Monthly Archives: August 2015

Alumni profile: Marianne Melle (Woolf, 2011)

Marianne Melle, who graduated with a Master of Arts in International Political Economy from Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies (BSIS) in 2013, currently works as an International Recruitment Officer for the humanitarian organisation Danish Refugee Council.

What does your current role as International Recruitment Officer for the Danish Refugee Council entail?
It is a very interesting job where I take care of the whole recruitment procedure for the Stand-by Roster, which deploys experts to United Nation (UN) humanitarian relief operations to help people in need. My role involves sourcing, longlisting, shortlisting, interviewing, and selecting new members. These new members are experts who are then sent out on various UN missions for mainly UNHCR, UNICEF, UNDP, IOM, FAO, UNOCHA and WFP. The areas they go to are in difficult surroundings like war-torn places, such as Iraq and Syria to aid refugees, or areas suffering natural catastrophes.

How did you begin working for them?
I have always had deep respect for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and when I saw that they advertised for recruiters, I had to apply. I was invited for an interview, passed it by Skype, and later on I was offered the job. I then relocated to Copenhagen to take on the mission. Before this, I lived for five years in Brussels working for the European organisation the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Did you know what you wanted to do, career wise, when you left Kent?
Yes, I have always been interested in working for international organisations and especially the humanitarian sphere.

Professionally, what has been the most challenging aspect you have faced since leaving Kent?
I think the most challenging, and most rewarding, has been the experience of working in different countries with different cultures. From working for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) in Guinea to working in Brussels for the European Free Trade Association to Copenhagen working for the Danish Refugee Council, these have been rewarding jobs that have taught me a lot about working in different cultures, and made me more open and flexible in my approach.

What advantages do you feel you gained by studying at BSIS?
I learned about the European Union, international affairs, about international law and economics. I enjoyed learning from very competent professors who were highly motivated in teaching, as this motivation quickly inspired us students. It made it fun to study and I really enjoyed learning.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Accomplishing an evaluation for Doctors without Borders on a mission in West Africa’s Guinea. In a very different environment, on my own, all in French which is not my mother tongue.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t assume anything. When working in cultures other than your own; there may be other types of behaviour, other ways of working, so don’t assume, but be open to learn and understand the differences.

What are your future aspirations?
I will have an exciting job with an international organisation in an exciting part of the world, and I will bring my family with me.

What are your favourite memories of Kent?
Listening to Professor Albena Azmanova and her very inspiring lectures on philosophy. If you get the chance, go see her lectures, believe me, you are in for a treat! Moreover, I enjoyed meeting my fellow part-time students, interesting people from various parts of the world who are working in many interesting organisations in Brussels. I made friends not only from Europe, but also from countries further afield and was happy to learn a lot from them and their experiences.

Would you recommend BSIS to future students? If so, why?
Yes! It is a great place to study as the professors are knowledgeable, they have long experience in their field, they share and they are motivated, and they manage to spread this motivation over to their students. It was tough to work full-time and to take the Master in International Political Economy at the same time as a part-time student for over two years. But the motivation I got from the professors made me enjoy going to my classes and to look forward to opening my mind to new thoughts and ideas.

If you hadn’t been to Kent, how would your life be different now?
I would not have gained the knowledge and overview I have of international organisations, how they operate, the international law they are governed by and how international economics works together with politics. It was also a very interesting time to study political economy, as of course much of the focus was on the economic crisis in 2010, the first crisis, the second crisis; how it came about, what caused it, and the way out of it for Europe.

Who or what inspires you?
People that are positive, that are able to use humour in times of difficulty, and people who are passionate about what they do.

Alumni profile: Laura James (Darwin, 1998)

Laura James, who graduated from Kent in 2001 with a BA (Hons) in Film Studies, has recently signed a three book deal with Bloomsbury for her children’s series for 5-7 year olds called The Adventures of Pug. The first book, Captain Pug, will be published in May 2016.

What you have been up to since graduating?
The plan was to work in the film industry and in fact I got my first job as a Locations Runner before our graduation ceremony. The film, called ‘Before You Go’, was directed by the legendary Lewis Gilbert. Shortly afterwards I managed to get some more work as a Trainee AD on ‘Veronica Guerin’, shot in Dublin. This was a promising start but the pressures of paying rent and getting myself up and running meant I fell back on the secretarial diploma I’d gained prior to going to university. When I moved to London my first job was for an estate agent in Mayfair but 18 months later I landed a job working for the Chairman of Celador. Celador was probably best known for the show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ and during my time there my boss sold the worldwide rights and UK back library. I started working for the MD of his film company as well and was fortunate enough to work on ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

Buoyed up from having worked for the creative bods at Celador I handed in my notice feeling sure that I should be doing something more creative myself. Without a real plan I floundered and soon ended up doing more PA work. Two years later I left London, moved back to my parents’ house and got a puppy! This is not conventional career planning, I know, but it turned out to be the catalyst I needed. I started writing and set up as a Virtual Assistant so that I could work from home. A friend told me about the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University and I signed up and moved to a tiny cottage near Bath. A year after that I got an agent (the brilliant Gill McLay) and a year after that I got my first book deal.

Could you give us some background on the books?
The series, for 5 – 7 year olds, is called ‘The Adventures of Pug’. The first book, ‘Captain Pug’, will be published by Bloomsbury in May next year. Pugs are companion dogs, they’re basically built for friendship and being a proud dog owner myself I’ve always been amazed at the love and patience a dog gives you. Pug’s owner is a headstrong girl called Lady Miranda. She is always having excellent ideas for adventures she and Pug can have. Pug tends to be happiest when either eating or sleeping but because he loves Lady Miranda so much he always tries his best. We’ve been so lucky with our illustrator, Eglantine Ceulemans, whose style is both classic and fresh, and brilliantly humorous.

What inspired you to write them, and what were your motivations for becoming a children’s writer?
I’d always rather grandly said that I wanted to write but I think my time back after London really confirmed for me that I wanted to write for children. I was in quite a retrospective mood, looking back at my childhood and at how important stories have always been to me. Roald Dahl’s books were a huge influence on me when I was little and I think writing something that would make readers laugh became a big motivation.

What advice would you give to other alumni who are thinking of writing a book but aren’t quite sure where to start?
Just start. It sounds obvious but we all get so caught up in trying to be perfect – finding the perfect time, thinking up the perfect idea – that we procrastinate and never actually get anything written. When I first sat down to write I tried NaNoWriMo where you write the first draft of a novel in a month. Mine was about my puppy (Brian) going to Hollywood. It certainly would have had readers laughing but for all the wrong reasons. I completed the task and then hit the delete button. The exercise gave me the habit of writing, however, and it was all part of the learning curve.

The biggest help for me has to have been my MA. The structure, workshopping and career guidance have been invaluable. I know it’s an expense but if you’re serious about writing and can find the right course for you I really recommend it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Write what you know.

What are your future aspirations and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’ve signed a three book deal for ‘The Adventures of Pug’ but I hope that things will go well and I’ll be able to write more ‘Pug’ adventures. I think I’d like to write a film script one day too. I’ve always had an ambition to have my name on the pre-credits of a film.

What are your favourite memories of Kent?
Our friendship group at Darwin College was an eclectic one but we stuck together pretty much from day one. We used to walk into town together on Sundays and go to a pub (the name of which I forget) for lunch. That sounds ridiculously civilised for students but it was fun. I wasn’t your average student anyway. In my second year I got a dog and lived on a farm!

(Image by Eglantine Ceulemans)

Kent alumna to walk the 100km Thames Path Challenge in aid of the Kent Law Campaign

Natalie Salunke, Chair of the Kent Law Campaign Young Alumni Group and Peter Wilkinson, supporter of the Kent Law Campaign, will be joining over 4000 participants to take on the Thames Path Challenge! On 12-13 September, Natalie and Peter will walk the 100km Thames route challenge starting from Putney Bridge and ending at Henley-on-Thames in aid of the Kent Law Campaign.

The Thames Path is unique; it’s the only long distance path to follow a river for most of its length. The full route begins at Bishop’s Park, next to Putney Bridge, and on through leafy Kew and Richmond past the last non-tidal lock at Teddington. It passes the Royal palace of Hampton Court, beneath Windsor Castle and on through beautiful countryside to Henley.

For Natalie this is her latest fundraising challenge she has set herself, although it is not jumping out of planes or throwing herself off 160ft cranes, this challenge requires stamina and commitment in order to complete the 100km route which could take up to 30 hours!

Please show your support by sponsoring Natalie and Peter through their JustGiving page. All money raised from their challenge will go directly to the Kent Law Campaign.

Dan Simpson

50th anniversary crowdsourced poem

University of Kent alumnus Dan Simpson is crowdsourcing a poem for the University of Kent’s 50th anniversary. A crowdsourced poem is created entirely from words submitted by the public, which Dan will then cut up and combine to create a poem by and for the people who took part. That means you!

You can contribute to the poem in many ways: by tweeting to @dansimpsonpoet using #WeAreKentPoem, sending your words by email to 50years@kent.ac.uk, in person with Dan at the 50th Festival, or by filling in one of cards available at the festival on Friday 4 or Saturday 5 September!

The poem will be read out at the gala dinners in Eliot and Rutherford on Saturday 5 September and subsequently shared across our social media channels, in the next edition of the Kent alumni magazine and on www.kent.ac.uk/50.

Cecile Beauvillard (Eliot 2009) to begin work at English Touring Opera

Following on from the successful run of The Siege of Calais by Gaetano Donizetti at the Marlowe Theatre, which she promoted alongside English Touring Opera (ETO), Cécile Beauvillard (Eliot 2009) is about to embark on a new role as Press & Marketing Officer for the company. Her role will involve working with the national and local press to ensure ETO receives the best possible coverage, and working on specific marketing initiatives around the UK.

After graduating from Kent in 2013, Cécile pursued an MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management in France before moving to London and working for Digital Theatre as their International Partnerships Coordinator. ‘It was the best experience I could have leaving University. I worked on so many incredible projects there, such as filming ‘The Crucible’ at The Old Vic’ says Cécile. She also worked on shows as an independent producer and worked with Yves Blake, Shadwell Opera. ‘It was a steep learning curve and a great way to start in a sometimes daunting industry’ explains Cécile.

Cécile’s career has taken a very different direction to the studies she pursued at Kent. ‘I started at Kent thinking my degree in Politics and International Relations would lead me to work in a think-tank or the UN. Then I met the Kent Music Theatre Society crew! Singing and dancing, rehearsing several times a week, creating costumes and sets…I had the time of my life. And I realised I wanted to find a way to always have that much fun!’ explains Cécile.

‘Initially, I was scared when I realised that what I really loved was theatre and music when I was almost through my Politics degree. It felt like I had missed the boat. But then I think when you receive a high-quality education in an inspiring environment like Kent, it’s all about transferable skills. I had learnt three languages, diplomacy, had a foot across France and the UK, and my first job at Digital Theatre as International Partnerships Coordinator enabled me to use these skills – and transfer them to an area I am passionate about. ‘

Her advice to anyone wanting to embark on a career in theatre production is to find artists that inspire you. ‘Get in touch with young practitioners who will need your talent as a producer as much as you’ll need their craft, and create something together’ advises Cécile. ‘Don’t be afraid to knock on the doors of people that do your dream job or are producing your dream show. Don’t settle, go for it. And when in doubt, remember your graduation day at Canterbury and how filled with promises that day was!’ She also recommends people watch or read Steve Jobs’ Commencement address at Stanford University. ‘Do it, something will just click in your brain’ says Cécile.

Cécile has many favourite memories of her time at Kent, including the Kent Musical Theatre Society shows, the ‘Introduction to Modern Political Thought’ module with Ian Mackenzie and the fact that being with so many different people from so many different countries felt like she was part of a big community. And it certainly seems like the University has had a significant impact on Cécile’s life: ’I met a Law student in front of the Templeman Library in December 2010… and we’re getting married next summer! We survived the Parkwood vs Tyler Court rivalry in the end’ she says. ‘I think Kent made me more confident, and opened me to the idea that I could do anything. And I think that is exactly what an outstanding university should induce! #ProudtobeKent!’

Alumnus publishes short stories on Amazon

Richard Tagart (Eliot 1978), who obtained both a BA in 1978 and an MA in 1983 from Kent, has published his first collection of short-stories on Amazon.

The title story Turning the Corner is loosely based on his experiences at Kent in the seventies, with The Year I (Almost) Got Married and A Christmas Carol being Kent-linked, and the parents of the twin-narrators of Leaving Home also being Kent graduates.

‘Writing is in the family’ explains Richard. ‘Poldark author Winston Graham was my grandfather’s younger brother, and I grew up hearing about Ross and George, Demelza and Elizabeth, as if they were real people, not characters in a book.’ Richard began writing in his teens and penned the oldest of the short stories in the early 1980s. Dissatisfied with what he had written, he put the stories in his bottom drawer where they lay forgotten.

Upon graduating from Kent, Richard began to work in education. He moved to Antwerp in Belgium to teach at a British International School, and during this time he completed an MA in Education with the Open University. Having decided that administrative duties and meetings were superseding the teaching element of his role, he moved into translation and teaching English as a foreign language.

‘Then in 2012, two things happened’ explains Richard. ‘I had a reunion with several secondary school classmates, who asked if I still wrote, and then I found the old stories whilst clearing out a cupboard in my parent’s house, and decided they weren’t so terrible after all. Soon after, I came across the photo which now features on the cover of my book, and it took me right back to the days in 1976-7 when I flat-shared with several fellow students in Herne Bay, and had the idea of writing a story based on that experience.’

Richard describes how writing often throws up ideas and scenes that can’t be used at once, but lead on to a new story. ‘The title story Turning the Corner led on to The Year I (Almost) Got Married, in which two people who almost got married as Kent undergraduates bump into each other years later’ he says.

He is often inspired by incidentals, such as finding the photograph, or else hearing a song from the past. ‘The whole story can appear in outline, or the opening and/or closing words only, which then gives the challenge of how to build the structure of the story to link the two.’

Richard’s advice to those wanting to write fiction is not to over-prepare. ‘You need an idea, a situation, a story, but you need to begin without too much preparation, or you’ll run the risk of getting bogged down’ he says. ‘The best advice I’ve ever received is that it’s never too late to start writing!’