I have a degree in English Literature and I work in book publishing. In terms of my education I definitely come from a privileged background: my grandfather and my father both went to university, and on my mother’s side of the family we have gone to private school for at least a generation before that. But our family wasn’t rich, and I had a lot of financial support along the way.
I won a full scholarship to a fee-paying secondary school in Edinburgh which was topped up by government in the form of the ‘assisted places scheme’. I had a full grant for university, and I left without any debt. I studied English at Oxford University. English was the subject that inspired me most at GCSE and A Level, and I felt it was my best route into an excellent university. It was thrilling to learn from world experts in their subjects, and to study with people who were excited about their subject, and set themselves high standards.
After I graduated I spent two years teaching English in Spain, while I learnt the language and worked out a career choice. I decided on publishing because I like the energy and creativity of business, and books in particular are something whose value I don’t doubt. My way into publishing was through several weeks of unpaid work experience. The mother of one of my university friends put me in touch with an editor she knew. I applied for the first junior position to come up (export sales administrator). The first twelve years of my career were in international sales, and the next five have been in editorial.
I heard about Arts Emergency from my friend Simon Kövesi, who is the Head of English at Oxford Brookes University. I am worried that choosing a career in the arts looks more and more out of reach for people who don’t come from wealthy families. I think that this is unfair and unhealthy for our culture. I hope that by sharing my experience I can help to make studying an arts subject and pursuing a career in the arts seem like a more realistic choice.