The natural choice for my first ever Word Sauce interview is my dear friend, colleague and ex-doctoral supervisor, Celia Hunt. Celia is a writer, teacher, researcher and consultant in the field of creative writing and personal development.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say that Celia invented the field of creative writing and personal development (although she would never lay claim to this herself).
In 1996 she set up and ran the unique MA programme in Creative Writing and Personal Development at the University of Sussex which, until her retirement last year, recruited students from all over the world and inspired an entire movement of teachers, therapists, healthcare practitioners and workshop facilitators with Celia’s combination of passion, theoretical grounding, creativity and rigorous research enquiry.
Celia was a founder member of Lapidus , the UK-based organisation for the literary arts in personal development. She has pioneered research into writing and wellbeing, has published many papers in the field and is the editor and/or author of three seminal texts: The Self on the Page and Writing: Self and Reflexivity (each with Fiona Sampson) and Therapeutic Dimensions of Autobiography in Creative Writing .
Celia lives in Lewes in Sussex where she enjoys the beauty of the old town, with its castle and ancient houses, its proximity to the Sussex Downs and the sea.
She’s currently working on her next book, Creative Life Writing as a Tool for Transformative Learning, to be published by Routledge in 2012.
So, pull up a chair and get to know a little more about the wonderfully inspiring Celia Hunt.
Where did it all begin? How did you become interested in creative writing and personal development?
That was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Around the same time I went into psychotherapy, so I suppose you could say that I was exploring myself through two different methods: the writing and the therapy. And sometimes they came together because I would take bits of writing into therapy to discuss with my therapist. This was very helpful and stimulating.
Also around that time I started studying the MA in Language, the Arts and Education at the University of Sussex, run by poet Peter Abbs. This involved doing a combination of academic and creative work, so I was able to continue my autobiographical fiction writing for that purpose and also to write some reflective essays on my writing process and that of well-known writers such as Franz Kafka, all of which helped to deepen my thinking about the self in the writing process.
The most important piece of work I did for the MA, from the point of view of my subsequent development, was devising a way of using autobiography as a basis for teaching creative writing, which I subsequently put into practice in a course for the Centre for Continuing Education at Sussex University.
What I found in teaching this course was that using autobiography in this way had the potential to open people up to deep feelings and memories. Some people found this very helpful, but it could also be very upsetting, which made the learning environment very challenging.
All the work I’ve done since, for example in setting up and running the MA in Creative Writing and Personal Development, involvement in setting up Lapidus, and the research I have undertaken, has flowed from the experience of teaching that first course.
How would you describe your creative process? Do you have a routine? How do you like to work?
But this is a fairly small activity at the moment, because I’m deeply involved in writing another academic book. And now that I have a lot more time at my disposal I do have a regular writing routine: I try to work on the writing for about four hours every morning, with just a short break in the middle. In the afternoons I go for a walk or swim in the local pool. In other words, I try to do body-work rather than mind-work at some point during the day, otherwise I just seize up eventually.
What I have learnt about my writing process is that I have to pace myself, which isn’t always easy, as there is a very impatient part of me that wants to do everything in one go and move onto the next thing!
Sometimes I read in the mornings instead of writing, and I’ve recently discovered the joys (and frustrations) of the Kindle software on my computer, which allows me to download books, some of them free. Wonderful, as long as one doesn’t get carried away!
What are you working on right now?
Tell us more about the book…
At the same time I was becoming increasingly aware that the programme was very challenging, both to students and tutors, and that the tutor team — in the field of creative writing and personal development generally — needed a deep understanding of how this kind of teaching and learning worked. So I was keen to do an in-depth research project on the MA to explore all these things in more detail.
The opportunity arose in 2004, when I was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, with a sum of money to undertake a project of my choice. I was also fortunate enough to be able to raise further money from the British Academy to cover the costs of a research assistant.
So the project began in 2004 with the following aims: to understand better the kinds of changes in sense of self which students of the MA in Creative Writing and Personal Development experienced, the elements of the programme that gave rise to these changes, and the nature of the challenges of this kind of teaching and learning, so as to inform not only creative writing teaching, but other areas of adult, further and higher education where creative life writing might be used as a tool for learning. The book will present the findings of this research project.
What’s your favourite word?
Its literal meaning is an atmosphere of disapproval or bad odour surrounding someone or something, so it’s not a very happy word, but I used it once in a poem set in ancient Greece, which talked about ‘an opprobrium of virgins’ — make of that what you will!
What/who are your three favourite books/writers of all time?
As to literary writers, my absolute favourite is Joseph Conrad, whose novel Lord Jim I am currently rereading — or rather listening to on audio book — but I also very much like his shorter stories, ‘The Secret Sharer’, ‘Typhoon’, ‘Heart of Darkness’, etc. He has such a wonderfully flowing and visual style of writing.
I have a strong visual imagination, so I particularly like writers who stimulate it without over-stimulating it. I’ve always said, as a creative writing teacher, that writers need to leave space for the reader’s imagination and Conrad does exactly that, in my view. I’m also a great fan of the early Doris Lessing books, The Grass Is Singing, the Children of Violence trilogy, and some of her science fiction books. I would say something very similar about her style as I said about Conrad.
What inspires you?
How would you write your autobiography in 25 words?
What do you think are the most important issues and challenges for the field of writing and wellbeing in the future?
- Developing a formal accreditation for people wishing to work as therapeutic writing practitioners.
- Continuing and strengthening Lapidus: the Association for the Literary Arts in Personal Development.
What’s coming up for you in 2011 and beyond?
I’m also just starting a three-year Visiting Research Fellowship at the Education Faculty of Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, which I’m much looking forward to. When the current book is finished, I am hoping to be able to apply myself again to my fiction and poetry writing, not just for personal development this time!
Thank you so much, Celia. I look forward to reading your next book and I wish you all the very best for these new exciting projects.
Go to www.wordsauce.com to find out more about ‘developmental creative writing’ and writing for wellbeing.