School of English

Olivia French, Marketing and Communications Manager at HarperCollins Publishers


Olivia graduated from BA English with Creative Writing in 2014 and MA English Literature in 2015. She discusses how the skills and opportunities gained from her degrees helped secure her role in publishing.

"When I was doing A level English, I really enjoyed creative writing. There wasn’t really a lot of room to do that in a formal way, though. I wrote one piece in my own time and gave it to my A level English teacher to have a look at. He gave me some really constructive feedback and encouraged me to continue. That experience made me think, 'when I go to uni, I really want this to be part of my course'.

I felt a bit reluctant to take the plunge with a course that was just devoted to creative writing. Nottingham was one of the only courses I found that would let me continue to study English, but also give me the outlet that I wanted with creative writing. It stood out to me from the beginning."

BA English with Creative Writing

"No surprises, the thing I most enjoyed abut my course was the creative writing element! I really enjoyed the format that the teaching took. We gathered in a group of about 15 and we’d meet regularly to discuss each other’s work. There was a real kind of practical, workshop atmosphere. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced before. It wasn’t just getting formal feedback from a tutor, but also peer feedback, which was really enjoyable.

I chose a lot of literature modules, so alongside my own writing I was also reading books, I was reading plays – there were all these different formats. There was a poetry module as well, so I was still encountering all the different formats of literature that you can find. It’s really helpful when you’re writing to be constantly reading all the time.

I remember really enjoying the theatre modules. I didn’t do any drama before going to uni. I’d read plays as part of my A levels, but the theatre modules opened my eyes to plays as a medium of literature. Looking at how plays are written and their message, but also how society responded to them at the time, I found that really interesting.

The drama workshops were quite practical, we’d be acting out parts, and I remember one time we gender flipped a play, just to see how the language played out differently. There were all these kind of interesting things that I’d never considered before."

Skills for success

"Gaining the ability to write across a broad range of formats was one of the most important skills I learnt. Then there's also understanding how different formats of literature work and what they’re trying to do.

The creative writing workshops really built my communication skills, including giving feedback. When you start, it’s quite daunting to be in a room with loads of other people who are writing, as it’s a very personal thing.

One of the skills that’s definitely useful in my job, is knowing how to communicate with different stakeholders. If I’m talking to an editor about a book, I’m going to have a different conversation with them than I would have with the author. The communication skills which I gained from my course are really invaluable.

Essay writing was a main skill that I took into my MA. I did two dissertations, so it was a very essay-based course. In my undergraduate degree I’d already learnt how to write essays, how to not waffle, so that was a very practical skill that I took forward with me.

You start your degree and it’s mind blowing how much knowledge it gives to you about different authors and books. Your undergraduate really immerses you in literature and shows you what you like. You read so much. Definitely going onto my MA, the amount that you can read, the speed-reading ability, really helped."

Work placements

"During my time at Nottingham, I got to do two placements. In my undergraduate degree, I worked on (Writer in Residence) Jon McGregor’s Letters Page journal. Then, in my MA year, I worked at Writing East Midlands.

The opportunities to do placements were really invaluable. Both the Letters Page and Writing East Midlands opportunities were organised through the University. They gave me a glimpse into the world beyond Uni, whilst I was still safely there.

I would go into Nottingham city centre, to the Writing East Midlands offices once a week and we would meet up and work in Jon’s office for the Letters Page. It was real work experience – you had to be there, on time, you had tasks to do, you’re working with people external to the University – it gave me a glimpse into what the working world was like, while still doing things that were related to my course. The fact that I got these two opportunities was amazing."

Support network 

"Jon McGregor, as well as my creative writing tutors, Matt Welton and Thomas Legendre, were definitely stand-out staff for me. They were the people who always had their office doors open and were like ‘literally just drop in and we can talk about this paragraph, or this line’."

One of the things I found when I went to Uni was there was a breaking down of the formal relationship between student and teacher. You felt like you were talking to a friend or colleague. There was a lot of openness, which I really liked.

Postgraduate study at Nottingham

"I decided in my third year that I was going to do a postgraduate course. I didn’t ever really consider going anywhere else to do the MA. I was so settled, the campus is amazing, and I’d built up some great relationships with my lecturers and tutors. I was so contented with Nottingham and already had such a great foundation from my BA.

Knowing that I was going to take that next step academically, in an environment that I was already comfortable in and happy in, it gave me the confidence to do the MA.

Towards the end of my second year, I decided that I wanted to try and pursue a career in publishing. I looked at the modules that I’d done, and there was such a wide breadth, but I didn’t feel that I knew enough about the publishing landscape in the last 50-100 years.

I thought, if I’m going to do an MA, I want to focus on modern, 20th century literature and get more of an understanding of what’s been published in the past 50 years, and what has been the reaction to that. So that's what I chose with all my modules."

A lot of the things that you learn is how people responded to literature. In publishing, that’s the ever-present thing that we’re thinking about. 

Working in publishing

"I enjoy taking English literature across the world. We market the English language versions of our books, so I market to open market territories which include Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The thing I most enjoy is when we’ve got a new book that we’re publishing, and thinking, ‘Everyone in the Netherlands is really going to enjoy this’, or ‘Malaysia or Singapore can do some events for this, as the author is local’. It’s feeling that excitement that we’ve got something that people will love and I’ve just got to find the way to get it to them.

On a day-to-day basis, success to me is switching your laptop off at the end of day and thinking ‘I’ve done a good job today, everyone’s happy’.

In terms of long-term success, I always think, if I could go back and tell myself that this is where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing, how would I react? If I could have told me from 2014, 2015, this is what I’ll be doing, I’d have been so excited!" 

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