Dr Mary Talbot Author
What did we learn from Mary?
Going to uni as a mature student isn't a bad idea – Mary appreciated her studies more and put more into her studies.
If you want to be a published author, don't give up and prepare for setbacks - patience is required in this sort of role.
Mary is a feminist as long as gender inequality exists in the world and this is still very much an issue in a variety of forms.
Toxic work environment? Get out of there – a little bit of criticism is healthy, but any workplace that makes you unhappy should be left behind.
"Plenty of challenges, certainly, but a career without them would be tedious"
After reading Dotter of her Father's Eyes on my degree course, I decided to contact author Mary Talbot for an interview (seriously, pick up a copy - it's beautiful). Mary, prominent scholar and author of graphic novels, gives her advice on publishing, feminism and creating stories with words and pictures.
Preston Polytechnic (now University of Central Lancashire)
Degree: English Literature and Linguistics
PhD: Critical Discourse Analysis
1995 - Studies in Valency
1995 - Fictions at Work
2000 - "All the World and her Husband": Women in 20th Century Consumer Culture
2003 - Language and Power in the Modern World
2007 - Media Discourse: Representation and Interaction
2010 - Language, Intertextuality and Subjectivity
2010 - Language and Gender
2012 - Dotter of her Father’s Eyes
2014 - Sally Heathcote, Suffragette
2016 - The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia
How did you find your university experience, especially as a mature student? Would you recommend going to university a little bit later than straight after college?
When I started as an undergraduate, I was only about seven years older than the other students in my cohort. But unlike them, I’d not gone straight from school/college. Instead I’d married and I had my hands full with two small boys! I certainly appreciated university more than my fellow students did and I probably put a good deal more into studying than most. I was quite impatient with some of them, actually. Before I started my first degree, I’d been bringing up children and working part-time in a greengrocer’s. The contrast was startling and I felt incredibly privileged.
What challenges have you faced in your professional career?
Plenty of challenges, certainly, but a career without them would be tedious. In my academic career, I’ve enjoyed learning about designing curricula, coordinating a small team of teaching staff, that sort of thing, as well as doing research and writing for publication. And, of course, juggling work and family was a challenge, as it is for all parents. Building an academic career and developing a research profile means working long hours and a great deal of commitment. Actually, finding the right university post took me a long time. I was hopping from one temporary contract to another for some years before finding a tenured position. That’s more difficult than ever now - I don’t envy young people trying to embark on an academic career.
I’m on my second career now (or third, if you count parenting!) A few years ago I retired from academia. I’d been doing academic books for a long time, writing closely linked to what I used to teach (mostly issues around gender and language, media and power). I was looking for new horizons, keen to explore my interests in a different way. I always used to add interest to lectures by incorporating visual elements as much as possible. These days I create stories using words and pictures and I love it! Freelance writing was a bit of a worry at first, but I’m fortunate to be able to work with my husband Bryan, who’s well established in his field, a highly acclaimed pioneer of the graphic novel, in fact. When he first suggested we do a book together, of course we’d no idea how collaborating would work out. Now he laughs about it: he’d been doing graphic novels all his working life, then my first attempt becomes the first in Britain to win a major literary award! (Our first book together, Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, won the 2012 Costa Biography Award.)
What can a young woman who wishes to be a writer do to increase her chances of being published?
I suppose the most important things are to keep at it, try your hand at different kinds of writing and do the research on publishers before approaching them. Oh, and don’t expect it to be easy.
Which women in the world inspire you?
So many. Mhairi Black, Emily Thornberry, Glenda Jackson, Posy Simmonds, Margaret Atwood, Malala Yousafsai.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why should/shouldn’t other women and men consider themselves feminists?
Absolutely. Feminism is necessary as long as gender inequality continues to exist. Yes, there are now a lot of women with their own jobs, lives and bank accounts. Women's lot has improved, for some of us, and that's marvellous. But there's still a pay gap, statistics for male violence against women continue to be appalling and, when women are assaulted, they are often the ones who feel ashamed. There are still restrictive gender assumptions that damage both women and men. FGM still exists. Rape is used as a weapon in war zones. And, worldwide, millions of women don't even have legal equality.
Shall I say more?
What is the one piece of advice that could apply to any career that you would like to pass on?
Believe in yourself, but don’t ignore criticism, because it’s probably well meant. I’m thinking of a writing career here but it should apply more generally. Unless you’re in a toxic work environment, in which case the advice would be to find a new one!
Visit Mary's website here.
Interview by Isabella Ford