. An associated aim was to try and stabilise my income.

To cut a long story short, the focus of the coaching reaped instant and astounding results. Between filling in the initial questionnaire and my first session, I won a prize in the Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy, with one of the Cuban poems.

Around this time, after much wrangling and persistence, I managed to negotiate a 0.5 teaching contract in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. This would give me a reasonable and regular income but allow me enough free time to write poetry and travel.

The first coaching session itself resulted in the idea of exhibiting the Cuban poems with a collaborative artist. That exhibition, Dreams and Defiance: Cuba Beyond The Revolution, has just taken place - 18 poems juxtaposed with 22 photographs of Cuba taken by a Sheffield photographer, displayed in the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, as part of the city's Off the Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading. The Private View was attended by 70 people and a launch event at which I read some of the poems sold out, with 30 on the waiting list. There are only a few remaining copies of a limited edition book of the poems and images, designed by students at the University.

The project has been a success for me in many ways - one of the most significant being that I was paid for a solo poetry reading. Previous readings I'd taken part in had been unpaid, and part of a group event.

Whilst meetings to approve the cover design for the book were taking place, I won a prize in the Mslexia Poetry Competition. All these achievements have helped to increase my reputation as a writer and yes, I am more confident - and more ambitious - about my work.

The past six years can be summed up in Lewis Carroll's quote from Alice In Wonderland in which Alice asks the Cheshire Puss which way she ought to go.

The cat replies: 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to'.

A steady income, clearer goals, self-belief - and a little help from my friends - mean I believe I have at last found a path to writing fulfilment.

Carolyn Waudby is a poet, journalist and lecturer living in Sheffield, who specialises in travel writing. She wrote a pamphlet of poems on contemporary art with help from an Arts Council England grant and a poem on wind turbines was used as the basis of a short film. Her recent collection of Cuban poems was exhibited with photographs in a collaborative project for Sheffield's Off The Shelf Festival 2009. More information about Carolyn can be found at www.travelswithapen.blogspot.com

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