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Postgraduate student profile: Pippa Slattery, MA in Creative Writing

Pippa Slattery was born in England but has been living in Ireland since 1988. She is currently studying on the M.A. for Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. She has recently been shortlisted by New Irish Writing and has short stories published in The Blue Nib, The Galway Review and The Tiny Seed Journal. Her flash fiction piece Rag Doll was shortlisted for the Kanturk International Arts Festival. She has short stories and poems in the anthologies Vessel of Voices and Opening Doors. Pippa has been immersed in women’s stories through her retreat work for many years and it is this experience that she draws from when writing. She is currently working on her first novel.Pippa lives overlooking Lough Derg, in Co Tipperary.

Pippa Slattery, postgraduate student of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.
Pippa Slattery, postgraduate student of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.

Can you please introduce yourself?

I was born in the UK to Irish/English/Scottish parents, a Celtic mix. I first came to Ireland when I was 10 when my mother bought a holiday home here, and I fell in love with Ireland. We always knew I would be the one that would live here. And really, I just fell in love with the freedom – I could take off my shoes and just run wild around Lough Derg and camp on the islands. It was a very different life than we had in the UK. I finally moved over here to Cork in 1988 when I was in my 20’s, and I lived there for 25 years. I ran women’s retreats until two years ago in wellness meditation, and spiritual development. So that was my career, but I’ve always wanted to write. When my kids left home, I moved back to Tipperary, and I managed to buy back my Mum’s holiday home. It’s kind of come full circle.

Can you explain why you chose the MA in Creative Writing at UL?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I never gave myself permission. I was too busy raising my kids. However, about two years ago, when I retired I went to the Doolin writers’ weekend. I’ve been twice now, I went to the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas as well, and all I heard from people was if you’re serious about being a writer, do the MA under Joseph O’Connor, it’s the best MA for Creative Writing in the country. Realistically, I could have applied to any course in the country because I’m quite central and I live on my own, but everyone said if you’re serious about being a writer, the MA in UL is the one to go for.

…..all I heard from people was if you’re serious about being a writer, do the MA under Joseph O’Connor, it’s the best MA for Creative Writing in the country.

What specific aspects of your course have impressed you the most?

I would say the one-to-one time with the staff. Their level of expertise and their generosity is second to none. When we’re writing, we’re encouraged to to go deep. And that’s hard sometimes when you’re online. There was one day at the very beginning of the course when I was finding something difficult, and I remember one of the lecturers on the programme, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald just said, “we’ve got you, we’re holding you,” and I felt that support, I really did. I also think the group work we’re doing on the actual writing side has been really impressive. There’s a word Sarah always uses – ‘writerly’ ability. And it’s that real writerly expertise that we’re getting through the group work, among other things. My writing has changed completely – I thought I was an okay writer when I joined the programme, but I am now learning every aspect of being a writer.

Can you provide an insight into how the course is delivered?

There are elective classes where we are mixed with other students who are studying different postgraduate programmes in the School of English, Irish and Communication. The creative writing classes are excellent because we’ve all become quite close, and it has a very open, comfortable atmosphere, which is fantastic to work in. None of my classes are bigger than 24 when occasionally we’ll all get together, but normally there are 6 to 12 people in a class.

The creative writing classes are excellent because we’ve all become quite close, and it has a very open, comfortable atmosphere, which is fantastic to work in.

What else (other than course learning outcomes) have you gained from the course?

Friends! Writing is quite an emotional subject, and we share quite personal stuff. There is a piece that I’ve read aloud at open-mic evenings many times over the last few years, but when we did an open-mic session at the end of last semester, and I read that piece, I burst into tears. And I went, “really? I’ve read this piece a hundred times!”. But somehow, I knew I could trust the group. The weekend before we started at UL, we met in People’s Park in Limerick and sat outside, and we have sworn that whether there’s graduation or not at UL, we’re graduating in People’s Park! I think many lifelong friendships have been formed on the course.

Any advice/tips for prospective students for the MA in Creative Writing?

I would say believe in themselves and submit their best writing, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. They’re not looking for perfection. For your portfolio, try and pick pieces that show off your style of writing. In terms of reading, read the works of the tutors such as Sarah Moore-Fitzgerald, Joseph O’Connor, Donal Ryan and Rob Doyle. That’s a good place to start. Also, don’t let a lack of confidence stop you. I held myself back from applying for two years, saying to myself, “I’m not good enough”. Then one day, without telling anyone, I just applied and I sent it in, and here I am. I suppose there is a lesson in that – take the leap of faith and do it, see what happens.

How has the MA improved your own creative process and writing?

The MA has definitely matured my writing. I mean the first piece that I handed in, I thought ‘this is grand’ but in the first writing workshop I attended, not only did the staff critique it, but the whole group did. That first session was hard to take, but my writing is all the better for it. I tend to overwrite, and as they have shown me, I don’t trust my reader, so I tend to reiterate things. But by the end of the semester, after taking on board the critiques, my piece was the best it could be. From the faculty we’re almost getting multiple publisher-like perspectives which is invaluable as a writer. I really feel like I’m honing and developing my craft. My confidence in my writing has also developed immensely. Because of the MA, I now feel like I’m on my way to becoming an author, not just a writer.

My confidence in my writing has also developed immensely. Because of the MA, I now feel like I’m on my way to becoming an author, not just a writer.

What are your future plans once you finish the MA?

As part of one of my electives, I’m working with Sarah Moore Fitzgerald and Eoin Devereux on a Writepace project called the Walls of Limerick. I am now teaching people who didn’t get on to the program as part of my teaching experience for the module writers and the community. Hopefully, I will be continuing that work after the MA.

I had hoped I would finish my novel by the end of the MA, but I’m writing the novel much more slowly because we’re having to be so minute about everything, which is not a bad thing! Now I think that a third of my novel will be written by the end of the MA. I would love to take the following year after the MA to finish it.

We are being introduced to so many writers and people in the literary world as part of our programme of study. They all offer us a helping hand. This course is much more than just a programme; it’s a community.

This course is much more than just a programme; it’s a community.