Sunday, 30 October 2016

Write on Kew 2016

After a whirlwind month, I can't quite believe that the Kew Gardens Write on Kew literary festival was five weekends ago. After being so impressed with the line up and our literary weekend last year, my mum and I were eagerly awaiting this year's ticket release. Though there were fewer 'big names' than last year, an array difficult to follow after presenting the likes of Bill Bryson and Margaret Atwood, there were plenty of writers that we were keen to see. After some deliberation, we decided on a busy Saturday afternoon of Nick Clegg, Joanne Harris and Tracy Chevalier, followed by Tony Robinson and Val McDermid on the Sunday.

Nick Clegg
First on our agenda, and perhaps the most disappointing talk of the weekend, was Nick Clegg. I had high hopes from the charismatic, interesting man who performed so well in the televised election debates all those years ago, but was met by someone who seemed much more defeated and much less confident. Perhaps that's what a term as Deputy Prime Minister does to you?! Speaking about his recently published memoirs, Clegg had very little to offer in terms of his own reflections on the coalition; he described it almost as an inevitability, and the position the Lib Dems owed its country, and its voters, to take. One really interesting point which did come out of the discussion however, concerned the 'fashionable' nature of politics - the idea that it's cool to be perceived as politically engaged. I agreed with him, for the most part, that we have created a society of seemingly politically interested individuals who, when it really comes down to it, are not politically motivated to help be the change. A semi-stimulating talk from a semi-intriguing man! 

Joanne Harris
Until two weeks before the festival I was guilty of never having read a Joanne Harris novel, now I've read one, but I have three more downloaded on my Kindle. This interview centred around Harris' most recent novel, Different Class, which tells the story of a crime and a its simplest terms. I loved the book, and I couldn't put it down. For me, it was everything a great novel should be: characters you like, characters you dislike, characters you still can't make your mind up about; a story that was multi-dimensional, layered, with multiple narratives; and the old favourite, a plot twist. Joanne Harris, an ex-teacher herself, captured the complexities of a school perfectly, and reminded me very much of one of my own school teachers. She spoke passionately about her story, and her relationship with the characters in it, and I only wish I could have probed her more about the twist - but was forced to avoid spoilers by the audience members who'd not yet read it. I was really interested to learn about Joanne's synaesthesia, and thought the idea of creating a scent and a playlist to go with each of her books was a wonderfully romantic and engaging thing to do. She inspired me to read more of her work; and Chocolat has got to be first on the list!

Tracy Chevalier 
I didn't know an awful lot about Tracy Chevalier; for one, I didn't know that she was American. I tried to read her new novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, prior to the talk, because I hate it when people don't, but I just couldn't get into it. After reading fifty pages almost solely about apples, I just wasn't motivated to carry on. The interview with Tracy however, did give it a bit of a new lease of life. I learnt a lot about apples, and got a bit of insight into where the book was heading. It definitely made me want to read more, but also made me realise that it's a bit too heavy to be my new train read. I'll let you know how I get on with it...

Tony Robinson
What a man. I think this was my favourite event of the weekend, because it was the greatest performance. Without an interviewer, and left to his own devices to give us a sneak peak of his new autobiography, Tony Robinson was the perfect engaging, comical showman. His tales of his early years as a child actor had the audience giggling from the very start, and reminded me of the 'drama kids' I surrounded myself with as a pre-teen, and desperately wanted to be. His somewhat distant relationship with his grandfather, troubled by his experiences in the war, was a sincere and heartfelt backdrop for his own autobiography and need to share his own life stories with his children, grandchildren and, of course, fans!We purchased a copy of his autobiography, personally signed by the man himself, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck in. A cosy, Christmas read, I think. 

Val McDermid
My mum loves a crime novel and, until recently, I'd steered clear of McDermid, warned that her novels were too gory and too scary for a bedtime read. McDermid's newest novel, Out of Bounds, was just the right amount of gory and scary, especially when read on a Croatian beach, far away from the cold Scottish nights in the book. It tells the story of Detective Karen Pirie, a slightly rogue officer who makes it her mission to solve two equally challenging crimes at once; made all the more difficult by having to do it in secret, away from the punishing eye of her superiors. I loved that it read almost like two stories in one, and felt like the perfect amount of suspense was maintained throughout, alternating between cases, so as not to wear each story out. Val was a dry and fascinating speaker, and her obsession with death and murder both disturbing and intriguing. Finding out about Val's variety of friends and contacts involved in forensics and police work explained the compelling authenticity of her novels, and made me want to delve deeper into this world too. Perhaps too frightening before bed, but truly excellent any other time of day - only made more so after having enjoyed the company and expertise of a truly fantastic writer. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. Kew is a lovely setting for the event, and overpriced cakes aside, a wonderful place to spend an autumnal weekend. It was a shame that the events weren't more well attended, generally in much smaller venues with more empty seats than the previous year. I really hope it continues next yer, and the line up remains as varied and impressive. Write on Kew makes for a fantastic girls weekend away with my mum, and offers a really good value literary festival a stone's throw away from Central London. 


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

10 tips from 2 weeks of work

Over the past five weeks I've spoken to nine graduates about what being a graduate means to them: their university experience, their life after university, and all the things that have shaped and are continuing to shape those experiences. They are all excellent, hardworking, interesting people making graduate, or almost-graduate, life work for them - whether that's embracing further study, travelling the world, trying to find their place in the job market, or working an enjoyable and satisfying job. They are living proof that there is no one type of graduate and that, perhaps, the first stage of adulthood is making your aspirations, job and lifestyle work for you. 

And that's exactly what I'm learning to do right now. I'm two weeks into my first proper job, and it's a little bit of a shock to the system. After a four month summer of travelling, chilling and hanging out with friends, and a three years at university where, beyond my four to six hours of contact per week, 90% of my study time took place from the comfort of my own bed or sofa, ten hour working days and a 45 minute commute each way is...intense. But good intense. You could not pay me to go back to uni and, well, I am actually getting paid to go to work. I love the structure, the routine, the feeling that I'm building some sort of platform for myself and, for the most part, I enjoy the work. It's a change, but one I'd better get used to since I'll probably be working for another 50 years!

So, instead of telling you all about my journey to becoming a graduate, I thought I'd share ten of the most important things I've learned since starting my first 'graduate' job: 

1. Early mornings are your best friend and your arch enemy
There's something really peaceful about being up early, and I've seen the sun rise more times in the last fortnight than I have in my whole life. I like the fresh autumn mornings and, once you're up and out, you sort of lose sense of the time. At the same time, when your alarm goes off at 6am on a Monday morning, it's still pitch black, everywhere outside the bed may as well be the Arctic, and you have to mentally prepare yourself to get on a rammed commuter train, it's a bit less fun. Indeed, the realisation that this is your life for many years to come, until you have a baby and then have even less sleep, is something not worth thinking about. 

2. The work anxiety you inevitably had quickly goes
On the morning of my first day at working (and pretty much every morning in the week preceding it), I felt physically sick. I wanted to stay in bed and never face anything or anyone. It's the anticipation, the fear of the unknown and change, and it's really bloody scary. But the scared 'I'm-still-a-student-don't-make-me-adult' soon disappears. You get there, you pick things up quickly, and no one expects you to be an expert from day one. People will help you out and, before long, you'll feel like you've been doing it for months. The fact you've got to get up and go every day, you don't have the option to sack it off because you're feeling a bit nervy, helps. You chuck on your suit jacket and, somehow you find it in yourself to go. 

3. Heels are the worst
You wear flats to commute in on day one, and change into your heels at your desk. By the end of a long day of walking solely from your desk to the kitchen/toilet and back, you vow never to wear heels again. Unfortunately, you're only 5'1 and all the 5'10 women in your office still wear heels, and you don't feel like you can get away with it. From then on you resign yourself to constantly wearing plasters on your heels, and being forever thankful that boot season is just around the corner. 

4. Packed lunches are the best
Not only do they mean that you don't have to spend £15 on a salad from Whole foods, or ever decide that an extortionately priced litre of beetroot juice is a daily necessity, you also get to spend your morning looking forward to your afternoon snacks...and your afternoon making your way through them. My current favourites are frozen grapes (well and truly defrosted by the time I get round to eating them), and Nairns berry oatcakes. A packed lunch means that you can head straight to the park at lunchtime, and don't have to spend 45 minutes queuing to pay for your Boots meal deal; and it also means that you don't have to brave the cold/wind/rain in the winter, and can enjoy your sandwich from the comfort of your own cosy office. 

5. You have no idea how you wasted so much time at uni
When you're at uni it somehow feels absolutely necessary to check Instagram from new pictures of pugs every half an hour; WhatsApp your mates throughout the entire day, every day; and take that Buzzfeed quiz to find out what should you have for dinner based on which Disney Princess you're most like. Sometimes you just need to watch five episodes of Come Dine with Me of an afternoon, because you deserve a break from reading those two academic journals. Today I have one hour in which to eat my lunch, go for a walk, AND pick up some bread, and I have to make my own dinner decisions, free of Disney interference. 

6. Talking of dinners, prepare for your freezer to become your new best friend
Bulk make meals at the weekend, freeze them, and microwave them when you get home. That way you don't have to live off pasta and soup, you get the tasty home cooked meal you've been dreaming of since your last afternoon snack, and it saves you so much time (and money). 

7. You can justify buying stuff
Not only can you now actually afford to buy stuff, you can justify it to yourself. You're a working woman (or man) now, and wearing your school leavers hoodie and leggings doesn't feel so much like an outfit you can actually wear out to anywhere other than Tesco. My new favourite thing is working out how many hours work equals your new purchase. You can definitely buy those £60 boots at lunchtime if that's what you've earned that morning (disclaimer: you cannot do this every day). 

8. You do not need to shave your legs in the week
When hopping into a warm shower is one of the big highlights of your evening, don't ruin it by trying to balance on the bath, hacking at your legs, and exhausting yourself unnecessarily. You've got black tights and trousers, and you'll stay warmer in an air conditioned office. Save that chore for the weekend.

9. Exercise is this thing you still need to do but want to do even less
I cannot think of anything worse than going to the gym before or after work. One day at the weekend has to be reserved for sleeping, cooking, laundry, food shopping and chilling. Having said that, after 45 hours spent sitting at a desk all week, I do get kind of fidgety. I find myself enjoying standing on the tube, and eating my dinner standing in the kitchen, just because I'm bored of sitting. Lunchtime walks have become my saviour, whether it's wandering round the park, or down the High Street, at least it's something, and at least I'm doing almost 10,000 steps every day. The fresh air is so needed, and the sunlight a luxury I hope sticks around for a little bit longer.

1o. Be nice
If you've got to spend 50 hours a week with your colleagues, it's probably in your interests to get on with them. They don't have to be your new best friends, but they should probably be someone you can ask for help or can enjoy a Friday evening drink with. Be friendly, make them a cup of tea, and give them a hand when they're overworked - and they'll probably do the same for you. Having a bit of a support network at work will be worthwhile when you're having a bad day. 

So there it is, my words of wisdom: my thoughts, discoveries and reflections on my first two weeks of work. It's a big deal, a big change, and a big new grown up lifestyle to get used to; but we've all got to do it at some time, and these are the things which, for me, are making every day a little bit easier. If you have any tips to survive the long working weeks, please share and let's all master adulthood together!

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Graduate: Christian

Name: Christian

Age: 25

What's your story?
I studied at Aberystwyth University (mainly because they offered me £800 off my accommodation!) and read English Literature, with mixed success. My first year was hands down one the best experiences of my life, both in academic terms and in terms of social andsport. The course was open and inviting, I especially enjoyed the Greek and Roman myth module, and my tutors were awesome. The social aspect of university was booming, as was the sport - being a keen rugby player and sailor, Aber was a great choice. It's funny how quickly things can turn sour. The uni faced financial cuts, a new VP, and dropped about 20 places rating-wise in a year. I think it's fair to say that second year is always a struggle for most students; it's a transition from the initial novelty and excitement of first year, and the 'final stretch' feeling of third year. For me, however, I think it was the first time I realised that University, and the university academic environment, was not for me. 

Why did you decide to go to university, and why English Literature?
If I'm perfectly honest, I have no idea why I decided to university. After having 2 years out after school, travelling to Malaysia with Raleigh International, gaining a Outdoor Activity Leadership qualification, and working as a watersports instructor, my plan of joining the Military was at the foremost of my mind. I think the decision came (after much protesting from my parents who didn’t think it was the best choice for me) purely because I saw my friends photos from school on Facebook, documenting wild nights out and massive crowds at rugby games. The degree was purely a byproduct of 3 years having a great time. Plus, how hard can it be to get an English degree? It's basically just reading right? I think the issue today is that university is seen to be a right of passage, and almost something that everyone should experience and feel entitled to. I still remember the slogans at school about going to uni, and the one that stuck with me most is: 'gain valuable life experience'. I certainly know how to drink a pint quickly and shout drinking chants as someone else does, but I don’t feel university offers anything like the 'life skills' it advertises. It preaches self sufficiency, but really only shelters you more for the day-to-day aspects of the real world. We even acknowledge this while at uni saying things like 'I can't wait to get back to uni and away from real life', yet we expect ourselves to come out of it in a better position? Sure, we might have a degree in our chosen subject, but as a lot of people are realising now, that doesn’t always count for much in this day and age. Especially when you're up against something with a better degree, AND experience spanning back to apparently before they were born. I think the thing that uni lets its students down the most on however, is its attitude towards academic study. I'm sure this is bias from my own experiences, but if there's one place you should have MORE support academically, its university! My experience left me feeling out of my depth with no lifeline whatsoever. I probably could have spent more time with my tutors, but surely having those people as 'mentors' means they should make just as much effort, if not more reaching out to you? I spent 2 hours once waiting outside my dissertation tutor's office for a diss meeting with him, only to be told that he 'forgot' he had another meeting. This idea that students at uni shouldn’t ask for help, and the idea that you need to study by yourself (drummed into me in 4 lectures at the beginning of first year) is totally bogus. My advice: milk everyone for everything you can. At the end of the day you're paying for it, and you deserve even more help at uni than you did at school. 

More importantly, what's made you decide to go back and finish your degree?
I think, aside from my career aspiration to be an RAF Physical Training Officer (which requires a degree), the decision was a result of closure. It’s something that needs to be finished, and that I feel I will regret if I don’t. I also feel that I am personally in a much better place to be able to put in the required work in order to get a decent result. On top of this, I can study something I really am interested in by picking and choosing modules with the OU. For example, studying issues in contemporary sport and things like nutrition etc.

What's helped you get to where you are today?
I've had the great privilege of experiencing a number of different things since leaving school. From 3 months in Borneo to working in a number of varied jobs, such as activity instructors and fundraisers. However, I have to say (and as cliche as it sounds) one of the main things that have got me where I am today, and more importantly feeling in as good a place as I am, is my family and friends. Everything becomes easier with a support network, and while with my family it certainly had its big ups and downs, it is now firmly in place and stronger than ever. I can't downplay how important it is to have a close group of mates as well. Guys that you can chat to about anything and who (probably through the use of multiple insults) will always show they care and come through for you. I am, also, a firm advocate of self appreciation. It's something everyone should do (within moderation) and is essential to your mental health. Never forget to congratulate yourself on achievements, and in this case, I have put in a lot of hard work in a number of different areas.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with university?
As much as university is amazing (and it is even with all the problems I had there), it is a place the puts an immense pressure on you. I think people would be shocked if they knew just how many people at uni struggled with some sort of issue, from stress to anxiety. As much fun as uni is, it’s a place that can really bring you down, either through the weight of the academic side of things or the social aspect/relationships. But nothing is worse than feeling under the weight of it all and, even though you are surrounded by people, you feel all on your own. I guarantee you, every other person you meet will have probably gone through the same thing, so it's important to remember you are not on your own. Problems become so much easier when they are spoken out loud, instead of being allowed to fester. I think I'd also say 'don’t worry about it'. Even though it might seem like it, uni isn't the be all or end all of life. It could be that you regret going and feel trapped, but are worried that leaving will somehow ruin your life. Well that is 100% not the case. It could be that university isn't the place for you, or it could be the it just isn't the place for you YET, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. You have so many opportunities out there that it just isn't worth sacrificing your mental well-being for. The most important thing is being comfortable, happy and enjoying yourself. If one of these things is not being realised, you need to ask why? 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
I think the most important thing for me is being something, and doing something, that I'm proud of, and that benefits people. The paycheck isn't a big deal to me now (though a few years ago I must admit that wasn’t the case). Obviously I want to be comfortable and be able to do the things I enjoy, but I want to be able to stand up and say 'I'm proud of what I do because...'. So I think the aim for me, in 10 years, is to be well established in the RAF, preferably in a remedial role (helping wounded veterans, and people struggling with fitness). However, if things change in between now and then, it's not the end of the world. As long as I can hold my head up high and be proud of who I am and what I do, I think everything will be cool. 

Christian, the almost graduate.
Aspiring RAF Officer.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Graduate: Imogen

Name: Imogen

Age: 21

Where did you go to university, and what did you study?
I went to UWE (the University of West England), and I studied English Literature.

Why did you decide that going to university was the right option for you?
I think my decision to go to uni was informed by a few different things. One obvious reason was that I loved, and continue to love, books. I love reading them, I love talking about them, I like trying to work out what they mean. Love them. Another reason was that I totally wasn’t ready to go into the real world! I couldn’t have gone into a 9-5 job when I was 18; I didn’t really know who I was or what I was about, and (naff as it sounds) uni really helped me to work that out. Coming to Bristol was the best thing I’ve ever done - it got me a degree, a boyfriend, a social life and it’s a city with more culture than you can shake a stick at. I love it here and I can’t see myself leaving any time soon.

What are you doing now?
Now I’m half way through a digital marketing internship. It’s taught me a lot and it’s definitely something I’m going to stick at, at least for a little while. It was all a bit of whirlwind really; I finished my exams in May and then the day before my graduation in July, I had an interview for the internship!

What's helped you get to where you are today?
 To be honest, I think it’s sheer luck! I will admit that for the longest time I was not the most determined or motivated person in the world. I’ve always done well, but it feels like if I’d pushed myself that little but harder, I could have done really well. But, when I came towards the end of my degree it was like “Shit. I actually have be a grown up now”. So I just applied for every internship in sight that was even mildly related to my course - journalism, editing, publishing, marketing, the lot! It just so happened that the marketing one came through and it’s been great! That’s not to say it’s my forever career, but for now I’m enjoying it.

Do you think that your degree has any practical application to your current job?
Absolutely. I write a lot of content for websites, and a degree in literature has obviously helped me to refine my writing. There's also quite a lot of analytic work involved, both numeric and in terms of assessing target audiences. It might not sound directly related, but I had to analyse books down to the gaps between words, so I like to think that helped. 

What are your plans, if any, for the future?
Just to stay happy and busy; I don't ever want to be that person that hates their job. I'll just keep on following my nose and having a good time. I like to think that one day, maybe soon, maybe not, I'll go back to academia and do a Masters. My boyfriend is doing one now, and I'm a little bit jealous that he gets to hang out in beautiful building reading James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. I love all that. 

What are your top tips for current students and soon-to-be graduates?
Just do what you love. If you ever find yourself not loving what you're doing, or not knowing why you're doing it, just take a moment to step back and reassess. It's never too late to change paths, just be confident in what you do and make yourself happy. That's what's important. Oh, and don't throw your mortar board at graduation - there will be blood. 

Imogen, the literature graduate.
Digital marketer. 
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