This student profile is part of a series on the students who attend Pembroke’s vacation programmes.
Last summer Pembroke College launched Creative Writing in Cambridge: The Pembroke College-National Academy of Writing Summer Programme, a programme aimed at undergraduates, graduates, professionals and others with an interest in the art of writing. Caroline Beaton was among the undergraduate students who attended this programme and she had this to say about her time on the programme:
“I came to Pembroke a month after graduating Colorado College with a creative writing degree. My thesis had been ten short stories and I had nothing original left in me. Having initially missed the program’s preparatory e-mail (which was surely the first sign of burnout) telling us to submit something prior to arrival for work-shopping, I sent one of my thesis stories for revision. This is how it would have to go, I thought.
“At Pembroke, however, I learned the unimportance of originality. For my first story there, desperate for innovative plot, I envisioned a man dog shopping with his wife, accidentally killing their new puppy and consequently ruining their marriage. But my instructors’ discouragement of hasty resolution caused me to resist concluding with divorce and instead write a genuine story of precarious love persisting despite death. Less original, less ostentatious, more true. I decided my second story would detail the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases in a retirement community. With support and suggestions from my teachers, I ultimately nixed the STD bit and more complicatedly and candidly conveyed elderly flings as both ungodly and beautiful.
“Pembroke revealed that the “secret” of writing is to lay out truth plainly. In the name of creativity, we crave excitement and novelty; but most of our lives in actuality are filled with minute triumphs, maddening ironies, inaction, and more humor than drama. By doggedly watching the world, stripped of contrived plots, strained themes, circuitous language and flat characters, we find power in simply what is.
“Despite acquiring The Secret, six months after the program, I’m not famous. I constantly fight the excuse that no inspiration has come to me since. I have to remind myself that what I wrote at Pembroke was not inspired: I picked a plot, literally any plot would do, and felt my way through it authentically. Pembroke helped by giving me techniques to assert what I saw and insisting that was good enough – indeed, it is the best I can offer.”
You can read more about Caroline’s experience at Pembroke and the Creative Writing programme in the article she wrote for The New Writer magazine.