How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I’m a professor of English at St Andrews University with a specialist interest in women’s writing and gender. It’s a privilege to be able to read, research, discuss, teach, write about and promote women’s literature. My favourite days are those when I can push all the administrative demands of my job aside and immerse myself in writing.
What do you consider your best achievement and why?
I feel very proud to have been the first female professor in English at St Andrews – especially since I was pregnant at the time. At my inauguration ceremony I remember thinking that probably there hadn’t been that many pregnant professors before me!
What was your first ever job?
I had a slew of Saturday jobs as a teenager but I think my first extended period of employment was as a check-out girl at my local Tesco. I wasn’t very good at concentrating on people’s shopping and was quickly demoted to stacking shelves!
What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
Meeting the French feminist Hélène Cixous. Her work on women’s writing and gender has been transformative, and I also learned a lot from her about the practice of writing creatively – particularly the need to write daily without waiting for so-called inspiration.
Info on Hélène Cixous
What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
I wish I’d had the courage to start writing creatively sooner. It always felt safer writing about someone else’s work than producing my own.
What has been your favourite theatre production?
I go the theatre often and love its immediacy and power to transport. I think my favourite production has to be the adaptation of my first novel, Vanessa and Virginia, which was about the close sibling bond between writer Virginia Woolf and artist Vanessa Bell. I became involved with the production by Moving Stories Theatre at an early stage, and loved seeing how the different ingredients – acting, set design, costume, lighting, music, the work of the director and producer – came together to create the final show. It was like watching magic happen.
Info on Vanessa and Virginia
Info on Moving Stories
What advice would you give emerging female graduates today?
Hold on to your dream and don’t give up too quickly, even when the going gets tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but remember to return that help where you can. I think our generosity to each other is one of our most powerful weapons against the difficulty and adversity we still face.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
I’d like to nominate Kitty Randle, who toured with the play of Vanessa and Virginia throughout the UK and to France, Germany and Poland. I learned so much working with her about the skills, dedication, versatility and creativity needed to be an actor.