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18 March 2021

Novelist: Writing can be very solitary - the King's community has been so supportive

Critically acclaimed novelist, Olivia Sudjic discusses how her PhD is helping her write her latest book.

Olivia Sudjic Book
Olivia Sudjic and her new book, Asylum Road.

Successful writer Olivia Sudjic, applied to King’s Creative Non-Fiction PhD, to experience being part of a community which can help spark ideas. The addition of resources such as libraries, seminars and teacher training to help improve her writing also appealed to Olivia.

Olivia started the course in the Department of English in September 2020.

Her new book Asylum Road, was published in January by Bloomsbury. The story follows Anya, who fled to the UK from the Balkan War as a child, and her distant fiancé Luke. “Asylum Road is about the many borders governing our lives: between men and women, assimilation and otherness, nations, families, order and chaos. What happens, and who do we become, when they break down?”.

Olivia is also the author of 'Sympathy', her 2017 debut novel, which explores surveillance and identity in the digital age. She was a finalist for the Salerno European Book Award and the Collyer Bristow Prize, and 'Exposure', a non-fiction work on anxiety and auto-fiction, was named an Irish Times, Evening Standard and White Review Book of the Year for 2018.

Although studying this year hasn’t turned out exactly as Olivia planned - thanks to the pandemic, she says her PhD has been the saving grace of lockdown, especially having the advantage of people to check in and exchange work with and has helped her establish a working routine.

Now that so many of us are working from home during lockdown, lots of people have found that it's difficult to spend months on end without peers, and even more difficult to maintain good boundaries when it comes to life and work - both in terms of declining productivity and switching off to rest. I’ve heard people say they feel as if they’re “living at work” now, rather than working from home. Writing can be not only solitary but quite solipsistic, to the extent that your mental health but also your work suffers, if you don’t find a supportive community.

Olivia Sudjic

I think the value of practice-led creative degrees isn’t always simply about being taught how to do something (though it absolutely can be for some people) but being given the time, the confidence, the stimulus, or even the permission to do it. I was lucky to find an agent at the start of my writing career, and without her mentorship I’m sure I would have given up. By the same token, if it wasn’t for the people I’m now exchanging ideas back and forth with, I’d probably have lost all motivation this year.

Olivia Sudjic

Olivia’s writing has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Paris Review, Financial Times, Guardian, Granta and Wired. She is currently writing on her fourth book, titled Desire Lines, as part of her PhD and is working on a creative non-fiction project with Professor Lara Feigl of the English Department, with LAHP funding.