BA American Literature with Creative Writing - Matt Munday
Years at UEA
Matt Munday was drawn to UEA because of the year abroad programme.
His career journey has taken him from post rooms to publishers and he is now Head of Content at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
We caught up with Matt to find out more about his experiences at UEA, the BBC and RIBA.
Head of Content at Royal Institute of British Architects
What drew you to UEA and the American Literature with Creative Writing Course?
I was looking for American literature courses and UEA had a year abroad programme with theirs. The six months in the US on this degree was a very big pull.
Around the time I applied to the UEA I was a big ‘lost generation’ fan - Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway - and the prospect of visiting their homeland was a big part of it for me. I was also conscious that Sarah Churchwell was quite a prominent figure within the faculty. She was a very renowned Fitzgerald expert especially.
And in terms of creative writing, UEA obviously has a huge reputation in that field and some amazing alumni, such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. The creative writing half of the degree was definitely a big pull for me and the stellar heritage of UEA as a creative writing institution drew me to it.
What did you expect from the course going into it? Did it meet your expectations?
I really expected to be challenged. I could write an acceptable, but quite academically shallow, essay but I was complacent and what I really wanted was to feel out of my comfort zone.
UEA definitely did that for me. I had to discuss books for the first time with other people who were as well read, if not much better read than I was. I'm talking about classmates as well as tutors, and so it required a more heartfelt and deeper engagement with the source material.
While I was a relatively kind of bookish person, by teenage boys’ standards, I hadn't encountered many of the interesting authors, genres, themes and ways of reading that UEA eventually introduced me to. I wanted a course that would shake my slightly complacent vision of what literature was and UEA did that.
Can you pin down one thing about the course that you liked most?
Having to talk about books in a live setting, on the fly, with other people who were very engaged and opinionated about them.
When you’re at university, you know that people are there of their own volition and because of their passion for the subject, so that was really nice.
What is the most valuable thing from the course that you have taken into your everyday or your career?
UEA taught me how to consider a much wider scope of influences on a text.
It was a much more useful and wide-ranging way of reading than I was used to. I’ve very much used that in my career. I started in publishing, which obviously involves a strong grasp of the fundamentals of good writing.
I then moved on to journalism and production at the BBC, and so much of what I've read and signed off, or written and edited has involved me bringing that nuance and understanding of context, which has really helped me.
Could you give a brief overview of your career and then how it connects to your degree?
After I left UEA I did an MA in creative writing at Manchester. I then applied for a job, franking the mail at Yale University Press and it seemed to be the right place.
I thought if I'm in in a building with people who edit very well-respected academic, poetry, architecture and art books then there was a chance I would end up in a lift with somebody who would give me an opportunity.
From that, I was given work experience editing manuscripts etc and from that experience I was able to apply for a job as an assistant editorial assistant at Bloomsbury, another publishing company. There, I worked my way up to a project editor on a couple of reference books and a quiz book, and from that applied to a role at the BBC as producer.
I ran the digital communications production team, which used to make behind-the-scenes content for new programmes. I then went to BBC Three where I helped the channel move off the TV onto an online existence as a publisher of articles and short form video. I was an editor there for five years and my work involved reading, quality controlling and publishing everything from investigative journalism through to short documentaries.
UEA definitely helped me prepare for this kind of work in thinking about the political context you're publishing in and having that well-rounded view of a piece of writing.
What do you like about your current job?
I'm Head of Content at the Royal Institute of British Architects, having left the BBC after ten years.
One of the things I love about jobs in content is that you're constantly required to keep a sense of what works and who the end user is and what they need from you. You're constantly required to see through the eyes of the people that you're trying to reach, and it keeps you interested in culture, what's going on in the news and in how people are consuming content.
And how do you see your career progressing in the next five years?
This is my first Head of Content role.
I love working in public service organisations, so I hope I'll go on to become head of content, possibly at a National Museum or something similar within public service broadcasting - anything that involves thinking creatively and strategically about how organisations communicate with their user base.
How did you prepare for your future career at UEA? Job fairs, volunteering, CV advice?
I didn't because I wasn't going straight for a job after UEA.
I left UEA in the knowledge that I had a place at Manchester University and I wasn't really thinking too much about career at that point.
Do you feel that your course prepared you for leaving university and entering the world of work?
It definitely did.
I'm quite precise in my reading and I think that’s because at UEA I had very exacting people checking my work and writing and constructive feedback from lecturers who knew their stuff, forcing me to be a better essay writer and reader and to care about the material I’m producing.
Can you talk about your study abroad year?
I did a six-month stint in the US and then a six-month stint in Australia.
In America, I studied in San Francisco. It was a fantastic opportunity to experience the environment that has cultivated famous writers and to spend time with other people who were really interested in those writers and subjects.
Did you do any extracurricular activities while at UEA?
I have to confess I was a bit of a hermit.
I play the piano and I used the practice rooms regularly.
And do you have a specific favourite memory from UEA?
This is not course related but I met my partner at UEA.
We met on the first day when we were in halls of residence and now have two children together.
Would there be anything you would do differently?
One of the things I probably could have done more on the course is to not have protected myself too much, just jump in with two feet and enjoy it.
You will get very honest and very helpful feedback on the work you're producing, and you shouldn't feel too self-conscious.
Furthermore, I would probably keep writing every day. I know it's a terrible cliche, but I think it is like a muscle and if you don't write very often, you lose the strength to start. I think had I kept it up and written just a bit every day or a couple of days, I think the prospects of that cursor flashing on a blank page would be far less daunting to me than it is now. Whereas now there are so many reasons not to sit down and write, such as work and family life.
Is there any more you want to add?
Maybe I should have mentioned my creative writing tutor, Henry Sutton.
He was so encouraging. and positive about my work and was a great influence on me.