Hi Roz! For those that haven’t read your blog or come across your writing before, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey! So I’m currently a student (finishing off the final year of my English Literature degree at Oxford) – but alongside that I blog, write, and do the occasional bit of modelling. Beyond all of that though, I’m an avid reader, cold river swimmer (when it’s warm enough), conversation lover and enthusiastic advocate of dressing up. Oh, and I’m rather tall, too. I grew up in a tiny village in the West Midlands, and love the countryside – even if it’s distinctly lacking in coffee shops and public transport..
You’re incredibly well known for your writing skills and way with words- did you always want to get into writing? What were you like growing up?
It’s funny. In retrospect I date that feeling of absolutely wanting to write to about the age of 15/16 – coinciding with (or rather, as the consequence of) having spinal surgery. In the aftermath of that traumatic experience, I wrote an awful lot in order to make sense of something that seemed so beyond me. It gave me back some of the ownership I felt I’d lost over my body. Writing then became a medium I came to love more and more. I realised I could do exciting things with words.
But really, I was always interested in writing. It was a constant in my house from a very young age. Both of my parents are authors, so I was surrounded by books and stories. Throughout my teens I scribbled down poems and short stories and article ideas. I think what changed in my later teens was having my writing taken seriously by others. That’s what spurred me to continue, and to carry on learning, improving, thinking, working harder..
You’re a contributor to Violet (one of my favourite magazines), have your book, Notes On Being Teenage, coming out next year, do a heap of amazing freelance work, write an incredible blog and (breathe) have a degree on the go- how do you stay on top and make time for everything? What does an average day look like for you?
Sometimes I don’t! It can be pretty stressful at times to balance up an impending essay deadline with an article, or an event I need to go to. When people used to ask me about this, I’d joke and say “I don’t get enough sleep!” but these days I do. I also give myself time for cooking, seeing friends, drinking wine, trawling charity shops, and having the occasional bout of exuberant dancing. That’s all the stuff that keeps me grounded and content. Looking after oneself is pretty much key to trying to complete a hundred and one things at once. Without those, you’d burn out straightaway.
Beyond that, the way I’ve managed to keep it all going is partly through planning ahead, partly through sacrificing the odd night out or whatever partly through effective time management. This kind of stuff just also takes a lot of hard work – a lot of hours. I am very efficient and speedy when I’m in the right headspace, but it still requires time and commitment. There’s no kind of “I get up at 7am, have a smoothie and do yoga yadda yadda” routine (thank goodness). But it’s usually guaranteed that a hefty chunk of the day will be spent sitting in either a library or a cafe on my laptop, furiously typing away – whether that’s academic essays (which it mainly is at the moment), my own work, or the odd attempt to blitz my inbox and keep up to date with emails.
Your book comes out next year, which is SO exciting- how did it all come about? Why was it important for you to write it?
Thanks! I’m ridiculously thrilled about it all. Basically, the publisher approached me, said that they really liked my voice, and mentioned that they had a gap in the market for something aimed at young women – and did I have any ideas? I sent them back a full pitch the next day! The premise has changed lots since that initial point, but the main reason behind wanting to work on it remains the same: I think teenage girls are fantastic. Their interests deserve to be taken seriously, as do their concerns. Not that long ago, I was one! So many of the books I’d read at that age felt patronising and out of touch – full of useful info, perhaps, but framed in quite dull, formulaic ways. I wanted to produce something very human and frank and engaging, that looked at my own experiences, but also including the voices of a whole host of other young women. Something that spanned from the fun and fabulous (charity shop tips aplenty!) to the more serious (I’ve written very honestly about what it was like to see my dad experience depression).
I know your talk a lot about feminism, growing up and mental health in your book- which parts were the hardest to pen, and how does the writing process come about?
This is a GREAT question. I don’t know if there was a single hardest section or chapter, but obviously when discussing things like mental health, or consent, or gender, an awful lot of care was taken – doing as much research as I could, chatting with plenty of people, working alongside my editor during the later drafts, and also getting some professional opinions if/ when they were needed. These are SUCH important things to be talking openly about, especially with teenagers, but they also require sensitivity. But to be honest, that’s a principle I’d apply in general to writing most things: being nuanced and thoughtful and aware of your audience.
Funnily enough though, the single hardest bit may have actually been the introduction! It went through so many versions. Easy to write a whole book – much tougher to summarise it all down to a page or two.. (ha).
I know you sent me over an incredible list of books to read myself (which I’m getting started on- and will reply with mini reviews)- but if you could pick a top 3 to recommend to my readers what would they be?
I’m so glad! Hope you’re enjoying them. Gosh, this is almost impossible, but I’ll try. Think I’m just going to be ever so biased and go with three of my absolute favourites.
Cider with Rosie – I love, love, love Laurie Lee’s writing. It is so beautiful – deceptively simple, but every image shines, and each word is there for a reason. This is perhaps his best-known work, charting his early years in the Cotswolds, right at the end of a particular kind of era of rural living at the tail end of WWI. A gorgeous book, with a dark undertone.
Wise Children – Angela Carter’s last book brims and crackles with bawdy humour and sheer exuberance. She crams in all sorts of Shakespearean tropes and subplots into the tale of Dora and Nora Chance, two twins who make a life on the stage as chorus girls.
At Large and Small – This set of essays by Anne Fadiman ranges around in its topics from ice cream to coffee houses to the reasons why we are impelled to collect things. She’s a really warm, smart, perceptive writer. I love reading essays, and she does them so well.
Now- your style (another thing you always get so very right)- who or what inspires the way you dress? I know you’re a bit of a Ms. Bush lover…
Aha, yes, Kate Bush does figure quite heavily in there.. Not just for her actual clothes, incidentally, but for her attitude, her creative vision, and her integrity. She’s magical. Beyond that, it could be anything from movies to books to museum exhibits. Some days I want to embody Katharine Hepburn’s wit and sass, on others I’m inspired by the colours in Ballet Russes costumes, or a particular character in a Virginia Woolf novel. I’m something of a visual hoarder. I have piles of scrapbooks at home, and waaaaaay too many art and photography tomes to justify. All of that influences the way I dress.
Often though, it’s much less conscious than that. It’s about opening my wardrobe, picking out an item, and working around that. Do I feel jaunty enough for a black sixties mini with a silver zip down the front? Or louche enough for a blue velvet jacket? Bookish and vaguely sexy feeling enough for a cropped cashmere jumper and pencil skirt? If so, what goes with that? What kinds of shapes, textures, colours? It’s such a fun process of assembling things. I view it as a very playful, pleasurable activity.
Is there something you couldn’t possibly live without in your wardrobe?
Polo-necks (at least at the moment). They go with everything, and instantly make you feel ready to face the day. Also, plus points: they are practical, warm, and mean you can carry on wearing summer dresses.
You’ve achieved such a lot at such a young age, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Two things. One – winning the Vogue Talent Contest aged 16. It felt like such a brilliant, validating moment – a kind of nod that yes, I was pretty good at writing, and I should continue with it. To have my name in a magazine like that felt vaguely unreal. Second – having the chance to work on my book. It’s being published just after my final year exams finish, and that’s such a ridiculous, great prospect..
Finally, do you have any advice for any young women wanting to get into writing, or build it up as their career?
It’s actually something I wrote about earlier this year here, but I guess if we wanted to keep it to a neat five points:
1.) Read all the time. Question what gets you ticking, and what leave you cold. What kinds of voices do you envy because they’re so good? What can they teach you? What kinds of topics are you interested in? In what form? Journalism? Essays? Stories? Books? Poetry? Plays? There’s an awful lot of ways to put words on a page.
2.) Write and write and write. It’s a muscle. It gets strengthened over time. I still feel I have so much left to learn and improve. There’s no end-point, just constant progress.
3.) Enter competitions, blog, tweet, develop your own niches/ specific areas of interest. What makes you stand out? What can you offer that others can’t?
4.) Have fun with it. Writing is sometimes a slog (on plenty of days it is just a job that needs to be done). But it can also be the most heady, whirling world to dive head-long into: whether that means constructing a whole set of characters and a landscape for them to inhabit, or doing in-depth research on an intriguing topic, or just wrangling with a sentence again and again until it’s perfect.
5.) Keep on at it. This takes time. Oh, and there may be all sorts of articles FULL of conflicting advice about ‘how to go about being a writer’ – but there’s no single path or surefire way to access success. Plenty of it you just have to feel out for yourself, fail at, return to, pick up, improve, carry on with, continue..