Harriet Tarlo

MA Creative Writing

Harriet Tarlo is the accomplished writer and poet who leads the MA Creative Writing course, one of the oldest in the country. First published in her local paper as a young girl, she continues to write and seeks new ways to 'experiment' with her work. Her course has led to successful writing careers for numerous alumni.

Harriet Tarlo

How does your own work influence your teaching?

I teach on both the MA and BA (Hons) Creative Writing courses and have taught creative writing for more than 20 years. I suppose I am both an academic and a working writer, a poet. And I do lots of freelance work too - review writing, workshops, exhibitions - it's a lot of work but I think that balance, keeping in with industry, is important. That experience, of writing, feeds into my teaching and I really enjoy my teaching time. For me, writing poetry is about wanting to keep the freshness alive really - a vision, a way of seeing people and the world... kind of experimenting with words, playing with words. The BA course is sort of ideas based, I teach experimental writing; and the MA is more genre based - people often do that course to write something specific, to be published. So that link to the working world is an essential influence.

What did university feel like to you?

The lectures were great. They were on a big scale, you know, like dramatic presentations of writers. And certainly that extended my reading a lot. I was the sort of person who, when interested in a writer, would go about and read everything they've written. Just really get into it. And so that was the best part of the education. I think what had the most influence was the reading I did there. And the people, like Richard Caddel who was a poet and he worked in the library. He wasn't an English academic but he was much more influential in my writing than the academics who were teaching me.

"There was a tutor who I would say really helped my intellectual development, she was very rigorous and she taught me how to be an academic. I still refer to what she taught me."

Do your students build careers in creative writing?

Like I said, lots of the MA students have something in mind that they want to publish and quite often they're successful. Susan Elliot-Wright has just got an impressive three book deal, so she's a successful literary novelist. Sharon Oakes has gone on to develop a great career in script writing. And I'm expecting great things from several current students - like one from Barbados who I think will do really well with her short stories. And I teach a really ambitious young poet who?s doing interesting things with Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. At the other end of the age spectrum there?s a writer in his 70s who's doing good work with poetry groups. Lots of our students win awards for writing.

Is Sheffield a good place for writers?

There is definitely a northern flavour to the course in a lot of ways. I find Sheffield an incredibly friendly place with a big sense of community. And there is a big sense of community in our course, so the two things are not unrelated. It's a very open place you know. It is very liberal. It is very very friendly and it is not pompous. And this University isn't particularly pompous either. It is one of the things I like about it. The department isn?t either. Everyone calls each other by their first name, both staff and students. Obviously you know who are staff and who are students, but really it is like a community of writers and everyone is trying to encourage.

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