Dreams can come true at Reading

Today’s blog is written by celebrated Penguin illustrator Coralie Bickford-Smith, who won the Waterstones Book of the Year Award 2015 with her book The Fox and the Star. Coralie studied Typography here at Reading in 1998.  Here she tells us about her time with us and how this experience allowed her to fulfil her dreams and exceed her own expectations.   

CoralieWhen I arrived at the department of Typography and Graphic Communication for the open day, my disparate interests were no longer seemingly so random. My love of William Blake, my obsession with the printed book and graphic design were, unlike other courses, rolled into this one BA. My dreams, for the first time, seemed possible.

The path had been difficult, but I suddenly found myself on the cusp of an incredible opportunity. Despite being very shy I did all the right things to make sure I got onto the course. I defied my introverted nature and talked to all the tutors and made myself apparent. When I received the letter confirming that I had achieved my required entry grades it was a pivotal moment; the anxiety of waiting was over.

My memories of Reading are those of feeling part of a family. The annual intake was small and we shared a common studio space. This forced interaction kept me involved with the course and my fellow students, a bond further strengthened by study trips overseas. It all made me feel that I belonged to something important; more than just a course.

This feeling of unity became especially important in my first year of studying, as my mother became terminally ill; one of the most difficult times of my life. I was lonely and lost, but my studies gave me a sense of purpose, and I could not stray far before without being noticed and guided back.

Reading taught me so much, and not all of it design-related. It taught me about building relationships and how to live a life that was meaningful to me. The work was hard and the battle with confidence about my own work was a constant struggle, but there was a sense that everyone was rooting for me.

This is the most cherished memory that I have been left with, that people were kind, loving and thoughtful. When I finally finished my studies and opened my degree results I ran into the department’s office to check that there had not been a mistake. I had achieved more than I thought possible.

After studying at Reading I went onto work in book publishing and have been working at Penguin for the past 14 years designing book covers. I have just written, illustrated and designed my own book, The Fox and The Star, which was published by Penguin last year. It is a picture book that has not only been produced to celebrate the printed book, but also conveys my experience of coping with grief during my time at university.

Without the foundations of Reading I could never have aspired to make all the small but necessary steps to get to this point in my career. Life can be tough but with time the joy it brings us can exceed our expectations.

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Did Reading help you to achieve your dreams? Let us know in the comments below or email us at alumni@reading.ac.uk if you have your own story to tell.