Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Performance and Cultural Industries

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Sian Hughes

MA Writing for Performance and Publication

About me

I have always had an interest in writing and story – this led me to York University for my English Literature Bachelors degree. Having achieved a 2:1 at undergrad at York I looked up and down the country for what seemed the best MA to specialise in Creative Writing and specifically to combine my interests in Theatre and Literature. I have been working alongside my Postgraduate degree, both in the summers and during term time. I have experience working in conservation and hospitality – in the Scottish Highlands – and retail, catering and administration where I currently live in Derbyshire. I currently work part-time at a charity combating rural isolation difficulties. This is all crammed in alongside part time study at Leeds, writing and semi-professional theatre productions.

Why I chose Leeds?

Whilst searching around for MAs that would allow me to become highly specialised (including Drama Therapy and Novel Writing courses) I found the Leeds Writing for Performance and Publication MA. On reading the course description I was hooked. The course perfectly married my interests in different areas and encouraged me to become more of a writer-practitioner than my literature degree had allowed. These initial impressions have been reflected and surpassed by the experience of the course this past year and a half.

Areas of research

I have written both prose and drama for the MA course. I prefer writing for Theatre and Radio over writing for screen. But my areas of research are probably best summarised by the themes I write about. These include:
Social drama – themes of isolation, family planning, local and rural politics and the town/country divide.
Fantasy – Children and Young Adult fantasy prose, I explore themes of mythology and how practitioners are interpreting myth and legend today. I try to reflect the changing use and audience reception of mythology in the modern world in my prose work.

Realism/Surrealism – Most, if not all of my work for the MA (especially theatre writing) has been surreal or absurd. I take weighty real-world issues into a strange otherworld or unknown context. I am interested in themes of escapism, the boundary between sleep and wakefulness and belief in our own reality – which sometimes leads to discussion of mental health issues.

My experience so far…

The modules I have enjoyed the most have been Story Workshop and Individual Project. For Story Workshop I put into a practical context years of learning about Literature and research. I enjoyed learning the theory behind different types of story, about narrative structure and well-made plots. Every seminar was lively and enjoyable and supported by different books that were recommended to us should we wish to pursue that particular theme of the day in our research. I’m running out of space on my bookshelves at home because I like to pursue all avenues of interest before narrowing down my ideas!

Individual project has been a completely different experience from the rest of the MA. Designed as a module that you can basically design yourself – it allows a huge amount of independence of research and practice. I aim to continue this style of work in writing more fantasy/mythological short stories for young adults for my big Research Project/Dissertation coming up at the end of the course.

My passion for…..

Modern myth! The thing that links all my work together is actually how humans deal with stories. The characters in my plays become narrators and observers of their own tale as the narrative attempts to pick apart the stereotypes they fall into. My stories explore how children of today in a technological world experience magic and reality in a context of ancient myth. My most recent play takes a point of historical interest and local legend and defends it to the point of irrationality. I am interested above all in the part of our personalities or conscience that makes us hold onto myth, story and monuments in an unshakeable and fiercely defensive way.

At the moment I’m working on…

A play called ‘Up in Smoke’ which is a half hour contemporary drama for my Theatre and Radio module. I’ve referenced this above – it’s a story that revolves around Anna, a young activist who desperately wants to protect a Victorian factory chimney where she lives from being knocked down. This is based on a factory near where I live in rural Derbyshire. Local history is so important but I believe people, perhaps especially urban populations, will only take interest if it is linked to current, modern pressing concerns and personal stories of isolation and loss.

Getting involved

The same play ‘Up in Smoke’ will be performed as part of this coming year’s Little Leeds Fringe festival. It is in a duo entitled ‘Anchored’ to be performed on 26th and 28th February 2015. The other play in the duo is written by my colleague on the MA WPP course, Sarah Goodyear. The course has brought us together and shown us – via workshops and discussing each others work – that we write on similar themes and are both passionate about collaboration and social inclusion. We both contributed to the Little Leeds Fringe last year and it’s a great platform for new work, supported by the university but entirely run by undergrad students. It also gets Postgrads involved with undergrad projects and vice versa so is a great way to encourage a huge collaborative creative community!

My aspirations

I’d love to take ‘Up in Smoke’ beyond the supportive network of the university into other venues and festivals around the North and Yorkshire/Derbyshire. I think the course has given me the confidence to produce work unsupported, as long as I make strong collaborations with my peers. I’m not picky in where I want to end up in the arts. Often your journey is kind of decided for you by the opportunities you come across. I would love to continue writing and producing theatre – I will definitely pursue writing for radio too. But lacking collaborators, I’m always happy to continue putting my organisational energy into helping people through charity and NGO work whilst putting creative energy into my prose writing. I ambitiously started writing a novel alongside work this summer (I’ve dropped it in favour of course-work since returning to uni for 2nd year), so I also want to finish that after I’ve finished my Postgrad at Leeds.

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