What is your current job title?
This is actually quite hard to explain! I am a freelance writer and I also run a lot of creative workshops in schools, museums and communities.
What does your job involve?
My personal writing is everything from poetry to children's TV scripts, fiction and projects with musicians. I also do a lot of site-specific and installation work. The creative education side of my job involves designing workshops around a specific group (I adapt to each group I work with - every group is different!) or theme (I recently did some workshops based around the Beau Street Hoard for example), and then running this workshop in a school, museum or community setting. My job is to inspire and enable creative work. It is important to be adaptable and be willing to change things on the spot! I also attend lots of meeting to plan projects - there is definitely an admin side - talking to clients, arranging practicalities - a lot of management skills really, as a freelancer you have to do a bit of everything!
How did you get involved with Bath Festivals?
I grew up in Bath so was always aware of the festival, but I moved away for a few years and when I recently moved back I was put in touch with the learning manager by someone I had previously worked for and we really hit it off and had many similar ideas, plans and opinions about how creative education should be approached. We started the Young Writers Lab together and now we are doing The Chancery of Lost and Found for the literature festival, which is very exciting. But I believe good working friendships are a really important part of developing any career in the arts - building positive relationships with everyone you work for.
What appealed about working with literature and young people?
As a writer I'm obsessed with writing - it's definitely a vocation I feel, so I didn't really need an excuse! But in terms of working with young people I have always admired and been inspired by young people's ideas. I love discovering them and helping them develop. I think it's really important that people encourage creativity and support young people to be as imaginative as possible. But really it is fun and interesting - two of the best reasons if you want a job you enjoy. I also haven't lost that ability to think in a child like way - I think that's quite important if you are going to work with young people.
Do you think that young people are as engaged with literature, as say ten, twenty years ago?
I think they are. Certainly there is a lot more literature out there targeted at young people, especially young adults, than when I was younger when it was pretty much Nancy Drew and Judy Blume, which were never really my cup of tea... However I think there is a huge disparity in quality between books within the same genre, and I don't know how many classics are being read, I spend time with a lot of already engaged young people so they read widely. I think people do love books and there are lots of good schemes out there to encourage reading - it's such a natural enjoyment that I don't think it will die out. I just wish there were some more quirky books being published...
Which young writers do you admire right now?
Ooh that's quite tricky if you actually mean the age of the writer? I know Veronica Roth is very young and I did enjoy the first two Divergent books. In terms of other YA writers I really like Lauren Destefano's Chemical Garden trilogy - beautifully creepy and well written. I'm going to have to go on writers I like rather than age I fear now! My favourite novel of the last few years was Swamplandia! by Karen Russell - it's not a YA book but I would have loved it when I was a teenager. I read a lot of poetry too - a recent poetry release by a young poet I enjoyed was Luxe by Amy Key. I've just finished reading and enjoyed Emma Hooper's debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James. There're also writers that I think wrote great books for young people in the past that might not be classified as that - I think Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier is one...
How did you get into an arts job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
As many freelancers will tell you these things happen by trial and error. I've always written and then I got a few lucky breaks when I applied for things I thought I didn't stand a chance of getting and did on the strength of my work. My first arts job was actually in a travelling theatre company working in schools in Italy - kind of an odd choice as I'm not a big theatre person, but I did get a lot of schools experience that was useful. I graduated in art history from the university of Edinburgh and since then most of my jobs have been in the arts - in the early days when I was really focusing on writing I did the odd pay-the-rent job, but I've never really worked outside of the arts - just built and built my career and portfolio of work over the years until it has reached this level.
What are your career highlights to date?
In terms of my creative work and my teaching work coming together I am really excited about the upcoming Chancery of Lost and Found for the Bath Literature Festival which opens this weekend. Other highlights personally include my recent poetry book which was published, when I wrote my first script that was on TV, when I was asked to read at the Belgrade International poetry festival, when I won a public art commission in Bucharest - I always like things that involve travel. Any project where a child writes something fantastic is a highlight for me - to feel I've inspired or enabled a young person is amazing.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Anyone who wants to be freelance I have to say you don't do it for the financial security - it can be very unreliable so it's good to have a back up plan, or to build your project management and office skills as well, as that is where the more stable arts jobs lie. But if your heart is in producing creative work then I would say the main thing is make sure you create it - so many people say they'd love to write a novel but never do - you can't get published if the work doesn't exist! I would also say have a tough skin - accept constructive criticism and use it to improve - don't give up! Also take every opportunity that's given to you even if it seems random - an interesting varied CV is better than a boring one! In creative work it's good to have lived an interesting life - inspire yourself and you should inspire others. Also, get experience whenever you can - volunteer, get involved...
Have you got what it takes to be a writer? Then take a look at the Writer career profile on Creative Choices, the arts careers website, here