Q&A with Saera Jin!

Saera Jin is a Brunel MA Graduate who has gone on to great success in Japan as the main writer for Square Enix – famous for the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series.

            “The game producer was looking for a new writer, strong on originality, and according to them, that was me!”

She has recently attended the Cannes’ Film Festival to promote her second short film which she wrote and directed in London. “Seems like my Japanese-British hybrid set of ideas could take my writing career to better places.” We’ve been very excited to hear from Saera, and are very proud of her achievements. To find out more about her fantastic accomplishments, and where she will be going in the future, we’d invite you to ask your questions! This is a fantastic opportunity for Games Design and Creative Writing students, as well as those interested in film making.

I know I hope to have very similar experiences to Saera, and am very much looking forward to seeing what she has to say about breaking into such a lucrative industry, so don’t be shy! Ask your questions, either in the comments sections below, or tweet them to @brunelwriter, using the hashtag #QuestionsForSaera, and we’ll pose them to her in the coming weeks. Don’t forget to also follow Saera on Twitter – @saerajin.

Huge congratulations to Saera, long may it last!

Dissertation…

Now, soon-to-be-third-years, I know what you’re thinking – ‘it’s the summer break, I’ve got ages to think about/plan/write my dissertation!’ – and yes, you’re right. You should be enjoying your summer – reading things you want to read, binge watching TV shows, catching up with your friends at home, or getting ahead with your third year reading list. By all means do those things. But don’t rest on your laurels – dissertation will come around sooner than you think!

Of course it’s a big project, but you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll run out of words when you start writing about something you care about enough to spend months researching, planning, writing, rewriting, proofreading, rewriting again, cutting, and redrafting. I know I’m probably making this sound terrifying, but dissertations are actually kind of fun in a strange way, and seeing them all bound and looking official is extremely rewarding.

So, what can you do to make the process of writing a dissertation easier? Here are a few things I learnt while writing my dissertation.

Disso

1. Don’t leave it until the last minute. April will come around extraordinarily quickly – you might think first and second year went quickly, but third year is on a completely different level, it will go in a flash. It’s best to at least start thinking about what kind of area you’re interested in now, or if you know what you want to write about, start jotting down ideas, find yourself some secondary sources, verbalise your ideas to others.

2. Verbalise your ideas to others. Sometimes you’ll have a brilliant idea for your project, but you won’t realise how half-formed it is until you say out loud what the idea is. This is where others come in, they can ask questions, highlight potential flaws and offer some advice. You’ll end up with a stronger project if you include at least one other person. This is of course where your academic advisor comes in handy, but discuss the idea with your peers as well, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in what you’re doing and not notice the pitfalls. In my project, there were glaring continuity errors that I hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out.

3. With that in mind, don’t take criticism personally. It’s easy to take criticism personally. Especially with creative projects because you made them, you created them, and when someone comes along and tells you it’s not actually perfect it’s easy to feel upset. It’s okay to feel upset, but realise that they’re your friend and they care about you, they want you to do your best and they’re not being nit-picky for the sake of it. Utilise their feedback, and offer them feedback too. As much as it’s a solo project, you’ve come this far together, and this is the time that you’re all going to need support the most.

4. With regards to suggestions, you might not agree with some of the advice you get from some people. This isn’t a time to get defensive, but rather say ‘I don’t really know if that will work, I know it might seem out of place/weird/not quite cohesive now, but I plan for such and such to happen later on.’ This is another way of developing and discussing your ideas with people, and it’s this kind of thing that you can write in the accompanying essay. ‘It was suggested that I alter this bit, however I felt that…’

5. The plan you submit in October is important. I know – 5% seems like nothing, and October might seem a bit soon to be telling people your intentions for something that isn’t due for six months. Let me break it down for you though. If you submit the plan, you get A* for that section. If you don’t submit a plan, you get a big fat 0. When my grade came through, it was at the high end of the boundary. When all the components were added together, the A* that I got just for handing in my plan pushed my whole grade into the next level. Also, what you hand in in April doesn’t even have to resemble what you wrote in your plan. If you say you want to write a story about squirrels and use Winnie the Pooh and Toy Story as your inspirations, no-one will bat an eyelid if you submit a short story of half a film about murderers, using Fatal Attraction and Clockwork Orange as your sources. (But don’t they sound like fun projects?) Basically, JUST SUBMIT THE PLAN. It could be the difference between a low 2:1 and a high 2:1, or a high 2:1 and a 1st.

Plan A

6. As I said above, you’re free to change direction. We’re creative writers, and we can’t be tamed or held to down to one idea. I was lucky enough to change my idea in September but even then, the central idea of the film I wrote changed beyond recognition. Two of my friends got to January and had a sudden epiphany that their new idea was better for them. That being said, if you get a new idea in March, you might want to weigh up the pros and cons of starting this new project. Do you think this is better than your existing project because it’s new or because it’s actually stronger? Is it worth turning your back on everything you’ve already done? Have you lost interest in your project because you’ve been working on it for so long, or has the story actually run its course? One of my other friends changed his idea in March and got a very good result. You have to know yourself. I can only liken dissertations to relationships – if you’re not happy, get the hell out!

7. Ask for help if you need to. Help can come in many forms, if there’s a bit you’re not sure of, ask someone to read over it. The worst they can say is ‘I don’t think it works’ which is what you thought anyway. Also, that’s what your academic advisor is there for, you’re not bothering them by asking them for pointers and advice and your project will be stronger for the advice of others.

8. Make sure you give yourself enough time to proofread and redraft/edit. That’s pretty self explanatory. As Earnest Hemingway said – ‘The first draft of anything is shit’. I agree, and when you proofread your dissertation, it’s not a twenty minute thing. Really proofread it. Read it out loud, you might feel stupid but it’s one of the best ways to spot typing errors or general mistakes. I’m the worst for writing stuff like ‘of’ instead of ‘if’, ‘the’ instead of ‘there’ and I once wrote Beyoncé instead of Beyond (it had been a long day). Check it, check it, check it. Edit it, then check it again. This is important.

9. Your supporting essay is just as important as your project, give it time and attention. It’s the only place where you can explain some of your choices and justify leaving that line in, or giving that character that trait/task/death etc.. Make sure you justify all your choices, include research you’ve done, discuss things you learned, talk about things you’ve changed, consider what professionals in the field have said about your genre/craft etc.. Make sure your referencing is on point. Also to add to the points you make in the essay, include things in the appendix to show your development, research and maybe visual clues about characters or locations. My appendix was slightly bigger than my whole project. (Sorry Max Kinnings.)

10. Don’t leave it until the last minute. I know I said this already, but I’m serious. Sometimes, as students, we get distracted and end up staying up late into the night, sometimes all night to finish/write an essay for a module which is 2,000 words. Let’s be honest with ourselves here – that’s not the best method for those essays, and it’s hard and tiring and frustrating. Do you want to be doing that with something five times the length? What if you get writer’s block?

11. One of the best ways to make sure you get things done in more manageable chunks is to set aside one morning/ afternoon/ evening/ day/ night/ whatever time frame you work best on a week, go to the library with your friends and do some of your project. Be it looking online for information about the best murder techniques, finding books about infectious diseases or watching episodes of Dora the Explorer on YouTube to help form your ideas. Even if you’re only there for an hour and a half with a twenty minute sandwich break in between, It’ll be far more constructive than spending three whole days stressing out over it every couple of weeks. The best way to motivate yourself to do work is to show yourself that you’ve done some work.

12. Finally, enjoy it. It’s something you can really get your teeth into, show what you’re passionate about, and really show where your strengths lie. Then when it’s done, have a big drink/ dance/ pizza. Just celebrate.

success

Best of luck, and enjoy your final year at university!

Things They Don’t Tell You About Graduation

With Brunel’s graduation week having just passed, it seems the perfect time to share some insight which I gained during my own ceremony, which I had very little idea about before the actual day.

graduation

1. It’s a pretty long day but it will go in a flash! Don’t forget to bring a camera, and make sure you take all the photos you possibly can. Especially don’t forget to have a photo with Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself – it’s a staple part of leaving Brunel.

2. You’ll feel pride like you’ve never felt. That’s pride in yourself, in your classmates, in the school that you’ve been a part of, and in the university as a whole.

3. You’ll feel in awe of the people graduating their Master’s degrees, and those receiving their PhD, you may even feel inspired to go on to postgraduate study. (Don’t forget Brunel students receive a discounted fee if they further their study at Brunel)

4. You’ll be standing and walking more than they let on, so wear comfortable shoes. Or wear really impressive ones and carry a spare pair in your bag.

5. Wear waterproof make-up! Even if you don’t cry, you’ll get hot in the robes and some of your make-up will do its best to escape.

6. The complimentary drinks aren’t bad at all!

7. Even if your entire family can’t make it, they will be proud of you and you’ll probably feel so much love from them in the lead up to your graduation (and afterwards) that it will be like they were there all along.

8. Try to eat breakfast. It’s easy to forget or just decide not to if you have a morning graduation as you’re expected to register and collect your gown between 8:30 and 9:30, so the morning is a rush. The ceremony goes on until about 12 o’clock though, so at least make sure you’re hydrated. The robes are hot, you’re probably wearing warmer clothes than you typically would be on a hot day and there are a lot of people in the room. Having something in your stomach is going to be better than sitting there very hungry and possibly even light-headed.

9. I was extremely happy that we had to walk up and down a slope instead of steps to shake hands with the officials, but in the event that you do have to walk up steps, I refer you back to point 4 for the shoe warning.

10. The certificate you’re given is in a folder and isn’t rolled into a scroll. The scrolls are fake and only for photographic purposes.

11. Finally, just enjoy the day. There will be a lot of rushing around, it will be stressful at times and it’s easy to let that affect your mood. Take a deep breath – get your robes, take some photos, laugh at what you all look like wearing the mortar boards, and then realise you’re all actually pulling it off quite well. Get your tickets, meet your guests, take more photos and enjoy it. As I mentioned in point 1 it goes in a flash, enjoy every moment of your success, and the success of those around you.

Credit: Brunel University Facebook Page

Credit: Brunel University Facebook Page

Huge congratulations to the Class of 2014, may your lives be richer for knowing each other, and may your future be as rewarding and as beautiful as you want them to be. Best of luck with whatever comes next.

Creative Writing at Brunel on the Rise

The Guardian League Table has been released this week, and has generated a great deal of school pride for Brunelians, with a 32 place jump for English and Creative Writing, we are now 6th, only one step behind Oxford, and two places ahead of UEA!

I have always been keen to tell people how great Brunel is for Creative Writing, English, and in general, and I am more than proud now to be able to write this post about our huge achievement.

Go to http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/03/guardian-university-guide-2015-improving-departments to read about our jump in the league tables, with a quote from Dr Nick Hubble, head of Brunel’s English School.

Keep up the excellent work, Brunel, onwards and upwards.

Laura

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Dark Aemilia and the Creative Writing PhD by Sally O’Reilly

Dark_Aemilia

I enrolled on the MA Creative Writing, The Novel at Brunel after being published by Penguin books – and then dropped when my second book didn’t sell. I wanted to go back to basics, re-ignite my love for writing and develop a stronger awareness of genre and the commercial possibilities of writing. I enjoyed this experience so much that I ended up studying for a PhD and writing a historical novel about Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, one of several women who may have been Shakespeare’s muse and the inspiration for his later sonnets: his Dark Lady.

Writing fiction in an academic context was a major departure for me, and I found it challenging and strange to begin with. My first two novels were written instinctively and intuitively, and I was loathe to plot or plan anything. My third was carefully crafted, researched in great detail, and forced me to write in a way I had never tried before. I found that I could only make the story ‘live’ if I wrote it in the first person, and this meant trying to produce a convincing facsimile of a sixteenth century voice.

This would have seemed like an insurmountable problem if I had not had the support and advice of my supervisor Celia Brayfield and my second supervisor Dr Elizabeth Evenden, an expert in Early Modern writing and publishing.  They provided me with structure and feedback, asking pertinent questions about the direction of my draft and the rigour of my research, and giving me their notes and comments to help me shape and develop my drafts. One of the areas that really stretched me intellectually was the critical component of the work, which was an analysis of the various invented versions of Shakespeare which writers have imagined over the last two hundred years. I was fascinated by this, and it helped me invent my own version of Shakespeare with more confidence and sophistication. I realised that so little is known about this iconic figure that writers have carte blanche to concoct their own version, and to project their own fantasy of an uber English writer onto this empty space.

The result was not only a doctorate but a marketable novel I could be proud of. I found the writing and research process hugely rewarding – my time at Brunel was one of the most productive of my writing career so far. And I certainly succeeded in my goal of reinventing myself as historical fiction writer.

Dark Aemilia is published by Myriad Editions in the UK this month, and by Picador US in June. Rights have also been sold in Italy and Turkey.

Sally’s blog, How to be a Writer, is here.