For this month’s Alumni Voices, we talked to Lydia Jenkins who graduated from the University of York in 2017 with a Bachelors in English Literature. Lydia now works as a self-employed author and she also works as a marketing executive for a franchise organisation called The Alternative Board based in Leeds. Lydia tells us about her time at York, her journey after Graduation, and why she loves literature and how she got into publishing.
What have you gone on to do after York?
After graduating, I stayed in York which is a real blessing. I started working for Your Move Estate Agents in their marketing department. I worked there for 18 months before taking a job with a new UK start-up in a Marketing Coordinator role. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out and I sadly got made redundant in 2019.
While many young people will have experienced this in the last year with the pandemic, there was something particularly hard about getting made redundant in my first two years of working.
However, at the same time, it was a bit of fresh air. It was the time I had considered what I actually wanted to do. In the end, I returned to my love for literature which led me to York in the first place!
As well as writing, I also work for a franchise organisation in Leeds who help business owners grow more successful businesses and find more fulfilment in their personal lives. It’s a rewarding and wonderful community to be a part of, even from behind a screen.
In the time during my unemployment, I felt inspired by my faith and some of my experiences in the working world to write a novel. I have now independently published Crowned Worthy, the first in a new dystopian series – the Merit Hunters Series. I am constantly looking to improve my writing by reading more, which my degree at York will have helped massively.
Currently writing the second in the series, I am loving how the characters I created are taking me on their own journeys. It’s such an enjoyable experience.
Tell us a story about your time at York.
There are so many! The first that came to mind, weirdly, is when we accidentally set an oven glove on fire in our flat. Why we thought we should take it outside and stamp on it rather than putting it in the sink, I’ll never know. A highlight though was definitely after I finished my dissertation. It was around the time of summer when we were getting ready to finish and my dissertation supervisor, Claire Westall, asked me to come to her office.
I didn’t think too much of it until she said ‘I’m about to have the strangest conversation with an undergraduate I’ve ever had.’ As you can imagine, I was a bit confused! She proceeded to tell me that she thought, with a lot of tweaking and improvement, that my dissertation could be considered for publication in an academic journal. The reason I tell this story isn’t a boastful one but more to say thank you. Writing essays had been a bit of a roller coaster for me as my marks were varied but to hear that at the end of your degree was a real blessing and now, looking back, I realise how much Claire and my other supervisors helped me to improve.
“It gave me confidence to write more and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Why did you choose York? What was one thing or experience that York has given you that you wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else?
I’m not ashamed to say that I was initially attracted to York because my husband, Stephen, was already there. I knew I wanted to study Literature and the course here was strong, one interesting aspect being the foreign literature module. And of course, the City is a beautiful place to be, I still appreciate it now.
I think for me, the thing I wouldn’t have got anywhere else but York is the people I met. There are so many friendships that have remained strong after University and there’s something so lovely about meeting up and reminiscing about funny memories and of course, making new ones. If I hadn’t come to York, many people in my life wouldn’t be.
What advice would you give to new graduates on maintaining a positive outlook when struggling with redundancies?
Redundancy is hard. It’s particularly difficult if you loved your job and the people you worked with. My experience was made slightly easier in the fact that I hadn’t been working there very long, but because of that came a lot of frustration over why they hired me in the first place! In hindsight, that frustration and upset didn’t help me in any way. What really helped me was to actually feel excited rather than daunted or frustrated. I tried to channel positive emotions rather than negative ones. It was the first time in my life where I had the opportunity to think about what I wanted to do and my writing came out of that attitude in a way.
Here are my top tips:
- It’s not a setback but a set up – it can feel like a stop in the road or a barrier to progress. But redundancy can also be an exciting set up for something new or better.
- There’s always more jobs but there is only one of you – it can be tempting to lose yourself in the stress of job hunting and the disappointment. So, look after yourself. Make sure there are supportive people around you and use the time to rest and recharge.
In what ways has studying English Literature at York helped with your new book, Crowned Worthy?
I don’t know if I’ve made this up but I think I’ve heard in writing circles that 50% of writing is reading. So, my degree definitely gave me a head start on that!
I have read very widely and have encountered many different styles and techniques of writing so that has probably contributed to me finding my writing voice (which I’m still working on). I think also, the criticism and feedback I got from my essays was a great help with the fundamentals of writing.
My degree taught me a lot about how authors can write clevely to make comments on the social, economic and political issues of their time. I think those ideas have influenced my thinking when writing Crowned Worthy as it definitely points to some of the issues we face in the working world.
What inspired you to write Crowned Worthy and why did you decide to make this into a series?
I was inspired by my experience of redundancy, the few first years of working life and my faith to write Crowned Worthy. I never thought I was a writer but God gave me a passion for it when I got made redundant. I’ve written a few short stories on my blog that reflect the struggles I’ve had or seen in young people transitioning into adult life, especially when it comes to where we see our value.
I wanted to write more about the themes of work, graft, worth, and social relationships and interweave my faith into those stories. That’s when I started to develop the idea for Crowned Worthy and the world of the Merit-Hunters Series.
I wanted to show characters grappling with a world that was so centred on hard work and worth and I really took that to the extreme with the City of Tulo.
After a hard past, the City operates through an integrated system called the Merit-System. Advanced technology allows each citizen to have a fully synchronised Watch that tracks how much their activities, including work and play, contribute towards the good of society. The higher your merit score, the better your living quarters, connections, venues you can visit, and products you can buy. The main protagonist is Ajay Ambers, who lives in the City yet he has a secret that becomes a real burden to his merit-hunting lifestyle.
I have enjoyed many other dystopian and sci-fi pieces of fiction, film and TV. Netflix’s Black Mirror is one such example and early reviewers and fans of my book have likened it to that show.
It is because of the characters in the story, primarily Ajay and his girlfriend, Genni and the different challenges they face that I wanted to continue their stories through a series.
Things happen in Crowned Worthy that alters the trajectory of the City’s future and how ordinary people deal with that will be fleshed out in future novels.
Do you work independently to create this novel or do you work with a publishing team?
In terms of writing the novel itself, I worked mainly independently with two friends who I met at York reading my drafts and offering creative and structural critiques. It was so valuable to be challenged by these two amazing people who were extremely generous with their time to help me write a better novel. My husband also helped me a lot by working with me on plot details and the intricacies of characters. We went on many walks when I hit a hard part of the process and quite often, by the end, we would find a solution so I could continue with my writing.
To publish the novel, I then worked with the team at Malcolm Down and Sarah Grace Publishing. Malcolm has been a tremendous help in showing me the ropes of the publishing world with support in editing, marketing and distribution. It’s early days but I feel very blessed and excited about the opportunities I have been offered.
What is the process of publishing like and how long does it take?
I can’t comment on the traditional publishing process, as I am independently published which is a version of self-publishing. For me, the publishing process was quite straightforward and took about six months in total from acceptance to publication. During this time, there were several rounds of edits and proofreads before Malcolm pressed the ‘print’ button. That was a scary moment!
What are your future plans after Crowned Worthy?
I’m hoping to do some more work in promoting the book, particularly through supporting the local, independent bookshops in Yorkshire. So hopefully I might be able to get involved in some book signing events soon as the covid restrictions lift further.
Following Crowned Worthy, I envision writing at least three more books in the Merit-Hunters Series, the second of which is in the late drafting stages. I’ll also still be working in my marketing day-job too so all that should keep me occupied for a while!
To find out more about Lydia’s books, head to her website.
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