Claire Gray, studied Creative Writing and Film Studies Joint Hons, graduating in 2006. Originally from Cambridge, Claire came to the university because she loved the fact that the Lake District was nearby.

“Carlisle seemed like a great city to be a student in. The course itself was exactly what I was looking for. I studied at the Brampton Road campus, it is a beautiful part of the city, close to parks and the river. The campus itself had a real vibrant, creative atmosphere which I immediately loved.

Initially I was going to study veterinary nursing at university but I had a last minute change of heart; I’ve always loved writing and decided to make a go of it. This course seemed like a good first step. I don’t think it was possible to study creative writing on its own at that time so I combined it with film studies. I’d studied that subject at ‘A’ level and was excited to continue with it. The structure of the course and the subjects covered really seemed to fit with my interests and I hoped they would steer me in the direction I wanted to go.

I found speaking to current students was helpful at the open day and the lecturers seemed very genuine and enthusiastic. I just got a good feeling for it as I looked around. I remember getting lost a few times when I started my course. The building was bigger on the inside than it appeared from outside! I think I was surprised by how quickly I felt like I belonged there; I can be quite shy and it can take me a while to settle into something new, but that wasn’t really the case when I started my degree. Everything seemed to click really quickly.

The course taught me to trust my own abilities and to keep trying. Becoming an author is rarely something you can just walk into unfortunately. You really need to believe in yourself and keep working at it.

I made some fantastic friends while I was at uni and some of them are still amongst my best friends today. I met my husband while I was there too (although he wasn’t a student). Life as a student was great I often think back to how badly we looked after our student house. We had a rabbit who just wandered around the place and wasn’t well toilet trained, and there were birds flying about loose on the top floor. I fell asleep on the sofa in the living room once and woke up to see passers-by peering in through the window at our mess and shaking their heads saying: “How do they live like that?” It does make me laugh to think about how we used to live back then. I would hate it now!

I am currently a Self Employed Writer but also have a part time admin job with the NHS. It’s taken a lot of work but I can now officially say that I am a published author. Running in Circles was published by Sapere Books in December, three days after I gave birth to my daughter. My current publishers are interested in continuing my story as a series. I’m working on a sequel now, and I envision it being at least a three part series. After that I would like to try writing something different and hopefully get an agent.

It will probably be a while before I can make a living purely through my writing but I hope that one day I will be able to write full time.

I think the advice that I received during my degree was invaluable. I love to write so I hoped that I would have achieved publication one day anyway, but I think it might have taken longer and I wouldn’t have had the support that I had as a result of my studies. Studying creative writing at degree level made it seem like a valid career choice and gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams.

I think there are uncertainties at every point in your career as a writer, unless you’re someone like Stephen King or J K Rowling. But if it is what you truly want to do then you have to go for it. Take every opportunity that comes your way and always listen to the advice of people in the industry.

Some highlights of my time at uni are: I wrote a novel during my third year which was shortlisted for the Maia Press Undergraduate Novel Competition. I went to the awards ceremony at Oxford University and it felt like real validation that I was doing something right. I loved attending the SpeakEasy spoken word nights at The Source. They still take place now but at a different location. I overcame my public speaking anxiety to read some poems there a few times which felt like a big deal to me.”

I think the Institute of the Arts at University of Cumbria is a hub of creativity! I’m really grateful for my time as a student. I believe that the campus still has the same spirit today and I would really recommend it as a place to live and study.

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