A Day in the Life of a Royal Literary Fund Fellow

The alarm goes off in darkness, far too early.  The teenagers are already up, getting ready for the milk train that takes them to college 40 miles away.  They look better than I feel - I'm not a morning person.  T is wearing a dressing gown over his clothes – apparently today is a pyjama day.  L is in a thin Guinevere style tabard with long flowing sleeves with her hair in a wild waterfall on the top of her head. She’s not wearing a coat or jacket and I’m sure she’ll freeze.  By comparison, I feel rather too formal in my respectable uni kit.  I leave them on a windswept, deserted station platform looking like actors in a northern version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

The drive takes an hour and a half (sometimes 2 hrs) across the wastelands of the Pennine moors where no trains go. Dawn breaks as I go over the top. It often seems that half the cars and lorries in England are on the road in front of me, but I make the uni car park before the last parking place is taken.  This is an achievement.  A quick coffee take-away and I’m in my office ready for work. When I open my office door it smells as though something has died – and I discover the remains of the sandwich I didn’t have time to eat last week in a drawer.  I wrap it in a bag to go to the waste bin and open all the windows.

On the 4th floor I have a great view out across the city. We aren’t far from the sea, so it’s always windy, but the light pours in when the sun’s out. I’m beginning to cover my bare walls with posters and book related cuttings so that it looks rather more homely. The University haven’t provided me with a name plate, so I have to devise my own. I’ve put up postcards advertising my books on the glass partition, so that the students can see what I’ve written. Being a writer gives you the skills that you can offer students to help them organise text into lucid prose for their tutors. Constructing an essay is a bit like constructing an article, or the chapter of a book. 

Although it’s early in the term I have several bookings – mostly post-graduates anxious about their dissertations or theses.  Degrees are expensive items now and students are under pressure to get the best grades they can in order to have maximum options in the job market.  One out of every four students I see has English as a second language, which is an additional pressure. Most universities I’ve been in don’t offer enough support for the international students they enrol.  And considering that they charge them higher fees than UK students it’s not surprising that some of the international students are unhappy with what they’re offered.  This one is better than most.

Where else would you find a Julia Darling Poem
I like meeting people from diverse backgrounds and I’m always happy to chat. When I’m not busy with a student, I keep my door open for anyone who wants to drop in.  I’m next to the photo-copier so it’s easy for members of staff or students to put their heads round the door and say hello.  Today I can hear a group of students from the Health School talking about their first experiences of finding a dead body. That certainly livens up my morning!
The Green Wall of the Business School
 I love my job and the day goes quickly.  Too soon it’s time to pack up and head for the Travelodge I’m staying in tonight to be ready for an early start tomorrow.  It’s not exciting, but I can use the time to read essays I’ve been sent and mark them up for the next day.
A very modern Campus
Being an RLF Fellow is about supporting students from any course, on any subject, across the University. I never know what I’m going to get.  Anything from Freud and Virginia Woolf, through the physiology of the pancreas, to the legal boundaries of the International Arms Trade. And the students are great!


  1. Our days are lengthening at this end of the world. It at least makes an early start feel better if it is already light.

    1. It does, Al. I hate the dark mornings. We're so far north here that sometimes it isn't light properly until about 10am and the sun sets at about 3.30pm, so the evenings are dark too.


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