“JUST go ahead and do it’”

That’s the message from a man who refused to let the trauma of a brutal attack from stopping him pursuing his passion for creative writing.

That passion has now led Anthony Anderson to the stage of the Stadium of Light to collect his English Master’s Degree and pick up the John Buchan Prize for the Best Dissertation by an MA English Student at the University of Sunderland.

His lecturers selected his work for the prestigious annual prize for its “exceptional standard” and described him an “incredibly resilient individual and a “real life-changer”.

The brutal attack happened in 2010 when the 36-year-old was the victim of a 20 minute assault by a group of men who broke every bone in his face and ransacked his home. Emergency surgery which saved him from being deformed for the rest of his life.

The men were never caught, and it took Anthony a year to recover from his injuries. He endured months of surgery to rebuild the structure of his face with titanium plates and it was six months before he could eat properly with his weight dropping to just eight stone. He was also made redundant from his managerial role with a national bingo and casino chain. In his words, he says: “It was a pretty rough time for me”.

It was while he lay recovering that he thought about how to could take his life forward.

“The attack was a traumatic experience to say the least, and the pain after surgery was at times excruciating. I’m well aware that others may have dealt with it differently, but I had a great network of family and friends around me, who helped me focus. The attackers made me a victim for 20 minutes, but they weren’t going to make me a victim for the rest of my life, that’s for sure.”

His love of English and creative writing had never wavered since his school days, but he admits he made the “wrong” choices in his early days from giving up a place at London’s Royal Academy of Music to completing a History BA degree, before working full-time for 10 years.

He decided he would finally take the plunge back into higher education and completed an English and Creative Writing Course with the Open University, all while working full-time.

He loved the course and was inspired to take his career further by signing up for the Master’s degree at Sunderland, but his confidence of returning to the classroom after such a long time made him apprehensive.

However, he says: “If you’re going to do something, time is of the essence, you literally never know what’s going to be around the corner, it’s what I say to the younger students now. Life has a habit of interfering with the best laid plans so I’m of the mind-set now – you just go ahead and do it.”

Despite that early wobble, Anthony found university life – and his fellow students of all ages and backgrounds – inspiring, and his grades continued to rise.

He also managed to overcome a collapsed lung half way through his first term and had to take a month off to recover. Despite the setback he still managed to achieve an 85 per cent grading for his dissertation. This he based on culturally traumatic events that indelibly marked society from the Holocaust and Slavery right up to the modern #MeToo movement, and how Gothic Science Fiction confronts the patriarchal issues in our society.

The work was selected for the John Buchan Prize. Buchan, a novelist, historian, journalist, politician, soldier and public servant, is best known for his influential espionage novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Anthony was presented with his award at the University’s Winter Academic Awards Ceremonies by John Buchan’s granddaughter, Laura Crackanthorpe.

Anthony, from Washington, said: “When I started this journey, I never expected to be winning any awards, and this was the first time I’d written a piece like this. So, it was a complete shock when I was told I’d won because John Buchan is legendary, so it’s a huge honour.”

Dr Alison Younger, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Sunderland, said: “Anthony thoroughly deserves this award; his work was exceptional, and he was a joy to teach. We were so impressed with his resilience, given all he’s been through, he’s a real life-changer.”

Long term, Anthony wants to eventually teach his beloved English subject, and will begin his PhD next February at the University of Sunderland.

He says: “Studying the Masters made me realise how much I love the research side. Being in this environment you hear about new ideas all the time and it’s exciting. The academics are at the top of their game and this has benefited me. Working with people like Alison and Dr Colin Younger, who give you this confidence to go out and do your own work, not just to recycle arguments you’ve heard before, but think about what you want to say. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

The University of Sunderland’s School of Culture has been working closely with the John Buchan Society and John Buchan Story Museum on a number of collaborative projects. These have included the digitisation of the Society’s Journal and the redevelopment of the Museum’s website. For 2018 the Museum, in Peebles, Scotland, helped create a centenary exhibition on John Buchan, as Minister of Information in the final year of the First World War.

Steve Watts, Head of the School of Culture, added: “I am delighted with the close collaboration that has been developed with the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Story Museum. The University has been working on several projects with the Society and Museum to support them in their aim of making their Journal and artefacts available on-line and accessible to everybody.

“We would like to join Laura Crackanthorpe in congratulating Anthony, a truly deserving winner of this year’s John Buchan Prize.”