We kick off our series of blogs about our alumni’s memories of their graduation day, and the events that led to it, with a story from Phyllida Scrivens, who graduated in 2015.
“I worked at as secretary to Heads of Literature, American Studies and Film and Television Studies between 2005 and 2010 before taking early retirement and, in 2011, I applied to the MA in Non-Fiction Creative Writing – with biography. I was excited to be accepted and to cross the line from administrator to student.
“Four years on and, on 22 July 2015, I graduated. Two people accompanied me to the ceremony: my husband Victor and Joe Stirling, the subject of my first published biography, Escaping Hitler.
“I met Joe at the UEA in December 2011 during a Human Library event in the student bar. He told me of his early childhood as a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany – he was born in the village of Nickenich, near Koblenz, in October 1924 – and his attempted escape as a 14-year-old, walking through Luxembourg and Belgium and into Holland. Although this effort was abortive, he did arrive in England on a Kindertransport in July 1939, going on to join the British Army and then find himself in Norwich, where he has lived since 1949. He became the Sheriff of Norwich in 1974 and, now aged 94, Joe lives in a nursing home in the city.
“For you see, when I joined the MA class in September 2012, as a part time student, I used Joe’s life story as the basis for my studies and my final thesis. Ultimately, with my confidence boosted, I sent a proposal to Pen and Sword Books. They accepted it immediately and I found myself signing my first publishing contract.
“The book was published in January 2016, with a second book, The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich, following in March 2018. I am delighted to say that this second book won the Best Biography Prize at the East Anglian Book Awards 2018, at a ceremony in November at Carrow Road. I have so much to thank UEA for.
“Having Joe at the graduation ceremony was truly wonderful – he had been so supportive throughout my studies and well beyond, sharing both sad and happy memories, giving me leads to find others I could interview, and accompanying me on my many talks to W.I.s, History Groups, Retirement Club, and elsewhere throughout Norfolk, until his health deteriorated 18 months ago.
“My talks, however, continue, and his book is now published in the US by Skyhorse Publishing of New York. His story and that of Norwich over the past six decades is now available over the Atlantic.”
Phyllida is now working on her third book – a local history of The Thorpe Great Railway Disaster of 1874.
Phyllida studied MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at UEA, graduating in 2015.