We know the path to success doesn’t always go smoothly, so we asked our lecturers about the ups and downs on their path to the University of Brighton. Because Jess didn’t have the easiest start at her own university, she says “I have empathy for students who don’t sail through… watching them create work they are proud of and celebrate at graduation is what makes me happiest.”
Hi Jess, so tell us… what were you like at school? Were you a diligent pupil?
“My school reports all said something like: works hard, does well, always talking. And for me, that’s what I have always loved about learning – an exchange of ideas and stories in a critical/creative environment. Hearing what other people think and using that to position my own sense of self and understand the world around me.
‘My school reports all said something like: works hard, does well, always talking’
“Meeting new people, hearing how they experience life – it was a buzz then and it is now! I had some wonderful teachers who had a strong sense of social justice and who inspired and uplifted – I often think of Mr Lloyd, Ms Booth, and others when I find teaching a challenge and wonder what they might have done to motivate students and enliven classes.
“That said, I was a terrible student! I made some awful life choices in my first six weeks and was told I would have to leave if I didn’t get my act together. Which I just about did! I would do all the reading, turn up for class – sometimes in the same clothes I’d been partying in the night before – and thought the seminars, where we got to talk, were fantastic and that the lectures where we had to be quiet were a bit dry.
Above: Jess Moriarty on Creative Writing at the University of Brighton.
“And I suppose I have tried to apply that to how I like to teach and why I always have empathy for the students who don’t sail through uni but get stuck and wonder if they made the right choice. Watching those students create work they are proud of and seeing them celebrate at graduation is what makes me happiest and why I still think teaching is an absolute honour.”
Why did you decide to go to university?
“My year was the last cohort of students who didn’t have to pay fees and so the prospect of studying a subject I loved for three more years whilst making new friends in a new city was a no brainer and a privilege – it really was.
“I had a kind of freedom at university – freedom to learn from experts, develop my research/writing, volunteer at my local radio station and newspaper, party hard, make some questionable decisions and work – just a bit – at a pub in the city centre – which all helped to shape me, making me surer of who I was and accepting that person – good and bad!”
How did you decide which subject to study?
“I thought I wanted to go to London to study English Literature and was lucky enough to be accepted on some excellent courses at wonderful universities, but the course I ended up on and the opportunity to take creative writing modules was much more exciting.
‘I’d always loved making up stories and performing at school so getting to learn from researchers and professional writers was enticing. I couldn’t wait’
“I’d always loved making up stories and performing at school so getting to learn from researchers and professional writers was enticing. I couldn’t wait.”
What did you do after graduation and why did you choose that path?
“I crashed and burned after graduation. I went to uni because I thought I wanted to be a journalist but working at different radio stations and newspapers just proved that it wasn’t for me, and so I panicked and took the first job I was offered managing a cinema where I didn’t use my creativity at all but did have to work as a team, effectively communicate ideas, produce copy for marketing and write reports – all skills I had learnt on my degree. It didn’t take long to realise I was not destined for the business world however, and so I applied to do an MA in Creative Writing and it was like the clouds had opened – I was where I was meant to be, working with other students on our writing and the theories and ideas that contribute to our creative practice.
‘Without the major crash and burn I wouldn’t have realised that I wanted to use what I had learnt at university and apply that to a career in research and writing!’
“Listening to their work and developing my own scripts, poems and prose under expert tutelage. And again, making friends with a diverse range of people with compelling stories – real and imagined – for me, it’s at the very heart of what it is to be human and what I always want to be doing. Using stories to connect and understand. But without the major crash and burn part of this story I wouldn’t have realised that I wanted to use what I had learnt at university and apply that to a career in research and writing so it wasn’t wasted!”
Tell us about any career highs… and any lows too!
“Career highs – building a portfolio of innovative Creative Writing courses at Brighton, watching it grow from the single module when I joined to 5 thriving courses with incredible students and an absolutely brilliant course team; watching Munroe Bergdorf collect her honorary doctorate, achieving my own doctorate whilst simultaneously having two babies – on the day I passed my viva, my son who was only 2 said ‘Are you Dr Moriarty now and can I have a pizza?’ and that is exactly the kind of life perspective I need to keep me motivated and excited whilst rooted in reality!
‘Career highs = watching Munroe Bergdorf collect her honorary doctorate, achieving my own doctorate whilst simultaneously having two babies’
“Lows – some too sad to say but it is often in those moments that I realise why this job matters so much.”
At what point did you decide that you wanted to teach others?
“My mum was a teacher and I secretly thought she was awe-inspiring for motivating young people. The first time I led a creative writing workshop here at Brighton, it was terrifying and wonderful. Working with our fantastic students who are brave and funny and vulnerable and devastating storytellers, is humbling and exhilarating in equal measure and that feeling has never left – with thanks to all the students I have been lucky enough to work with.”
Above: listen to a podcast interview with Jess
Was there ever a point where you doubted yourself – where you felt that you weren’t going to achieve your goals?
“Yes – all the time! My wellbeing and my creativity are inextricably linked and working with colleagues on writing projects where I can explore my identity and moments of doubt have helped me through personal and professional challenges including cancer, Covid and juggling my personal/academic life.
‘our emphasis is on supporting students to use their writing to explore and value their identity, connect with new ideas and communities and understand the place of their writing in the world’
“This approach also helped me to be more empathetic as a teacher and form the ethos of how we teach Creative Writing at Brighton, with an emphasis on supporting students to use their writing to explore and value their identity, connect with new ideas and communities and understand the place of their writing in the world.”
Find out about studying Creative Writing at the University of Brighton.