Kate Vine graduated from UEA’s MA Prose Fiction in 2018 and now works in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing (LDC) and as a freelance copywriter. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Short Story Award, longlisted for the V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize and the Mslexia Short Story Competition, and published in Retreat West’s The Word For Freedom and the Dear Damsels Annual 2019. She is currently working on her first novel.
PR, or a lesson in storytelling
When I started out, all I knew for certain was that I wanted to write for a living. Throughout university, I tried to ready myself for this, working for the student newspaper and taking placements wherever I could, from The Guardian to Literary Review, and after graduating I applied for anything that even dipped a toe in this area. And then I was incredibly fortunate.
King’s College London offered me a 12-month, fully-paid internship in their PR team. I was chosen, in no small part, because of my experience scrounging stories from here, there and everywhere. My new role involved sourcing and writing news for the website and print publications, interviewing academics for podcasts, reporting on events, running social media feeds and even producing videos. I learned how to identify not only the story itself, but the best way to tell it. It’s an exciting process.
After King’s, I moved to an agency where I got the chance to work with world-leading scientists, attend the Booker Prize ceremony and interview celebrities at the Women of the Year Awards. However, I also learned a lot about how I don’t like to work. An agency is a business, above all, and the profits are prioritised far more than staff wellbeing, fair pay and the quality of the work we were delivering. It was creatively stifling and, at times, quite brutal. Not all agencies work this way, of course, but I decided returning to an in-house role was best for me.
I decided on a job at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) where, for the first time, my focus was specifically on the news media. I learned to write in a way that got the message across effectively and concisely – you never know how much time or space you’ll have, so every word is paramount. I worked with so many remarkably brave and dedicated people, from nurses and patients, to journalists and MPs (some of them!), and it was a very rewarding experience.
However, while I felt incredibly lucky, it still seemed like something off key. I just didn’t have the same passion as my colleagues. As I’d progressed, I reached point where I spent all my time negotiating with journalists, waking at 2am to battle with the Today programme, prepping spokespeople for interview whilst also replying to urgent emails and trying to hear BBC Parliament. In short, I’d stopped writing.
As an experiment, I signed up for a creative writing class. It took less than one session to know I was doing the right thing. Surrounded by other writers who loved it as much as I did, I felt satisfied in a way I never had at work. Within a few weeks, I had decided to apply to an MA course in Creative Writing – and, two years later, I had saved up, packed up and left London for UEA.
This time two years ago, I was writing my MA dissertation. I had learned so much that year but, to my surprise, the skills from my career were equally relevant. Find the story. Why is it important? Why should readers care? Get to the crux of the matter – then add the detail. Be concise. Be critical. Be creative. Without knowing it, I’d spent years preparing to write my first novel.
I’m writing this at a time when so many things are uncertain. But, when it comes to writing careers, I think the most important thing is to be open, to be flexible. To take – and make – opportunities to learn, and write as much as you can, no matter what it’s about. It’s all useful. You can’t control when that great job will arise, when that great idea will surface. But you can make sure you’re prepared for when it does.