Ashleigh Mounser says she started writing before she could even hold a pen, “I used to write stories that were just scribble and my mum would have to ask me to read them aloud.” Her passion continued throughout primary school where she received a number of literacy awards, and was often admonished for reading books instead of learning fractions.
At Kincumber High School she began to double down on her writing and finished her first novel in 2008, aged 14. Ashleigh was signed with a literary agent, Sheila Drummond, and continued to work on rewrites with the help of a professional editor throughout high school.
At sixteen, Ashleigh turned her attention to entering writing competitions, encouraged by her English teachers. “I won a Campion College essay writing competition on the greatest leader in history. I wrote about Socrates who was put to death for ‘corrupting’ the youth with education, and how he inspired me to become as corrupted as possible throughout my own education.” Ashleigh started to enter dozens of competitions each year and received awards (as well as occasional publication and cash prizes) in the Melbourne University Time to Write competition, the Future Leaders competition, and the Henry Handel Richardson Awards.
Ashleigh studied Advanced English, Extension 1 English, Extension 2 English, Modern History, Art and Society and Culture. She received enormous support from her bevy of English teachers who read countless drafts and encouraged Ashleigh to pursue her love of writing. They encouraged her enter the prestigious Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year competition.
"... once you know what you love, the next step is working out how to make the thing you love into a career."
Hundreds of private and public school students across NSW and ACT sent in their best stories in the hope of being named Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year in 2012, but the honour went to this Kincumber High School student. The prize led to speaking engagements at writers festivals, and an artistic grant from Bouddi Foundation of the Arts, chaired by John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company.
Despite this, Ashleigh says she became disheartened in the middle of her exams, “I was set to do a Writing and Technology Course at UTS and in the middle of my exams, I realised I just wasn’t that excited about it. At the end of the day, all I really wanted to do was write.” Ashleigh set up a meeting with the careers counsellor, Mr. Fortey, who organised for her to visit the University of Wollongong. “I really didn’t want to love it. At the time, I thought it was so far away from home, and it would be so expensive to move out, but my visit was amazing. I met my course co-ordinator for the first time and the faculty was incredible, the campus was beautiful. Wollongong is the perfect city for students. I switched my preferences around and hoped I’d get the academic scholarship I needed to relocate.”
Ashleigh received a high ATAR and was offered academic scholarships from the University of Sydney and the University of Wollongong. She was enrolled in a Bachelors of Creative Writing as a Deans Scholar at Wollongong. Ashleigh says it was the best thing she’s ever done, “I’m still so grateful that I said something when I did, that I got the grades I needed and that I had been named Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year, which definitely gave me an edge over other candidates. If I hadn’t gone to Wollongong, I wouldn’t have the amazing friends, contacts and experiences that I’ve had in the last four years."
The course introduced Ashleigh to other kinds and techniques of writing, as well as introducing her to other young writers. It broadened her horizons, as she took on electives concerning philosophy, Australian Literature and history.
Ashleigh spent a semester of her degree in Miami, where she learnt screenwriting under Thomas Musca, writer of Oscar nominated ‘Stand and Deliver.’ Her course project, ‘Questions and Comments’ was filmed in February 2016 as part of a graduate student’s thesis. Ashleigh says accidentally enrolling in a graduate film class was a happy coincidence, “American course codes are confusing and I didn’t realise how advanced the class was, but once I learnt how to write films, I loved it and it’s been my focus ever since."
Ashleigh graduated from her Bachelors in 2016 with distinction and is currently studying a Graduate Certificate of Screenwriting at the Australian School of Film, Television and Radio.
Ashleigh says that high school is all about trying things on; "I tried on history and cultural studies, and even art, but I always came back to writing. And once you know what you love, the next step is working out how to make the thing you love into a career."