Postgraduate Queries: Studying creative writing outside UK; translator opportunites

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The write stuff

Q. I no longer live in the UK and want to do an MA in creative writing, probably online. I did a degree some years ago but over the years I have been writing short stories and attending workshops, and decided that I really need help on plotting and timeline. Can you recommend courses that are well structured and offer support? It is difficult whilst living abroad to find about courses other than what is on a university department's website. The problem is finding out if the course/university is any good. I've been considering Manchester Metropolitan University but their online course is only four years old and it's hard to find out if any of their graduates have had anything published.

A. University websites are ideal starting places to find out about particular courses, but you can then e-mail or phone academic directors and course leaders direct. So go ahead and ask if students have published work and if so, what and where?

The Manchester course is primarily about novel-writing (two of this year's students are about to have novels published), although it's possible to explore the short story as well. Plotting and timelines are the sort of things you'd learn on a BA course, but the MA has writing exercises and workshops that would cover these topics. The course would give you structure, because you'd have to produce regular work. Many of the students are UK nationals who have moved abroad and who pay UK, not overseas, fees (saving you several thousand pounds).

Lancaster University also has a distance-learning MA in creative writing. Their website includes recent examples of published work by staff and graduates www.lancs.ac.uk/depts/english/crew/index.htm. The course also includes a residential summer school at Lancaster.

As for whether a course is "any good" that depends what you need, so compare what's on offer and find what suits you best. Is your aim to get published, or are you happy just to be writing? Short stories are a difficult market in terms of publishing, but there are many reputable competitions, like The Bridport Prize. Entering a competition gives you something to work for, and winning a prize makes it easier to get an agent.

Lost in translation

Q. I have a degree in interpreting and translating and have worked in a variety of jobs, including as a multilingual customer service representative. I live in Northern Ireland but am planning to move to Edinburgh or London to increase my chances of obtaining a fulfilling job. I am actively considering a postgrad in international journalism, media, or law, or a PGCE. I hope to couple my degree with my postgraduate course.

A. There's an air of confusion about your plans. Don't undersell yourself: your experience so far will have given you transferable skills such as teamwork. If you're interested in interpreting and translating jobs then most permanent positions are in central government. Work is often available through agencies, who you should contact before you move. There are many other opportunities for your linguistic skills. The Chartered Institute of Linguists ( www.iol.org.uk) lists hundreds of jobs. Certain Civil Service departments also encourage approaches ( www.careerscivilservice.gov.uk).

If it's media you're interested in, then have you built up a portfolio of written work or done a placement on a local newspaper or TV station? If it's teaching, then have you worked with young people or observed classroom practice? Find out more at www.nuj.org.uk, www.ppa.co.uk. www.skillset.org, and www.tda.gov.uk. It's difficult to train as a lawyer in Scotland without a law degree, but in England and Wales you can do a conversion course (see www.lawcareers.net and www.lcan.org.uk).

Advisers: Gillian Appleby, English department secretary, and Heather Beck, online lecturer, from Manchester Metropolitan University; and Laura Hooke and Gill Sharp, Graduate Prospects advisers. Send your queries to Caitlin Davies at caitlind1@aol.com

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