MA Creative Writing, 2013
Joanne Meek was a runner-up in the 2014 Costa Short Story Awards with Jellyfish, the story of a woman who returns with her children to the coast that she once called home.
Can you tell us about your short story Jellyfish?
My short story Jellyfish was inspired by a real place. I love the beach, especially the Pembrokeshire coast where I was born and spent much of my childhood. The story is about bonds and communication. It studies the non-verbal communication of a mother and her three sons and their relationship with their estranged father.
The jellyfish in the story are real, as are elements of the children, although the story itself is fiction.
Why did you enter Jellyfish in the Costa Short Story competition?
I originally worked on Jellyfish as part of my dissertation for my MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff. On a weekend away (to the same piece of coastline where the story was first inspired), I realised it was the deadline for the Costa Short story competition and decided to submit. I never expected to be shortlisted but preparing a story for submission seemed to be good writing practice as it gave me motivation and a deadline to work to.
Why did you choose Cardiff and any special memories?
My time at Cardiff has been some of the most formative and interesting years of my life. I gained a place on the BA programme in Language & Communication after completing an Access course in Humanities as a mature student, having thought I would never attend university. It was a difficult time for me personally as I was caring for my mother who was terminally ill but my tutors were very supportive and I discovered a love of research and learning. When I decided to continue my studies with an MA in Creative Writing I knew I wanted to return to Cardiff - there was no second choice.
The MA was an emotional and challenging journey and sharing it with my wonderful cohort of inspirational young writers was a fantastic experience, especially our winter writing retreat to Gregynog! Meeting the guest lecturers (the most notable for me was Tessa Hadley) and participating in the monthly open mic sessions were a massive motivation for me.
How has your study at Cardiff University helped your career journey?
Soon after completing my dissertation I gained a job teaching a community education creative writing course. Completing the 'teaching theory and practice' module of the MA gave me the tools and confidence to take this step. I have more recently been appointed as an hourly paid lecturer in Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Since my recent success at Costa, I have been in contact with an agent about a future project.
Please tell us more about the Costa Short Story award ceremony
The worst part of being shortlisted was not being able to tell anyone in the weeks before the public voting closed. I was really thrilled about going to the award ceremony which was held in a beautiful restaurant in London. As a mother, I really don't get out too much and the thought of attending this event was definitely very special for me. As the only unpublished shortlisted writer, I was not expecting to place on the evening and when my name was called out I was completely overwhelmed. There were lots of famous faces at the event but the most exciting part for me was meeting one of my favourite authors, Ali Smith, who had achieved the Best Novel award. It was also fantastic to meet my fellow short story finalists - all superb writers and lovely people.
What would your advice be to budding writers?
It may sound obvious, but my advice to budding writers is to write. Write a lot! The most significant thing that I have learned about writing over the last couple of years is that having a talent for writing is not necessarily enough. You cannot be a writer simply by taking a course; learning to write well takes practice and dedication. For me, this is a process I have only just begun. The other thing is to read and read well. Reading is not only a huge inspiration for me but also one of the ways I continually critique my own work.
Do you have any closing words for our alumni community?
I feel privileged to be part of a community where creativity is valued as an academic achievement. The learning environment at Cardiff has been hugely influential to me. I always have a sense of pride when I tell people I am a Cardiff graduate. The rich history and architecture of the University and its main building, paired with the innovative approach of the teaching staff, make Cardiff an ideal place to continue a lifelong education and I hope one day to return to undertake a PhD.