This week we meet third-year English Literature student Sarah Ang, who is a poet and writer from Singapore. Here, Sarah chats to us about some of the international awards she’s won for her writing and shares an amazing insider tip for fellow lovers of art and museums...
What are you studying, why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
I’m going into my third year studying English Literature! I’ve always been entranced by the worlds that literature has to offer - growing up, I constantly had my nose stuck in a book, wandering the lush woods of Tolkien’s epic saga, getting into mischief with Scout and Jem Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, or braving the elements with Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. To me, the benefits of the discipline are manifold - the cultivation of empathy, the ability to examine issues from multiple perspectives, and sensitivity to nuances in arguments are all invaluable skills.
Perhaps what amazes me most about literature, however, is how mere words strung together on a page can be woven into a compelling narrative that resonates with readers from vastly different backgrounds, even moving them to tears in some cases. The emotional impact that literature can have is something that I am captivated by, and try to inject into my own work - I think what I find most rewarding about writing is when I finish a story or poem, and people tell me that what I’ve written has moved them. Part of why I decided to study this subject was to hone my own writing craft from learning from the masters, and while I’m not too sure what I will be pursuing as a career in future, I’d definitely like to develop my writing further.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
At UCL, I’ve really had opportunities to develop my passion for creative writing further. I joined SAVAGE, UCL’s Arts and Culture Journal , where I was first exposed to performing my poetry out loud in front of others, at the annual SAVAGE print launch. I’m used to keeping my poetry to myself, so this was a significant step for me. As the Creative Writing Curator for SAVAGE in 2019-2020, I was responsible for selecting and editing pieces to be included on our website and in print - improving my understanding of what constitutes good writing and how to express that clearly.
I also organised various events for aspiring writers, like poetry workshops and zine-crafting sessions - would highly recommend students interested in exploring creative writing further to check SAVAGE out! All this encouraged me to keep submitting my creative work to competitions, and I am grateful and humbled to have been recognised by the Wilbur Smith Author of Tomorrow Prize, the Ilkley Literature Festival Walter Swan Prize, and the Alpine Fellowship Academic Writing Prize during my time at UCL.
Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?
For art and museum lovers, the Student Art Pass is a real steal. It gives you free entry to places like Kensington Palace, Keats House, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and 50% off the paid exhibitions at major museums like National Gallery, British Museum, Tate Modern, and Tate Britain, among others - all for only £5! The equivalent National Arts Pass for working adults costs £45, so this is truly value-for-money. The entry fee to Kensington Palace, for example, is £17, so you can more than recoup the £5 after your first visit to any museum on the scheme.
Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:
1. Visit a museum
London is renowned for being a cultural hub, and its museums are truly world class. Other than the celebrated stalwarts of the National Gallery, British Museum, V&A, Natural History Museum, there are also lesser-known museums with stunning exhibitions, like Kenwood house, the Fashion and Textile museum, or the Museum of London.
2. Walk in a park
A walk in a park in London is the perfect remedy for a hectic work week; a soothing balm for troubled souls - just being immersed in the lush greenery and abundance of wildlife does wonders for the rejuvenation of spirits. In central London, I like St James Park for its breath-taking views, but my favourite park has to be Richmond - it’s the largest royal park in London and home to free-roaming deer.
3. Take a day trip out of Central London
London is an excellent base for day trips to explore the rest of the UK, like Canterbury, Brighton, Bath, Oxford, etc. For history buffs, I would suggest Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s past residence, where you can walk through the rooms that he dined and slept in, and features interactive experiences with actors role-playing his wives or members of his household.
If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?
I would improve the transition mentoring scheme for new students, by providing better training for transition mentors so that they are better equipped to provide guidance and tips to freshers. My transition mentor was an immense help in my first year and really helped me settle into studying in a foreign city, but I believe the programme would benefit from a more structured approach.
Who inspires you and why?
I really admire Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s first female and first Scottish-born poet laureate. In her collection The World Wife, she re-imagines the stories of wives and partners of famous figures from the realms of fairy tales, history or literature, such as Queen Herod, Mrs Aesop, Mrs Beast and Queen Kong - figures who are usually outshone by their male counterparts. I was inspired by her to try and take well-known tales and reinvent them in my own writing, by telling stories from the perspective of lesser-known figures in the same tale - and in doing so, attempting to give voice to the underrepresented in my own way.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I used to be a walking encyclopaedia of dog breeds when I was younger!