Portrait of Jessica Macdonald

Jessica MacDonald

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I came to the MA with a BA Hons in Creative Writing, but lots of people on my course had varied backgrounds. I didn’t get to do any undergraduate modules in scriptwriting, so I was eager to try my hand at writing for theatre, radio and television. I also felt dialogue was one of my strengths, so wanted to develop characterisation and story through different forms. 

What made you want to apply to your MA course and to Leeds?

I had started the BA Music at Leeds before transferring credits and studying Creative Writing full-time. During my time at Leeds I really respected the institution and knew there were lots of talented, dedicated students there who were always willing to get involved with extra-curricular activities. This was a big draw for me and helped me to decide to return.  

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I’ve considered myself a writer ever since I got the award for the ‘longest story’ at Primary school – writing is second nature to me and I can’t imagine doing anything else.   

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?  

Individual project was a great, open module that allowed me to fully develop a pilot episode of a Mockumentary sitcom which I then went on to develop into a series for my final project. My course leader was a great mentor, helping me to shape the episodes and redraft storylines into something I felt really proud of. It was interesting to see how rounded the characters became and I appreciated feedback from my course-mates. I hadn’t written comedy before, and it was a great feeling when I was told my dialogue was funny after all.  

What has been the most surprising thing about coming to Leeds?

I’ve been surprised by how easy it is to go above and beyond the degree programme and get involved in other things, to ultimately enhance your writing portfolio. There’s a supportive community and I’ve felt privileged to be a part of it. 

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The facilities at Leeds are great. Stage@leeds is a brilliant performance venue for smaller fringe shows or large scale productions and there have been a few school conferences held there too. The rehearsal spaces are easily accessible in the run up to shows and they have everything you might need. It’s a good learning environment. 

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

As soon as I got to Leeds I sent a proposal to the Open Theatre, for them to produce an adaptation of my first novel. I was thrilled when the play was selected, and after writing the adaptation I directed the show over three nights in the largest theatre venue on campus with a cast and crew of 25 – and I didn’t have to pay a penny. Anyone who wants to put on their work will understand how hard it is to access willing and engaged people as well as theatre spaces, and how hard it is to fund it yourself. Theatre societies can help that happen, and the experience was definitely my most memorable during my time at Leeds.   

I also volunteered with Leeds Action and helped to run a residential project for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and was the Politics Sub-Editor of Lippy Feminist Magazine. These experiences have helped me stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs, and I also enjoyed myself too! Aside from Societies, there is also the Little Leeds Fringe. 

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Whatever your previous experience, invest yourself into the course and you will get a lot out of it. A fundamental part of any form of creative writing is having a sounding board for your ideas and the MA definitely provides this, through like-minded course-mates and tutor feedback. The MA is also so broad that it challenges you in different ways, so be prepared to try and even if you feel like you are sometimes struggling just know that you are honing your writing skills nonetheless. 

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

I’m hoping to find PhD funding to study for a further three years, and I’m in the process of applying to a few institutions. Part of this means writing proposals and submitting creative and critical writing, and the MA has helped me be ready for this. I would love to teach in the future, and a PhD will give me the opportunity to write another novel and to explore an area of under-researched literature. Outside of education, I’ve completed numerous placements with ITV – I was the shadow script editor on a three-part drama and have been to story-lining conferences at Coronation Street. I’m hoping to try out with the soap in the New Year and see where that progresses.