Graduates 2021: Leah Squires: MA Creative Writing
I feel proud of what I’ve achieved during my time at the University of Brighton, particularly in light of the lockdown limitations.
Please tell us a bit about your work and your influences
My creative work is mainly comprised of fantasy novels, and I also love to write flash fiction and short stories, working narratives into a shorter form. What originally drew me to the fantasy genre was fairy-tales, which I always loved reading as a child. As I grew up, I became increasingly intrigued by how authors were retelling these old stories to explore contemporary cultural and intersectional themes, and since then, fairy-tale retellings have continued to grow in popularity. My influences are quite broad, but they range from J.R.R. Tolkien to Margaret Atwood, and from Angela Carter to Sarah J Maas. I currently have two different fantasy novels in the works which I aim to develop into separate series, and they explore themes of power, gender and trauma. In fact, my Dissertation thesis explores the portrayals of female trauma in fantasy novels and its effect on readers, as I’m fascinated by the relationship between fiction, and mental health and well-being.
How have you found your course and time at Brighton?
Doing this MA completely remotely for the past year has been challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated. However, the university and course team have been unfailingly dedicated and supportive during the ups and downs of remote study, although I’ve definitely missed the interpersonal contact that would normally accompany a degree like this. Despite that, my academic performance has been steady, and I feel proud of what I’ve achieved during my time at the University of Brighton, particularly in light of the lockdown limitations.
How did you choose your course – why did you choose to study Creative Writing?
The reason I chose to study Creative Writing is that I’ve been writing my own stories since I knew how to spell, and I’ve always dreamed of making a living as a writer. It was a dream I thought was impossible until I applied to do my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing, which turned out to be the best decision I ever made. As I went along, I gained more skills and confidence and found there were many different ways for writers to earn their bread and butter, but I also realised that I still had more to learn. That was when I decided to apply for the University of Brighton’s Creative Writing MA, which has given me the final push I needed to prepare for a career as a writer.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to build my own business delivering coaching to aspiring writers, while seeking literary agency representation and publication of my novels. My professional background is in training and coaching, and I’m excited to blend my existing skillset with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from my degrees. The university has been incredibly supportive of these plans, as I’ve recently attended beepurple’s StartUpHive events for entrepreneurs, and I’ve also enrolled on to the university’s career mentoring service. These additional elements of support have empowered me to prepare for my future career and step forward with confidence after graduation.
Follow Leah on Twitter and Instagram: @lh_squires
By Leah Squites
I always looked for the perfect shells: a symmetrical shape; a vibrant shimmer; a clear, smooth surface. These things were important.
The rockpools were my favourite place to look. Still, shallow water, warm from the sunbeams that left bursts of light on the surface.
But I was careful to avoid the crabs.
‘Careful,’ Mum would always say. ‘Be careful, sweetheart.’
And I was.
My eight-year-old toes would dip in ever so cautiously, and sometimes I’d spot their dark, scuttling forms retreating into the shadows cast by the lip of the rock. And I’d wonder why they were scared of me.
Although small, their skins were sturdy, shields impenetrable, pincers sharp. The squishy underbelly of my foot, dangling like bait, could have been lacerated, decorating their dwelling with red ribbons.
Once the crustacean armies had withdrawn, I could pluck out a shell from the bed of the pool and add it to my collection. There it’d remain, in perfect condition, until the end of the day. At which point I’d have to return them to the shallow waves of the incoming tide.
My shells needed to be as perfect as the ones mermaids wore. The mermaids I wanted to look like. I wanted a collection of pristine exoskeletons that once held life, and still glimmered with pearlescent beauty. So, little feet slapped over wet sand, scooping up new treasures. Small hands would cradle each coiling carapace and hold it up to an ear, tickled by salty hair and wind, listening for the ocean, but hearing only echoes.
I don’t search for the perfect shells anymore.
Give me blemishes, cracks, and imperfections.
I want to hold the damaged ones to my ear, and instead of listening for the ghost of the ocean, I want to hear the story of what broke them.
An eastern tide? A western wave? A southern storm?
It doesn’t matter.
I still want them.