I had applied, and been offered a place, to study for a PhD at Manchester University this September. It would mean working on one particularly research intensive historical novel, also set in Manchester and, like A Clockwork Apple, would feature a feisty, self-determined heroine. Doing a PhD is an expensive business, and because of that I applied for funding from the AHRC, the main funding body. The Professor at Manchester who had offered me the place, helped me complete the application to the required standard and then it was up to the powers that be at the University which applications they would then put forward to the Research body. I received an email last Friday to say that mine had not been put forward. Most people would be disappointed and accept the decision with good grace, then set about raising the required funds from elsewhere, knowing that a PhD is now needed if you want to lecture/teach at university level. I was furious, though. Why? Well, before I studied for an MA at the excellent University of Westminster, I had been offered a place on the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, under the directorship of Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. My application for research funding had, there too, also not been put forward by the University administration. These things are based largely on academic merit. That means those who get a first in their BA or a distinction in their MA are likely to be put forward over those, like me, who gained a 2:1 in their BA and a Merit in their MA - both are good grades considering the amount of time during both I had to spend working to keep the roof over my head. For the second half of my full-time MA I was also working full-time! That's one of the reasons I'm angry - the criteria is doubly hard for those that have no financial support from anyone except themselves and who did well to get good grades whilst working full-time. Another reason I'm angry about Manchester's decision is that I grew up in the three main shitty areas surrounding the University. I spent a lot of time hanging around its Gothic buildings as a child - mainly because it had such a different energy to Hulme and Moss-Side, despite being on its very doorstep! I knew, as a child, that there'd be fat chance someone with my background could make it to their city's University. That's why I was so emotional when I'd been offered a place. And it makes me wonder just how many of those other students had even grown up in Manchester - not that that should make a difference, but that it would perhaps be a lot fairer to judge cases on merits not strictly limited to whether your BA says 'first' or your MA says 'distinction'. The University say they will consider me for a bursary - but that they won't reach this decision until July. What that really means is that they will wait to see who, out of those put forward for AHRC funding, has been successful or not. Which means those who don't get the AHRC funding will then be in with a chance for a bursary, which means yet more competition. I hope I get it but in the meantime I will have to shelve my desire of studying at Manchester for a PhD and look for studentship places in cities and towns that I have no affiliation with and where I may have to end up spending three years of my life. And if I do get one of those places I will still have to visit Manchester on a regular basis because my family are there and because the research I need to do for the PhD is also situated there!! Whilst not wanting to be too melodramatic about the whole thing I can't help feel that the days of Jude the Obscure are not much different from now. Get a first and get funding - even though if you get a first, chances are you're more likely to have come from a financially secure background anyway! I've got my fingers crossed that A Clockwork Apple will bring in enough money to cover the fees anyway.

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