Nov 26 2019

Dr Anna Whitwham, Department of English, completed her PhD at Royal Holloway and is now a lecturer in Creative Writing. We caught up with Anna to find out about her past and current projects, and why she chose Royal Holloway to study and work.


1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the Department of English?

I am the new lecturer in Creative Writing and teach on both the MA and Undergraduate programme.

2. We understand that you studied your PhD at the College. What made you choose Royal Holloway?

I’d studied as an MA student at Royal Holloway, on the Creative Writing course. I left to work for a few years and had the opportunity to do a PhD under the supervision of Sir Andrew Motion and Robert Hampson. It was a life-changing decision – I went part-time with my job and my PhD helped shape my debut novel, Boxer Handsome.

3. ‘Boxer Handsome’ was your debut novel. Could you tell us about the novel and your motivation for writing it?

It was intended to be a novel to celebrate my grandad’s culture and background, which moved through his experience as an amateur boxer in East London. It became less about him and more about a present-day currency of young, male violence in London – between two marginalised communities – with a love story that ran through its middle. I wanted to test and explore an old, coded idea of machismo against the sharper, colder aggression of contemporary London. I was interested in what attracted men to boxing, then and now – and the function, duty and care it offers.  

4. Are you currently working on any new projects or research?

I have finished my second novel, We the Mother – which looks at the language and definitions used around victimhood and the vulnerability and violence in motherhood.

5. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Department of English?

My colleagues. They are exceptional and inspiring. I have learned an enormous amount from the college’s Creative Writing departments. I feel very lucky to have grown here as a lecturer and to be able to teach on both the Undergraduate and the MA. I am supported in being both a better tutor and writer – and this always feels like a gift. I am energised by the teaching itself – the engagement with students moves language and ideas into exciting areas of discussion. 

6. Who is your favourite author and why?

Grace Paley. I read her for comfort and to become better at writing. For the way she shows small, quiet struggles with such careful kindness. And for her form: the strength in the poetic and the spare. I also have special admiration and gratitude for Joy Harjo and am thankful I was shown her poetry and the magic of its language. Her books led the way to my first creative writing workshop.