Tom Vowler

Current employer: Plymouth University, self-employed

Current job title: Associate Lecturer, Editor, Novelist

Current location: Plymouth

“Read everything. Read old and new, epic and minuscule. Be ravenous for words, delight in the music of great prose, study work at the level of the sentence. Ignore trends – set your own.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

After submitting work completed on the MA, I was signed by a major publishing house, and my first book won two international prizes. Two novels followed and I am working on a third, as well as a collection of stories. I am now also an editor of the literary journal Short Fiction, having begun as a filter reader whilst a student. I also teach on the same MA, as well as an undergraduate short story module, and am soon to submit my PhD at Plymouth.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

A career in the creative arts will always be capricious, but graduating gave me the confidence to submit work, and later to regard myself a writer. What was initially the exploration of a hobby, a fledgling passion, has since become my sole vocation, the opportunities studying at Plymouth bestowed legion.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

The discipline and rigours of creating new work each day – it sounds idyllic (and largely is pre-publication), but writing to deadline, whilst juggling everything that comes with this, requires a new mind-set. It is part of what makes the MA an unrivalled time in a writer’s life: the freedom and indulgence just to write, to share work with your peers, to take risks and find your voice.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

Seeing your first book in print is an extraordinary moment. Two years of toil, terror and self-doubt – you never actually quite believe it will happen. From the tiniest kernel of an idea/dream to the postman delivering a box full of your novels to take to your book launch – nothing can prepare you for that.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Gladwell’s ten thousand hours to become a virtuoso at something can, fortunately for writers, be largely amassed by (critically) reading. Read everything. Read old and new, epic and minuscule. Be ravenous for words, delight in the music of great prose, study work at the level of the sentence. Ignore trends – set your own. But mostly, nurture a dissatisfaction with your work: it is never good enough, it could always be improved.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

The exposure to great writing, being cocooned from life’s banal contrails. Towards the end of the MA, I fell in love with the short story, pouring my energies into this most demanding of forms. Nobody publishes short stories, I bemoaned to my tutor, who quickly contradicted me. The debate about whether creative writing can be taught is a trite and irrelevant one.

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English and Creative Writing