Not long ago I decided that I like running and cycling so much that I wanted to make a living out of it and become a freelance sportswriter and editor. This isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to make money out of doing something I love and I learnt a lot from that first attempt at freelance.
(Life story alert!)
When I left university (ten years ago), I chose a career in travel writing and did it for four years, eventually returning to London at the age of 26. I gained a lot of life experience along the way but when I got back to the UK, I knew that I had set off as a freelancer too young and needed to spend some time within a company learning about how the business world works. Fast-forward five years and I am trying my hand at being a freelance writer again, this time in the women’s sports industry and this time with a lot more business experience behind me. Naturally I look back to my first attempt at freelance, assessing what I gained from it and how I have changed ten years on.
How did I sustain myself the first time?
After an unconventional internship on West Africa paper in Ghana, (which is a whole-nother story) my main writing contract was from the travel publishing company, Rough Guides. Working as a freelance guidebook writer was definitely not a secure career but I got by doing virtually everything and anything to earn some pennies in between books.
Trekking in Thailand as a travel journalist
I lived in Africa, France, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia travelling on my own, selling my writing and working in bars, offices, on farms as a farm hand, on boats as a deckhand. Some jobs I earned below minimum wage and struggled enormously and others I got very lucky with. My time on farms was varied but always challenging. Being a fruitpicker in Queensland was an experience. I laboured over rows of soil, planting thousands and thousands of strawberries for very little return. I had better farm jobs though, like when I was working as a courgette picker for several months on a farm near Tamworth in New South Wales. I began with no agricultural experience (I was raised in London) and by the end of my time I had gained responsibilities that I wanted to deliver on. It made me understand the value of hard work in the physical sense. You can’t not go to work one day because you feel a bit off. Courgettes won’t read your sick note.
Working at the farm
I also spent seven months working on a boat in the Indian Ocean harvesting pearls. The pearling industry is a wealthy one and to be frank, the most I ever earned during the four years came from this one job alone. It was hard work, I didn’t think manual labour could get more taxing after the farm until I set sail off the coast of Darwin on my 25th birthday, 2009.
We did one-month on, three days off, working 12 hours a day chipping the sides off oyster shells, scrubbing the shells clean, constantly lifting and passing heavy panels full of oysters and winching them out of the sea to extract the pearls that had formed already. I was nearly always covered in dredge from the bottom of the ocean including my ultimate nemisis – fireweed! Luckily I had some awesome outfits including this one pictured here to protect me although it was quite a stifling get-up in the heat of the Kimberleys.
Sea sickness was an issue for many deckhands in the first few weeks. People would just be lying on the deck doubled over and the ones of us who were managing to hold it in would carry on working over them. But, as with the farm and despite suffering from cabin fever a little, I started to find my sea legs and got physically stronger and mentally tougher. It’s a very male industry and I wanted to prove that I was tough enough to be on board and put in as much elbow grease as my male colleagues. There was no room for slacking on deck, if you weren’t pulling your weight, there were plenty of other people who wanted your job back on land. I felt extra pressure to save face and go above and beyond and it eventually paid off as I was selected to spend a few more months on board to transport all the cargo that we had harvested. I made some amazing friends on that boat and the whole experience absolutely opened my eyes.
But what about using my writing?
As I mentioned, I knew that despite all these incredible experiences which I have only just touched on above, my main kudos in the land of CVs would come from my association with one of the biggest publishers in the UK, Penguin Books. My remit with Rough Guides was to travel to countries and pick out nuggets of information that would enrich a backpacker’s experience. I reviewed about 100 guesthouses, restaurants, experiences and local customs and cuisines. I travelled overland, hitching rides in dubious vehicles across a whole country and taking notes along the way. All the time completely anonymous and on my own. I’ve never been more observant than I was on those jobs. I think I need to relearn that skill.
So now what?
In those days I was writing for print and the publication process took months. I would write chapters on parts of southeast Asia and not see them again until they made it to the bookshops. Over the past decade, I have seen digital platforms open up so many avenues for writers like me. Working in digital marketing in the last five years I have seen content absolutely explode. Everyone is journalist now, sharing insights and real-time photography. This is good news for me because I now have the tools and the platforms to use the skills that I am trained for.
As you may have guessed, office life is not for me. If I am really dedicated to providing content that is helpful to women wanting to get into sport then I need to focus on it full time and also structure my day to include my own training to help me write with the right level of influence. I am so proud to be working with the team at SportStylist.com as editor-in-chief as well as over here on Queen of the Mile. I am also very open to any commissions or requests for copy, articles or digital editorial advice so please do get in touch if you need this!
I have had so much support from my mum, dad, boyfriend, friends over the years who have all encouraged me to take these career risks. I also receive fantastic support from the community I have forged through Queen of the Mile. This photo that was sent to me from admirable adventurer, Sophie Radcliffe, on my first day of business which I think sums it all up very nicely.