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Communication Studies alumna secures publishing deal

Vanessa Holburn

The campus was definitely the best aspect of Brunel; I loved the flats, the nightlife and facilities such as the Library being so close.

Vanessa, Alumni

Author, Self employed

BSc Communication & Information Studies - 1992

From UK

Tell us about your career journey since you graduated…

I graduated into a recession but got a foot in the door at a publishers by van driving! I started working on the classifieds, then production. My career took off when I moved to Hong Kong and joined a trade publishers, working up to Assistant Editor, taking publications online. When I returned home I was ahead of the UK talent pool. I set up the UK NetDoctor site, then consulted on digital projects and wrote content. After a baby break I went back to freelance journalism. Last year I got my first book publishing deal and then a second.

What does an average day at work involve for you?

Researching and pitching articles and book ideas; and then writing them if I get the work! My first book has just been released, so I’m also promoting that as much as I can. I work on a freelance basis, slotted in around walking my dog and caring for my children.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Last year was fantastic - I got my first book deal with Pen&Sword - and then once I’d written that book, immediately pitched another idea to another publisher (Robinson/Little, Brown) and that was also accepted. My first book ‘The Amritsar Massacre: The British Empire’s Worst Atrocity’ is out now, my second ‘How to Be an Activist: A practical guide to organizing, campaigning and making change happen’ is due out in January 2020.

How would you say Brunel helped you to get where you are today?

Going to university was a shock for me. I came from a small town and went to an archaic grammar school. If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready to enjoy learning for its own value - and I wasn’t even comfortable calling lecturers by their first names! In that respect Brunel forced me to get used to the external world - full of people that were not anything like me.

Why did you choose to study at Brunel and why would you recommend Brunel to others?

I chose Brunel purely for the work placements - which at the time meant that I would work for a part of three years - and then have a final year without a placement. I didn't want to go to uni but my parents thought otherwise, so Brunel was the perfect compromise! I loved its campus, and it was well-regarded too.

What is your best memory of studying here?

The campus aspect was definitely the best aspect of Brunel, I loved the old flats, the nightlife and facilities such as the Library being so close. I was fortunate and lived on campus longer than most - partly because I came back mid-way through one year as I joined the Erasmus scheme.

If you could give one piece of advice to new students, what would that be?

Work out what excites you and do that. There's no point in slaving away following a set career path if you're not enjoying it. I was never very corporate - despite finding myself at many large companies. I have always been happiest working freelance - and often by myself at home. Once you're at Brunel find things outside of your course (and socialising!) that you enjoy, and that will help you decide what kind of industry you might be fulfilled in.

What would be your top tip or advice for new graduates as they begin their career journey?

Say yes to everything as you really never know where opportunities can lead. Getting a job, and then excelling at it are more often about the way you are able to get on with people you work with and alongside. A career isn't just about the job description, it's about enjoying what you do - feeling the passion in it. You're also 'allowed' to stand up for yourself in your job, so ignore anyone that tries to intimidate you (that's their problem not yours).