Since graduating from Leeds Trinity's MA in Creative Writing in 2015 Maria Stephenson has launched her first poetry collection, been shortlisted for an international literary award and also set up her own creative writing teaching business.
In this blog, Maria shares her writing journey and explains how the MA helped improve her confidence so that she could start to live her dream of making a living as a writer and teacher.
I have written for as long as I can remember. I had a difficult childhood and ended up in care so writing short stories and poetry provided an escape for me. I had a poem published in a magazine when I was 12, and I remember one of my English teachers saying I was talented which made me determined to one day make it as a writer.
After leaving school and care, a bit of a 'fight for survival' ensued, whereby I continued to pour things out into my writing, mainly poems at that time. I left school with just one GCSE, having not really attended throughout the final year. I trained as a secretary through night school and had a series of jobs in that capacity.
I became a single parent at the age of 20 but then married and had another child at the age of 28. Still, I continued to write. My eldest son was diagnosed with ADHD so I poured a lot of the angst surrounding this into an autobiographical narrative Don't Call Me Mum.
Being a writer ran through me like lettering through a stick of rock. Through happy and not so happy times, I wrote poems and short stories and still dreamed of achieving my ambition of being a professional writer and being published.
I first studied at Leeds Trinity from 2004 to 2008 when I did a degree in Primary Education with English. I loved studying at Trinity. The four years there were my 'me-time' and my oasis of calm from a very troubled home life. After that, I worked as a teacher for a few years, and carried on writing, self-publishing my novel, Don't Call Me Mum, before returning to Leeds Trinity in 2013 to do my Master's Degree in Creative Writing.
My ex-husband had always said my writing was a complete waste of time and would never amount to anything. I'd wanted to do an MA for a couple of years but he said we couldn't justify the expense. After making a decision to split with him on my 40th birthday in 2013, one of the first things I did was apply for the brand new MA.
Trinity gave me the confidence to put my work out there. I have had several inclusions in anthologies and contributed one third of a collection An After Dinner's Sleep with Hannah Stone and Gill Lambert in collaboration with Indigo Dreams and the Imprint 'WordSpace'. Doing the MA and investing in myself as a writer helped me make the transition from amateur to professional.
Writing has always been a huge outlet for me. Whilst I was trapped within my unhappy, toxic and abusive marriage, I poured all my emotions into poetry which has formed 'The Catepillar', the first part of my collection Poetry for the Newly Single 40 Something published by Stairwell Books in York in November 2017. Part two (The Chrysallis) chronicles my 'escape' and part three (The Butterfly) was written as I found my freedom and began to 'live' again.
I never planned the collection, it just came into being when I realised my experiences may help other people trapped in miserable relationships. My poetry has been described as 'accessible' and very easy to understand so I don't think readers need to be 'poetry readers' to be helped or moved by it.
I am also a novelist and have written The Man Behind Closed Doors, a crime novel featuring a male victim of domestic violence. This was recently shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Award in collaboration with Legend Press in London (for new authors). I am doing a re-write on it at the moment and am hoping to get it out there in the very near future.
I teach two courses I have written myself at Prince Henry's School in Otley as part of their night school programme: Write a Novel in a Year and Write a Collection of Poetry in a Year. I also offer these courses on a distance learning basis.
In addition, I teach Creative Writing classes for the Workers Educational Association and have a little business going whereby I lead collective poetry activities in care homes for the elderly. I feel very lucky to now be able to entirely make my living through being a writer.
It's been a fantastic journey so far. As for what's next, I do have something else in the pipeline with my next poetry collection especially since my life has taken another very happy turn and I have recently become engaged to someone wonderful. I have also started making notes for my next novel but had better get my current one out first!
I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to teach a workshop at the forthcoming Trinity Writers' Festival on 14 February followed by giving an inspirational talk to the current cohort of MA students.
The thing I would most like to do is embark on a PhD in Creative Writing. The idea of being someone who has gone from care home to PhD is really exciting. It would be even better if I could study for this at Leeds Trinity. The university has played a huge role in my development as a teacher and a writer and I owe all my tutors and peers an enormous debt of gratitude.