AN INTERVIEW WITH CALEB FEMI

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I was lucky enough to do my teacher training at King’s with Caleb. He was a great teacher, able to mesmerise even a group of sleepless grown-ups with grammar; I believed every last thing he said about double negatives and pronouns. Last year, after months of not being in touch with him, I read that he had been named Young Person’s Poet Laureate of London and I was so excited. Not just at the fact that something good had finally happened in the year of all things shit, but because he would now go on to inspire young people beyond the four walls of his classroom in London and spread a love of poetry – something pupils notoriously loathe – across the country. I immediately text him and demanded he let me interview him for my blog. Here’s what I asked him and here’s what he told me.

Do you write poetry for a living?

I write poetry for a living, for necessity, for survival and sanity.

How did the whole ‘Young People’s Laureate’ thing come about?

It’s pretty mental. Mental indeed, I was watching Orange is the New Black one day in July, I had just quit teaching full time as a secondary English teacher when I received an email stating that I was part of a shortlist of poets considered for the role. From this, I was invited to interview, so I went.

They only bloody gave it to me. 

Are you currently working on any exciting projects you can talk about? 

I’m currently working on a poetry pamphlet, which will be out sometime next year. Also, I have a theatre show called Goldfish Bowl I’m creating, which will be showing in the summer.

Where do you source inspiration from?

Life, everyday life. All the good and bad stuff that happens and, yes, that includes my time as a teacher, which was both good and bad.

Did you find teaching poetry easier than teaching, say, a novel?

I think it was more of a matter of the quality and accessibility of the work, be it a novel or a poem. I don’t think there’s much difference between a novel and a poem at the heart of it. They are both trying to convey a human experience, so it’s quite hard to say…

Who am I kidding? 

POETRY.

You’ve said in interviews that young people need to create a new voice for themselves. In the fallout of 2016 (AKA the year of shade), what do you think that voice might sound like? 

A fog horn on the morning of a hangover, if you’re doing it right.

Favourite poet? Dead or alive.

Impossible, can’t answer that one.

What piece of advice would you give to a young person with a passion for the Arts but without a way in?

Keep knocking until someone opens. OR, you could forge your own route, find like-minded people and dig your way through with them.

I know you’ve spoken about finally being able to embrace all aspects of yourself – do you think London breeds this sort of mentality and allows people to do just that? Or do you think it’s down to the individual? 

Definitely down to the individual. London isn’t some utopia where everyone embraces you, it only becomes something closer to that when you can make peace with who you are and understand that you don’t need to justify your humanity to anyone, only then does the city seem more like a beaut. 

Want to know more or watch him perform? Go for it.

THE CRAFT

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I used to have a little piece of paper that sat on my desk where I used to work (often hidden behind files and piles of useless pieces of paper) which read: ‘Make Time For Your Art. It’s Important.’

I think it came from an old calendar a couple of colleagues and I pulled off the wall when we moved into that office but I couldn’t be sure. Anyway, for the year that I sat at that desk, that quote was a constant, welcome reminder for me to go home and do what I love. I enjoyed my job, most days, but it gave me a much-needed nudge to leave work each day and write, read, strike up a conversation with other creatives online or sign up to a talk or a course that would teach me more about my craft. But when it came to leaving that job and emptying out my desk, I’m not entirely sure where that piece of paper went. It must’ve got misplaced during the move and I miss it.

The truth is, there are lots of us who aren’t getting paid to do what we love. In fact, scrap that, most of us aren’t doing what we love. We are all pretty much working 9-5 or lengthy shifts each week and then heading home to sit on a sofa because we’re too worn out from the day to do anything other than eat pizza or drink wine. Doing what we love becomes less of a priority than paying bills on time and getting the dinner in. Hobbies become more of a hassle than anything.

But, the point is, they shouldn’t.

Over the last few weeks, as things have grown a little hectic, writing for pleasure has taken a bit of a backseat. I, like many of us, have fallen guilty of neglecting to do what I love. I have felt so exhausted after work or at the weekend that I have ignored that this space even exists and it has made me more miserable than I ever could have imagined. It has left me feeling deflated, uninspired and a little lazy.

But all this is about to change.

I’m not promising that I’ll be burning through keyboards faster than you can say J K Rowling but I am making a conscious decision to write more and post more and I think even pulling this together when I can barely keep my eyes open is a good start.

I’ve learnt that when that piece of paper that I kept on my desk used to whisper at the end of a long day that making time for art is important, it meant so much more than I ever could have realised at the time.

Perhaps this is a little nudge that you might have needed tonight?

Here’s to all of us being creative after hours.

THE UNDERGRADUATE

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Living in Bristol means that, since the start of September, the city is now awash with students and I have found myself queuing for longer at the supermarket, dodging bleary-eyed teens on my walk into work and being forced to reflect on rugby initiation ceremonies, which I still can’t quite believe are a ‘thing’.

Aside from being an old grump about Bristol being busier and the fact that students here are better dressed than most adults with actual wages, I can’t help but feel for the first years who have been arriving with their brand new pots and pans over the last few weeks. I regularly overhear awkward conversations between barely-friends and often hear second and third years talking like they have life sussed. Seeing all these fresh faces makes me think back to when I was at university and how desperate I was for someone to guide me through it all because, no matter how it may have seemed to my fellow students, I actually really struggled with the whole thing.

With this in mind, I have decided to write a list of (hopefully) helpful and (at least semi) relevant advice that I would give to any fresher, should they ask. Baring in mind I do not have my shit together in the slightest, I’m not holding out for a young person to come up to me and ask my opinion on how they should spend their time at university, but should one lonely fresher read this and find some comfort on a lonely day in a new city, for that it will have all been worth it.

So, here goes.

Let your parents help you pack

Although you’re probably all moved in already, don’t huff at the hundred sachets of lemsip hiding at the bottom of your suitcase or the childhood comfort blanket they forced you to bring. Trust me, when the weather grows colder, you’re feeling a little lonely and you fall ill? You’ll be grateful for their interfering.

Be kind

Looking back, me and my friends were so wrapped up in our own world to even notice that there were people sitting alone at dinner times or in lectures. I was so worried about not making friends that I ignored those who really could’ve used one. Those people who refuse to come out of their rooms? Listen, they’re not being weird, they’re probably just struggling, so knock on their door and offer to share a cup of tea and a packet of Hob Knobs with them. You could be the difference between them quitting or seeing it through. And that hour spent in their room? I promise that it will make no difference to forging new relationships for yourself. Open your eyes to everyone around you – uni can be tough when facing it alone.

Go to lectures

I hate to sound like your grandma, but just fucking go. Yes, even to those 9 o’clock ones that the fit guy from your course doesn’t even go to. Let’s be honest, you probably have no more than ten contact hours a week – not going is not only a really bad habit to get into but it doesn’t leave a positive impression on your tutors (who you will really need down the line). Spend the rest of the day in bed if you must, just make sure you get up and go.

Participate

I’m not just talking in seminars, I’m talking your whole course: presentations, actually reading the books, pair work – own it. Never forget that you have paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of being there. You won’t be the mug for geeking out, those pissing away their degree will, which brings me onto my next point…

Don’t waste too much time drinking

I’m not going to lie, some of my greatest memories from my time at uni were from when I was blind drunk on WKD (see photo evidence above) but my friends and I went out a lot. Like, four times a week, a lot. It’s fun, but it’s not conducive to much else. University is supposed to be a time of discovery and exploration – if you’re hungover, you’re less likely to go to lectures, get involved in the cool stuff or find something you feel really strongly about. Missing one night out isn’t going to make a difference to your life, no matter how hard that is to believe at the time.

Don’t get sucked into the ‘hierarchy’

Exeter was pretty bad for this. Those people who are part of the ‘it’ crowd who always walk around in large groups and talk five decibels louder than everyone else? They will probably refer to university as the best days of their lives, even after travelling the world, having kids and getting married… you do not want to be one of them.

Find something to do

Basically, get involved in something other than shots at the bar. Think sport, charity work or writing for the student newspaper. This is one of my biggest regrets looking back, especially because I knew I wanted to get involved with so much at the time but just… didn’t. Branch out of your comfort zones and make the most it because you will spend the rest of your adult life wishing for so much spare time.

Ramp up that CV

If you can intern during your holidays, then for god’s sake, do it. Ask your friend’s mum or that distant relative if you can get some work experience at their company, gain as much relevant experience as you can, start a blog (I started this in my third year) or spend time researching what you might want to do when you graduate.

Have that relationship if it feels right

People always say that you should remain single while you’re at uni. Although I think it’s good to have a bit of both (I was one of those lucky ones), if you meet someone and fall in love, then go for it. That shit doesn’t happen often, so embrace it, people.

If you need to work, then work

I was pretty much the poorest person at Exeter, which made it difficult to find the motivation to go to work when hardly anybody else did. The peace of mind I got when I received my pay packet, however, was well worth it.

Finally and most importantly…

Be yourself. It might sound like such a cliche, but honestly, this was what ruined university for me. I have spent many a conversation blaming the city itself or the abundance of obnoxious rich kids as to why I hated Exeter so much, but really, I was just pretending to be someone I wasn’t and that shit is HARD after a week or so. Be yourself and you will find true friends and enjoy great experiences without driving yourself insane pretending to be someone you’re not.

So, undergraduates of the UK, even though you will probably ignore all of the above, get ready for an emotional time – on so, so, so many levels.

Take care of each other and good luck.

THE JOB CENTRE 2016

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This time last year I decided to start something.

That ‘something’ was a month-long campaign whereby women of all ages would share their stories of job success in order to help other women realise their fullest potential and strive to accomplish their personal career goals.

I was so tired of seeing women posting wishy-washy quotes on Instagram about fate and ‘following dreams’ instead of spending their time chasing what could be a reality, whilst men were allowed to be openly competitive, ambitious and were being praised for working hard. I was hearing so little about the practical ways in which women could achieve their goals that I realised it was no wonder we sometimes felt a bit lost when it came to finding our feet in the workplace and so I decided to do something about it.

In truth, I had high hopes of becoming a fashion designer when I was younger but without any real direction or advice being readily available to me, it quickly became a dream that disintegrated into nothingness. I didn’t know one single person who worked in fashion – so how was I to step onto such an alien career ladder without someone offering me the right rung? Little did I know, at fourteen, that had I applied to Central St Martins or LCF and interned at a shit ton of fashion houses instead of sketching in a notebook whilst listing all of the reasons why I wouldn’t make it, this dream could have become a reality. Looking back, I think I just liked pretty clothes and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed working in fashion anyway – but still – you never know what could have happened had I been offered the right sort of advice or stumbled across something like, dare I say it… this.

Although there are plenty of women out there – some of whom you will hear from over the next four weeks – who know exactly what they are doing, where they are going and how they’re going to get there, there are some women, across the UK and the rest of the world, who haven’t been offered advice – or even the option – of pursuing a successful career and really making something of themselves, be it a midwife, journalist or athlete.

And this is where The Job Centre steps in.

Over the next four weeks, as will happen every September from now on, you will read about the successes of various women in a whole host of different roles and industries, ranging from copywriters and hoteliers to bloggers and barristers. Some of them might be doing the exact same thing you do and others might be working a job that you’ve never even heard of. Many of them might have had contacts that helped them get to the top and others might have grafted from the very bottom. Either way, they all have something valuable, interesting and insightful to say about how to get into a particular profession, so listen up, ladies.

If you have recently graduated and are looking to be steered in the right direction or if you are a bit older and are looking to switch jobs before the year is out, then read, comment, ask, engage and even disagree with these women if you really want to. After all, this is a conversation, not a lecture and I want everyone to get as much out of it as I do.

It isn’t difficult to do what you love, you just need to know what it takes to get there.

So, without further ado, welcome to The Job Centre 2016.

Tap the faces below to hear stories of hard work, dedication and success.

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#WHENIGROWUPIWANNABE

THE JOB CENTRE – DAISY

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Age: 26

Occupation: Currently a law student (a la Elle Woods) but used to work in advertising

Did you go to uni? Yes, I studied Spanish & Portuguese at Nottingham University and graduated in 2011.

What was your first job after graduating? I felt completely bewildered when I graduated from university and had no idea about what I wanted to do in the real world. I studied languages, so my course wasn’t very vocational at all and I don’t think I dedicated enough time to thinking about careers in my final year (which I would definitely do if I had my time again!). Seeing friends launch into distinguished companies and careers straight after graduating definitely got me panicking! I decided to give advertising a try as it seemed like an exciting and challenging career and I’d be able to make use of my language skills and creativity. I started working for an agency in central London on a global account, which was great as I had a lot of responsibility and learned an incredible amount. After a few years though, I decided it wasn’t a long term career for me and have changed course to studying law.

Did you have to have a degree to do your job or was work experience more important? In the world of advertising, both work experience and a degree are required for most top agencies, but it is possible to get into the industry at junior level without them if you show enough drive and ambition. After interning at a few agencies to build up my CV, I was finally offered a full-time position. My application was in the form of a hand-made box of chocolates, with my CV as the selection card and each chocolate representing a different quality about myself, and the agency loved it! Agencies are flooded with paper CVs on a daily basis, so it’s definitely about doing something different to get you noticed.

Have you sat any exams post-university? Any tips for revising?
 Hundreds! Most recently I’ve been doing my law exams which have been incredibly demanding. My best tip for revising would be to be highly organised in your approach – draw up a detailed study plan and ensure you know exactly what the requirements are for each exam, otherwise you could waste valuable time revising irrelevant material. For law exams specifically, it’s really important to test yourself in timed exam conditions as every second counts and the last thing you want to do is fall apart in the exam room!

What did a typical day at the office look like for you? Every day was different, which I loved! I’m a morning person so I would usually arrive at the office at around 8:30am to check my emails and draw up the day’s to-do list. I would have a quick meeting with my line manager when they arrived and we would discuss key priorities for the day. Typically, we were very busy, so we’d be working at 100mph for the rest of the day- my lunch breaks were basically non-existent and I would usually spend them at my desk with a sandwich in one hand, whilst typing with the other. I’d try to leave around 6:30-7:00pm, although when we were particularly busy or there was a big deadline approaching, it could be a lot later.

What was your favourite part of the role?
 Advertising is fun and dynamic and you get the chance to be creative. However, no job is glamorous and you realise that the creation of an ad is a long and drawn out process, with many stages and rounds of thought at the back end before going into production, and lots of fire fighting! When you start out, you are drafted in to work on little bits of various big projects, so you do not get a sense of owning a project and seeing it from start to finish. It can also be hard to predict the outcome for a lot of things, as you are constantly juggling a number of subjective opinions.

What was the dress code like? Casual, but for interviews wear something smart that shows a bit of character.

The social aspect? Advertising is a very social industry and you can be sure to attend lots of events and networking opportunities. At the agency where I worked, there was a weekly ‘free bar night’ which gave you the chance to get to know your co-workers and bring clients along.

#everydaysexism is a hot topic at the moment. Have you ever fallen victim to it in the workplace? I think every woman can say that they have been exposed to some form of sexism in the workplace. As a lot of the top positions are reserved for men, it can go with the territory. My main concern is about when I decide to have children and how my future employer will handle that. Perhaps it’s unrealistic, but I hope it doesn’t compromise my prospects for returning to work and gunning for a more senior role.


Where do you see yourself in two to three years time? Working as a solicitor, I hope!

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would it be? I am loving what I do now, but if money were no object I would probably travel the world as a photographer.

And finally, what one piece of practical career advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t worry so much! Everyone is nervous and makes mistakes when they start a job and you’ll get it eventually. Also, when you are asked to do even the dullest of tasks, do them willingly and with a smile. I quickly learned that your success in a role is defined by your attitude and the best way to progress is to take a positive approach.

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I met Daisy working at Wimbledon and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

Straight talking, with great dress sense and a wicked sense of humour, she’ll be more than happy to answer your questions.

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A THANK YOU