1. Tell us, in a nutshell, how you got your start in the industry.
I actually started my career by working in the “mens division” of a large publishing house writing porn for a number of years! Not exactly what I wanted to do be doing for a living, but by applying for the one job in publishing no one else wanted, I got my foot in the door and eventually made the move across to the food titles. While I was there, I began freelancing for various magazines within the building and eventually I was offered a job at Cosmo Brand Extensions. I was their features director when I left to go freelance in 2013 (actually we were all made redundant but that’s another story).
2. What were some of the difficulties you encountered when trying to establish yourself as a writer? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help?
My problem was unique in that after a couple of years in the industry I had nothing but a CV full of porn to show for myself. With that kind of background, no one wanted to give me the time of day. I distinctly remember having a meeting with one Chanel-clad magazine heavyweight and the way her eyes bulged when she looked over my portfolio. She couldn’t get me out of there fast enough! The only way out of it was to keep freelancing until I could create a whole new portfolio (sans penises) and start all over again.
I was fortunate enough to work with great people like Mark Dapin (then the editor of Ralph) who always took the time to sit with me and go over my copy with a red pen until it looked like I’d used that paper to mop up road kill. It felt brutal at the time, but it made me a much better writer.
3. What has been your biggest career highlight so far? And the biggest lesson you have learnt?
The biggest highlight for me was the moment I was offered a publishing deal. I had only sent in a few pages of something I was working on to Pan Macmillan’s slush pile and hadn’t really expected to hear back from them but only a few days later I was a signed author. I screamed like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert for a solid week.
Biggest lesson learnt? Get everything in writing and hoard the emails like precious jewels. Whether it’s the details of a commission, a detailed brief, talk of pay rates, permission or a request to do something, whatever – you never know when you’ll need the emails as proof should there be a disagreement or change in your work conditions.
4. What gets you inspired?
People. I’m endlessly interested in people’s stories and I spend a lot of time mulling over what makes a person tick and why they’ve made the choices they have. Fact truly is always stranger than fiction.
5. What’s next on your goals list?
I’ve started work on my third book and it’s quite a departure from my first two so we’ll see how that goes. I also have a couple of other projects I’m working on but sadly, they’re a bit secret squirrel at the moment.
6. What’s your typical day like?
I’m the mother of a one year old and a six year old so at the moment I work full-time from a shared office space three days a week and the rest of the time in the evenings after the girls go down for the night. IF it’s a school day, I’ll do the school run and then I’ll race to the office where I’m hot-desking to spend the day working which can mean anything from writing and editing stories, interviewing experts, emailing editors and pitching stories, researching and chasing down and locking in people to talk to.
I freelanced from home for the first year and I got tired of wearing jeans and t-shirts every day so I like to get dressed up. Also, I find I work better in a space where there’s a buzz and constant chatter (probably because I spent so long working in women’s lifestyle). I pick my six year old up from after school care at 6 (my husband does the childcare run) and then it’s the whole dinner/bath/bed routine before the laptop comes out and I continue either on my freelance work or my next book.
7. What advice can you offer to people who aspire to get into a similar role/field?
Work experience is essential (you knew I’d say that, right?). Not only will it give you some insight as to how the publishing industry works, you’ll make contacts and you’ll need plenty of those should you ever wish to go out on your own. Also, it’s obvious to be successful one needs to write well, but just as important is being reliable, likeable, flexible and professional. You may well write like Hunter S Thompson but if you behave like an asshole, everyone’s going to find out (the industry is surprisingly small) and eventually it will just be you and your increasingly silent phone.
The Speedy Six:
- Describe yourself in one word: Happy
- You wish you wrote: The Rosie Project (seriously brilliant)
- Can’t leave home without: Forgetting at least one important item (keys, wallet, phone)
- First thing you wrote: A series of rubbish poems in primary school. I probably rhymed love with dove. Sigh…
- If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. His business cards were far superior to the others’.
- The best thing about being a wordsmith: It doesn’t actually feel like a job.