Polly James

Name: Polly James (though I was known as Melinda Picton when at Swansea University)

Course studied: BA(Hons) English Literature

Graduation Year: 1985

Why did you decide to study at Swansea University?

I was born in Swansea, but moved to England when I was eight. However, I never got over my homesickness for Wales, so studying at Swansea offered the perfect excuse to return home. Also, I knew that Swansea’s a great place to be even when you’re broke, as you can walk to a beautiful beach however little money you’ve got, and there can’t be another campus in the UK situated in such a great location!

What did you enjoy most about your course at Swansea?

My favourite things were walking into college each day through Singleton Park, and living by the sea again. I also really enjoyed my course, but it was the extra-curricular activities that I recall most vividly.

I was very political during my time at Swansea, and got involved in both local and student politics - becoming Treasurer’s Assistant in the Student’s Union in my second year.

This led to various activities like occupying the Registry overnight, in an attempt to save the Social Policy course

I also had my own show on university radio, as did one of my friends, Gerard Davis, and he and I used to love recording terrible jingles for our respective shows. (Mine was known as The Disco Diva.)

Best of all, I made some wonderful friends amongst both students and staff, and am still in touch with them all today.

What are you doing now career-wise? Include Job Title/ Name of Organisation/ Role & responsibilities

In 2010, after a career spent largely in politics and a second degree in Creative Writing, I began a comic blog called “Mid-Wife Crisis”, writing under my then-pseudonym of Molly Bennett.

Much to my surprise, the blog became extremely popular and was shortlisted for various awards, including the Orwell Prize for Blogs in 2011. (The Orwell Prize is the UK’s most prestigious prize for political writing, awarded for work that comes closest to meeting George Orwell’s ambition “to make political writing into an art”, so being shortlisted was not only an honour, but also a hell of a shock!)

Since then, I’ve acquired a literary agent; a two-book deal with HarperCollins, and my current pseudonym (Polly James). My debut novel is “Diary of an Unsmug Married”, which is based on the blog, and it was published in February 2014.

I’m now wrestling with second novel syndrome, which is proving an even worse experience than I’d been warned it might be, and which may result in my returning to my previous career of working for an MP - if any MP will employ me since reading my blog, that is!

How has Swansea University and your course helped you with your chosen career path?

The English literature course at Swansea was extremely rigorous in comparison to many others, and ensured that students read incredibly widely, which I think is vital for a writer. I’ve witnessed friends struggle to get published because they haven’t developed a style and tone that is distinctively their own, and this often seems to be due to limiting their reading to the kind of writing they’d like to produce themselves.

Also, I read Politics and History of Art alongside English Literature at Part I, and my continuing interest in all three subjects has been reflected in aspects of my life ever since. For example, I spent ten years working in politics, studied for a second degree in Creative Writing and Creative Practice at an art school, then worked in television and as an editor.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Without sounding too “woe is me”, I find almost everything about it challenging! To quote the late, great Dorothy Parker, I hate writing, but love having written.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

When readers contact you to tell you that you made them laugh out loud, or that they identified with a character you created. That’s such a great feeling, it makes all the lonely hours at your desk, and the time you spend wandering about talking to yourself, seem worthwhile.

What was the best careers advice you were given?

It’s never too late.

What advice do you have for current students and new graduates?

Take every opportunity you can to get relevant experience both during and after your degree, and network like crazy, too. Most importantly, don’t give up easily.

What are your plans for the future?

Short-term, I’m just hoping to survive the nightmare that writing my second novel is proving to be. Longer-term, I’d love to write a sitcom, and possibly a crime novel, as well as a book for children.

What have you done that you are most proud of?

Funnily enough, it’s nothing career-related at all.  I’m most proud of staying married to the same man for twenty-seven years, and raising two fantastic, and extremely witty kids.

What are your favourite memories of your university years at Swansea?

Oh, gosh, there are so many, it’s hard to choose, but waking up in Neuadd Sibly on the first morning of the first term, and opening the window in my sixth-floor room has to be one of the most vivid.

The sun was glinting off the sea; there was a crisp, autumnal smell to the air, and I remember thinking that my “proper” life was just beginning - and that it was going to be very exciting. (It hasn’t lived up to that yet, but I live in hope!)

And finally, describe yourself in 3 words…

Mouthy, sarcastic, loyal.