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Owen Jones goes Back to School: ‘Why do people tell you to imagine those interviewing you are naked?’

As part of the i newspaper's new campaign to encourage state school students to return to school to offer careers advice, we asked Owen the following questions...
  • @OwenJones84

Owen Jones, 29-year-old author and columnist, Bramhall High School 1995-2000, Ridge Danyers College 2000-2002, Stockport

As a teenager, what did you want to be when you were older?

Above all else I wanted to be an astronaut. Why the laughs? I still want to be an astronaut. This writing malarky is just a stopgap until I get blasted into space. There's now so many right-wing bloggers who hate me, I could probably do a whip-round so they'll pay me to go to Mars.

How did you get into the career you’re in now?

Total fluke. I genuinely didn't want to be a writer. Basically I wanted a way to get my beliefs out to as many people as possible. There was always standing on a street corner and wailing about the world, but that only reaches so many people and the Metropolitan Police got uppity about it. So I cobbled together a book that, after five million rejections, got taken on by radical publisher Verso and did unexpectedly well because all of a sudden everybody wanted to talk about class. The downside about Tory governments is they unleash a tidal wave of human misery, but you do get a few books whinging about it, so there's always that. Off the back of that I got asked to write lots of newspaper pieces, and then the Independent lost their senses and asked me to join them. So blame them!

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were younger?

Yes, I wish I'd known sharing a TV studio or even oxygen with Edwina Currie, Katie Hopkins or Kelvin Mackenzie was going to be about as much fun or productive as rubbing a cheese grater against your face for an hour. 

What advice would you give to young people starting out?

Keep fighting! Look, if you want to be a writer, it's tough, because there's all these obstacles powerful people have put in place to stop anyone without a trust fund making it. So you have to basically bypass the system. Set up your own blog, and use Twitter to disseminate your writing. Either tackle issues others ignore, or have a unique viewpoint on a commonly discussed topic. Do some citizen-reporting: travel about it and meet people who are otherwise airbrushed out of existence or ignored. Build up a base as a go-to person on an issue, and then use that as a springboard to start talking about other things. When you pitch to editors, keep it short and sweet, because no-one reads paragraph after paragraph of rambling thoughts. (Other than my editor obviously, ba-bom-tish)

What was the best/worst careers advice you received at school?

"Imagine the people interviewing you are naked". Umm, what? How does that help? Sometimes it's actually just a bit unpleasant.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Best thing about my job is meeting lots of people, particularly people outside of the media and political elite who are often far cleverer than those in charge, and who often have the added bonus of knowing what they're talking about. Travelling all over the place to towns I've never even heard of has taught me loads. Getting to talk about people, issues and causes that are otherwise ignored. Also I sometimes get free theatre tickets, which helps me pretend to be cultured and well-rounded.

How much training/education did you need?

Tough one. Obviously there was university, though I only really did a bit of writing for the student newspaper towards the end because I had a last-minute panic about the lack of extra-curricular stuff on my CV. In my case, my beliefs and political activity were important, I guess. But I didn't do any journalism courses because I didn't want to be a writer, and they're a total rip-off I wouldn't have been able to afford anyway.

What turned out to be the biggest advantage for you of a state education rather than private? 

Mixing with people from different backgrounds. I think it's a shame for kids who sent to private schools that they mix with people from a relatively narrow similar upbringing. Anyway, research shows that state school students do better at the top universities. But remember, we're all prisoners of our upbringing, so what school we go to shouldn't held against us. There's plenty of privately educated people who went on to fight injustice and privilege, after all. All of us can fight for a more equal society, no matter what background we hail from.

Visit ind.pn/backtoschool for more information