Grizelda Buncome

Peripatetic creative writing tutor

Arty Types

This article is taken from the March 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

A fascinating story, Rafe, really immersive and transgressive, Grizelda scribbles on the topmost sheet of the many A4 pages strewn over her desk, although I do wonder whether the 93 year-old inhabitant of a Lancashire care home would use a vocabulary that included the expressions “Whatever?” “Get bent” and “I want to sex you up”. But you are making — Grizelda crosses out the words “great strides” on the grounds that it might be considered ableist and substitutes huge progress.

It is 7.30 on a Sunday morning in the tiny out-of-town flat and Grizelda Buncombe, MA (Bath Spa), PhD (Coleraine), she/they, who likes an early start, is hard at work marking the latest round of coursework.

She is a tall, thin, anguished girl in her mid-thirties, who likes to be known as “Grizzy”, decorously brought up and expensively educated, although no trace of these former associations remains in the way she comports herself around campus or the Estuarine bark with which she addresses her students.

Grizzy has been teaching creative writing for a dozen years now, in nearly the same number of universities and colleges of further education. In an academic landscape where arts courses are frowned upon, the greenery-yallery in terminal retreat and tenure a sharply receding dream, only an instinct for survival will keep you going; Grizzy, a prudent operator, well able to take care of herself, long ago decided to focus hers on the short-term contract.

Grizzy wishes “to explore the space between feeling and its expression from the point of view of the deconceptualised (un) person”

It has been a picaresque progress this, up and down the British Isles. So meandering, in fact, that Grizzy is sometimes unable to remember one or two of the English departments she has briefly ornamented.

Just now she is officiating as Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Uttoxeter, but before that there was a stint as the Raymond A. Boggis visiting lecturer at Oxford Brookes and a community outreach project in the Scottish Highlands.

Naturally, a life like this has its drawbacks. University administrative systems aren’t geared to passage migrants and Grizzy is resigned to computer networks that won’t let her into them and vanished passwords.

Worse, there isn’t much opportunity to get on with your own work — Grizzy is a poet whose website notes that she wishes “to explore the space between feeling and its expression from the point of view of the deconceptualised (un) person”, but her solitary publication of the past half-decade has been a small-press pamphlet entitled Stricken Magnolias.

Still, there is always the students’ work, in which she takes a rapt and zealous interest. A tantalising dystopia, Hermione, she writes on the next sheet of paper. Although I did wonder why the little green aliens have always to be men. And the private language in which they communicate is not always decipherable to the lay-person. But I can see the effort you are making.

Privately, Grizzy has her doubts about Hermione, but, as she assures herself — noting as she does so that the THES is advertising a two-year post at the University of Clacton — a little positivity never hurt anyone.

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