Image: Chathura Anuradha Subasinghe
Chathura Anuradha Subasinghe

Interviewing award-winning Olivia Wildblood, Warwick alumna

Olivia Wildblood, award winner of Warwick’s Annual Digital Showcase Competition, sat down with The Boar last week to discuss her incredible podcast Not Really British. What began as a history module assignment to explore an element of migration evolved into an in-depth interview discussing “her mother’s experiences growing up and forming her identity in Britain as a Sri Lankan migrant in the 1970s”. 

“I was learning things about my family that I’d never learned about before”

– Olivia Wildblood

As a student taking the same module with the same assignment this year, I was keen to find out what motivated Olivia to choose a podcast. The objective of the project is to create a piece of public history, an artifact that investigates migration in an exciting way that would attract a target audience. Olivia’s answer was simple: “because it seemed like the coolest thing to do”. She continued to say: “I’ve experimented with written formats before, but I’d never been given the opportunity to do a podcast for an academic module, so I liked the sound of that.” Olivia raises a valuable point; creative projects are not exactly commonplace in most humanities or STEM courses, and producing a podcast is even less heard of. It raises the question of whether more innovative formats like podcasts could be used to demonstrate skills and knowledge as effectively as traditional essays.

The story told in Not Really British is deeply personal for Olivia and tells a close family history

Olivia shared her process of creating the project, starting with a draft of the initial script which she developed in speaking to her mum over Skype. She recorded these conversations via her phone and used them to build “a skeleton of what the overall narrative was going to be”. Admitting that this audio format was not her forte, Olivia kept in mind throughout that she is “telling a story” through the podcast and tried to “imprint the model” of narrative writing into her production. Like many students, she used Audacity to put together the final result. After getting “better quality audio recording” while at home, Olivia pieced together her mum’s voice in between audio clips of politicians at the time.  

The story told in Not Really British is deeply personal for Olivia and tells a close family history. While this was not her original intention, Olivia shared that “it was really cool because as the project developed, it became something where I was learning about my own heritage, and I was learning things about my family that I’d never learned about before.” She pointed out that “it’s not really a conversation that you sit down and have with your mum unless you’re prompted to.” It is not very often that an academic project allows students to go on their own personal journey, but clearly, using a podcast as the vehicle of information, promotes investigation in new ways. The audio format does not lend itself well to the typical literature reviews and academic citations, forcing students to explain their narrative in an original manner.

Although we cannot hear Olivia in the podcast, her impact is clear in the production

Olivia diverts from the classic podcast format (at least in the shows I listen to) by having her mum tell her story without ever hearing Olivia’s voice or questions being asked. I asked whether this was a conscious choice or just something that developed naturally, to which she answered honestly: “I wanted it to centre on the first-hand voice of someone who’s an immigrant and I’m not an immigrant. I was born in England. I’ve grown up in England and … still now, I feel quite a sense of disconnect from my Sri Lankan heritage.” Olivia explained that her “priority going into it was to centre the podcast on an immigrant voice and quite simply, that wasn’t mine”. Although we cannot hear Olivia in the podcast, her impact is clear in the production of Not Really British. Her mum weaves narratives into a timeline for listeners, never really veering off on tangents or losing her train of thoughts, the evident mark of great direction and editing from Olivia. 

 Digging to find out her opinion of the podcast, I put out the question of whether Olivia would make any changes in hindsight. “If I could do a podcast that was a bit longer, or maybe do a second episode, it would call to bring other voices in.” She proposed “reflecting on the generational difference in the sense of identity that me and my mum share or don’t share” or even “interviewing other family members”. This suggestion falls in line with the published feedback from the competition begging for another instalment in the intriguing story, a premise I highly agree with after my initial listen.

The next time your tutor offers an alternative project, it’s worth considering a podcast

Olivia’s talent for building stories in an audio format, which is arguably harder than the written word, demonstrates keen ability. To conclude the interview, I wanted to know whether she would ever consider going into podcasts full-time or making it a long-term career plan. Laughing at my question, she shared that following graduation last summer, Olivia has decided to take the year off and figure out what she wants to do. She continued: “Since September or October last year, I began to think about doing another podcast on feminism and feminism within the workplace, interviewing lots of different women. …I wanted to kind of create a map. I suppose for people like me who are maybe just graduating and trying to figure out how they could do feminism, quote unquote, and how they can apply that to whatever career they choose and whatever different sector.” 

As a female finalist myself, the idea behind her podcast resonated with me and I would be eager to listen, especially if Olivia produces it in a similarly engaging way. While being a podcaster may not be a long-term career goal for many at Warwick, it is clear that this assignment had an impact on Olivia. An impact that not only developed tangible skills, but also allowed a student to explore a side of history which is not normally covered by distinct essay questions. The freedom to choose an assignment format has been successful in this case and inspired a whole new set of options, so perhaps the next time your tutor offers an alternative project, it’s worth considering a podcast. 


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