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University alumna Bethan Roberts speaks about winning awards for her novels since graduating from Chichester

Award-winning novelist Bethan Roberts - picture credit Sarah Corney

 

“It gave me readers, a support network, the discipline of deadlines and the skills to make writing a habit.” Those are the words of Bethan Roberts, an award-winning novelist and alumna of the University of Chichester’s MA in Creative Writing.

Bethan had dreams of becoming a writer from a very young age. “I was always writing at school but although it was my wish to become a writer I somehow felt it was impossible – that it was something other people did,” she commented. “I studied English Literature at university and that was when I stopped writing.”

It would be another ten years before Bethan wrote creatively again. “I was working for a small TV production company in Brighton which was great, but there came a time when I thought about returning to writing,” she said. “The partner of a colleague is a tutor in creative writing at the University of Chichester so I took a look at the MA in Creative Writing. I was not ready to give up work just yet, but I saw that I could work and do the course part-time over a three-year period. That worked for me and I applied – and secured a place.”

The MA in Creative Writing not only gave Bethan a solid foundation to pursue writing as a career, it also supported her in finding an agent who secured her a book deal just one year after finishing the course.

“Chichester’s is a very supportive MA,” said Bethan. “It is very non-threatening, friendly and open. I always felt I could bring anything to a workshop and expect a respectful and honest response from fellow students and faculty staff. The course gave me readers and a support network of people who wanted to do the same thing. It gave me the discipline to work to a deadline and to get into the habit of writing regularly and well. It also helped me to think objectively about my work and to value the importance of the re-draft!”

She added: “It is no underestimation to say that the course has been life changing.”

Bethan Roberts' books

Bethan’s first book deal was for The Pools, a novel where the murder of a teenage boy has repercussions for those close to him and the community in which he lived, was published in 2007. It won a Jerwood/Arvon Yong Writers’ Award.

Her second novel, The Good Plain Cook, was published in 2008, and serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. It was also chosen as one of Time Out’s books of the year. My Policeman, the story of a 1950s policeman, his wife, and his male lover, followed in 2012, and was that year’s City Read for Brighton. 

Mother Island (2014) was the recipient of a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize and Bethan’s latest novel, Graceland, tells the story of Elvis Presley and his mother and is published in 2019. She also writes short fiction (she has won the Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Prize and the RA Pin Drop Award), and drama for BBC Radio 4.

What are Bethan’s tips for aspiring writers? “Studying creative writing at a course with a great reputation, like that at the University of Chichester, is a great start,” she said. “Be prepared to keep going and keep writing, and do it because you really love it. Publishing for the first time can be daunting, especially if you have done a creative writing course and are used for feedback – sometimes it can feel like sending your work out into a vacuum.”

She added: “But at the end of the day, this is your opportunity to create something beautiful for someone else to enjoy – and what a privilege that is.”

If Bethan’s story has inspired you to become a writer, you can find out more about the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester at www.chi.ac.uk/ma-creative-writing. More information about Bethan is available at www.bethanrobertswriter.co.uk.