From education to employment

University helps give ex-chef Martin the recipe for writing success

University helps give ex-chef Martin the recipe for writing success

He left school with no GCSEs -­- now Martin White is awaiting the publication of his second novel, having completed a BA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.

Faze – Journey to the Core will be the second in a planned trilogy of fantasy horror novels set in a dystopian world where the population must take a drug (the Faze of the title) or die.

Martin, who writes under the name of MJ White, began his late journey through academia at evening classes and then Andover College, where he gained a Grade A for his EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) in Creative Writing and impressed his teachers.

 “My tutor said I had to apply for university.  I didn’t think I could because I had no other qualifications apart from the EPQ,” said Martin.

However, Martin was accepted on the strength of his submitted work and last year he graduated with a First picking up the University’s 2023 Fiction Prize in the process.

Now he’s half-way through his Masters in Creative Writing at the University.

“As someone who never engaged with school, I have to pinch myself when I think I am now a master’s student,” said Martin, from Abbots Ann.

“I love university. I love Winchester and I’ve made several friends for life here.”

Now 48, Martin, who was born and brought up in the Southampton area, left school at 15 and ‘fell into’ catering.

He worked for 20 years as a chef but has no plans to return to the kitchen.

“Working 16-hour days, working evenings, working weekends – it broke my soul,” said Martin.

After he quit cooking Martin suffered a breakdown and split up from his partner. He worked as a gardener and a drugs counsellor before his love of reading tempted him back to the world of learning.

“I don’t think I was mature enough for school, I was always in detention,” said Martin. “I think that’s the case with a lot of men and boys.”

Now his latent writing talent, which Martin admits was partially obscured by poor spelling and grammar (he was diagnosed as dyslexic after starting evening classes) is coming to the fore.

Martin penned the first in the Faze series, The City of Addicts, in 2020, before he began his BA but revised and republished it two years later, feeling that his writing had improved thanks to his studies.

He has several other projects under way. His Fiction Prize-winning short story, The Society of Inverted Gentlemen has been turned into a screenplay by former Winchester student Nancy Taylor and submitted to the BBC.

The story centres on a bungling attempt to spring Oscar Wilde from gaol by a group of closeted gay men.

More recently Martin has produced an online anthology of writing, stories, poems, photography, and artwork called Just Breathe.

The collection focuses on what makes people happy and is made up of submissions from members of the public who attended workshops run by Martin at Andover College and Chapel Arts Studios. Contributors include Nancy Taylor and Casey Brown, another fellow Winchester Creative Writing MA student.

Dr Vanessa Harbour, Programme leader BA Creative Writing at the University of Winchester said:

“Martin was an excellent student. He was determined to make a difference not just for himself but those around him, He supported and encouraged all his peers.  Within classes, he was always engaged, pushing himself to achieve his best. Looking for opportunities to help others and improve his writing.

“This community project is a prime example of how he likes to help others. Martin is very driven but also empathetic. I am sure he is going to go far.”

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