With two novels to her name and a third under way, 23-year-old Sophie Hardcastle has a limitless appetite for writing and learning that has led her to receive a prestigious scholarship from the University of Oxford.
The SCA Bachelor of Visual Arts honours student at the University of Sydney has received one of three inaugural Provost Scholarships from the UK’s University of Oxford that were extended to students from six prominent Australian and New Zealand universities.
Commenting on Sophie’s scholarship win, SCA Associate Professor Ann Elias said: “Sophie has the vision and potential to serve humanity for many decades to come through her practice as a writer and artist. She has the drive and tenacity to achieve all the goals she sets herself. Her projects are always idealistic, aimed at raising awareness, changing consciousness, and improving the conditions for people to live their lives.”
The highly competitive scholarships provide an opportunity to study for a year at the University of Oxford, staying at Worcester College with subsidised meals and return flights to the UK. It is intended to give a student a pure learning and immersive Oxford University experience without the constraints of syllabus and exams.
A ferocious storyteller, Sophie was eight years old when she won a short-story competition and received an Oxford Dictionary. At 19 years of age she wrote her first book, Running Like China, which is a memoir and raw account of her experiences with type one bipolar disorder that received critical acclaim in the literary world for its lyricism and unapologetic honesty.
A year later, she wrote her second book Breathing Under Water that explores the way young people respond to and deal with grief. The debut novel published by Hachette was one of the best-selling young adult novels in Australia as recognised by Dymocks' Best Books of 2016, and longlisted for the 2017 Australian Indie Book Awards.
Sophie says her stories come from a place of emotional truth. “I want to contribute to the literary cannon of works that destigmatise issues, which need to be talked about and need context to be accepted.”
She sees the Oxford scholarship as an opportunity to deepen her understanding of language at the oldest university in the English-speaking world. “I need to study the great writers and philosophers who have come before me to contextualise my work.
The more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know, and that thrills me. I have a thirst for knowledge that I am always looking to quench.
The prerequisite for the Oxford scholarship is a student in their final year of an undergraduate degree in humanities and social sciences, who has achieved high academic excellence and is considered an ‘all-rounder’.
Sophie says she plans to take the scholarship in 2018, but not before she achieves her goal of graduating from SCA this year with first-class honours so that she can pursue a PhD in creative writing.
In February this year she travelled to Antarctica to take up an artist-in-residence on the Antarctic Peninsula with Chimu Adventures to research for her third book and honours thesis. She is investigating the role contemporary art could play in environmental activism and politics in Antarctica.
Sophie says she is deeply concerned about climate change and environmental degradation. “I want to write novels that will bridge the gap between science and the arts to make environmental science more accessible to the wider community.
“I see a year studying literature and philosophy at Oxford as the perfect stepping-stone to move into adult fiction with my next novel. In the coming decade, I hope to contribute impassioned stories to society,” she said.