During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Matt from ARDO spoke with bestselling author and screenwriter Alex Michaelides (1996). You can read his story below. You can find more stories here.
Why did you choose to study English at Trinity?
The honest answer is that my cousin went to Trinity and then my sister went to Trinity. I remember going to visit her when I was eight years old and was just awestruck by the beauty. I still get a big rush when I go into Great Court, and hold it in my mind as a romantic place to go and study. It couldn’t be more different from where I grew up.
I was the first person from my school to study English at University. I just love books and reading.
Do you have a favourite part of College?
There is that little stone seat outside Hall, at the top of the steps just before you go inside, where my friends and I would always meet each other before lunch. I’ve got very fond memories of sitting there. I also love Whewell’s Court too, which is where I lived in my second and third year.
Do you have a favourite memory?
Friendships, the teaching was incredible, I remember that fondly, and acting. I was very lucky to be taught by Professor Poole, Anne Barton, Jeremy Maule, and Eric Griffiths who were all such geniuses. My only regret really is that I didn’t apply myself as much as I would do if I were going there now. It’s a lot to take in and it’s such an exciting three years which all goes by in a flash.
When I decided that I was going to be a novelist, having been a screenwriter for years, all of these lessons that I had learnt, all these incredible books that I had been taught, came back to me. Also the lessons about how to think about writing. I suddenly remembered how Eric Griffiths gave us a class on point of view, and 20 years later it comes into your head and you’re like ‘yes, now I understand that’s what you’re trying to do.’
For me as a writer, I think the best way to learn is through reading and writing. Being educated at Trinity, and having such an incredible education there, is something that stood me in fantastic stead.
We put on The Duchess of Malfi, inside the Hall, and I think it was the first time that it has been used as a theatre in something like 300 years. Professor Poole arranged it and he helped us put it on. That was an amazing experience, things like that are truly special. You can only really do things like that at Trinity.
I pretty much lived at the ADC Theatre, I did 14 plays in three years so it was pretty intense. I think in my last year Adrian Poole took me aside and told me to stop being in plays and start doing some essays.
I went to Edinburgh twice with the University. It was truly amazing. The opportunity to be in all of those plays and meet all of those people, but more importantly become part of the theatre and spend all of my weekends backstage…I miss it more than I can say. It was a really special time.
Is there anything that you had wished you had known before arriving at Trinity?
I was quite shy, although people never believe me when I say that, but I was quite terrified. If I could speak to my younger self now I would say ’embrace it all and don’t be frightened. Go out and meet people, because everyone is so friendly there’.
Could you talk us through your career to date?
I started out as an actor when I graduated. I got an agent when I was at Trinity and I did a little bit of TV, but I wasn’t very good. I tried, when I left University, to make a go of it. Maybe I gave up too soon, but I think I was too self-conscious. I think I was a writer really.
What I love about theatre is the group element. Having a small family of people that you get so close to and you put something on together.
Then I was a runner for an Oscar-winning film producer, and I gave him a script I had written whilst at University. He gave me some money to make it, but it didn’t go anywhere. It was a bit of a disaster, but it was my first experience of writing a script.
I then went to the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, to learn how to screen write. After that I made two films, neither of which were very successful. But it propelled me into writing a novel – I’d felt like I’d always wanted to since I was at University but had put it off for 15-16 years – I finally got around to it through desperation and despair. Then it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Now, I would say that I am a writer. I was a screenwriter and now I am a novelist.
Do you have any role models who’ve influenced your career?
The most important person to me at Trinity was Adrian Poole. He’s always been a kind of mentor to me. I did my dissertation on Henry James and he did that with me, then I did an adaptation of a Henry James novel into a screenplay. Adrian was the first person to read that and give me feedback.
For me, he was the best face that you could have for Trinity. We encountered a lot of really brilliant people, but Adrian is one of those rare things where he is a brilliant man but also a brilliant teacher. As a result, I retained everything of what he taught me.
Have you been given any great advice?
No, it’s more of an example really. A love of literature and language.
What advice would you give to a current student?
Make the most of the time, because it goes really fast. Make as many friends and do as much as you possibly can, without sacrificing studies and work. I think it’s really important not to let time go by and not make the most of it.
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at [email protected]