A love letter to St Andrews…

Alumni Relations
Wednesday 19 January 2022

Here, in a love letter to St Andrews, Megan Ravenhall (MA 2018, MLitt 2020) explains how her walks around the town and its beaches inspired the prose submission for her MLitt in Creative Writing and, ultimately, led to the publication of her book – My Friend, Jane

I would be lying if I said that I was one of those children who knew precisely which university I would be attending by the time I had lost all of my front teeth. I only made the choice to study English Literature after an impulse decision to go with my heart over my head.  Medicine had always seemed like the right pathway but, after a somewhat stark awakening, I realised that my imagination was the best thing about my brain and that words were a way for me to translate that onto a page. Suddenly, English Literature was the only option.

I visited St Andrews for the first time when I was seventeen. It was raining – as it often is in Scotland – and I remember, ever so vividly, driving up onto North Street, past the Old Course and precisely four of the flats in which I would subsequently live over the next seven years.

That was the day my love affair with the Bubble began and it is what made leaving virtually impossible.

I don’t know if you have ever fallen in love with a place. If you haven’t, you are yet to experience one of the greatest things about being human. If you have, you will know that there is no pain quite like leaving and no fear quite like the prospect of it. People change, they grow, they move, they remould themselves after having a heart broken. Places? Of course, they change too; different buildings pop up from time to time and new plaques and new walkways mark new routes along the Fife Coastal Path.  The heart, however, remains the same.  The memories made in St Andrews can, and always will be, set in cobbled stone and caught in the North Sea breeze.

Places like St Andrews possess an ethereal sort of immortality.  Even if the people who occupy it come and go, Market Street, South Street and North Street will always be quiet and quaint and lovely in the early morning mist. East Sands and West Sands will always run on forever, disappearing into the haar when it rolls in from the east. The pool at Castle Sands will always be the best place to swim at sunrise and the viewpoint at the dunes by the Estuary will always be the place to watch the sun go down. The gorse bushes on the Old Course will turn into little yellow clouds every Spring and there will never not be ducks on the Kinnesburn or daffodils carpeting the banks of the Lade Braes.

It was my walks around these places that inspired my prose submission for the Creative Writing Masters in January 2019. Without those initial stories, I would not have succeeded in my application. The dissertation I wrote and submitted in the summer of 2020 was written in the middle of a lockdown, the first of two I spent in St Andrews. Every day, in-between walking along the Golf Courses and running down the Ladebraes, I would write the story – a story that started off detailing the struggle of an anorexic seventeen-year-old called Jane, but continued to write itself, beyond the 15,000 words required for a Masters dissertation and into a 50,000 word tale of what happens beyond an eating disorder. A story of life.

It was in the second St Andrews lockdown that I received an email telling me that Jane’s story was one that was deemed to be publishable. At the time, I was living alone on Church Street and I had a hot water bottle tucked down my shirt to try and retain some sort of heat as I was too scared to turn the heating on (one of the less romantic realities of living in a town whose heating systems are almost twice my age). I cried – quite a lot actually – and I think I forgot how to breathe for a moment, but the euphoria I experienced when I saw that email drop into my Inbox is the kind that I get when I think about some of the times I have spent in this tiny little town over the last seven years. Publishing my book here seemed only fitting.

St Andrews didn’t start my story, but it finished it.  St Andrews gave me the confidence to share my words in my style and inspired me to put those words onto a page. It introduced me to the plethora of people with whom I made so many glorious memories and provided me with an escape, an oasis and some sort of peace from my mind when everything got a little too much. It gave me my first sighting of the Northern Lights and taught me the importance of friendship. St Andrews gave me ten flats – each and every one with different flatmates and each and every one with different doors. It gave me not one, not two, but three academic families, making me a daughter, a granddaughter and a mother. It gave me two degrees, my very own book, a good stint as a Union Bartender and an even longer one as a Mitchells’ Barista. St Andrews gave me the opportunity to go to many, many balls at Kinkell but never enough May firsts on East Sands. It gave me some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets and ingrained in me a love for the sea and a love for Scotland, two things I think of often in my new life in London.

Some would argue that I stayed in St Andrews for too long, but I don’t think that such a thing is possible. When your time in St Andrews has to come to an end, you will know. But until that moment arrives, write everything and anything that dances its way into your thoughts. Enjoy every potluck and picnic in the quad. Embrace the time you have, for everything must come to an end and goodbyes are inevitable. I suppose this is my love letter to St Andrews and to the time I spent there, a love letter I wouldn’t have the confidence to write if I hadn’t picked my heart over my head all those years ago.

View My Friend, Jane on alumni authors.

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One reply to "A love letter to St Andrews…"

  • Valerie Waddelove
    Valerie Waddelove
    Wednesday 26 January 2022, 4.57pm

    Your story mirrors mine. To me St. Andrews is the home of my soul. Without the experience of place and the university, I feel my life would be flat, unfulfulled. Since my husband studied at the University too, we bought a house there in 1985 and had so many students live there. We visited with our four children at least a dozen summers in a row. With my husband being English, it became a favorite place to spend time with cousins and other relatives and friends over the 30 years we owned it. We even had it as the base for our 25th reunion. This is what I wrote for my 50th reunion year -- which didn't happen: https://alumni.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2020/04/03/life-changes-memories-dont-50-years-and-counting/


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