Alumni of the Month April 2009

ALAN TAYLOR (1982 American Studies & English)

aom_AlanTaylor How did you get to where you are now?
I avoided the PGCE at Keele as I thought it would box me too early into Literature/English profile. So a few years followed in the grim early 1980s that eventually secureda place at the London Film School (helped by a short film that I wrote that popped up on Channel 4). Once I had the Diploma I then opted for the PGCE. Two grim interviews (London and Canterbury)followed and I thought that was that. However, Oxford had other ideas and I was called by Chris Davies (Department of Education) "for a chat". He offered me a place then and there.  So things sped quickly. I had a room at Balliol (which was instrumental in the founding of Keele in the 1950s) and earned my spurs as a teacherat Peers School in Cowley. One year later I was teaching A levels and media/video production in Hertfordshire during which time I secured an MA in Media Education at the Institute of Education, London. It is an irony worth noting that the same people turned down my PGCE application a few years earlier. With the MA in pocket in 1995, I became lecturer in Media Production at the North Oxfordshire College. This included roles as Subject Leader in Film, Media and American Studies. Itchy feet then took me to Germany in 2000 where I taught film at Mainz. I then embarked upon a DPhil there (2005). Since 2006 I have been based in Berlin, maintaining my interest in American Studiesas Guest Lecturer in American Film & Media at the John F Kennedy Institute of North American Studies.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
For someone who took four attempts to get his O level in Maths, I think things are working out OK. Still a student most of the time, which is a prerequisite for the times in which we live.

And your biggest mistake?
Not making full use of the sports facilities (though I did a lot of jogging); not taking up driving lessons, with special deals for students;  and (seriously) not taking lecture notes.

What are your ambitions now?
To somehow productively fuse my practical and theoretical interests and get paid for doing it. I am due to take up a full-time position as Associate Professor at Tshwane University of Technology this year (pending Work Permit). This will be in Drama and Film. So, I think that is the timely challenge that will match the present ambition.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
For screenwriters…? Write the short story/novel/play and so keep copyright of your work. People want to be in the media industry. So I answer that they can only do this if they take out  shares in the industry. Everybody else is a hired hand. For teachers...? Don’t confuse lesson content with its actual purpose. For academic book writers…? Structure your book very carefully, and write the middle chapter first.  And keep drafting that until you have the voice you are happy with. The rest of the book should be a delight to write and then read.

What made you choose Keele University?
I recall vividly the first 5 minutes with the careers officer at Quintin Kynaston. I mentioned that I was reading lots of American Literature (Raymond Chandler) and he said that universities taught that. I was genuinely stunned. I asked where and he mentioned Keele. It was that simple. It was also out of London, so something new for me AND I could have both a year `off` and start with the Foundation Year on my return. A great menu of possibilities that worked according to plan.

How has Keele influenced your life?
The cross curricular initiative as bannered by the Foundation Year.

What are your favourite memories of Keele?
During the last year I stayed over at the Horwood cottage during the winter for a week, surrounded by snow and silence. A pause before the massive thing called life came knocking. That, and time shared with Charles Swann - a rare privilege for me - and others - even as it was happening.

And your worst?
Easy. The Wednesday afternoon Astronomy `practicals`. This was one major (the other was German literature) during the FY Year. Once that 3 hour session of agony was over I was free at last.

Anything else you would like to add?
Ah, the toughest question. And one that I will dwell on, thanks.