Graduate profile: Sian Pratley, BA (Hons) English and American Literature and Creative Writing

We caught up with English Literature alumna, Sian Pratley, to find out what she gets up to as a Production Controller in Penguin Random House UK.

What are you doing now?
I’m currently working at Penguin Random House UK as a Production Controller for Ebury, which is one of the publishing houses within it. I produce cookbooks and adult non-fiction for big names like Rick Stein, Tan France and Jenny Packham.

Which course did you study at Kent?
I studied English & American Literature and Creative Writing, with a Year Abroad in America

What attracted you to your course, and to Kent?
I really didn’t enjoy A-Levels, I chose subjects I really didn’t get on with and I felt very boxed in by the curriculum. I was really drawn to the innovative approach that Kent took when setting its English Literature syllabus, you could really study anything from Graphic Novels to Shakespeare, which differed from a lot of universities that offered very stoic, traditional English Literature courses. I also loved Canterbury and the campus, who doesn’t love the view of the cathedral from the library? 

Which aspects of your time at Kent did you enjoy the most, and why? (local area, degree, extra-curricular).
My year abroad in America was a real highlight and privilege, I appreciated the chance to study with some amazing professors and approach my studies with a different lens as their marking criteria and focus was so different to the UK. I also loved that you could ‘study’ classes in other subjects apart from English there, so I took martial arts and weightlifting credits too. At Kent, I really loved the Graphic Novel course with Juha, and also the extra curriculars you can do for free, I took on British Sign Language in my final year and it’s stuck with me as a really useful and inclusive skill. Having Whitstable nearby was great in summer term too, even if the shingle really hurt to sunbathe on!

How has your time at Kent helped you in your career so far?
I think it really gave me a chance to change my mindset and discover how determined I could be. I really scraped by on my A-Levels and being at Kent gave me a second chance to work hard and really enjoy my studies. I also found that all the sports societies I was in really taught me the skill of perseverance and organisation and these were so key for getting into such a competitive industry like publishing. 

Are you still in touch with any of your friends from University?
Yes, quite a few! We’ve somehow ended up in the same area of London which I love.

Did you undertake any work experience whilst at Kent? What did you do? Did you find it was helpful in your studies and has it benefited your career to date?
Yes I did 2 stints of work experience at Penguin Random House, once during freshers week of final year, and once just after graduation, and 1 stint at delicious magazine the summer after my third year. I really used those chances to network and get my name known around the building, and keeping in touch with these contacts was really helpful for advice and a good reference when applying. It’s really important to not just do what you’re told when on work experience, be chatty, get to know people you don’t necessarily work with, listen to what’s going on and ask questions about it. Publishing is a tight knit world and people talk, I’ve re-encountered people from delicious at PRH for example, you never know who will crop up. I now do fortnightly talks to our office work experience candidates and the ones who are keen to learn always stand out. PRH has a very fair application system for work experience but if you can’t see anything online from a company you like – for me this was delicious magazine as I’m a big baking fan – and ask if they would let you come in and do some work experience. The worst you can get back is a no!

Could you describe a typical day in your current role?
I project manage all the technical aspects of getting a book to print. I’ll often have some meetings with editors to talk about what finishes they would like on their covers, foils, glossy or matt or soft touch laminations etc. Then I might speak to my typesetters about some text that we’re in the middle of designing with them, colour correct a colour book so that it prints on paper how it looks on screen, or send a book’s final files to the printers to be printed. 

What are your future plans/aspirations?
I’ve always loved cookery, so I’d love to work on some really high-profile authors like Mary Berry. Otherwise I’ve considered working on something sport or diversity and inclusivity related.

What is your favourite memory of Kent? 
Ah that’s a tough one! Probably being able to walk around campus or town and always see a familiar face. It was a big enough place to not meet everyone but I felt like I met a lot of people.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?
There are so many resources on offer for free/cheaply while you’re at uni, I really recommend using them as much as you can. I still can’t believe that my American uni archive had original letters between Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot and that I got to read and hold them. I also learnt French with my wild module. And there are so many societies that you can really build your skillset with, I was in 7 in my first year. 

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?
Curious, Confidence-boosting, Fun? That’s technically 4 words sorry!

Are you currently working, or have you recently worked on any interesting projects that you would like to tell us a bit more about? 
For sure! I’ve recently put together a tarot deck which is a very big change from putting together a book – so many moving parts, cards, boxes, getting them all packed by hand. I’ve also just finished doing a book of poetry from Michael Rosen on his experience of getting and recovering from Covid – maybe not what we all want to read about after the past year but it’s a stunning insight into how amazing our NHS is. I’ve also just done a stunning cocktail book for the Alchemist bars with the most complicated cocktails you ever saw.