School of English

Rob Temple, freelance journalist and author


Rob graduated from English and Philosophy BA in 2005. He is now a freelance journalist and author of Very British Problems  and Born to be Mild. Here, he talks to us about why he chose his course at Nottingham and offers tips for aspiring writers.  

What made you choose a joint honours course? 

I studied English, Philosophy and Psychology at A level, so I like to think. Well, sometimes I hate thinking, but it’s what happens. I also thought a joint honours degree sounded impressive to say to people. 

If you choose the degree, prepare to read, think, scratch your head and contemplate the most mundane to the most complicated and outrageous things (looking at you, metaphysics year three). 

What do you think makes philosophy and English such complimentary areas of study? 

They’re both about how we live our lives. Philosophy is the most concentrated version of that, and English is the poetic version. If you want to write a book, then usually you need to know how people think. Relatability is key for my Very British Problems writing. My memoir, Born to be Mild, was sort of a philosophy book. But English helped me write it as an interesting story, hopefully.

At uni, I said I liked the subjects because, I quote, 'I like to feed my mind as well as my belly'. I actually said that to a professor. Still mortified, so I hope I’ve made up for it with this answer.

Some philosophy books can be heavy going, be prepared for that, so could do with the writer having a bit of flair, which is what English can give you. 

What did you enjoy most about your course?  

I really loved scepticism, metaphysics, a module on Orwell and my dissertation on Byron being the first celebrity.

What was the most surprising, or unexpected thing you learnt? 

That it’s okay to say, 'I don’t know'. At school it seemed like there was always an answer, but there isn’t.

First year was a shock, but by third year I’d finally got it, it all clicked (third year was when I first really accepted that I would have to work very hard if I wanted good marks!). Don’t expect to be an expert immediately, even if you’ve done philosophy at school.

What are the most important skills which you gained?  

Seeing every point of view and which ones were valued and why. 

Uni also taught me how to change a duvet cover (eventually). Oh, and don’t have a fish tank, it’s a lot of faff.

When did you start writing? 

I got into journalism at 21, immediately after uni. Writing gives an enormous sense of wellbeing, to quote Blur. Huge satisfaction. But in a kind of 'I just ran a marathon' sort of way – and some days will feel like mile 16 and you’ll wonder why you started. I also like the hours and the relatively solitary lifestyle. 

How do you choose your topics? 

So far, they’ve come very organically; they’re just the way my mind thinks. Born to be Mild was literally about me and Very British Problems are basically just my diary.

I used the word 'basically' a lot, and the word 'huge', and that’s fine. One day an editor will tell you what your words are and hopefully go through and cut them down for you. 

What does ‘success’ look like for you?    

Success is when I’ve written something that I’m proud of and I know I could not have worked harder at it. Seeing a by-line for the first time was a huge thrill, and still is, and seeing your book on the shelf: wow, huge moment. But (start sentences with ‘but’, and with ‘and’) you have to see success as writing something and thinking, 'I can’t see how I could’ve improved that.' 



What are you reading at the moment?

The best books I bought recently were Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Our House by Louise Candlish.

Any top tips for aspiring writers?

Write what you know is a classic one. It certainly works for me. If you write what you don’t know, you’ll have to read a lot, so you know about it, you know? That’s another thing: it is a lot of work. Weird hours. Solitary.

Don’t worry too much about your style, or your first line, or your last line, just start writing and those will happen. Also don’t sweat hugely about grammar. Structure is quite important, as you’ll need to send in about three chapters to an agent and you want them to see the flow of the book as soon as possible, though if they like your writing a lot, all that can come later too.

Don’t worry about fancy words. Don’t be snobby! If airport thrillers are your thing, then a lot of people want to read them, I certainly enjoy them. The main key: just start writing! And be proud of what you write. Enjoy it.

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