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In conversation with OCA student: Gigi Pillai - The Open College of the Arts
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In conversation with OCA student: Gigi Pillai

People start the Foundation Course in Creative Writing with the OCA for many reasons. A recent student of mine, Gayani Pillai, who likes be called Gigi, has completed the course successfully. Gigi is British, originally from Sri Lanka, and has been in the UK for almost 15 years now, working as a Product Manager in the Power Tools industry. I was interested to discover more about her journey through the course and her plans for her writing future.    
NM: How long have you been interested in writing?
GP: I’ve been interested in writing since I was a child. I’ve been writing poetry almost from the time I could write, but thought of it as a hobby. As I’ve grown older, I’ve written therapeutically as an outlet for my emotions and thoughts.
NM:  What sparked your first interest in poetry and other kinds of creative writing?
GP: I think this came from a love of reading instilled in me by my father. We used to visit the library together from a very young age. I also remember reading and falling in love with a poem by Christina Rossetti (“Remember”) when I was around 9 or 10 which inspired me to keep writing as well.
NM: What drew you to the Foundation Course at the OCA?
GP: I left school straight after my A levels and started work. As I progressed in my career, I always felt that I would have liked to gain a degree, but I was wary about the level of commitment. I knew I wanted to develop my writing further, but I was unsure if my writing was up to the level needed for a degree course. The Foundation Course ticked all the boxes, it was a great entry point to help me understand what would be required if I do go on to a degree course while helping me develop my skills.
NM: It was great being your tutor, Gigi, and I’d love to hear more about your experience of the Foundation Course.
GP: I liked how I could fit the course around my work commitments. The course helped me think about writing differently, and cultivate good writing habits – such as keeping a common place book and redrafting. It gave me the flexibility to be as involved with as much of the online student community as I felt comfortable with. I think that if I do progress to a degree course, I will take more advantage of the online resources and community. With the feedback from you – the friendly advice and informed pointers – I felt I was able to improve. Overall, the course was challenging but also rewarding, and it has definitely boosted my confidence in my writing. I am more analytical when reading as well, as when I read something that particularly resonates with me I can identify the tools the writer used in the particular piece to evoke that reaction. Being able to identify things such as ‘Show don’t Tell’ or ‘Abstract v Concrete’ when I read inspires me to continue to work on developing my writing further. Knowing these skills gives me the confidence in being more critical with my work and helps me in during the redrafting process. 
NM: Which parts of it did you enjoy the most?
GP: I enjoyed branching out from poetry and writing more prose and stories. I enjoyed being challenged to write about and be inspired about topics I wouldn’t usually consider. I also liked seeing how my writing progressed and improved throughout the course.
NM: Which parts of it made you struggle the most?
GP: I went through a few changes in my personal circumstances which contributed to me taking longer on the course than initially planned. During this time, it was a struggle to find the time and the motivation to write. It is very important to have scheduled time to work on the assignments and to stick to this schedule. Looking back, I should have been firmer with myself on my schedule and planning. 
NM: Well done on persevering until you’d completed the course. Now you’re in that ‘no man’s land’ between successfully finishing the foundation course and moving on. Where are you thinking of going with your writing studies?
GP: I feel like I have achieved everything I set out to do at the start of the course. My writing has improved, I have gained skills that I will continue to use while writing, and I have an idea as to the level of commitment needed should I decide to pursue further learning. The Foundation Course was definitely a great starting point and I’m taking some time to digest what I have learned and focusing on applying this knowledge to my personal scribbles. I certain I will be looking to continue with a degree course in time as well. Right now, I have widened my reading from fantasy/sci-fi to other genres such as children’s classics (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett) and short stories. The last assignment on short stories opened my eyes to this form of writing and next on my list is Kevin Barry’s There are Little Kingdoms. I would love to expand my writing to children’s books as well as screenplays.
NM: I’m so glad your experience was positive.  Would you recommend the course to writing friends?
GP: Yes, definitely!
NM: I would love you to share a bit of the work that you did on the course with blog readers.  How do you feel about that?
GP: Fate was a poem I wrote for assignment four. We were encouraged to write free verse poems, but also poems that rhymed, and that really inspired me.


I thought she was on my side,

That this was where I should be.
The threads of my life made this path,
My feet followed, soundlessly.

She started weaving these twists,
There were many turns to take.
She knotted, stretched and cut up,
Till I became her cast-off, her mistake.

I don’t know what angered her so much.
She once gave me joy, now there’s pain.
I just followed the path in front of me,
Kept my mouth shut, didn’t complain.

Now, there are threads missing,
And the ends, they are all frayed.
The holes of lost dreams still remain,
And all the rips my anger made.

I thought I didn’t need to take control,
I thought I would let her be my guide.
But I think my biggest fallacy was

I thought she was on my side.

NM: Thanks so much Gigi, that was enlightening and encouraging. The very best of luck with your writing in the future from all of us at the OCA.

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Posted by author: Nina
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