2017: you’ve served me well

I thought I’d share my experiences of my first six months of being freelance and the rich variety and spice of life this has given me. One thing I’ve learnt (among many) is that self-promotion is very important so please permit me this indulgence. It’s been one helluva half year as a lone ranger.

I went to a 6am sober rave up The Shard, watched the sunrise and was lucky enough to call it work. I spoke on a panel. I was offered £20 to write an article and was offered £0 to write an article a couple of times too. There have been many interviews, coffees and events – some have led to work, some were dead ends (but I’ve learnt it’s always worth going). I had my own business cards made and plastered them all over my Instagram very excitedly. I landed a lot of work from replying to tweets and Facebook posts (the power of social media is very much real).

I was freelance arts editor at the app DOJO where I researched London exhibitions to write up.  I spent two weeks in Wales working from home home and walked the dog in my lunch break. I’ve continuously worked with ME v ME: the new British activewear brand. I’ve helped them with traditional PR (i.e. getting their stuff into newspapers/magazines) and influencer marketing (i.e. getting bloggers with lots of followers to wear their stuff and post a photo). I secured pieces in Stylist, Cosmopolitan, Dose, About Time and big shot influencers posted about the brand too. I’ve also been helping FizzArrow with their social media, including competitions and influencer marketing. We sent some products to Emma Gannon and she shared to her 16,000 followers, which was pretty exciting.

I’ve also been working with Salma El-Wardany who is a poet, entrepreneur, influencer and content marketing lady extraordinaire. I do monthly copywriting for her clients so this means anything from writing blog posts about VR or diversity, to transcribing interviews between two tech CEOs, to putting together Instagram captions for a wine start-up. I’ve also helped develop her influencer brand so she can start looking into collaborations.

Ever since my first week of being freelance, the lovely Tamsin Daniel has been bringing me on to help with her (ever growing) client base. Predominantly art PR, I’ve helped promote the new Banksy Basement, the Making Places art initiative in Waltham Forest (they’re turning the whole borough into an outdoor installation) and Roy’s People Art Fair, as well as exhibitions, artists and cafes. All amazing, creative clients (my bag) and really fun to work on.

The art/lifestyle PR agency Scott & Co took me on for five days. They have some incredible clients including Sushi Samba, Southplace Hotel and the RA. Funnily enough I really enjoyed being back in an office, as part of a very talented team, and they put me on some great influencer projects.

At digital marketing agency Harvest Digital, I’ve been working on a disability awareness video campaign for the past two months on a rolling contract. One of the three participants in the campaign is Umber Ghauri; an LGBTQ makeup artist who suffers from severe endometriosis. In the video she talks about how she “came out” as disabled and that seemed to really resonate with the media; it was picked up by pretty much every LGBTQ publication. It’s about labels and ladies and race and invisible illnesses and minorities and artists and women of colour and sexuality and identity and…bathrooms (but only if you look reaaallly closely).

I also have a new yoga teacher/meditation coach client who I’m helping by rewriting her website and developing her brand. It seems that – not necessarily on purpose – I’m moving into the ‘wellness’ sphere, which is a great space to be in at the moment (but trying to avoid the pretentious stuff to make it more accessible/bearable).

By December, I was overwhelmed by work and had to actually turn projects down. I was managing three inboxes and people were coming to me directly to offer work, including press trip invitations. I had compliments on my CV, which had never happened that often before, as I’ve got so much to cram into it. Finally people are recognising variety as a good thing (goodbye pigeon hole). I’ve kept on top of updating my website regularly. I’ve set up a Contently. I’ve issued 30 invoices since June.

2017 has also been pretty mad in terms of travelling and my carbon footprint (the guilt the guilt but the fun the fun) as I went abroad 10 out of the 12 months. It looked a little something like this:

January – Went to Seoul to see my old uni pal who is there teaching English. It was bloody cold. South Korea is a strange place. I got some great clothes and accidentally ate meat.
FebruaryTokyo with said friend and giant boyfriend. Their heights and combined blonde locks caused quite a stir amongst the tiny old Japanese ladies and it was hilarious to watch. Stayed in a capsule hotel. Probably the most amazing city I’ve ever been to.
March – I went skiing in California for work (“skiing in California?! For work?!”) Four years in travel PR definitely had its perks. I tried to ski (badly) and fell completely, utterly in love with San Francisco (all the rumours are true – it is as incredible as they say).
April – Stayed in my friend’s AirBnB in Dalarna, Sweden. They chopped wood, I drank a lot and stayed pretty sedated the entire time. We saw the season change literally overnight, which was magical. I still dream about those runs – the air was so delicious. I was curious about the history behind the wooden houses, did some digging and ended up writing about Sweden’s timber heritage for Aesthetica.
May – Didn’t go anywhere but did EMBARK on my freelance journey…
June – Booked onto a spontaneous trip to Cuba with my beloved sister and our friend who, I’m pretty sure, wanted to kill use by the end. Became addicted to Pina Coladas, spoke a lot of bad Spanish, saw some beautiful buildings. I’ve had ‘Despacito’ in my head ever since.
July – Went to Sofia with my sister. Wrote about the burgeoning art scene for Amuse. Bought some great clothes (three kimonos for £1.50 in case you’re interested).
August – Ticked off my TENTH consecutive Green Man Festival back at home in Wales. Does that count as travelling? I’m still 100% sure the Brecon Beacons is the most beautiful place on the planet, so, yes.
September – I was sent to Sri Lanka to review the Owl and Pussycat Hotel, which was just so incredible. Made some lovely new industry friends. Drank a lot of Arrak. Scouted out a yoga Shala. Wrote about it for Amuse.
October – Headed to the Buergenstock Resort in Switzerland, which has reopened after nine years of renovation. Audrey Hepburn got married there so I was expecting nothing short of sublime but those views… When they opened my room door I burst into tears in a true “I can’t believe I can stay here and call it work” moment. Met some lovely American journalists, one of whom had the NY Times logo tattooed on his arm. Wrote about it for Amuse.
November – SUITCASE (I adore the mag and the team) sent me to the gorgeous Caudalie spa hotel near Bordeaux. Went on the EuroStar for the first time. Was given a ‘vinotherapy’ facial and some lovely freebies to take with me. Drank gallons of wine (in a chic French way). Tried to translate bits here and there (finally my degree came in use). Wrote about it here. Also went to Budapest and pruned up in the baths – wrote about it for Amuse.
December – Settled down. Worked very hard. And finally it was Christmas.

So what’s on for 2018? I’m copywriting the website for Casio’s new watch (great agency and great brand). They loved my portfolio and picked me out of a long list of freelance copywriters, which is always good to hear. I also might be working on an amateur photographer festival, which would be fun. Followed by a month long trip in February to Canada and California; a ‘winter without the ski’ themed press trip to Quebec writing for The Week (fanchy) followed by a week in Montreal. Then to LA and Modernism Week to write for The Spaces about beautiful houses in Palm Springs then back to beloved San Francisco. Also seeing some California friends who I miss dearly.

You read so many “how to do a job you love!” articles and it turns out, for me, the trick was doing lots of different jobs and never knowing what’s around the corner. Here’s to an amazing 2018 of freelance freedom.

London’s summer exhibitions: my top 3 to see

In my opinion London truly blossoms during the summer exhibition season. Look beyond the Serpentine and the RA to my top picks:

 

A Museum of Modern Nature at The Wellcome Collection

It’s easy to forget about old Mother Nature as a city that pays more attention to packaged kale than park greenery, but this exhibition reminds us of our lush surroundings, found even in this smog-filled metropolis.

To demonstrate how we relate to nature, The Wellcome Collection have nicked 56 random objects from members of the public to present as an exhibition. Jokes aside, this touching personal collection of quotidien trinkets aims to confront huge global concerns about the environment. By localising our nostalgic connection with nature, The Wellcome Collection hopes to inspire action.

Designing Freedom at The Design Museum

That iPhone you’re tapping away on? Made in California. The Uber you drunk ordered last night, the Facebook status you scoffed at, the Pride flag you lugged around during the march? All made in California. Since the 1960s, whether we like it or not, the Golden State has creeped into our staunch British lives through technology, activism and art as a place that truly pioneers pop culture.

This exhibition looks at game-changing inventions and revolutionary opinions hailing from the West Coast and how they’ve influenced the modern day, from emojis to LSD.

Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors at The Gagosian Gallery

When we think of Picasso we picture distorted faces and mangled geometrics, but here The Gagosian Gallery delves deep into the artist’s connection to the Spanish cult of the bull. This special collection of paintings, drawings, ceramics, and film invites Picasso fans to look beyond the iconic Cubist canvases to the wider context of (some bizarre) Spanish customs. All that aside, the peculiar photos of the famous artist dressed up as a bull make it worth a visit alone.

From mythologies to monsters, here you’ll learn about Picasso’s slightly creepy obsession with this Mediterranean tradition and how it translates into his symbolism. I mean, the guy really liked bulls.

Thoughts on ambition

I’ve been thinking a lot about ambition recently and what it means. During my last review I was praised for being “so ambitious” and I was surprised as, to me, this seems obvious as ambition isn’t a conscious choice – it’s second nature – and really it represents a form of dissatisfaction.

This subject has been top of my mind over the last few weeks and I’ve noticed a lot of rhetoric around ambition in various forms. Listening to Emma Gannon’s podcast, she believes ambition is the feeling of being unsettled once a project is finished. It’s the tick box addiction; once one task is completed- no matter how perfectly – you’re thinking about the next challenge. I’ve just started reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (which is amazing) and this passage about life in New York really stuck out:

“Ambition is my only religion” JB had told him late one beery night… Only here did you feel compelled to somehow justify anything short of rapidity for your career; only here did you have to apologize for having faith  in something other than yourself.

The sphere of London’s career climbing community drives us forward; this group of people are constantly striving towards the next step. The city is full of professionals who are experts in their field – the best in the world – and some who are struggling financially or sacrificing quality of life for that incredible job opportunity. To me, the city’s rhythm sounds like a stomach grumbling, aching for satiation.

For the love of cycling

Over Christmas I read Messengers by Julian Sayarer, a book full of stories – sometimes scathing – of the capital from life as a courier. The whole book perfectly encapsulated the elation of zipping around the city on two wheels, making me want to hop on my own trusty bike. I cycled everywhere when I was a student in Manchester (on a rusty maroon Raleigh that seemed to suffer a puncture every week) and when I moved to London I was adamant I would do the same regardless of the higher risk and even denser traffic. Buying a bike would definitely be my number one piece of advice for anyone moving to the city, or for anyone finding the capital a bit overwhelming. Here’s why:

1. Exercise – never mind fitting the gym into your busy week or rushing after work to a fitness class, the beauty of cycling is that you’re simply getting from A to B and it happens to be exercise. I cycle at least an hour a day as my commute is around 5 miles. Admittedly, the gradients aren’t much of a struggle and there’s too much traffic and people to gain real speed, but it certainly beats sitting on the tube. Before 9am everyday I’ve already had 20-30 minutes of exercise in the fresh air, blood pumping and limbs moving, preparing my body for a day of sitting down.

2. Morning meditation – ‘mindfulness’ is the biggest trend to hit London and although I’m a yoga obsessive, I find it too hard to commit to a Headspace meditation every morning (no matter how soothing Andy Puddicombe’s voice). After thinking about this, I realised cycling is my meditation. I’m silent, completely locked into my own thoughts and avoiding collision keeps my mind alert first thing in the morning. Working in communications, I’ve realised this peaceful part of my day is vital to keeping me sane.

3. Freedom – I often spend entire weekends exploring London on my bike. I’ll zip from yoga class to lunch with a friend, west to a gallery, east to the pub or back up north to the cinema. Tube issues or slow buses don’t affect me and I’m not restricted by TFL timetables.

4. Speed – cycling really is the quickest way to get around. A couple of my friends have taken to podcast fuelled walks, but I don’t have the patience for that. A bike has the speed of the road but the flexibility of the pavement (if necessary) so niftily weaving through traffic means I am always on time.

5. Money – it would cost me £6.20 to commute to work and back each day, not to mention evening plans. Although bikes do come at an expense (brakes, punctures, kit, new tyres and the bike itself) I know I have saved hundreds over the years. I’ve also learnt basic skills in how to fix my loyal mechanical contraption (with the help of many YouTube tutorials).

Of course there are negatives…

1. Clothes – as a woman travelling by bike certain items of clothing should be avoided: heels, short skirts/dresses, tight jeans, smart shirts (or anything white for that matter). This means I am less creative with how I dress, but it’s a small price to pay. I’d rather feel good inside than just look good. My usual attire is waterproof coat, boots, rucksack and anything I don’t mind getting dirty. I pack my outfit for work every morning, changing at the office, meaning sometimes the full ensemble of these haphazard selections can be… interesting.

2. Forever sweaty – gone are the days I would arrive at social events with immaculate make up and perfectly put together outfit, now I’m in a perpetual state of sweat. However, these dewy beads remind me of my improved level of fitness and now my friends would expect no less than a panting, damp guest.

3. Spontaneity – there have been times during my years in London where I’ve had to turn down a night out or head home early because I’m burdened with my bike and cannot risk a drunk cycle home. But, again, health over hangover is not a bad trade.

4. Excuses excuses – I scowl at colleagues who blame “tube issues” on their tardiness. I do not have this luxury. I also have no excuse to work from home in the case of a tube strike.

5. Weather – I can plan ahead, but living in Britain means it’s inevitable I will get stuck in a downpour every so often. I mean, desperately trying to escape the rain and the cold as quickly as possible just makes me pedal faster.

However, these are small sacrifices to make for the childish joy I get from flying down my steep road every morning, until I remember I have to puff and pant back up it 10 hours later…

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(I’ve now upgraded to a beautiful Bobbin!)

Side projects: the secret motivation

This month I’ve had a revelation. If you’re craving more of a creative output outside of 9-6 restrictions, you’re looking to learn a new skill beyond your job title or you just want an excuse to spend more time with an inspiring friend who shares the same hobby, side projects are the way forward.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve embarked on a yoga project with my friend/colleague. Within 10 days we’d pencilled a business plan, executed market research and already looked into freelancers and industry contacts (and friends) who could help. We may not become famous entrepreneurs (although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t day dream about it) but I’ve realised that getting really stuck into a project is a fantastic way to keep motivated. In order to get this project off the ground, I’ll have to learn design skills, how to build and manage a website and maybe even how to code (god help me).

If nothing else, this new endeavour has shown me what an incredible pool of talented contacts/friends I have available in London. I’ve been overwhelmed by the advice and support I have found by talking to people about the idea in my kitchen, at the pub, at networking events or even (sneakily) during my day job.

Run as fast as you can from stuff you hate. Patiently do interesting things whether or not you get paid for it – says this Medium blog.

On top of this, I’ve begun approaching editors with freelance writing ideas. I’ve already received two commissions and an offer to help build up my portfolio. The next few months are going to be manic, did I mention I also have a demanding full time job?

If you’re interested in yoga, would like to help us out and have a spare 10 mins to answer some questions, please get in touch!

 

The Independent and the digital revolution

Last night I went to a London Press Club event at The Independent to hear from their Digital Editor, Christian Broughton.

This subject intrigues me as my opinion on newspapers turning digital-only has recently changed. I used to be a self-confessed luddite, buying a Guardian every Saturday, a gesture to help keep the traditional media industry alive. Even though I knew these articles were available online already, this was my stubborn act of loyalty. I also had a nostalgic, sensory connection with with this routine; I loved the smell of the ink and that lovely crumpling sound of the paper and I would proudly stand over the spread of all the supplements over my bed laid ready for me to dissect and digest.

However, recently I’ve stopped buying newspapers. One of the reasons (an obvious one) is the environment, and the other is I simply have less time. I have become one of those flickering eyed, hungry readers who jumps from story to story, and will abandon an article if it doesn’t grab my attention within the first two sentences. The nature of this new way of reading means the Guardian online is an easier way to be selective of the content I read; the most important – or most read – articles are presented first on the page.

According to Broughton, they closed the Independent for survival, and for love. The team behind the decision needed to ensure it would still exist in 30 years time. And it seems to be working as revenue is up 50% year on year, which Broughton claims is a result of now concentrating their efforts on one thing: the website. Broughton also talked about his opinions on advertising – he claims there are other more clever and less aggressive ways to make money – and his admiration for modern media (turns out he’s a huge fan of VICE).

Broughton urges us to realise the digital age is here and The Independent’s controversial decision simply meant staying ahead of the game, not admitting defeat.

Dead Life Drawing

The Tate Modern’s Georgia O’Keefe was naturally full of crowdpleasers (her famous flowers and lively New York cityscapes) but the seemingly anomaly series on bones set in New Mexico’s desert was my favourite part of the exhibition. The harsh monochrome forms contrasted the colourful backgrounds in such a way the inanimate skeletons seemed to jump off the page.

Every month London’s Museum of Zoology put on (and usually sell out) an art class called Dead Life Drawing and this month I finally got a ticket. I’ve wanted to try this out for a while, especially after reading this O’Keefe quote at the Tate:

“The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive…and knows no kindness with all its beauty” – Georgia O’Keefe

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Our small group (of all drawing abilities) were guided by an artist who encouraged us to try new techniques, such as brash and unforgiving felt tips. Our patient subjects were the intricate fossils, skeletons and taxidermy of the museum’s creepy collection, which we had all to ourselves. As someone who is used to drawing naked humans with an easily erasable pencil, this certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Definitely signing up to the next one.

 

Ian McEwan in Conversation

On August Bank Holiday I went to a Guardian Live event to hear Ian McEwan talk about his new book: Nutshell. The story is a clever take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (nothing new) and told from the perspective of a foetus (you’ve got us there).

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The interviewer plucked out some wonderfully disconcerting play on words, such as the protagonist contemplating “life after birth” and discussing “the miscarriage of justice.” When questioned on his writing process, McEwan urges us to listen to people and our dialogue as it’s never linear; we interrupt, we pile sentence upon sentence and fail to finish. The novel also questions the idea of gender, a subject at the forefront of modern society, as the foetus expresses disappointment at having only two possible outcomes.

McEwan has perfected people led stories with a clear cut turn of events – action followed by result – and we, as readers, fall for his compelling domino effect every time.

How the EU helped set me apart

The EU kickstarted my career.

I was lucky enough to live in Paris whilst completing my degree; a year which was paramount to reaching fluency. In turn this gave me a foot up in my career in the travel industry, which I began a year later.

With frankly little effort on my part as a 20 year old student (albeit a couple of disgruntled tutor meetings and a few forms to fill in) I was welcomed with open arms into France to study at one of the most prestigious, historic universities in the world: The Sorbonne.

With the UK leaving the EU it feels like we haven’t kept up our endpart of the deal in the close, reciprocal relationship we have with our French voisins.

It was the Erasmus experience, not the sparse contact hours in Manchester, which helped me reach fluency in French. Being from a country so linguistically lethargic I know it is always this language skill in my CV that halts the skimming eyes of potential employers.

For my generation it’s becoming more difficult to stand out in a working world evermore crowded with desperate graduates. I know plenty of people whose lives were enriched by their year abroad and who use their language skills in their careers. Take, for example, a couple of friends, now French teachers, or my flat mate, who speaks Spanish every day whilst working for a luxury hotel company. There is nothing quite as gratifying as when a sentence in a second language rolls off the tongue; this cannot be achieved without living, breathing and dreaming in another country for a long length of time. Unfortunately this opportunity will no longer be so readily available to future language students.

As The Telegraph confirms:

Academics have also warned that Brexit would restrict movement of UK students. Over 200,000 British students have benefited from the Erasmus exchange programme, which provides funds for undergraduates to travel to EU countries to study as part of their degree. According to Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts, London, leaving the EU would make this travel a lot harder.

“We’ve had a 50 per cent increase in the number of our students going abroad to study under the Erasmus programme over the last three years,” he said. “Obviously, they can do this because of the funding that is available through the EU’s Erasmus programme. Without Erasmus we would have major problems in terms of enabling our students to study overseas.”

Brexit has broken my heart.

 

Yoga review: Rebel Studio

What’s it all about?

A powerful new yoga duo are opening a studio in Kings Cross in September, offering something fresh in London’s burgeoning yoga community.

Why’s it different?

Rebel Studio was founded by ex-dancer Jacqui Hooper and osteopath Bernie Russell and their combined skills make for a unique, slow sequence practiced to music (think rocket yoga energy teamed with tai-chi control). The two teachers lead the classes at the same time, which means one teacher guides whilst the other scours the room with hands-on adjustments if needed. Each student receives quality guidance and personal encouragement for each pose. The class also finishes with a 10 minute neck massage for each student – what’s not to love?!

Who does it suit?
The level is intermediate – with options for easier or harder variations – but classes will always be kept to 22 maximum so each student is guaranteed enough individual care and attention.

Where can I do it?
Rebel Studio currently teach 1.5 hour sessions at The Place (Euston) on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, charging an £18 drop-in fee with cheaper package options available. In April, Rebel Studio launched a Crowdfunder campaign to open their own boutique studio in Kings Cross. They made £10,540 of their original £7,000 target in 21 days:

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