Students & Alumni. Writing.
Megan Herdson is a graduate of our BA (Hons) Writing and Film Studies and MA Creative Writing, and worked as Senior Campaign Officer at ARU until 2022.
Who are you, and what have you been doing since graduating from ARU?
I'm Megan, and I studied BA (Hons) Writing and Film Studies before going on to do an MA Creative Writing at ARU as well. I’ve worked in marketing ever since graduating, pretty much - it’s just all about using my words to have an impact, really.
Having an opportunity to be creative on a daily basis was really important to me. It was where I needed my work to go. It would be lovely to make a full-time living wage from your writing, but it's not always going to be possible. There will be people out there that achieve that, but my writing was always more about just getting the words out there, not necessarily making money from it. Having a full-time job that fulfils that desire to have an impact is what was important to me.
What school/college/university did you go to before ARU?
I'm originally from Kent, and I went to Highworth Grammar School, in Ashford, Kent. I did my GCSEs and A-Levels there. It was a huge, transition from a very suburban quiet life to suddenly being a student in a big city with lots of things to do, lots of places to see, and all these different people who have all these different ideas. Because Highworth was a girls grammar school I grew up in an environment with quite a lot of pressure and competition. As a student, I sat very much in the middle. I got Bs and Cs, and at a Grammar school sometimes a C felt like an F.
When I got to ARU I was actually very shy from all this time where I’d been battling my mediocrity. I was very reserved, I hadn’t really ever been around diversity or people of the other sex. It was really difficult at first, and so I think the confidence that came over the three years of my undergraduate degree was probably the most important thing that could happen to me. I realised that, first of all, mediocrity is not a thing. We’ve all got our own special elements about us that we can bring to something, we all have something that we are good at and we should believe in ourselves to achieve something from that.
Is there one thing that inspired you to do what you do now?
Studying A-Level English literature did help a massive amount. I did love it when we were reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. I thought that was fantastic. It's a group of short stories, and they're all really twisted fairy tales. They're brilliant and they're quite overtly sexual at times. Ultimately though, they are very feminist, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is literature that can make a difference. This is impactful. It opened my eyes’.
But I suppose if we go all the way back, when I was probably in about year five at primary school, we had a visiting author come to do a day with us. He did an assembly and then we had a writing competition. The author was Antony Lishak, he’s a children’s author. We did this writing competition, I don’t even remember what the story was about – I’m pretty sure it was about a dragon who lost his fire and found it again. Antony picked the winner and I won! I was over the moon that a real writer read my story and liked it. I had to stand up at the end of the day, and I was presented with a certificate, and I got a signed copy of his book. I’ve still got it to this day. It's my prize possession, and it comes everywhere with me. Even when I went to my university accommodation, I had a little box of special things, and that book was in there.
What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your education?
It would be confidence, obviously confidence with my writing, and confidence to put myself across, but also confidence in who I am. Growing up, at every single parents’ evening of my childhood all I heard was ‘It would be good if she just put her hand up,’ and that was my feedback my whole life. So to come to a university where I felt confident and supported to contribute and even take part in workshops where the class would critique my work and I would critique theirs. That was a massive thing for me.
In my first year I won a place in an anthology called The Gentleman’s Press Anthology, and the winners got to go and read their story in the library at the Birmingham Fringe Festival. I’d only been at university a few months at that point, and suddenly I found myself on a train going to Birmingham. My parents turned up and, seeing them in the library, I was thinking ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to read this out in front of real people.’ Suddenly I was very grateful that it was a short fiction competition! After having that opportunity, I think my confidence sort of snowballed really. I realised that I could talk openly and that actually it was quite a good feeling that came after talking and reading. I felt quite empowered to do it and supported due to the environment around me at ARU.
Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?
For my career in marketing, obviously the creativity. I think having a background in anything creative is going to give you the sort of thought processes that helps you innovate and come up with new ideas and problem solving solutions. Being creative and having a mind that can think outside the box is really, important.
In a specific way, I would say, the ability to embrace criticism, and not take it terribly, is an important part of my professional development. To have it as part of your course from day one, where you have to learn that sometimes people aren't going to tell you what you want to hear about something you’ve worked hard on, it sounds tough, but it is such an important lesson. Feedback is so much more valuable.
And it goes the other way as well because in my day-to-day work I have to provide feedback. I have to provide it to people who have written copy for me. I might have to say here's some feedback on how we can improve that or make it more punchy. It might be that I've collaborated with the Design Team to create a poster and I need to feedback to them how we could reach our audience better with different language. . To be able to provide feedback that's going to help you get the job done, or help you get what you envision, but also to do it in a palatable way - that's something that can be hard to learn. Because I’ve been doing it since my degree, I am a firm believer it has helped me in a professional environment.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be afraid of your flaws. The grammar school mentality I mentioned earlier made me feel like my flaws were a monumental failure. My personality was letting me down.
Another one is to never be afraid to ask for advice, because I think that was something, as an introvert, that was quite hard for me to learn to do. To say ‘I really am not following this’, or to go home to my parents and say ‘I need some help with this,’ I felt like that was admitting I was not good enough.
And that’s changed with being a student at ARU, but also being an employee at ARU. I feel like I’ve had a very supportive network around me for quite a long time now, and that has helped me grow professionally, creatively and mentally.
What was your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what did you discover about the city that you didn’t know before?
I didn't know much about Cambridge. What drew me to Cambridge was that the campus was lovely, you stroll out the entrance of the university and there’s Parker’s Piece on your door step and rivers close by.. I needed the city life and the country life to come together, that was just who I am.
What went on to surprise me was how much there would be to do in Cambridge. From an academic perspective there's all the libraries and museums you can go to, and loads of talks are always going on, because it's a student city full of people trying to learn and absorb everything they can. But also, if you’ve got the time, you can hop on a train from Cambridge for a few pounds and be in Ely, or Bury St Edmunds. There's so many places you can go if you just need to switch off, even without a car.
What projects are you currently working on, both at work and outside?
At work at the moment it’s a very interesting time because we have the start of Clearing, that period just before we start in September, where a lot of students make a last minute decision that actually they are going to come to university. For marketing and recruitment purposes, it's a really busy time. It means we do a lot of work to showcase ARU students and their successes. My project at the moment has seen me speak to some amazing students - and those interviews will be turned into short films. Some of their stories, you just think ‘These are amazing people’.
They're not just here to study, they're here to make a change and make an impact. When I started the project I was inundated with so many people who wanted to take part and had amazing stories to tell. That's a really nice project to have at the minute. I’m storytelling for ARU and I love it. If these short films go onto inspire just one other person to go to ARU and have an amazing experience, then I’ve done my job and hopefully transforming some lives at the same time. It’s an honour.
In my own time I have just moved house and the first room I’m going to redecorate is the office. I need a space to dedicate to my creative writing again. In lockdown I spent a lot of time writing Found Poetry based off the objects in my house or the political stories I saw unfolding on the news each night – it was more to keep me sane at the time, but I would really like to pull together a poetry collection to pay tribute to what the we all went through in 2020.