A year ago, on July 7th 2016, my first book came out. It was a hugely exciting moment for me. Proof that blogging my guts out for 8 years had paid off a bit, proof that I could actually write 80,000 words, proof that my crazy childish dream could come true.
Six months prior to my book being on shelves I had quit my “dream job”. I had saved money I made from my job plus my “side-hustles” (late night freelancing/blogging/consulting for small businesses) that could tide me over for a couple of months. The advance I got for my book deal allowed me some breathing space too. So I decided to put my all into my writing and creating on my own platforms. I left the job my 14-year-old self would have killed for. Because, in a moment of insanity/sanity(?) I truly truly believed it would be a better idea to put all my faith into myself, and not into a corporation. I truly believed that wrapping myself in my own business model, my own schedule and my own big plans could pay off. It would be rude not to reach for the stars and at least try. If I failed, I could go back to the 9-5, I thought.
People often think it sounds crazy to have side-businesses while working full-time. The truth is, it is insane. It can definitely lead to burn-out. But I wanted to see where it could lead me. I knew it wouldn’t be forever. I watched my dad work his arse off every day from having nothing to building his own successful business, and I saw the sacrifices he made along the way. He is my role model in many ways. My dad wasn’t as privileged as me growing up. He didn’t have the big garden and the private school. No, he had the opposite of that. My nan and granddad told him “people like us don’t go to University”, it wasn’t a thing at the time for them to naturally consider. He was the first to do many things, and he had to give up so much along the way. If I couldn’t go to the pub with my friends for a couple of Sundays, or missed out on my favourite TV show, so be it. My dad’s endless work meant I could go to an amazing school during my teen and older years. I’m am aware of my huge privilege, so I wanted to use it. Do something with it. Have a mission. I had to lay those foundations by sacrificing every speck of my free time. DO. THE. WORK.
Where am I now? Does publishing a book or [enter personal dream scenario] change your life? What do you do after all the hubbub dies down?
Well, firstly I do schedule in proper time-off now. Self-care isn’t only #OnTrend but absolutely bloody necessary. Book-wise, there are things I would do differently in hindsight. One day I’ll write about all of that, the moments of anxiety, the bitterness and disappointment, the highs, the lows. Let’s just say I feel equipped to pass on little nuggets of “here’s what NOT to do” if anyone fancied pulling up a pew. I also learned the benefits of being an author and what it adds to your professional life. It’s not just about the book, it’s about how you discuss your book afterwards and where you “fit in” to the industry. It allows you to really feel confident about your niche. After my book came out I could confidently say “this is my thing” with my fists slightly clenched.
The book led to some dream tick-list speaking gigs: a TEDx talk, a debate at the Oxford Union, a panel at the London School of Economics. It also led to some “out of my comfort zone” situations, namely speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival where someone in a raincoat yelled at me. One of the themes of 2016’s festival was “Millennials” and let’s just say it led to a lot of eye-rolling from older members of the audience who didn’t understand why young women take so many selfies. Cool.
It also led me to starting a podcast also called Ctrl Alt Delete which has grown into a beast of it’s own. I used to get so excited to get to interview people on behalf of magazines. The thing is with magazines though, is you are always limited and you always have to get sign off at the end. The editor might change the headline or ask you to chop out the bit you loved the most. I remember when I interviewed Kate Winslet alongside some other colleagues and we had to tweet out her answers and you couldn’t get the humour or the slightly aggy tone across in 140 characters. She was brilliant, one minute laughing and joking, then next going totally frosty if you asked what she got for Leonardo DiCaprio for his birthday. She said she didn’t allow her daughters to go on the Internet because she was worried about how much social media triggers eating disorders. If I was allowed to just chat to her I would have asked her so many more questions about that, but we had to move on to what her favourite outfit from Titanic was.
All I’m saying is, podcasting allows you the freedom to chat without any sort of agenda, or any interest in clickbait or sensationalist front-page news. I don’t call myself a journalist anymore for this reason, I don’t know what I am, but I don’t feel like a journalist. I’ll leave the journalism to the journalists. I’m just a woman with a microphone and low-level anxiety wanting to gain some sort of real connection with the person I’m in the room with. I was inspired to start my podcast after seeing Liz Gilbert start hers. She said that after she finished writing her creative manual Big Magic she “wasn’t done” with the subject matter so thought she’d use audio to carry on the conversation. So that’s what I did. And 80+ episodes on (I was only planning to do 6!) I have interviewed some of my absolute heros. Liz Gilbert herself, Cheryl Strayed, Rowan Blanchard, Seth Godin, Gillian Anderson, Tavi Gevinson, Lena Dunham. I have interviewed some of the people I would have killed to interview for any magazine. To have monetised a platform of my own that brings me so much joy is more than I could have ever asked for. I was invited last month to the BBC Academy to talk about podcasting and online brand-building – it’s moments like this I realise the power your own platforms can bring and how other bigger organisations often actually want to learn from you.
I signed to Alight Talent Agency at the end of last year and it’s changed everything. Kim, my manager, is my sounding board. She helps me make decisions that will benefit and add longevity to my career, she bounces ideas around with me and helps me say “no” to things I don’t want to do. I’m getting so good at saying “no”, you guys.
I’ve hardly worked with any brands over the 8 years I’ve had this blog. I’ve worked with lots of travel companies unpaid (I got to work with my dream travel brand Visit California this year) and I’ve reviewed free theatre tickets, restaurants and maybe the odd slogan t-shirt. But I’ve turned down countless brand offers over the years because they never felt right. I’m not a fashion blogger. I’m not into beauty products really. I just waited it out, while all my friends worked with amazing brands that were right for them. But it all worked out and I’m glad I bided my time, because this year was the year I signed a contract to work with MICROSOFT. A brand that fits so seamlessly into my life. And not just any old brand partnership either: a proper TV advert that played in front of Wonder Woman in the cinemas and playing during mainstream TV shows like Love Island (my fave) and Britain’s Got Talent. A huge brand who wanted to champion a young woman who loves technology and has a untraditional multi-hyphenate career. That’s. So. Cool. Of. Them.
There are so many projects in the pipeline. TV. Radio. Brands. Scripts. Podcasts. Talk shows. I love all this stuff and I’m absolutely buzzing with excitement. This stuff aside though, I miss writing. I write my newsletter of course, on this blog occasionally, and for many websites who commission me. But I can’t wait to hole myself up for the rest of this year, and write something longer again. My lovely old agent Robyn (who is now my friend and got me my first book deal) left her agenting job last year (sob) to go and work at Penguin. So my awesome news is I’ve now signed with GLEAM’s new literary division. GLEAM are at the top top top of their game right now and I’m excited about the future. I love the feeling of a huge looming deadline and maybe that makes me slightly mad. But, bring it on.
Is there a plan for the *future*? This is the question people like to ask other people, isn’t it. It normally makes people feel anxious. Top tip: maybe don’t ask it. I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight, let alone next week, LET ALONE MY FUTURE LIFE. I don’t have a bloody clue. Isn’t that the point of it all? I’m sure there’s some cheesy quote somewhere about it being about the journey not the destination.
So, the plan remains the same. To write, to make, to remember what I enjoy and not get distracted too much by the shiny things. Because it’s not about the shiny things. It’s not about the “likes” or the fancy hotel pillows. It’s about keeping that fire in your belly alive, because once that goes, it all goes.