Phil Whitaker and Stephen Foster

June 11, 1999

Whitaker, 33, was one of Andrew Motion's first students on the MA course in creative writing at the University of East Anglia.

An Oxford GP, he is now 90 pages into his third novel. His first, Eclipse of the Sun, was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize. He set the story in India and relied on help from internet correspondents.

He says he learned much from the critical process on which the UEA course is based and found Motion's love of writing an inspiration. "Dishing out criticism of work can be a bruising process. Andrew has a gentle way of pointing things out."

Also useful was the party that Motion organised for students to meet the great and the good of the literary world, although Whitaker says Motion "would not describe himself as a party animal".

Stephen Foster

* Foster's first book of short stories, It Cracks like Breaking Skin, was published in February, less than six months after he finished the East Anglia MA course.

He is now working on a novel, Strides, "about a guy who has a lot of trouble with his trousers".

A former chef, decorator, builder and taxi driver,Foster, 36, says: "Andrew runs the course with aquiet dignity.

"The group of 16 discussing each other's work wouldn't have dared to break into hostility in front of him."

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