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The novelist behind a new uplifting BBC television drama will be sharing the skills behind her writing with students at the University of Leicester.

Kit de Waal, whose debut novel, My Name Is Leon, has been adapted for BBC Two, has become the University’s first Jean Humphreys Writer in Residence.

Picture: University of Leicester

The Humphreys Endowment will see the Birmingham-born author teaching and working with undergraduates and postgraduates on English courses.

After becoming a professional writer relatively late in life, Kit has gone on to pick up numerous literary awards, write for SKY/HBO, BBC Radio 4 and the stage, and has also been a judge for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

Birmingham-born Kit said: “As a proud Midlander, I’m delighted to be appointed as the first Jean Humphreys Writer in Residence at the University of Leicester.  

“Often overlooked and under-rated, the Midlands is full of character and heart, young, dynamic and a place where diversity is more than a word, it’s a way of life.   

“I came to reading and writing late in life, from a working class immigrant background and finally got around to university when I was 51.”   

Kit also had a message for existing and potential English students at the University. She said: “I hope I’m an inspiration to anyone who feels they may not belong, may not have what it takes, may not fit in. You do, and at the University of Leicester, I hope we can show you how.”

Dr Catherine Morley, Head of School of Arts, is delighted with the prospect of English students having the chance to work closely with such a high-profile novelist.

She said: “We are thrilled and honoured to have Kit De Waal joining us in the School of Arts and delighted that she is to be our inaugural Jean Humphreys Writer in Residence. 

“The warmth, humanity and beauty of Kit’s writing speak to the literary values at the heart of the English degrees at Leicester, valued embedded in the modules we teach and hope to impart to our students. 

“With her remarkable personal story, as well as her touching and profound fiction, she is an inspirational Citizen of Change.”

Kit’s time in the city will also see her be involved in Literary Leicester – the University’s annual free literary festival.

My Name is Leon, which was published in 2016, won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2017. Before beginning writing professionally, Kit worked for 15 years in criminal and family law and has also sat on adoption panels and advised social services on the care of foster children.

Kit’s second novel, The Trick to Time, was longlisted for The Women’s Prize. In 2019, she crowdfunded Common People, an anthology of working-class memoirs by new and established writers. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, she founded the Big Book Weekend, a free virtual literary festival which had an audience of 24,000.

The residency was made possible thanks to a £450k literary endowment fund, The Jean and Arthur Humphreys Fund, which aims to bring new academic expertise to the University’s English department later this year. The fund, which was announced at the Literary Leicester Festival in March 2022, will see students benefit from outstanding tuition in diverse literary studies and creative writing.