One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera. There are different routes into Oxford. You can take the entrance exam. You can be offered a conditional place based on exam results. You can get a scholarship e. I was never going to get in by any of those routes. I was achieving academically at school but not at the genius level you needed for the exam. I was at a technical college for my A-levels because I wanted to study psychology and the only place I could do it was at Filton Tech in Bristol.
I left my private girls school in order to do that, and studied Psychology alongside English Literature, Classical Civilisation and also took an Outdoor Education certificate. That comment stuck in my mind and made me want to achieve that goal even more. Perhaps her words were actually the thing that drove me to achieve it.
I write something down and then I try and achieve it.
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So, I think I made the decision quite early on that I wanted to go there. But the reality was that the technical college did not have a path into Oxford or Cambridge, compared to private schools that tutor young people on how to navigate the process. But I had other advantages.
I had a psychology A level and a brilliant teacher, Antony, who inspired me to use my knowledge. My Mum was also fantastically supportive about my ambition and sent me on an Actors course for public speaking for my 18th birthday. Both of these things helped me get into Oxford. I went into the interview room and there were three professors sitting in front of me, my chair was in the middle, and behind me was another professor.
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He was the professor who offered me a place at Oxford so clearly, I made an impression that went beyond my academic performance. I was certainly not outstanding compared to those who were tutored specifically for Oxford, but by playing a different game, I was able to get in by another route. The University is made up of different colleges and you apply for specific colleges and courses within those colleges. One thing that becomes clear immediately is that there is a hierarchy and certain types of people go to certain colleges. Part of that is how old the college is and how prestigious as well as how well-endowed it is, and part is about academic performance as ranked on the Norrington Table.
So you might think that you have achieved a higher place in the hierarchy by even getting to Oxford, but then you get there, and there is another hierarchy, and then layers within that based on who your family are, what school you went to, how much money you have. I had never been a part of that world, so it was fascinating to be amongst it. But unlike Jude the Obscure , I did not let it get in my way. My room-mate for interview had a double-barrelled name and went on to do very well in the Oxford Union, with its famous debating hall. I was just not in that league. If you look at some of the alumni of the different colleges you will see that different aristocratic families or different wealthy families will go to specific colleges.
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I also discovered that hierarchy is not just about money or what school you went to. It was also about experience and knowing how to behave in certain situations. I had never been in those situations before Oxford.
There was even a hierarchy in the types of gowns you wore depending on scholarships and exam results. I had never chosen wine from a wine cellar. It was pleasurable learning! I had my first gin and tonic at Oxford. I had my first oysters and smoked salmon. I remember those things because in my world, they were unusual, whereas in the world I had gone into they were normal. Later in life, I can still choose a good bottle of wine and I still enjoy a good gin and tonic and some oysters! The people I met were not superior in their attitude, they were just superior in the way that they understood the world that I was now in.
So I had to learn a whole different game to fit in there. Some are free and some require an entrance fee of varying prices. You can also join a walking tour. Many of the treasures also lie within the walls, so definitely go take a look at a few. My recommendations would include Christchurch for the dining hall used in the Harry Potter movies and its cathedral, Exeter for the chapel, Trinity for the gardens, Univ for the gorgeous Shelley memorial sculpture, and Magdalen for the walks they even have deer.
I recommend going as early as possible to avoid the tourist crowds who arrive by bus around There is only one very tight stairwell up the tower, so dash up as soon as it opens for views over the Rad Cam, All Souls and the city of dreaming spires in all its glory. I went up to read Arabic at Oxford, but again, this was a pretty interesting choice because I had two offers I thought seriously about and my decision shaped my future.
Arabic at Oxford was focused on classical Arabic with a second year in Alexandria in Egypt. I had worked out in Israel in my gap year with a charity aimed at helping Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and Jewish Israelis to work together. My goal was to go into the Foreign Office and later potentially the United Nations. I always wanted to be Bhoutros Bhoutros-Ghali! I was passionate about peace in the Middle East and I wanted to be part of that. So I thought studying Arabic would position me for a future in politics. My other offer was at the University of Leeds, and if you know anything about England and you compare the two cities of Oxford and Leeds, they are two very different places.
Leeds is hugely multicultural and a modern city with a focus on integration and the future, whereas Oxford is ancient, with historic architecture and certainly not as multi-cultural. The Leeds course was entirely focused on modern Arabic and I think also had a year studying in an Arabic speaking country. The Leeds course would have been definitely better for what I wanted to achieve in terms of my career — or the career I thought I wanted — but Oxford was where I wanted to be.
When I looked at what I really wanted, it was Oxford over and above the course in Arabic. And that decision came back to haunt me pretty quickly! I sat in the Arabic class that first morning and the professor wrote words on the board and pointed at people in the class and you had to read it. He was assessing our initial ability and as the others spoke Arabic naturally, I realized there was no way I could keep up with the work.
I would fail and fail quickly. I would have to leave Oxford almost as soon as I arrived …. I went back to my room that day, my brain working overtime on my options. I could probably get into Leeds at that late stage, but I loved Oxford from the moment I arrived. What else do you have? This was a lesson learned because when I examined what I really wanted at a deeper level, it was not to do classical Arabic, it was to be in Oxford.
The degree subject was less important to me than the place. I studied the New Testament in Greek, Patristics, the history of the early church fathers, as well as topics like Israel before the exile and Israel after the exile. It was history and law and religion and languages and I also did some more modern papers, like psychology of religion which has shaped my fiction. Crypt of Bone is actually based on my thesis which was on the psychology of obedience in fundamentalist religion — why do people do things in the name of God?
It was inspired by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a fundamentalist Jew in There is a classic photo of them both on the White House lawn shaking hands in front of Bill Clinton. So, ultimately, it was a choice to stay at Oxford rather than to follow the path into Arabic, but my interest in the Middle East has remained and many of my ARKANE thrillers have aspects of Israel in them.
I went up to Oxford as an evangelical Christian. Charles Brock. My fiction is full of my own search for belief, the line between science and faith , and some of my own spiritual experiences through the eyes of Morgan Sierra. My spiritual side definitely emerges in my writing, and Oxford helped me question the dogma of religion to find my own truth beneath. I still appreciate the God of the desert who inspired Abraham and Moses, and the God of nature who inspired the Psalms, and the jealous God who smote the Philistines, or the God of judgment at Megiddo.
I loved learning about the historical and political aspects of what I only previously knew through the lens of belief. I find God in beautiful architecture as well as in nature and in people and I definitely found all of that at Oxford. I was a server at his service and I still remember his smile as he signed my copy of The Rainbow People of God. Oxford is based on the tutorial system which means there are lots of lectures available, but your main form of education is the tutorial.
Every week of term, you would be given an essay to write on a question or a topic. You were given a reading list that might have 20 to 30, perhaps more, books or articles that you needed to read and assess to put into your argument. You would go away and do the reading, prepare your essay, then meet with your tutor, one of the professors. You might also have a tutorial partner, or you might have a tutorial on your own. You would read your essay and then discuss it with the professor who was obviously an expert on the area.
So the focus was on reading a lot, assimilating information from various sources, producing an essay, and then defending your point of view in front of an expert. Every week. I loved it! I used to work most days in the Radcliffe Camera at the Bodleian Library, which is the big round building you see in pictures. Back in those days, we had to handwrite our essays. Set on 3 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, Leisure Inn Spires offers studio rooms as well as self-contained, one and two bedroom apartments. All apartments have recently undergone a soft refurbishment and are the perfect accommodation choice for couples, long stay guests or family or friend gatherings.
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