Charles Bush

Student spotlight details

Charles Bush published his debut young-adult novel thanks to the skills and experience gained from completing the Undergraduate Certificate of Higher Education. 

'Prior to enrolling on to the course, I had just graduated college with a B.A. in English, and had returned from a brief stint playing professional basketball overseas. While I enjoyed my time playing basketball, my lifelong dream had been to become a published author. I did not just want to write books as a means to an end. For me writing is much more than that. It is as much a necessity to me as breathing. I dreamed of writing stories that would touch people all over the world. Stories that would truly reflect the people and communities that helped raise me in the inner city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I wanted to help champion diverse storytelling in an industry that at the time desperately needed it, and some would argue still does. It was this elusive dream that gave me the motivation to begin drafting my first novel.  So what was I doing before I enrolled on to the course? Well, I guess one could say…I was dreaming.

'As I began querying agents for representation of my first novel, I was met with countless rejection. So much so, I borrowed from the great William Faulkner and began to pin every rejection letter on my bedroom wall for added motivation. Through the rejection letters that continued to fill my wall, it was becoming obvious to me that perhaps I was not good enough to achieve my dream.

'In taking a step back to examine my skills as a writer, I remembered something my father used to tell me. He would say in his deep, authoritative voice, “If you want to be good at anything, then you have to be around people who are the best at it. I don’t care what it is. If you want to play chess, then be around the best chess players. If you want to paint, then go and find the best painters.” With his words of wisdom echoing in my head, I took to the internet in search of where the best writers congregate. Naturally, my search led me to Oxford, where some of the greatest literary minds—Percy Shelley, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Vera Brittain—had studied and honed their craft. Here is where I found the Certificate of Higher Education programme in English Literature and Creative Writing, geared specifically to what I would need to hone my craft as a writer.

'I was scared to apply. I knew the odds were stacked against me, as all my life I had been told that young Black men from West Philadelphia rarely get the chance to attend the likes of Oxford or become published authors. But I also knew that despite the odds, I had to apply. If for no other reason than at Oxford, I would be around some of the best writers and literary minds in the world.  

'As I had predicted when I was accepted into the programme, studying at Oxford, even online, proved to be an academic challenge unlike any I had ever taken on. The programme took me three years to complete. It was so difficult that at times I questioned whether I belonged. The programme made me study authors, poets, techniques, and other literary subjects outside of my comfort zone, all with the shared theme of making me a better writer. During each course, the tutor pushed me beyond my limits, challenging me to be better. I wanted to soak up all of their knowledge like a sponge, and they implored me to do just that. No email or discussion board post ever went unanswered. In fact, each was met with thorough criticism as to how I could improve my work. So while the programme was a challenge unlike any I had yet to face, upon completion it became one of the most rewarding and angelic experiences of my life.

'The most enjoyable part of the programme was the time I spent at Rewley House in Oxford during the Oxford University Summer School for Adults (OUSSA), and all of the festivities I attended. Every evening after class, I would venture to the Eagle and Child pub to partake in robust discussions with fellow students on story and character. Some nights, post drinks and discussions, we would then venture into the town’s centre and attend events like, Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the Wadham College gardens, or stop and soak in the sounds of Tchaikovsky as it came from the Oxford Town Hall. During my time in the programme, I did not just get a first-class education, but I also made friends and memories that I will cherish until the day that I die.

'Three years after completing the programme, my studies at Oxford had paid off and I signed my first book deal for the publication of my debut young-adult novel Every Variable of Us. I am currently busy promoting the novel, which is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold in preparation for its worldwide release on March 1, 2022. However, even in the midst of my hectic schedule, I am vigorously at work on my next novel, which I hope to have completed by the end of 2022.

'The Certificate of Higher Education changed my life. It armed me with the necessary tools to become a better writer, which were paramount in me achieving my dream of becoming a published author. Not only would I recommend the programme to anyone who is interested, but I would say you owe it to yourself to apply. It may be challenging, but I promise you, if you persevere, you will never experience anything more gratifying nor rewarding than completing a programme at Oxford. The only word I can think of that can even begin to sum up such a feeling is . . . magical.'

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