How do I prepare for starting university? Five top tips!

Written by Hannah BA English with Study Abroad

Preparing to start university is simultaneously an incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking time. As a student heading towards my final year in Exeter, I want to give you my five tried and tested top tips for preparing for starting university.

  1. The Practicals: Finance and Accommodation

Let’s get the boring (but highly important) aspects of finance and accommodation covered first, as having this sorted will help you have a stress-free transition to university life. Make sure you have applied for your accommodation and student finance before the respective deadlines.

Look into opening a student bank account – shop around between options as most student bank accounts come with a variety of perks that vary between providers. A 16-25-year-old railcard will also come in handy if you will be travelling to and from university by train during the year. Financially, it’s also handy to learn how to budget and manage your own money. Planning on a weekly basis can be a great way to keep on top of your spending without getting overwhelmed.

  1. Get connected on social media

Following the university on social media is a great way to keep up to date and familiarise yourself with your campus. You can also find pages and group chats set up for incoming students, which can be a great way to find students studying your subject or heading to the same accommodation as you.

Most societies and sports clubs will also have social media presences, particularly on Facebook and Instagram, so have a look into the ones you might be interested in to see what they will be getting up to at the start of the year. Remember to keep an open mind too as there will be plenty more societies and clubs that you come across once you arrive. It can be particularly useful to join the society for your academic subject so you can meet other students in a social setting or get advice from older years.

  1. Read around your subject

It’s also a good idea to dedicate some time to preparing for your studies before you arrive in Exeter. Find out if there are reading lists that your department recommend familiarising yourself with before your course starts. Don’t panic about covering everything but remember that, even if it feels like a chore over your summer, it will be so helpful to get ahead on reading in the long run as it will free up time for socialising and making friends in your first few weeks.

If your subject doesn’t have prescribed reading lists, read around your subject more generally! Hopefully you chose your subject because you find it interesting so find examples of your subject in action in the wider world. Doing some more ‘academic’ reading will really help ease you back into the student frame of mind after a long pause to studies.

Don’t panic about buying every single book possible – remember that the library will be available to you on campus, as well as Blackwell’s which sells textbooks second-hand at discounted prices.

  1. Learn to cook

Starting at university is likely your first time living away from home. With this newfound freedom and independence also comes the challenge of having to feed yourself every day (if you are in self-catered accommodation). Before you arrive at uni, try to have a few basic meals under your belt. Beans on toast is great but gets boring quickly. Meals that can be bulk made and frozen, such as chilli or Bolognese, are ideal. While you are still at home, have a practice at meal planning for a week, which will also help you practice budgeting.

It’s also worth knowing that you don’t need to bring every piece of kitchen equipment under the sun. Start with the basics and, once you’ve arrived and met your flatmates, figure out what extra equipment might be useful to buy as a house. No house needs 8 cheese graters…

  1. Get excited!

The run up to starting university can be a nerve-wracking time as there are so many unknowns involved. Above all, embrace the uncertainty and focus on how exciting it is to have several years of new opportunities ahead of you. It is so important to remember that everyone around you is in the same boat and (even if they don’t admit it) everyone experiences nerves when they start at university. Before you know it, you’ll have settled into university life and forgotten all about the initial nerves. If you take anything from this blog, please let it be a reminder to not panic!

I hope this has helped give you an idea about how to prepare for starting university.

Good luck and (hopefully) see you in September!

Tips for Navigating the Start of a Thesis/Dissertation

Written by Asma PHD English student

All Readings Matter

At the initial stages when you are doing a literature review, it can be significantly difficult to be reading and not really knowing what to do with all the books and articles you are going through. I had this same experience at the start of my PhD, and every time I found myself following threads of information to other books and articles that did not even seem relevant at the time. What I find now, however, is that everything I read contributed to my understanding of my thesis as a whole.

Note Taking and Keeping Track of References

I think it is really important to keep track of all the resources you check, as it gets difficult to remember everything you read after a couple of years into your PhD. I mostly just use a Word document and copy/paste all titles in there, so it is easy to get back to it later. I have highlighted relevant sections and added notes into the articles I read in PDF form, and that was super helpful when I started drafting my chapters. I have also used a Word document to write down whatever ideas sounded relevant to my chapter from the books I read, and whenever a similar idea emerged in another book/article, I would go back to that section on the Word document and write it under the previous one. This way of taking notes allowed me to have threads of similar ideas and different topics that a chapter could include. Some of these do not necessarily end up in the final draft of the chapter, but I later move them to another Word document of ‘leftover’ ideas that could work better in the next chapter.

Chapter Outlines and Starting Drafts

When writing the actual literature review, I tended to write prose rather than put things into bullet points whenever I could. I had chunks of prose and paragraphs from the note-taking stage that I used as starting points for my chapter drafting. Based on the threads of ideas that emerged in the literature I reviewed, I put initial chapter plans that would guide my drafting. It was never possible to stick to those outlines as they are, but they gave me a sense of direction when I started writing up. I added sections and titles and got rid of others when they did not work. In addition to this, I kept reminding myself that the resources I use for one chapter might not be used ever again in my thesis, so I did the works cited section for each chapter at the stage of drafting. This was honestly one of the best things I did throughout my writing up. When I finished drafting a chapter, I was not worried about remembering all the articles/books I referred to or having to spend a long time going through the chapters and writing down my references.

All Writing and Notes Matter

All in all, it is worth mentioning that I just wrote down ideas no matter how silly or irrelevant they sounded at first. Some of those later proved to be the start of a good comparison, for example, with another author’s ideas. They could provide ground for criticism as well, or they could just be there to encourage you as you see the page has some writing on it and it just helps you go on writing down more relevant stuff.

How to study productively and efficiently at home

Written by Isla BA English student

Hi, my name is Isla and I am currently studying for my BA English degree at Exeter University. With the current pandemic and studies disrupted, tackling that pile of coursework you’d rather avoid, combined with health concerns and a distracting home environment is daunting. It’s easy to say ‘I just study better in the library’ but there are methods and tools out there to help you create the best study space you can at home.

Managing my studies around a busy timetable (I am part of three society committees, a subject representative and have a job alongside my studies) has encouraged me to find any resources I can to help with working at home productively and efficiently. I’m going to share with you some of the tools and study methods I use to keep up with work and still have time for Netflix and a social life (well more of a Zoom/Facetime life now).

My 3 most important general tips are:        

  1. These tips will only be as effective as you are in implementing them… yes that means no repeated adventures to the fridge or YouTube rabbit holes mid essay…though we have all done it.
  2. Have fair expectations of yourself – do not set unrealistic targets and then punish yourself for not meeting them, but also avoid making excuses for unnecessary lazy days.
  3. Learn from your study mistakes – it is ok to make changes and find what works for you.

Creating the right environment and headspace

  • Try to get up and go to bed at a similar time every day. I know you’ve heard it before but stick at it – a new routine takes a week to feel natural.
  • Change out of your pyjamas. Comfy clothes I fully support, but no-one works well in the pyjamas that they would rather take a nap in.
  • Don’t go straight from sleep to study. Give yourself some time to make breakfast, read or watch a little bit of a show you like, go for a walk or do some stretches. It is important to remember you would normally have a commute to university campus or school between waking up and studying, so give yourself some time to wake up properly and be in the right mindset.
  • Choose a dedicated study space that is NOT your bed and stick to it. Working in bed has been proven to affect your sleep patterns negatively.
  • Use your phone for break times only and turn off your social media notifications on your computer. Apps such as flora can be helpful to prevent you from constantly checking your phone.
  • Designate and inform people of your ‘study hours’. Friends will be less likely to call and distract you, and you’ll be more aware of leaving your study session to message people.
  • Keep up to date but try not to let news sources impact your state of mind negatively. The Togetherness Campaign by RMY is a great source of accurate news updates but put in quick to read Facebook posts.
  • Either Study properly or Relax properly. Giving yourself time to wind down is important and it is better to study well for 6 hours and then relax for 3, than do 9 hours of inefficient and stressful work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organisational advice

  • Write down clear weekly goals and then divide these by day. This makes tracking goals and progress a lot simpler so you can adjust your workload if your plans change, while still finishing on time.
  • Organise your ‘to do’s by deadline and importance. Complete tasks in the order of due date NOT based on what feels easier. We tend to avoid work we’re stressed about, and productive procrastination is still procrastination.
  • Use tools such as Trello and Todoist to track your tasks. A simple paper and pen to do list always works well too – I highlight mine with the top three urgent tasks to begin with.
  • Keep your workspace TIDY. You don’t want to keep ‘cleaning your room’ or ‘organising your desk’ instead of getting your work done.
  • Your lecturers/teachers are there to help – If you think you’re going to need help with an essay, ask sooner rather than later and lay out all your questions clearly in an email.

Study Tips

  • Active studying – ask yourself questions on every topic before and after you study. (What do I already know? How does this information fit into the rest of my module/course? How could I plan an essay on this topic?)
  • Always review and make note of difficult areas at the end of a study session – write reminders for areas you need to further research or recap.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep affects your body the same way alcohol does, and no-one works well hungover.
  • Don’t skip eating proper meals, being hungry and constantly snacking are both unhealthy and distracting.
  • Set timers for an hour every time you start a new task/topic and mark how long it took you to complete or how much was completed within 1 hour’s work. This helps with future time management and study planning as you understand your pace and workload better.

I hope some of these tips will help you but remember that different study methods work for different people and the current pandemic has thrown everyone a little off course. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, give yourself the best opportunity to do well by balancing work and relaxation time. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Musings of a Mature Student – Coping with the Holidays!

Written by Anne MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway student

These deadlines come around fast, don’t they? So, with the industrial action, I find I have more time at home, so being super-organised is more important than ever. The temptation to have a break (as no seminars for a few weeks) is strong, hey, why not ditch the coursework and carry on with the research report/essay/ or whatever needs handing in next?

Well, as tempting as it is, I found a lot more useful information in this week’s reading that will improve my writing no end. After all, good writing depends on good reading…

So, there are several ways to approach writing an essay; in fact, the LSE have some great tips on their website. 

My approach is to get as much done upfront as possible: as a mature student, I can’t pull all-nighters close to deadline, which seems to be a popular choice amongst some of the younger students, aided by heart-attack amounts of red bull and coffee! (Seriously, how do you do it?) ..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead, I aim at around four hours a day steady writing, occasionally re-checking my research notes and making sure in-text citations have the correct page number. Then I just slog at it. I usually write my introduction at around 10-20% of the word count, then I write bullets points of what I hope to discover. This helps me stick to my point in the main body of the essay. It doesn’t matter about spelling and grammar at this stage – no point in correcting stuff which may well end up being deleted in the final draft! So, basically, I cobble it together then refine afterwards.  And referencing as I go. Also, remember to do that Turnitin check!

At least, in this way, I have something to submit early on, in case of a catastrophe, which happened to me at Xmas. I was bedridden four days up to deadline, so no, I didn’t write the stellar essay I hoped for, but I did have a finished essay to hand in, proof-read and formatted, checked and refined to a degree.

I have days that I’m sure you can all relate to…you know, where the sentence ‘the cat sat on the mat’ is the brain’s intellectual offering of the day and your head is full of clouds. You feel you cannot read ONE MORE thing and your eyes do that funny flicky from side-to-side thing. I either take a break and close my eyes for 10 mins, go and do something physical, or stop and set a later time in the day (that I have to stick to!) to carry on.

I used to ‘wait for inspiration’ in my undergrad days…that was great when I had 7 months to write 5000 words, (I kid you not), but I found it a shock to have to do the same in 3 weeks….so something had to change. I got far more disciplined, and when I wrote out my timetable for the Xmas break, it actually looked not only do-able but easily so.

Other things I do to stay organised:

Cooking: I plan a week’s worth of food, make out a menu, and spend a day making meals so that I don’t have to waste time wondering each day what I’m going to eat and then have to do needless shopping trips. As it’s a 40 min round trip walking to the shops where I live, this saves me A LOT of time.

Work: Yes, I have to work to support myself, so I make sure that my reading/writing schedule is lighter on those evenings, and make sure I get early starts on the days I’m not at work. It’s so easy to procrastinate at home and to get side-tracked. It’s not so bad for me as I have no dependants, but I still have to stay disciplined and not decide that hoovering the lounge is suddenly the most fascinating thing ever!

Delegate: I don’t like to ask anyone to do stuff for me, but since asking my sister (with whom I live) to take up the slack from some household/laundry/shopping chores, I find that I have more time. I have discovered that non-University family members can sometimes find it hard to believe that when you’re staring into space, you are actually working! I have also had to be firm about Do Not Disturb – it’s easy for someone to distract you and lose your train of thought. I shut my office door and have a sign on the handle. Family members can’t be expected to remember that you’re still working on the same thing two hours later!

Socialise: I make time to meet up with a friend, have a night out, and not spend the time worrying or feeling guilty, because I have scheduled it into my calendar. A good night out and having some fun does wonders for creativity!

It’s about pacing yourself, and realising that when you’re shattered/exhausted, you need to stop. Look after yourself, and your health. Be nice to yourself – you’ve come this far, you’re awesome! Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of just that. Get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day, and aren’t we lucky to see it?

Musings of a mature student – Eating well and staying healthy

Written by Anne MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway

I have to budget (like all of us do!) as a student, so I have been looking at ways to eat well and save pounds….and lose pounds too! My food bill is around £25-£30 per week, although a lot of that is on things that take a long time to use up, like oil, salt, mayo… store cupboard essentials. Although there are many great (and heavily discounted) eateries around campus, and it’s great to eat out with friends, there is something satisfying about cooking and having friends round to dinner. Even better if you club together to buy the ingredients or have different hosts even once a week.

The important thing is to strike a balance – it would be great to have dedicated ‘eat out together’ nights and some eat-in dinner parties too and think what you could do with the money you save!

Maths is not my strong point, but I’ll give it a go:

Scenario. You eat lunch every day on campus, evenings you eat out or grab a take-away. In this sample I’m using as an average just two meals per day and two to three drinks.

Lunch: Burger and fries, £5.75. Drink, £2.50.

Dinner: On campus £6.95 Meal Deal/ Takeaway Pizza (small), £13.99. Drink, £2.

Over 7 days = £106.40/£169.68

Daily expenditure (not including breakfast or snacks) = £15.20/£24.24

My food bill is £30 eating-in every day and taking my own lunches to college. If I add on a night out and a few coffees, then I can guess at another £15 on top, so that rounds up to £45 per week. Let’s round that to £6 per day if I’m feeling lavish, although realistically it’s a lot less than that.

It easy to see, then, that by cooking even three days out of seven could potentially save you a lot of money! There are too many variables for accurate calculations, but it’s safe to say at least £9 to £18 could be saved per day on not eating out. That could be a few extra hundred quid per semester! Be smart, eat smart!

As a one-time chef, I have always had an interest in food; not only from a restaurant-oriented perspective on food combinations, presentation and flavour, but also nutrition and its effects I the body. I cook all of my meals from scratch, and although it can be a bit time consuming, I save A LOT of money in the meantime.

So instead of grabbing a quick bite from a café or shop, I make a batch of food that I can take with me to Uni, like a frittata (sort of  a cold omelette) loaded with eggs, spinach, onions and feta cheese…healthy and delicious! Spinach is full of vitamins too, which is great for your body and brain! The good news is you only need one large frying pan, a decent knife and a chopping board, no fancy kitchen stuff. (Although fancy kitchen stuff is col…I’m a kitchen-gadget nerd). 😊

So, I’m heading for my mid-fifties, and my body isn’t what it used to be! I have always been fairly active – I love DIY, building projects at home and in the garden, I grow my own food, and I dance Argentine tango.

When I began my serious foray into education starting my degree late in life in 2015, my lifestyle also changed drastically. Gone were the long days of being active; instead I was (and am) spending a lot more time sitting down studying, or spending hours watching films for my course. So, the input/output ratio of food/energy expenditure was just not balancing up any more. Added to that was a broken arm followed by a knee operation and surgery, compounding the inactivity and inability to move very much at all.

I found that my energy levels were spiking and crashing all over the place. I felt tired even after 8 hours of sleep. I have suffered insomnia for a long time, and I was resigned to a good night’s sleep being a thing of the past. I was packing on the pounds, making my system feel sluggish and my clothes were not fitting well any more. I looked at my daily food intake and kept a diary – a few lattés with added sugar, an energy bar, and sandwich or fries for lunch and maybe pasta for dinner, followed by toast later on in the evening or some dark chocolate was a normal day, and although it looked healthy, there was a lot of sugar in there, even though I didn’t realise it! And I often felt hungry….

So, even though I cook a lot and cook well, I decided to add more ‘on the go’ foods to my list to avoid grabbing a carb-heavy lunch, which can make you feel sleepy!  Apart from frittata, another cool way to bring a packed lunch to Uni is in lettuce wraps: you can load a sweet, crunchy lettuce leaf (cos, or romaine are best) with chicken mayo, tuna, roasted peppers, flavoured tofu,  steak and cheese – think wrap but with lettuce for the ‘holder’. The best thing about learning to cook a few simple things for lunches is that it’s much, much cheaper and also really good for you…my lunches are very filling and cost around a pound each!

Now, any kind of regime is difficult to stick to without good planning; if you have a family to fit in around your meal choices it’s ever harder. But by spending just a few hours in a day to make lunches or dinners for the next few days actually saves a lot of time!

So down to the food itself! By eating good quality protein, vegan or not, you actually feel fuller longer, and by adding ‘rainbow’ veg you are getting all the nutrition you need. Finish off your salads with some good virgin olive oil or throw on some seeds and you’re good to go! Here’s one of my favourites, which is actually nice cold too – you have the leftovers for lunch the next day. Jazz it up by throwing in some fresh watercress leaves and fresh cherry tomatoes for a great salad!

I am going to start with a ‘middle of the road’ recipe, one that is Asian food inspired, and follows my particular keto diet, although it’s healthy for everyone. Here is one of my favorites, which you can cook in under 30 mins, after a bit of prep. (with adaptations for various diets). It’s a good recipe to have for lunch or dinner, especially if the other meal of the day is a bit heavier on fried foods or eating out. Why not get your friends round for dinner, everyone can help with the prep…not to mention the washing up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spicy Beef Asian Style (with veggie and Ramen Variations). (serves 2) prep time (overnight plus 30mins cooking) serves 2. Cost: approx. £7 (£5.67 for main ingredients, allowing £1.33 for spices, herbs and oils).

1 x 12oz sirloin or other good grass-fed beef steak

1 x Bunch spring onions chopped

1 x head pak choi

I x small carrot sliced into in ribbons

1x head of broccoli cut into small florettes

1x green pepper, de-seeded and sliced

1 x courgette cut into thin strips

1tbsp soy sauce

¼ tsp chili flakes

2 x cloves garlic

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

Handful fresh coriander

2tsp toasted sesame seeds

1 x tbsp sesame oil plus extra if needed

 

Method

Combine oil, salt, crushed garlic, coconut aminos, chilli & ginger in a bowl.

Slice steak into thin ribbons, about ¼ inch thick and thoroughly coat in oil mixture.

Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight.

Cooking:

Pre-heat a large non-stick wok and add beef using tongs, being careful to shake off as much liquid from the marinade as possible. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until all pink colour has just turned brown. If sticking, add a little more sesame oil. Remove and set aside.

Add broccoli, peppers and carrots to pan, cook for 2 minutes, tossing to keep them cooking evenly. Add sliced pak choi and spring onions, then re-add beef and rest of marinade. Add beef broth, lower heat on pan. Cook until all heated through and piping hot.

Ladle into two bowls, top with sesame seeds and coriander.

Enjoy!

Variations:

Less expensive: Use low sodium soy sauce instead of liquid coconut aminos, and switch to cheaper cuts of pork or chicken.

Ramen: Add a halved boiled egg and spiralise the courgette for low carb ramen, or for normal ramen add cooked noodles.

Vegetarian: add marinated seitan or tofu instead of meat.

Spice it up!  Splash on some hot chilli sauce or add bird’s eye chilies when frying meat/tofu.

Freshen it up! Toss in a large handful of bean sprouts to the veggies when cooking and add a big bunch of watercress on the side and squeeze over a generous slice of fresh lime.

 

 

What is it like to study a Humanities subject at Exeter University?

By Ferdia 2nd year English and Drama student at Exeter University

Hello! My name is Ferdia and I am in my second year studying English and Drama at Exeter. I am originally from Manchester but I love going to a university far away from home, as it has given me an increased sense of independence and responsibility. My favourite thing about studying at Exeter is the size of the university and the fact that it is campus based. I think that as a campus there is an increased sense of community and everyone is really friendly. Getting to know people and making new friends couldn’t be easier!

I am writing today about the difference between studying a Humanities subject at university, compared to studying Humanities at school. I would say that the first key difference is the sense of freedom you get at university. At school, you have to study the topics assigned by your teacher, meaning you may not necessarily enjoy all of them. Whereas at university level, although there are some compulsory modules, you get the freedom to choose what you want to do and are interested in. This makes it a lot more enjoyable. For example, in my first year I picked ‘Introduction to film studies’ as one of my English modules. I had never studied film or cinema before, but this freedom of choice led me to have a real love of Film Studies, and consequently I will be taking a Film & Television Studies module as part of my final year.

Another difference is the level of engagement with tutors. In school, you spend most of your time guided by a teacher, whereas at university most of your time is spent in independent study. In an average week, I might have 8-10 hours when I’m led by a tutor – broken down into lectures and seminars. I might have two 1-2 hour long lectures a week, which will be based on the reading for that week. You will be expected to have done the reading and be prepared. I might also have two 2 hour long seminars a week. These seminars are a guided discussion led by a tutor based on the reading for that week. These sessions are really helpful, as they make you think about things in a way you might not have thought about before, and you can engage with like-minded people. I love the independent aspect of studying a Humanities subject, you can learn more about what interests you and learn more about your writing style. If you are stuck you can always go and speak to one of your tutors and they are always more than happy to help.

A difference in essay writing between writing at school level and writing at university level, is the criteria you have to fulfil. When writing essays for humanities subjects at GCSE or A level, there are certain assessment objectives you have to fulfil and you are taught how to write an essay in a very specific way. However at university level, you are given more freedom in the way you can approach an essay question and can develop your own essay writing style. I found this really helpful, as at school I struggled with the way we were taught to write essays and consequently my marks suffered due to this restriction. However now I can approach an essay in a way I feel is most suitable, and I find that I can write essays with more passion and enthusiasm!

Although I have really enjoyed the increase in freedom in my studies during my time at university, there are also many other things that have made my time at Exeter a special one. I have been very active in societies, including my academic subject societies and also theatre societies, which have helped me to make friends and enjoy myself! I hope that this post helps with any questions you might have and I wish you the best of luck studying Humanities in the future!

The value of the Coddiwomble- Why I chose to study MA Creative Writing

By Hannah MA Creative Writing student at The University of Exeter

My name is Hannah and I am a word nerd. I love them all, every character, particularly once they’ve been plucked from language’s jumble and trained into lines designed to delight. My favourite word tamers include Emily Bronte, Robert Macfarlane, Hillary Mantel, Oscar Wilde, Terry Pratchett and Haruki Murakami. These literary legends transport one from the bed, the bath or the bus to the Moors, sixteenth-century Court, Discworld, tropical archipelago’s and Victorian parlours. Until teleportation becomes an option reading is the easiest way of getting yourself an interdimensional holiday for a tenner – a real penny saver for travel bums like myself. Twenty-five years after discovering I could get to Narnia, Hogwarts and Wonderland by reading, I’ve come to study word organisation at Exeter. I hope that the modules, lecturers, environment, time and space help me craft something(s) that transports other readers away from (and on) rainy afternoons and sleepless nights.

Why study a Creative Writing masters? I’d already completed a BA in English and Creative Writing, what would I gain by putting myself through another bought of deadlines? Even I’ve asked myself the question on the Sunday’s I’ve spent hunched over a laptop while everyone is out playing or snoozing on the sofa. Technically I’d already achieved what I’d set out to: I was paying the bills through my work writing. I’d also discovered just how many varied opportunities there are for pen wielders; in Peru I used my degree honed skills to write about the alleviation of Menopause’s 34 symptoms and in the UK, I’d increased charitable income by working as a Trust Fundraiser. But the problem is, I wasn’t writing my words, (and my interest in surrealism and fin de siècle Gothic’s far surpasses my interest in the menopause).

So, I’ve decided to actively Coddiwomble*, that is to push myself to ‘travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination’. The ‘vague destination’ is somewhere / some scenario where I can live by writing my own words (ideally it will be on a beach). In order to purposefully travel towards this unmapped location, I quit my full- time job as a Trust Fundraiser, jumped into the unknown (excuse the cliché) and landed back on campus – the University of Exeter’s to be precise. Already the move has forced me to grow as a writer.

In term one Sam North’s suitably challenging Poetry of Events module convinced my classmates and I, that in order to excel we needed to stop worrying about crafting beautiful prose and instead focus on working out what separates a good plot from a bad one. (Hint: Desire and satisfying the audience’s thirst for puzzles is key). I’ve also been able to indulge my fascination with late 19th century society and its literature by taking the English Literature module Empire, Decadence and Modernity. Highlights have included; considering the paradoxes and epigrams of Oscar Wilde and discovering relatively obscure but brilliant texts such as The Story of a Modern Woman by Ella Hepworth Dixon.

The wisest decision I made was to complete the course over two years rather than one. In addition to getting a whole extra year of study, I’ve also been able to combine the course with a role in communications and, importantly for me, I’ve only had to deal with one set of deadlines per term.

Realistically the move back into academic study may not add digits to my paycheck or land me a top dollar publishing deal, but it is allowing me access to storytelling experts, 1-1 support, a global community of writers and most importantly of all, the time and space to write.

*Can we all try to actively reintroduce this incredible old English slang word back into everyday conversation?

How Ross Poldark was a victim of Cornwall’s changing industrial landscape

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The article was written by Joseph Crawford, Lecturer in English. 

In July 2016, the BBC announced the commissioning of a third season of costume drama Poldark, months before the second series was even due to be broadcast. This represents an impressive vote of confidence in the series, especially as season two will apparently not be repeating the famous “topless scything” scene which won the National Television Awards’ prize for TV Moment of the Year.

Go West. BBC

Go West. BBC

The real pivotal moment depicted by Poldark, however, is one of historical change in south-west England. In the mid-18th century, Cornwall and Devon were major commercial and industrial centres. Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were some of the largest and most sophisticated in Europe, while the profits from the Cornwall and Devonshire wool trade helped make Exeter one of the biggest and richest cities in England.

By the mid-19th century however, much had changed. The rise of the mechanised cloth industry in England’s North and Midlands sent the south-western wool trade into serious decline. And while Cornwall’s mining industry survived well into the 20th century, it experienced repeated crises from the 1770s onwards. This was primarily due to newly discovered tin and copper mines elsewhere in the world, leading to the large-scale emigration of Cornish miners to countries such as Mexico, Australia and Brazil.

The era depicted in Poldark shows the region on the very tipping-point of this transition. Ross Poldark’s struggles to keep his mine open and profitable are symptomatic of the economic difficulties experienced by the region as a whole during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As south-western towns lost their traditional role as centres of trade and industry, their focus shifted increasingly to tourism. This was especially true during the long years of the Napoleonic Wars which form the backdrop to the later Poldark novels. Cut off by war from their favoured resorts in France and Italy, a generation of English tourists began taking holidays in Devon and Cornwall instead.

By the late 18th century, writers in Devon were praising their native county for its natural beauty and its ancient history, rather than for the wealth and industry of which their parents and grandparents had been so proud. By the mid-19th century, the same was increasingly true of Cornwall.

This economic shift led, in turn, to the development of the Victorian mythology of the “romantic South-West”, still beloved of local tourist boards today.

This mythology is built upon a version of the region’s history which emphasises its remote and wild character, playing on associations with Merlin and King Arthur, druids and witches, smugglers and wreckers and pirates.

Like most costume dramas, Poldark’s primary concern is with the travails of cross-class romance. But it is also a narrative about de-industrialisation, and about the struggle of local businesses to remain competitive and economically viable within an increasingly globalised economy – a story which has some resonance in early 21st-century Britain.

The poverty of the Cornish miners with whom Ross Poldark identifies is not simply the result of gratuitous oppression. Instead they are the victims of a new economic order which has little interest in preserving local industry for its own sake.

Wild West

The show has certainly not been shy about making lavish use of the beauty of its Cornish setting, and has already triggered something of a tourism boom, with visitors flocking to the region to see for themselves the moors, cliffs, and beaches which Poldark employs to such dramatic visual effect.

But it also depicts the historical struggles of the region’s inhabitants to preserve the South West as something more than just a pretty place for other people to visit on holiday. In this sense, it is rather symbolic that season one of Poldark ends with Ross being falsely accused of wrecking. The legend of the Cornish wreckers, which reached its definitive form in Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, is founded on extremely slender historical evidence, but it persists because it fits in so neatly with the Victorian mythology of the South West in general, and Cornwall in particular: a mythology which viewed it as a lawless and desperate land, filled with crime and adventure, and remote from all true civilisation.

In Poldark, the looting of the wrecked vessel is motivated by hunger and poverty, which have in turn been caused by the economic depression besetting the region. But after spending the whole season struggling against Cornwall’s industrial decline, Ross finds himself in danger of being absorbed into a new kind of narrative about the South West – one which will have no place for men like him, except as picturesque savages.

Of course, in this respect, Poldark rather wants to both have its grain and (shirtlessly) reap it, too. Ross Poldark and Demelza appeal to their audience precisely because they embody the kind of romantic wildness which, since the Victorian era, has been the stock-in-trade of the south-western tourist industry.

They are passionate, free-spirited, and dismissive of class boundaries and social conventions: hardly the kind of people that the self-consciously respectable merchants and industrialists of the 18th-century South West would have wanted as their representatives or champions. But by setting its story of class antagonism against the backdrop of this crucial turning-point in the history of the South West, Poldark does serve as a reminder that the quietness of the region, which has proven so attractive to generations of tourists, is not the natural state of a land untouched by commerce or industry. It is the silence which follows their enforced departure.