Almost three years ago, a deputy headteacher walked away from her stressful, all-consuming, 32-year-long career in teaching.
Today she collects her Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster University having embarked on a whole brave, new and highly successful chapter in her life with two novels to be published in 2023.
Paula Hillman, who hails from Barrow-in-Furness, said: “I walked away from a long teaching career. I felt the pressure of the job wasn’t allowing me to have any kind of life. It was killing me.
“I knew I had to get away and do something else. So, I did. I found it really disorientating at first, no longer having a profession, but liberating too.”
What Paula really wanted to do was write. But without any clear knowledge of the world of publishing or creative writing in general she soon realised there was a whole world of creativity in writing that she knew nothing about – her first degree was science and maths based.
She had graduated from Lancaster University in 1987 with a Bachelor of Education degree so she looked on the University website to see if they offered anything that might help her focus with her writing.
The Distance Learning Master’s Degree in Creative Writing caught her eye and looked ideal, although, with no writing credentials, she thought she would not be accepted on the course.
“But I was and it’s been inspirational,” said Paula, who graduated with a distinction. “It took a lot of guts to enrol on the Creative Writing MA programme but it gave me the confidence I needed.
“I am so grateful to my tutors and colleagues at Lancaster University, especially Jane Draycott, who gave me huge confidence in my writing, and brought on my skills enormously!” explains Paula, who had always enjoyed writing ‘bits and pieces’ for her job including playscripts and shows and texts for pupils to use.
“The course has been the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. Being a learner rather than a teacher has been so refreshing, and my tutors have been amazing and so inspiring.
“I really didn’t want the course to end. I want to write a historical novel and apply for a PhD and, to support this, I enrolled on a PG Diploma in regional history again with Lancaster Uni – which I’m loving – so I haven’t left yet!”
Taking the leap was a frightening thing, added Paula, but, luckily, her husband of 37 years Steve, daughter English graduate Rosie, who actually attended the first graduation ceremony as a toddler, son Frankie and extended family supported her and cheered her on.
She has, to date, written several novels – a domestic noir, a mystery and a dark romance – all set in Barrow, as is a children’s novel she has written.
She added: “Lancaster University has been part of my journey since 1983 when I first applied for teaching training. I wouldn’t think of learning anywhere else. I actually have two novels coming out with Bloodhound Books in January, 2023. The DLMA has to take some credit for that!”