Current employer: Self-employed
Current job title: Freelance journalist
Current location: Denver, Colorado, USA
"My undergraduate degree opened my eyes to various different styles of writing, from short stories to memoir and biography. Studying creative writing as part of my degree also honed my own writing skills, with many rules – such as 'show, don't tell' and avoiding unnecessary adjectives – which I still apply to my work today."
Tell us about your career path since graduation.
After cutting my teeth as a breaking news reporter on The Plymouth Herald, I completed a postgraduate diploma in journalism at City University, London. I then spent five years as a digital journalist and editor in regional news, later joining Journalism.co.uk as the technology editor covering news and innovations in digital journalism for an international audience. I've been freelance full-time since moving to the US in March, 2015.
Has your career path changed since graduation?
I always knew that I wanted to write for a living, and I've been doing that in one form or another since I graduated. The main difference is that when I was at university the internet was still in its infancy – websites were relatively basic, and there was no Twitter and no Facebook. Now ninety nine per cent of what I do is online and I love the opportunities it offers to get creative. A lot of my work also involves social media. At university I was reluctant to even sign up for Myspace, so I wouldn't have seen that coming!
What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?
Graduating from my journalism postgraduate degree in 2008, the same year many news outlets were essentially folding in on themselves, meant that there weren't many jobs available, and I ended up working for a "content farm," churning out web copies for corporate clients. We had to write twenty five stories a day on topics such as Greek holiday homes and white furniture, stuffed full of SEO keywords. I only lasted six months.
What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?
Leaving my steady job and moving to America to live with my partner and work for myself. It has its challenges, but having the opportunity to travel more and the freedom to explore new avenues for my writing is something I've always wanted.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?
I took two years out after the second year of my degree because I was broke and needed to work. At one point, I was holding down two jobs as well as trying to meet my academic commitments, which was exhausting. I was only supposed to take one year out, but then I got offered a job at The Herald and did that for twelve months, which helped me to decide what I wanted to do when I graduated. So, it worked out alright in the end.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the same line of work?
Get as much experience as you can, whether that's starting a blog or doing work experience at your local newspaper. If you get work experience, make sure you turn up on your first day with a bunch of story ideas and don't be afraid to ask questions. Journalism isn't just about writing: at the very least, you need to learn how to take decent photos, shoot and edit videos, understand social media, and know how stories work online. Being a journalist is tough, competitive, and not the best-paying job in the world – but it can be the most satisfying.
How did studying at Plymouth help you?
For my dissertation I produced a series of verbatim biographies – interviews with people who had been through powerful life experiences, told in their own words. I covered stories from a WWII Prisoner of War, a recovering drug addict, and a woman with alopecia who hadn't had hair since she was a teenager. I included samples from the series in my application for the Guardian's Scott Trust bursary, which I ended up receiving and which helped pay for my prestigious postgraduate degree.
What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?
My undergraduate degree opened my eyes to various different styles of writing, from short stories to memoir and biography. Studying creative writing as part of my degree also honed my own writing skills, with many rules – such as 'show, don't tell' and avoiding unnecessary adjectives – which I still apply to my work today.
Did you undertake a placement during your degree and if so, how did this benefit you?
I took some time out of my degree to work as a reporter on The Herald, which gave me a good grounding in journalism and convinced me that it was a career I wanted to pursue. They offered me a job after a week's work experience in which I landed a front page story about a man who'd been attacked by youths outside his home. I was so desperate to learn the ropes I even volunteered for night shifts!
What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?
I spent a lot of happy days hanging out with friends on Plymouth Hoe and exploring the nearby beaches. I also loved my creative writing classes with Anthony Caleshu, and opening my eyes to so many new writers I still read today: people like Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor. I recently visited O'Connor's farmhouse in Georgia, US, which is preserved exactly as it was when she lived there in the 50s and 60s – even down to the peacocks! That's something I'd wanted to do ever since reading Mystery and Manners at university.
Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?
Some of the best friends I'll ever have are Plymouth alumni, and even though we all live in different places now we still try to see each when we can, usually once or twice a year. And I've stayed (loosely) in touch with a couple of lecturers – Anthony Caleshu and Rachel Christofides – who I still feel I can turn to for advice if I need it.
Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?
I can only speak for the English department, but the faculty are encouraging and truly passionate about what they do, which makes it a great place to learn. Plus, who wouldn't want to study near the beautiful south west coast?
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