Name: Alice Wilson
Profession: Academic and freelance writer
Primary school: Acomb Primary School
Post 16 attended University: I went to Durham for my undergrad – a joint honours degree in anthropology and sociology. I then went to York to do a Masters in social research methods and am now completing my PhD there. I am looking at women who build their own tiny houses 🙂
Favourite subject at school: English and Drama. I was so that kid. Zadie Smith said that nobody who spends their days reading books is reeling with joy, and that feels true. Reading, writing, and acting were all ways for me to pretend I was someone else, somewhere else. Crucially, they were also either very cheap, or free.
What I thought I wanted to do: I thought I wanted to run away and join the circus. I think if I was braver, I might have done. I spent my young life dreaming of being something like a much less colonial and terrible Indiana Jones – adventuring through the jungle, discovering lost civilisations, and then writing down my tales.
What I ended up doing: At the moment writing is my full-time occupation. I am self-employed, I find my own clients, I set my own prices, I decide which projects I want to work on. It’s a level of freedom and agency that I honestly never thought was possible for me.
For a while I was lead singer in a blues band, then I switched it up and co-founded a radically affordable housing co-op which has successfully taken over a disused care home in Clifton. I was invited to do a TedX talk and I won second place in the York 3-Minute Thesis competition. I’ve been invited as a guest on some award-winning podcasts and my fiction work has been featured in some really cool magazines. I have even had some of my illustrations published as cover art.
I love variety, so what I have ended up doing is more like a buffet of activities than one traditional career. I haven’t joined the circus yet but I am considering it for my retirement plan.
How I got here: I spent a lot of years roaming. I dropped out of college and moved to Barcelona for a year, then Greece. I came back to York and did my A Levels at Fulford and then my degree in Durham. I spent a year in Prague and then I won a scholarship to do my PhD and I started freelance writing in 2020.
I was working the entire time, I’ve had a job since I was 13 – not because I am an impressive self-starter but because our family had very little to spare and I was very eager to leave home. I think it’s relevant to mention because there is so much shame around not having money – I certainly felt it all the way through school. Having to work so much alongside studying is tiring and it’s something that a lot of young people have to do. I think it’s important to acknowledge that.
I have also been lucky and I have also been helped a lot. There is a strong cultural tendency in the global north to explain success stories in terms of an individual triumphing from the sweat of their own brow. This is at best incomplete and at worst a lie. I cannot point to a single thing in my life that I have achieved completely on my own. I am also shielded by the privilege of my whiteness and because English is my first language. This is luck, not effort on my behalf.
Most useful skill or character trait for my job: Very many of the career successes I have experienced originated in the question ‘I wonder if I could..?’. It seems like a common strand that links all of humanity; the sense of curiosity about ‘what would happen if I…’
On closer inspection, it seems that being curious about stuff probably makes for a slightly better time in life. Being curious in my relationships helps me to stop obsessing about being right™ and remain instead interested in what this other person’s experience actually is.
Being curious in my writing work likewise leads me to interesting and unique research questions, like how are women’s lives different after they have built and live in their own tiny houses. Similarly in my journalistic work, I was curious about, for example, what the differences were between queer culture and content on TikTok versus queer culture and content in mainstream media. So, I poked around and then wrote about it for The Independent.
Top tip! Do absolutely whatever you can using all of the power you have to nourish and grow the important relationships in your life. It has never been my job that has brought me peace and comfort and a sense of ‘I am going to be ok’.
If you decide that you want to work in a job that you are not personally invested in so that you can spend every moment of your free time planting a garden or building linguine sculptures, then do it.
I love the advice given by novelist and all-round good egg John Green, who says that the greatest good in life is to find cool people and make cool stuff with them. This sounds like an excellent way to live to me.