Nikki Dudley, a Roehampton Creative Writing alumna, talks about how her Roehampton journey led to her becoming a novelist.
When I applied for a Creative Writing and English Literature degree at Roehampton, I had no idea it would be so impactful for me. When I first arrived, I was absolutely petrified about sharing my work and missed quite a few lectures in the first term. Luckily, I decided not to waste my opportunity and I managed to share my writing more and more. I had always thought of myself as more a poet, despite writing fiction over the years, but meeting my fiction lecturers (Leone Ross and Dr Louise Tondeur), I started to understand fiction a lot more. Leone really confronted us with craft and got us to think about our writing really carefully, which was both challenging and illuminating.
It wasn’t until my MA at Roehampton however, that I began to write longer pieces again. I started writing my first proper novel since school because I had to submit 10,000 words as part of my assessment. In seminars, we had to give our work to the whole class and sit there while they critiqued it. I was petrified at the time but decided to just accept it all silently and think about it later. In reality though, the process was really useful and it helped inform the final book. I made a promise to myself that I would finish the novel after I submitted the 10,000 words, which I did in 2008. As luck would have it, I sent it off to a small publishers and it ended up being published in 2010. Without my BA and MA at Roehampton, my book, Ellipsis, would not exist!
What I loved about my time at Roehampton is that my lecturers, especially on the poetry side (I was taught by Jeff Hilson and Peter Jaeger), opened me up to experimental writing, which is a real passion of mine now. I’ve had a chapbook and collection published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press, who also featured one of my poems at the Blackpool Illuminations.
I also think experimental poetry is linked to my fiction writing because many people describe my fiction writing as poetic in style and it has encouraged me to take risks with my writing. Aside from that, being on the MA in particular inspired myself and another Roehampton student, Trini Decombe, to set up our own magazine in 2008. It’s called streetcake and it publishes experimental writing, expanding in recent years to offer a writing prize, supported by ACE. We’re really proud of the magazine, the prize, and the networks we’ve created within the writing community. Running streetcake has definitely been instrumental in my own writing career and helped me develop as an editor.
Over the years, I have written other novels and sent them out to agents and publishers. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that I entered my latest novel, Volta, into the Virginia Prize for Fiction. I literally entered on the final day! I was surprised and delighted when I was subsequently long-listed, then short-listed, and finally, announced as the winner in July 2020. Since then, I’ve been going through the revision process (we’re up to draft 4), which involved a lot of extra research about police procedures, law and therapeutic processes. Since it’s a psychological thriller, there’s a lot of different angles involved!
When I was a kid, I dreamed about having stuff published but it’s totally different when it actually happens. Going to university and thinking of myself as more of a writer was one of the biggest steps for me. No one else in my family had been to university and there were barriers due to my background but I have worked really hard to find my place in the writing community. The MA was what really gave myself and Trini the confidence to start our own magazine. The thing I try to tell any writers starting out now is that they should try things, even if they don’t always work out, because when you try, great things can happen.
Nikki left Roehampton in 2008 after her MA Creative Writing. She is managing editor of streetcake magazine and also runs the streetcake writing prize and MumWrite. She has a chapbook and collection with KFS. She is the winner of the Virginia Prize 2020 and her second novel, Volta will be published in May 2021. Her website is: nikkidudleywriter.com