In October 2015, Royal Holloway launched its Women Inspire campaign to celebrate inspirational women and their achievements and continue the legacy of its Victorian founders. In the spirit of the campaign, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the achievements of inspirational female authors who studied at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. We asked female alumni authors about the impact of their studies on their success, who inspired them and what advice they would give to students wishing to write.
Lucy studied BA, English and Creative Writing from 2005 to 2008 and went on to undertake an MA in Creative Writing in 2010. Her first book in the Worldmaker Trilogy, Starborn, was published in 2015 and received positive reviews. Lucy’s second instalment of the trilogy, HEARTLAND, will be published by Pan Macmillan in June.
Lucy studied poetry as well as prose at Royal Holloway and fondly remembers receiving constructive criticism in class. “The courses honed my skills in creative and critical writing,” she says, adding “I’m undoubtedly a better and more experienced writer thanks to my tutors and fellow students.”
Inspired by female writers Patricia A. McKillip, Ursula Le Guin and Robin Hobb, Lucy lists The Riddlemaster’s Game, Earthsea Quartet and Farseer Trilogy among her favourite novels.
Lucy’s best advice for students is to be determined and to have a thick skin. “I received a standard no from a literary agency after I’d already signed with a different agent and won a two-book deal,” she explains. “It’s only one person’s opinion so don’t let rejection put you off.”
Clare studied French and Management Studies from 1995 to 1999, joining Thames Valley Police on the Accelerated Promotion Scheme for Graduates. She left in 2011 at the rank of inspector to become a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her psychological thriller, I Let You Go, has sold more than half a million copies.
Reminiscing on hours spent analysing French novels, Clare has many affable memories of being curled up in Founder’s Library with a copy of Bonjour Tristesse. While Clare never expected to go on to become an author, her studies at Royal Holloway continue to inform her work as she pieces together the strands of her own stories.
Clare is inspired by women who use their celebrity status for something more meaningful than the red carpet. JK Rowling, Angelina Jolie Pitt and Emma Thompson are among the female celebrities she admires. On her book shelf, one will find a diverse range of female influences including Jojo Moyes, Sophie Hannah and Joanne Harris. “My own writing is influenced undoubtedly by these writers, but also by every step of my upbringing; the places I’ve lived, the people I’ve met.”
Clare’s advice to the aspiring student writer is straightforward. She encourages those interested in a career as a writer to simply pick up their pens and start writing. “There are many paths to becoming a writer, but they all begin the same way – write.”
Erin studied BA, English and Classical Studies from 2004 to 2007 before going on to become an author of two best-selling novels. The Best Thing I Never Had was released in 2013, shortly followed by Somewhere Only We Know in 2015, with both novels scoring highly in the Amazon UK book charts.
Erin’s work has been directly inspired by her time at Royal Holloway. “You are technically adults, and living apart from your families, but your world is still pretty small,” she explains. This in-between time of being “not yet an adult, yet definitely not a child” (in Erin’s own words) is an important theme in her first novel.
Among Erin’s female inspirations is Caroline Norton, a 19th century writer whose divorce and subsequent custody battle redefined in law the position of married women. Thanks to Caroline, after 1839 the first steps towards fair custody were taken: women with “unblemished characters” were legally entitled to have access to and custody of their children when separated from their husbands. Later in her career, Caroline’s writings influenced the 1857 Matrimonial Causes (Divorce) Act, and the 1870 Married Women’s Property act, which for the first time allowed a woman to keep her own earnings. Erin’s literary inspirations are diverse and include Nancy Mitford, Sarah J. Mass, Tamora Pierce and Barbara Erskine.
Offering a candid insight into the life of a modern-day author, Erin explains that “a lot of time is spent managing social media and relationships with book bloggers and other authors.” She also emphasises the importance of writing for pleasure, rather than fame or financial gain, and says the key to her own success is hard work.
Jane Gardam OBE studied BA, English at Bedford College from 1946 to 1949 and has established a long and successful career as a writer of children’s and adult fiction. She is the only writer to win two Whitbread Prizes: for The Queen of the Tambourines (Whitbread Novel Award) and for The Hollow Land (Whitbread Children’s Book Award). She was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1978. Among Jane’s collected stories of over 40 years is The Reunion, about Bedford College, which she considers to be her best.
Jane’s memories of Bedford College are profoundly picturesque. “The beauty and grace of the college grounds and buildings in particular the library under trees are my first and last impressions,” she reminisces. The comfortable rooms with coal fires and a maid to light them also feature in her recollections.
Jane remembers feeling very proud of gaining a place at Bedford College and working very hard. “But our best gift at Bedford College”, she says, “was the opportunity for making friends whom we kept.”
Do you have any memories you’d like to share with us? Comment in the box below. Or, are you an author who studied at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College? If so, we would love to hear about your work – please submit a review here.
You can also take our quiz to find out how much you know about women’s voices in literature through the ages!
Words by Oliver Hallpike.