By Natasha Coyle
I have two homes. That tends to be the case if you’re a student who’s decided to move out from the family home and relocate to your chosen university. I currently study at the University of Glasgow and I undertook my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter. Yes, I couldn’t have chosen two universities further apart! But I grew up in the middle of England, so the extremity of the jump from the Southwest to west Scotland was not so bad, with my family home being a central point between Exeter and Glasgow. I grew up in South Derbyshire and that’s where my family home currently resides. As a country bumpkin who’d always lived in a village, big city life seemed off limits for me.
I wanted a fresh start at university and to meet different people; people who sounded different to me, and I to them. Although I had the constant reminder I sounded different to my more southern companions at Exeter and I was an outsider, the ‘northerner’ (even though you couldn’t get a more central part of England than Derbyshire), my accent defined me and brought a little bit of my family to my new home.
I’ve realised I actually quite like feeling different from those around me. I guess it’s an immediate conversation starter and people are curious as to why you’ve picked their area as your new home. I did, in fact, lose some of the Midlands twang which has since been replaced by a more enunciated type of speech. My accent is one of the many things that has evolved from my different homes; but one thing’s for sure, I’ll never put an ‘r’ in pass! I realised, when I chose Exeter, I picked it for the same reasons I love Derbyshire. Apart from Derbyshire being landlocked by other counties, Devon and Derbyshire share many similarities. They both have extensive countryside and beautiful villages. My two uni homes gave me vast opportunities, socially and academically. Not only did I achieve a first-class degree, but I’ve also walked away from this home with an amazing mentor, great friends and experiences that have dramatically shaped my world view.
What I didn’t realise was how my experience of home would shift since moving out of my little village. I came to realise I had to handle issues by myself, because my family were just too far away. I remember moments when I was crying down the phone to my mum and dad and just needed a hug. Initially, Exeter didn’t feel like home. I felt as though I was just existing in this often quite lonely space. However, I’m someone who always tries to take even the worst moments in their stride. The times when my family couldn’t whisk me away to the tranquillity of our little Derbyshire village were the moments that made me more resilient. These are the experiences that shaped my world and, thus, my writing.
I’ve lived in many different types of accommodation over the past four years: student halls, a terraced house, a studio apartment, a bunkhouse with about 16 other women, hostels and a detached house. All these settings have creative potential. I’ve never been in a prison (nor would I want to), but one of my experiences hostelling in South Beach, Miami, was like a prison: a series of bunk beds of mixed gender pushed closely together. No visitors were allowed and you needed a key card for every entrance and exit. There were communal showers, with random people approaching me trying to have a conversation, while I was rubbing after-sun into my sunburn. Is this inspiration for a dark comedy sketch, a horror novel, or a joke about backpacking in a stand-up set? It could be any of these. While this hostel was only my home for about four nights, the creative potential that exists when living in different places is vast.
My writing styles and interests have changed over the past decade. I remember a creative writing lecturer in my second year at Exeter, saying you should try to write every day. That was during the height of the pandemic, so my creative inspiration was feeling a little low and I didn’t think I had anything to write about, let alone something every day! Even before that, I wrote here and there, or in large bursts. I’ve written an entire novel which I started when I was 15 and finished a few days before I moved to Exeter.
I wrote a lot at school, and realised from an early age that creative writing was an outlet for me. My school annually published a book called We Are Writers, made up of student contributions. My English teacher and Deputy Head of House, Mr Thornhill, was always so positive about me and my work. I had a prose piece published anonymously, titled Avid Writer, in the 2013 edition. I wrote that when I felt like an outsider and being smart was never seen as cool. I was also definitely romanticising my life, thinking I’d be the next literary genius or something. Most of my friends realised the piece had been written by me, so ‘Anon’ was, quite frankly, pointless. I think I was worried about my street cred… not that I had a lot to start with!
My exceptionally proud Grandmother submitted Avid Writer to a local newsletter in Leicester. Again, published as ‘Anon’. She was so unbelievably proud of me and my work, as she was of all her grandchildren. Apart from that, I’d never had work published before. I was too scared to share my creative writing with anyone for fear of criticism, the worst fear any writer could have. My creative writing module as a second year helped quell that fear. Me and four other women formed a group where we sent each other our work and gave honest feedback. My editorial skills were also not great at this time, so doing this group work helped massively in developing ideas and cutting words that didn’t elevate a story. It also changed my perspective on the process of writing. When we think of how writers might work, it’s likely shut away in the corner of their house or a library, essentially in solitude. While that might be the case some of the time, ideas are not generated by sitting staring at a wall. My best ideas have come from life.
My two homes have allowed me to experience life in different ways, and this has shaped my writing immensely. Glasgow’s dynamism has influenced me: I feel more dynamic than ever before. With three years of university under my belt, I was set on making some concrete steps to regularly produce work. This drive came from many things, but largely that I was in a new city and, at a minimum, only here for a year. I had to make the most of the time I had. I’d also just come back from a summer in America, being a counsellor at a children’s summer camp. I’d kept a journal, not only a great way of noting down memories I’d have otherwise forgotten, but also for two other reasons. Firstly, it let me release any frustrations I had (camp was a small place and one idle comment could set the rumour mill off) and, secondly, it built up my habit of writing every day. There were so many moments at camp where I was just sitting, existing (because we weren’t allowed phones when we were working). So I was productive with my time and it built up my writing habit. Now, if I don’t write every day or every other day, I feel at a loss.
So, with this newly developed habit under my belt, when I browsed the university’s fresher stalls, I wandered over to The Glasgow Guardian’s stall. I’d never written in a journalistic style before, but the committee was very friendly, so I thought I’d go along to their first contributor’s meeting. I was expecting something very formal, but it was the exact opposite. I wandered around, spoke to the editors of different sections of the paper, and pitched what took my fancy. Since then, I’ve written for a number of sections: including sports, lifestyle and culture. The editors are extremely positive about my writing, and many have said I have a flare for the style. Journalism, a writing career I simply didn’t believe was suited to me, is now one of my top choices for work upon graduating from the University of Glasgow.
Furthermore, the student comedy society, GLASS, is an exceptionally creative environment. The society workshops focus on writing and performing stand-up and drafting sketch ideas for both stage and screen. The workshops are a safe space and have allowed my creative writing to flourish. The positive reception I’ve had since being a member of GLASS has been fantastic and the work I’m producing is coming faster than ever. Not to mention the number of scenarios that occur from living in the centre of Glasgow that have great potential for comedy sketches or jokes in stand-up!
When I went back to Derbyshire for my birthday in October, I realised how much of a time capsule my bedroom is. My walls are covered in pictures, mainly of moments from when I was 16–19, which I put up in the first place to hide the blue-tac marks from the posters I pinned up for my A-Level revision. Those pictures captured treasured memories and the faces of friends that once were, or ones I still connect with when we’re all home for Christmas. My desk remains cluttered; just as it was when I was studying for my A-Levels.
Each time I’ve moved (two homes in four years), I’ve learned about loss, love, friendship, resilience and perseverance. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent in each of my homes, and regret wishing some of that time away because I wanted to grow up faster. My homes before Glasgow helped to give me a baseline to build upon. Not every piece of writing is good, and some of the pieces I wrote as a teenager now make me visibly cringe. But I had to start somewhere! My experiences in Exeter and America also helped change my perception of giving things a go. I’d previously ruled out journalism without giving it a try. Now, I love having weekly targets for producing short articles that have been published both in print and online.
Derbyshire is home to me: it forms a central part of who I am. The memories of long canal walks, pub crawling around the seven possible venues in our village, drinking Strongbow Dark Fruits at the annual Village On The Green event all shaped me. When I write, in whatever form, where I started is a central part of where I want to take my writing. Going back to Derbyshire always gives me time to think and process the things I’ve achieved. Glasgow has been about short-term and long-term goal setting: giving myself writing targets that are manageable and that allow me to produce my best possible work. I do reflect a lot in my life, as I feel that’s the only way I can improve in the areas I’m passionate about, but sometimes, going with the rhythms of the fast-paced city lifestyle, makes me forget how much I’ve done for myself in such a short space of time.
Having two homes has allowed me to flourish in different ways, and in ways that complement each other. They have shaped who I am and the views and passions I have today. Although my instinct tell me I won’t be settling in one place for too long for a while yet, in my innate desire for new places that have new stories to offer, Derbyshire will always be my home, because that’s where my dreams began!
You can connect with Natasha on Instagram: @tash.coyle, Twitter: @tashcoyle, LinkedIn: Natasha Coyle and visit her writing profile here: 6349786ea1fc0.site123.me
You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: https://pentoprint.org/about/advice-support/
Now, if I don’t write every day or every other day, I feel at a loss.