The Side Hustle: Hazel Monforton

As if a PhD in English Literature wasn't enough, today's Side Hustler, Hazel Monforton, writes video games too. Here's an insight into the video game world, including Hazel's writing for Arkane Studios' Dishonored.

20th July 2017
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Hi Hazel. What's your day job?

I’m a PhD student in English Literature at the University of Durham, researching violence and mimesis in the novels of Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter. My work right now is very solitary — whilst I tutored undergraduates in literature during term time, I’m in the final stages of the doctorate, which is mostly shutting myself in and writing all day. I’m aiming to submit in September.

And what's your side hustle?

I’ve done some work in and around video games, and my biggest credit is writing for Dishonored: Death of the Outsider by Arkane Studios. Before that, I’d written short articles on games for PC Gamer and Unwinnable.


How did you get into writing video games?

Twitter is a powerful networking tool. Years ago, I’d started asking Harvey Smith, the co-creative director of Dishonored and the creative director of Dishonored 2, questions about the series. Eventually we became friends, and after criticizing some parts of the games and the tie-in novel, he asked if I wanted to contribute in some way. He eventually asked me to submit writing samples in the aim of working on Death of The Outsider. He was on board, but he still had to convince other people on the team that I, someone with no experience but a lot of enthusiasm, was a good fit! While it was a small project and I had a lot of passion for it, I can’t pretend luck wasn’t a part of how I got the job.

When I was asked to send in my writing samples, I had already written an article for PC Gamer titled ‘Understanding the Outsider, Dishonored’s Misunderstood God’, which explained some of my thoughts about the themes of violence and sacrifice I think are present in the series. I think that was helpful in demonstrating that I understood the game’s themes with enough depth to contribute.

Working with the talented people at Arkane was a fantastic experience and I’m eternally grateful they gave me this opportunity. But keep in mind I can only speak to my own experience; there are a lot of paths to working in the video game industry, and a lot of people find their own way after doing lots of other things. For many it starts as a side hustle that turns into a fulltime job! Others go and get degrees for it and are hired after that. I’ve only written for one game so far, but hopefully I can do more! PhD first, of course.

The Side Hustle Hazel Monforton Books

How do you balance your time?

To be honest, I didn’t for a long time. I put the thesis on hold for four months while I worked on Death of The Outsider. At first I tried to balance it, but switching between creative and academic writing was too difficult, and I had to change tactics. So when my contract period with Arkane was finished, I went back to my PhD. Right now I have a couple of other pieces on as well, and for my handful of other, non-thesis projects, try to set a designated day and get as much done as possible. Then I go right back into the thesis for the rest of the week.

What or who inspires your work?

I have to say Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter here. You don’t read and write on two authors for four years without being influenced by them creatively. But I have academic inspirations too: Tammy Clewell, Carolyn Walker Bynum, Rachel Bowlby, and Patricia Waugh (my supervisor) have all inspired me with their clear writing, academic rigor, and high level of research. They all remind me why I pursued a PhD in the first place.

I also take inspiration from video games. Life is Strange, Oxenfree, Inside, Bloodborne, and Dishonored all possess wonderful storytelling and compelling themes. I think these games are wonderful examples of what video game narratives can be.

(I should mention, as well, that in advance of writing for Death of the Outsider I reread pieces of the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake in anticipation. His prose definitely inspired me for some of the writing I did for Arkane.)

What's your most played album lately?

I have a big crush on Chelsea Wolfe, and I’ve been listening to her album Abyss in anticipation of Hiss Spun coming out in September. Otherwise I’ve made a handful of playlists to listen to while writing, including one that’s witch themed—all dark folk with female vocalists. It helps me channel the muse.

What are three things you love?

Coffee, Twitter, Stardew Valley. One helps me start my day, the other helps me get through the day, and the last helps me relax at the end of the day. (Wine too, but no one needs to know that.)

Next country you'd like to visit that you've never been to and why?

I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. Beyond the obvious reasons (the food, the history, experiencing a different culture, visiting some long-distance friends), Japan had a massive influence in Angela Carter’s writing after she lived there for several months in the sixties and seventies. While obviously it’s no longer the same Tokyo she visited, it would still be amazing to experience that for myself.

If you’re feeling Dishonored you can see more stunning gameplay imagery here.

If you’ve got a passion project and would like to be featured in The Side Hustle series, let us know!

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