Elle McNicoll, alumnus, Creative Writing
Initially, Elle believed university wasn’t for her, but she achieved a first degree and like most of us, just wanted to make her parents proud. With her can do attitude she became a published author at 27 while dealing with an anxiety disorder, there’s no doubt her parents must be full of pride.
I chose LSBU because the modules on the Creative Writing course were very attractive to me. They were extremely varied, with focus on the short story form, the novel, literary magazine, playwriting, screenwriting, etc. It was a broad selection of teaching.
The staff I remember who made my time at LSBU great were Vicky Grut, our short story professor, and Karlien Van Den Beukel who was head of the course. They were both enormously influential. We were a small course and they made us feel very included and united. Fateha Ali, the PA for the ACI school was also such an incredible person, I’m really proud to have known her.
Staying on top
I didn’t have the most typical university experience. I was already living in London before starting uni, so I commuted to my classes and I never stayed in halls. I was focusing so hard on staying on top of multiple assignments and managing my mental health and wellbeing that I definitely missed the more social side of university life.
My first year after graduation was definitely hard. I wanted to go into publishing, but that’s such an enormously competitive industry. I never dreamed of actually being a writer, I was so aware of how difficult it is to get read, let alone published. I tucked that dream away and focused on trying to get a job in editorial. It was almost impossible. I worked as a bookseller but my health was quite poor. The beginning of 2018 was a really tough year for me. I decided to get my Masters in Publishing at UCL, to help with breaking into editorial but also to explore a research topic that had been nagging at me for a couple of years, especially during a difficult job search.
I wrote my thesis on the lack of neurodivergent voices in publishing, in terms of writers and editors. I used that research to write my book, which was a project I just did to keep myself sane. I was going for a meeting with Knights Of (my current publishers) just to see if they needed any proof-readers or sensitivity readers. They asked if I had written a book. I told them what I had. They requested a full manuscript, and two weeks after reading it, they asked if they could publish it, which is a real dream coming true.
Getting a book deal at 27 is certainly a big achievement for me, especially in such a competitive market. My six-year-old self would not believe it. My 26-year-old, self wouldn’t believe it! I love being able to sit down and write, especially when I know that it’s for a purpose. You don’t need a book deal to call yourself a writer. If you write—you're a writer. That said, I love my structure and the editing process and I can't wait to work on more books.
Respect and appreciation mean a lot
Career satisfaction to me means working at what you love. Being appreciated. Being valued. Being told that you have worth. When you are a creative employee, you are constantly devalued. Even when you are succeeding. I still am sneered at for being a writer, even though I'm being paid. I was definitely sneered at when I was just trying to get by. Therefore, respect and appreciation mean a lot. Creating work that people respond to, or that feels worthwhile.
My parents are definitely the most influential people in my life. I always worry that I'm letting them down. I tried really hard to make the 9-5 life work because I wanted to make them proud. I wanted to be financially independent and work my way up in a company so that they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by me. I really hope they can be proud of me writing books instead.
I have an anxiety disorder so stress is a constant companion. I’ve only developed it recently, so I’m still learning to manage it. Comparison can really destroy you, so it’s important to stick to your own goals and your own process and ignore a lot of the professional and personal noise. Literally every day I doubt myself. Self-doubt is relentless, especially when you’re a writer. I try to examine what I'm feeling, and separate it into facts and beliefs. Am I terrible, worthless person? Is this a fact or a belief? Let’s look at the evidence.
Get better at what you do
I’m proud of my degree and proud that I got a first. I never saw myself as a graduate, I never believed that university life was for me. When I arrived at UCL for my Masters, I was one of the only students who had not come from a Russell Group university. But I was nominated for the Stevenson Publishing Prize, was made editor of the UCL Publisher’s Prize and got a book deal. Labels and league tables only mean so much. LSBU helped me learn how to be a hard worker and a team player.
My advice to current students is, do the work! It’s only for your benefit, and it only hurts you if you don’t. Lower your defences, take critique, apply the critique that works for you and try to get better at what you do every single day. Listen to others. Be curious.
I’d love my work to live on after me but if it doesn’t, I’d love people to say that I was kind. I may have been a tough editor, an opinionated reader, and I may have called people on their bad behaviour, but I would love to be remembered by people I've worked with as a kind person. There is a lot of cruelty and exclusion in the creative industries and so I strive every day to push doors open and help other people walk through.
Failure has always scared me and my anxiety likes to move the goalposts. But sometimes you have to acknowledge that regret is worse than failure, and not trying is the biggest regret of them all.
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