In Conversation With… Vanessa Jedrej

Vanessa wrote a letter one day that changed her career and her life. In August 2018 she relocated her young family from London to Plainville, Massachusetts where she now lives and works for international best-selling author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney.


Can you tell us how you came to have the opportunity to work abroad?

I had a terrific job working as Children’s Marketing Director at Penguin Random House in the UK.  I’d worked there for over a decade and found myself at a career cross road.  I’d wound up in a leadership role where I ran a team of inspiring and capable marketers, and although I loved the business itself, I hugely missed ‘doing the doing’…

I took a risk. I’d been pondering my dream job for a long time and I knew exactly what it would be doing and who I’d be working for.  I started mapping out the job and thought hard about the service that I might be able to provide.  I wrote a role profile and a cover letter on a long car journey back from Exmoor!  I decided to sleep on it and send it at 8am.  The role profile was for a Global Brand Manager for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the company being based in Massachusetts, USA.  I felt I had everything to gain and nothing to lose and wrote exactly these words in my covering letter… I honestly, thought it wouldn’t amount to anything. It was fun to fantasise and I felt like it was a first step to exploring how I might be able to pivot my career in some way.

Jeff Kinney, the best-selling author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and my now Manager, wrote back within 24 hours and to my shock, he was interested.

Awesome Friendly People
With Jeff Kinney and the Wimpy Kid, Inc team at the launch of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, New York. 

“We were presented with an opportunity that is once in a lifetime… a dream job with an inspirational boss, in an attractive part of the US in which to base ourselves.”

What were the biggest considerations in making your decision to go?

We knew that my husband wouldn’t be able to work on my visa type in the US, which would mean he’d be a full time Dad to our two young sons, a 5 month-old baby and a ‘just-2-year-old’ when we first arrived. And we knew we’d be facing a world where we’d have no help with childcare which would be a challenge given our kids are both part sweet-small-human and part wild hyena!

Of course, we also knew it would be tough living an ocean away from our nearest and dearest.

Yet, flip the flop and we were presented with an opportunity that is once in a lifetime… a dream job with an inspirational boss, in an attractive part of the US in which to base ourselves. We’ve always been travel-thirsty and we thought that New England would be an amazing place to travel with a young family.

Fall Leaf peeping on the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
Fall Leaf peeping on the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

What are the best and worst parts of living and working as an ex pat?

The best part of our experience has been the sense of adventure and opportunity to explore New England. We’ve been fortunate to make all sorts of whimsical memories already from horse-sledding at Christmas in Vermont to watching the sunset on Martha’s Vineyard and cheering on the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. ‘Fall’ here is mind-blowing – it has to be seen to be believed.  At weekends we can easily get to a beach or mountains and I often can’t really believe this is my life, I feel so lucky.

Corporation beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 


“We are really enjoying living ‘someone-else’s life’ for a while… (at least, that’s how it feels!)”


Beyond this we love the outdoor lifestyle in general, it’s wonderful with young children. We have such good quality family time out here given we are shorter on the supply of family and friends. We love the space, gyms that offer ‘child watch’, how Americans GO LARGE on festivals and dress their doors and houses for each. I love the dairy farms everywhere; home-made ice cream is never far from reach in New England, year-round. We are really enjoying living ‘someone-else’s life’ for a while… (at least, that’s how it feels!)

And the worst…

  • Nappy bags aren’t a thing over here.  On arrival I resorted to dog poop bags. I had two children in nappies and I couldn’t manage.
  • Missing family and friends. We miss them the most when the kids hit milestones and their kids do too and we can’t be together to share them. Saying goodbye to grandparents is awful!
  • Winter (we’re talking 16 inches of snow, not 6!)!
  • Driving everywhere.
  • The impossibility of being understood when you ask for a ‘waTer’.
  • Having to parallel park in the US driving test! (And having to retake it!)
  • A Christmas without mince pies!
  • The cost of living is high. A loaf of bread costs 3 dollars and in Massachusetts you can’t buy alcohol in most supermarkets, which took me a while to get used to!

What does the future hold? Do you have a five-year plan?

Our visas do have an end date but we’re always reviewing the possibilities. We’ll stay whilst the going’s good and we’re trying to live in the here and now. Right now there is so much to be excited about working on Wimpy Kid, it’s been a career highlight to be in the US to help oversee the launch of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, which became an instant global bestseller!

I used to plan for the future but, honestly, I’ve never done well on having a five-year plan! We’re delighted to be utterly off course for the plan set 5 years ago!


“There’s really nothing stopping you from returning home.  I’ve discovered that London will always be there waiting.”


What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Think what you’d do if you weren’t afraid. And then do just that…

What advice would you give to anyone else who had the chance to create a new life and career abroad?

Remember it’s not an opportunity that many people are handed. Based on our experience, I’d encourage embracing it!  And there’s really nothing stopping you from returning home.  I’ve discovered that London will always be there waiting.

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome this?

The biggest challenge is easily my husband looking after the kids full-time, particularly given my role involves a significant amount of international travel. He’s nothing but supportive to me and a brilliant dad but it’s very hard for him to not be able to work and I’m sure it can be lonely.  We make an effort to ‘stop-check’ during the ‘highs’ and have found ourselves a great babysitter!  And there might be a time further down the road when I’m supporting his career in a similar way.  We’re both open to that.

snow and horse
Christmas horse sledding in Londonderry, Vermont. 


“Be sure to cherish crumpets, marmite, cheddars and chocolate digestives. And TREASURE the NHS.  Living in a country without a universal healthcare service is enlightening and frightening.”


What are you most proud of?

Jeff once asked me what I thought the likelihood of this job happening would be when I wrote to him. I said less than 5%.  I’m proud that I plucked up the courage to hit ‘send.’

What makes you feel happy or helps to lift your mood?

When my friends and family living in different time zones leave me WhatsApp voice messages overnight and I listen to them as I get dressed in the morning. I guess the format lends itself to hilarious long monologues, which can be charmingly entertaining!

 Any wisdom youd like to share?

Be sure to cherish crumpets, marmite, cheddars and chocolate digestives. And TREASURE the NHS.  Living in a country without a universal healthcare service is enlightening and frightening.

And remember who’s in charge of your life. You are! And you can change things. I hope our tale might help others believe anything is absolutely possible.

* * * * *

Right now I’m…

Watching –  Les Miserables, the BBC’s 6 part mini-series (on a British Airways plane wherever I can!)

Reading –  The Tatooist of Auschwitz

Listening to –   Frank Sinatra in a cafe!

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

  • @bestchildfriendlyholidays My sister, Emma, has created her own business recommending child-friendly holidays!
  • @happyfitmums Lauren Hyett has left full time employment to launch fitness classes for women (and spend a bit more time with her sons). A daring plunge that I know she’ll soar at. 
  • @studio.eris Rose Gardner, escaped the rat race to lovingly make sustainable jewelry from her London studio. A really inspirational story and creative start up. Add some goodies to your Christmas list!

* * * * *

In Conversation with… Nadia Shireen

Nadia Shireenchildrens book author and illustrator

Nadia Shireen mainly writes and illustrates children’s picture books, (although she does write and illustrate other things as well). She lives in London.

1) How did you end up doing the job you do?

I took a very long-winded route to get here. I’ve always loved drawing and writing, but when I went to university I thought I should be sensible and get a law degree. My English teacher was furious. She glared at me, shook her head and angrily whispered, “That’s it… you’re going to be a bloody lawyer!” (Mrs Aldridge, if you’re reading this… I’m not a bloody lawyer.)

It became clear about half an hour into my law degree that I hated it. But I pointlessly slogged through it. In fact, I carried on and did an MA in Criminology… which was even more pointless!

I eventually moved down to London, rented a very cheap room from a kindly relative and started working in the magazine industry. Everyone told me it would be impossible to get a job, but I just kept turning up to the same office, trying to make myself useful and essentially refusing to leave. I wore them down in the end.

I worked as a sub editor and production editor on a variety of magazines for the next 10 years. I had a lot of fun… but eventually it had become a bit of a drag. The work was unsatisfying and I was bored. I started doing evening classes in illustration to perk the week up. Then I found an illustration course in Cambridge where I could study part time, allowing me to continue working four days a week in London. It took two and a half years. At the end of it there was a degree show, where I displayed my end of term project – a dummy of ‘Good Little Wolf’. To my utter shock and disbelief, some publishers liked it and offered to publish it. I can’t tell you how surprised I was – it was a bolt from the blue – but it was fantastic and it changed my life.

2) What are you working on right now?

My next picture book, which is about a plucky young girl with black curly hair who challenges a big, horrible, powerful monster… Any similarities between any persons living or dead, etc etc…

3) Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration to date?

Music has always been the thing that takes my brain to new and unusual places, so I’ll go for the pop stars that formed my musical foundations: The Beatles, ABBA, David Bowie and The Pet Shop Boys.

4) Who would you most like to work with?

Well, it’s not something that can ever happen, but I always loved those ridiculous Monty Python annuals. I think I liked them more than the tv programme. I love all the funny annotations, the way they’d mess around with layout and type and all that. And obviously Terry Gilliam’s drawings and collages are brilliant. I wish I could have drawn a few bees and hedgehogs for them way back when. It might be fun to collaborate with some funny writers and create something similarly silly.

5) Where do you feel most inspired ?

I get really inspired by being outside, ideally in wild, quiet places… places far away from noise and humans, where the sky feels huge and open. That’s when I feel relaxed and insignificant. It’s liberating to remember how little we matter, in the grand scheme of things. I grew up in Shropshire, and you can get to the Welsh border in about 20 minutes. I think about the places we would go to when I was a kid, like Lake Vrynwy, Church Stretton, a little place called Inwood. Now I live in London and don’t really get out into the open much, and I miss it. The closest I get is having a very slow jog around Hampstead Heath. I hate running but also secretly quite like it. I like it when my legs get muddy and achy, and the wind stings my cheeks. It’s good when I can allow my brain to drift into a different gear, so that creative ideas can breath and move around a little.


6) What did you want to be when you were little?

I wanted to be a cartoonist and then I wanted to work for Smash Hits magazine. I’ve sort of managed both, so I’ve got nothing to complain about.

7) What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Always start with the strongest colour, or the most extreme idea. You can tone it down later if you need to.

8) What has been your career highlight to date?

I never thought I’d have a job that would take me into schools, but now I do. When I see children getting enthusiastic about drawing or writing stories, it gives me a huge buzz. Once I watched a class perform a play based on one of my books, where they had winningly adapted ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ into ‘Honey, Honey, Honey’! How good is that? I feel privileged to do what I do, and meeting young readers has been a hugely rewarding aspect of this unexpected career.

9) What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?

I procrastinate a lot, which feels like an even bigger sin now my working hours are mostly dictated by childcare.

10) Who is your favourite fictional female character?

It’s a toss-up between Rizzo from Grease and Darlene from Roseanne.

Right Now I’m….

Watching: Hey, Duggee and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (not entirely my choice, but they are great.)

Reading: The Sellout – Paul Beatty;  The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend; Head On – Julian Cope.

Listening to: I typically start the day with the Lauren Laverne show on BBC 6 Music. And then I play around on Spotify for the rest of the day. There is so much music, and not enough time to listen to it all, and that makes me anxious and annoyed.  At the moment, my most recently played albums are by: Solange, The Blue Nile, Eluvium, Julianna Barwick, Childish Gambino and Anna Meredith. I also enjoy making comforting playlists full of the same old songs in slightly different orders.

Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Anna Phoebe, violinist @annaphoebe

Chloe Lamford, Set designer @chloelamford

Harrington & Squires, letterpress studio @bobandhorace

In Conversation With… Georgina Atwell

Georgina AtwellGeorgina Atwell is the founder of the children’s books website where children review books and share their recommendations. After a career in publishing and running the ebook store for iTunes, she now mostly works from her home office and tries to forget about the snacks calling her from the kitchen. She lives in Oxford with her husband and two children and loves jumping on the train to come into London to meet publishers and discuss children’s books.

How did you end up doing the job you do?
I came up with the idea for Toppsta back in 2009 but just as I was setting it up I got a call from Apple, offering me my dream job of running their ebook store. I just thought, I’m never going to get this opportunity again, I need to do it. But after 4 brilliant years and with two young children, it just didn’t offer me the flexibility I needed and I knew that one day I wanted to run my own business. So I quit. Lots of people thought I was crazy but I’ve not regretted it for a second. I love what I do – the publishers I work with, the books we promote, the parents and children we help and all of it around my personal commitments as a Mum. I’m still working 7 days a week and all hours but it just doesn’t feel like a job anymore.Toppsta

What are you working on right now?
We’ve produced this amazing reading list of children’s book reviews written by our reviewers. I’m incredibly proud of it, it took a long time to put together and we’ve had brilliant feedback from parents, grandparents, teachers and publishers. I’m looking at how we can get it out to schools and parents and whether this is something we can put together on a regular basis.

Describe your first job
My first job was working in a deli near where my parents live in Oxford. I’m a complete foodie so I loved every minute. Particularly when my parents came in and I’d be suggesting all the yummy food they should buy.

My first work in publishing was very different. I was doing work experience for a publisher who had just published a book on pornography to accompany a tv series. They needed to return some of the images to picture libraries but they didn’t know which pictures belonged to which galleries. So I had the very dubious task to phone up various picture libraries, describe the pictures over the phone and see if they recognized the description. I was about 18 and absolutely mortified. I swear the other people in the office must have thought it was hilarious. Anyway, it toughened me up and is certainly unforgettable. I think that anyone coming to Toppsta for work experience has it pretty easy in comparison!

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?
There was never ever a plan B. But to be honest there wasn’t much of a plan A either!

Where do you feel most inspired?
After two years I finally have my own office, with a desk. Somewhere permanent for my computer and my books, as well as a door to shut if I need a bit of peace and quiet. It’s pure bliss after working at the kitchen table and having to shift everything back and forth.

But for inspiration, I’m a walker. If I’m stuck on something I’ll grab my coat and just go for a walk and have a think. I honestly believe that we think better when we’re on the move. Sadly I don’t live in a particularly rural area but even a few minutes walking around the block seems to clear my head.

What did you want to be when you were little?
It’s funny, I was a huge reader when I was young, I remember hiding under the covers reading the Famous Five with a torch and I studied English Literature at University but I never had any ambition to work with books. I’ve always enjoyed the business side of jobs; the sales, marketing and products and I think I thought that publishing was all about editing. I went for the graduate scheme at The Financial Times but was encouraged to apply for the graduate scheme at Penguin instead, as they thought I was better suited to publishing.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Never assume. They were my grandfather’s words of advice and I think it’s good advice for life. Never assume it’s a bad idea, just because it didn’t work out first time. Never assume you’re going to close the deal until you’ve actually signed on the dotted line. Never assume a friend doesn’t want to see you just because they haven’t replied to your text. Never assume the kids can’t do something just because they haven’t done it before. Never assume.

What are you most proud of?
I love and I mean really love the emails and messages I get each day from parents via our website or social media. Some of them have really brought a tear to my eye. The mums and dads who have been struggling to get their kids to read but through our giveaways, they’ve been getting excited about receiving books in the post in a parcel addressed to them. The teachers who say that a child in their class has gone up a reading level, encouraged by seeing their reviews published on our website. It’s amazing to think that this idea of mine, run from home is actually making a difference. 90% of our Facebook audience are based outside of London, so we’re genuinely nationwide.

Which one thing would you like to change about your industry/working life?
Publishing is a predominantly female industry but I feel that since the financial crisis it’s become more conservative in the way that it works. I hear an increasing number of stories of requests for flexibility being turned down; people made redundant whilst on maternity leave; and there are sadly precious few women at the top of the publishing houses. That just seems crazy for our industry. Other, more traditionally ‘male’ industries like finance and law are trying really hard to get more women through the door and are offering more flexibility and initiatives, but in the meantime I feel publishing has gone backwards.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?
Not working round the clock. I have a tendency to work 24/7, I genuinely just enjoy the job but I’m trying really hard to fit it all in during the day and then read or watch a film in the evening. It’s a struggle, there’s just so much to do but I think for my own sanity (as well as my family life!) it will really help if I can manage it.

Right Now I’m….
Watching: The Crown (yes I know, I’m always late to the good series…)
Reading: Outline by Rachel Cusk for my bookgroup
Listening to: All the Single Ladies by Beyonce. My daughter (4) is obsessed with playing it and singing along.

Pass it on:
The talented Timma Marrett who works with @women_ahead helping women in sport and development.

In Conversation With… Sophy Henn

Sophy HennSophy Henn lives and works in Sussex, England. She studied Fashion at Central Saint Martins, accidentally had a London-based career as an Art Director in advertising, then completed an MA at University of Brighton in Illustration. Now she writes and illustrates children’s books in her studio, with a large cup of tea by her side, and can’t quite believe her luck.
Where Bear?, her first book, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2015. She is also the World Book Day Illustrator for 2015 and 2016. Her latest book, Edie, published 2nd February 2017.

What are you working on right now?
I am working on a book about a little white rabbit who is struggling with his self belief. I wanted to write a book about this as I have seen so many children adamantly refuse to try things or play games with others as they are so worried they are going to get it ‘wrong’. They stop before they have started. But the joy in all of these things is often in the doing and not the result, and we never know what we are capable of unless we give it a go. I can still relate to this as I get such huge nerves before books come out, these feelings never leave us. But we just have to remember to enjoy the doing, be a little braver and have a little more faith in ourselves.
Sophy Henn working in her studio

Describe your first job
I grew up in a smallish town and my first job was a Saturday job in a shop called Robertsons. It was the most amazing shop and was rightly proud of having been described as a miniature Fortnum & Masons.

It had the classic Victorian double fronted shop front and inside carved wooden shelves went right up to the ceiling with gold hand lettering on the surrounds. There were two old fashioned glass shop counters on either side and a big central display. In one of the shop windows there was a coffee roasting machine, where Mrs Roberts the elderly (though marvellously fierce) owner would roast sacks of coffee beans (there must have been at least 10 different varieties), filling the shop and pavement with the smell of coffee.

Now this was very nearly 30 years ago and fresh coffee was something of a rarity, so it was quite the novelty. We had two coffee grinding machines and would grind the beans to the customers requirements (finer for filter, etc) and there was a rather perilous bag clipping/vacuum system for catching the ground beans which would occasionally result in a fine coffee mist!  I had to put in about 6 months on the chocolate counter before I was allowed near the coffee!!!

Oh, and there were no tills, just wooden drawers, with notepads and pencils for adding up. I think my maths peaked at this point as come Christmas people would pop in to buy their Christmas hampers. With so many items to add up and Mrs Roberts’ love of specific prices (£2.73 or £9.56 for example) it was quite the challenge. But there was a constant supply of coffee, chocolates and delicious biscuits and for all her fierceness, Mrs Roberts remains one of my favourite ever bosses.

Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration to date?
My daughter. I know, I know that sounds utterly cheesy, but it is true. If it hadn’t been for her and her love of stories I would never have ended up doing this, my dream job. It was reading picture books to her that planted the seed of the idea that I could have a go myself. Combined with the fact I have used situations she and her friends have found themselves in for the basis of some of my stories, I really couldn’t have done it without her! She is also super supportive and I really try to be better and braver (specifically when doing the surprising amount of public speaking I find I am asked to do) so she can be proud of me!
Sophy Henn's Studio

What did you want to be when you were little?
Firstly a ballerina, obviously, then a detective. That ambition stuck with me for quite some time, fuelled by The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and Nancy Drew. I still LOVE a murder mystery and haven’t ruled out a Miss Marple style retirement!

What advice would you give your children (or nieces/nephews/young people)?
Well, it’s not exactly original, but ‘do what you love’ is advice I have come to appreciate more and more. So much time is spent working, that to enjoy what you do and get satisfaction from it is surely something to aspire to.
Also…don’t always assume that those older than you know more than you. I spent so much time thinking this, and now I am that older person I realise that’s not the case at all!!!
Sophy Henn's Studio

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Don’t listen to any advice” from my wonderful friend Lisette. I was pregnant at the time and this gem specifically related to the avalanche of advice you get as soon as someone finds out you are with child! I have passed it on to every expectant mother I have come across, probably moments before giving them loads of advice!

What are you most proud of?
Being a mum. It’s the most stressful, wonderful, hilarious, upsetting, fraught and satisfying thing I have ever done. I have never tried my best this consistently at anything. The second is having a book published, and for all the same reasons!
Sophy Henn's Studio

What has been your career highlight to date?
I am not sure how you can ever beat the thrill of seeing your first book on the shelf in an actual book shop! But another huge highlight was walking through Brighton and being stopped by a Dad and his little girl, they recognised me from an event I had done at a book shop in Hove and wanted to tell me how much the little girl had taken to Pom Pom. I think she was a bit confused as it was very much Pom Pom she loved ( I know my place in these things!), but to hear her HARRUMPHING away happily made me a smidge emotional! AND she went to school as Pom Pom on World Book Day last year! I am pretty sure I cried again, happy tears!

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?
Time management. Isn’t that everyone’s challenge though? And if it isn’t, who has got it sussed and please can you tell me how? I think it’s specifically the hours between 2-5pm, where do they go?
Sophy Henn's Studio

Who is your favourite fictional female character?
Probably Clarice Bean! Though I love many fictional females… Aunt Mame, Milly Molly Mandy, Tank Girl, Mrs Pettigrew, Miss Marple, both Sophie and her Grandmother in The Summer Book, and any number of Nancy Mitford’s creations (special mention goes to Linda Radlett). Quite a mix.

Right Now I’m….
Watching: Modern Family – box set heaven and sit-com perfection.
Reading: Patti Smith – The M Train – I read Just Kids last year and loved it.
Listening to: The Beastie Boys – always! Oh and Amerie – Gotta Work, after Caitlin Moran reminded me of it on Desert Island discs, it’s great for motivating you through a tricky work patch. And yes, there is a dance routine to go with!

Pass it on:
Lucy of @LaLaandPom who is an utter joy and creates such gorgeous pompomed wonders.
Nadia Shireen for being a total wit, much cooler than I will ever be and brave enough to admit to not liking cheese (I know???).

Stay up to date with Sophy’s wonderful work by joining her over on Twitter and Instagram.

Edie by Sophy Henn


In Conversation With… Marianne Levy

Marianne LevyMarianne Levy is a novelist. She’s written a series of books about Ellie May, a little film star, for children aged 6-9, published by Egmont. Her latest book, for teens, is Accidental Superstar, published by Macmillan. It’s about Katie Cox, a young singer songwriter, who records a song in her bedroom and changes her life forever.

Also a voiceover artist and freelance writer, Marianne’s work has appeared in the Independent on Sunday, the Financial Times’ How To Spend It and on BBC One. She lives in London with her husband, daughter and a bad tempered cat.


How did you end up doing the job you do?

When I was in my early twenties, I was trying to make a living as an actor. I was sent a lot of scripts, and most of them were pretty dire. It frustrated me, trying (and almost always failing) to get a part in something I didn’t think was any good. So I suppose I began writing books because I wanted to tell my own stories and regain some kind of control.

That’s one answer to the question, anyway. How does anyone ever end up doing what they do? I don’t quite believe in clear paths. Life’s complicated.

What are you working on right now?

My second book for teenagers, Accidcental Superstar: In Concert. My heroine Katie is trying to navigate her way through her newfound fame, along with all the usual difficulties of being a teenager. And, if this current draft is anything to go by, she’ll be making the most terrible mess.

As part of my research I’ve been getting deep into what it’s like for teens on social media, and it’s fascinating and scary. More and more I’m coming to think that I’m so glad that we didn’t have any of that when I was 15.

Marianne Levy and kids

Describe your first job

It was selling double-glazing over the phone. I spent three shifts as a cold caller, coming between people and their partners/ children/ dinner/ TV to try to persuade them to buy plastic windows. I didn’t get a single customer, and I’m glad.

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?

I’ve never had a plan B.

Who would you most like to work with?

Lena Dunham just gets better and better. Nora Ephron, if she was still with us. But then, I’ve had the good luck to work with two terrific editors in Ali Dougal and Venetia Gosling, so I really can’t complain.

My friend Susannah Pearse is an astoundingly talented writer of musicals. I’d love to do something with her one day, but I’m too shy to ask. Maybe she’ll see this.

Where do you feel most inspired?

The boring answer is, when I’m at my laptop. I can only find inspiration through thinking, and I think through writing. I work best in the café at the end of my road, because then I can’t procrastinate as much as I would at home. It was a bad day when they got WiFi.

Marianne in Cafe

What did you want to be when you were little?

When I was very little, a writer. Then, an actor. Luckily, when I was about 24 I saw sense and went back to writing.

What advice would you give your children (or nieces/nephews/young people)?

Be brave.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?

Managing my fear. It’s a leap of faith, writing a novel. And, for most of the writing process, what’s on the page is pretty bad. Telling myself that if I can just keep going I can make it good… it’s hard. Harder than the actual writing, I think.

What are you most proud of?

Passing my driving test when eight and a half months pregnant.

Right Now I’m…

Watching: Michael Palin’s Full Circle. It’s hard for me to go anywhere as I have a toddler, but this gives me a tiny taste of what it’s like to roam.

Reading: I’ve just started ‘Undermajorduomo Minor’ by Patrick deWitt. I loved his novel ‘The Sisters Brothers’, so I have high hopes.

Listening to: Podcasts of This American Life. One day I’m going to run out of episodes and then I don’t know what I’ll do.

Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Shelley Harris, one of the strongest and kindest women I know, and author of the novels ‘Vigilante’ and ‘Jubilee’ @Shelleywriter

Abigail Tarttelin, the very embodiment of bravery. She’s an actress, singer and the author of ‘Flic and Golden Boy’, @Abigailsbrain

Jane Hill @JaneHill64 She’s had the most fantastic career, from writing novels (Grievous Angel, The Murder Ballad, Can’t Let It Go) to standup comedy to running a radio station. I’ve been following her on Twitter for the last few years, and although I’ve never actually met her, I feel like she’s a friend.

Accidental Superstar cover

Ellie may

In Conversation With… Fiona Gibson

fiona gibson2-1

Fiona Gibson started working on magazines at 17 years old when she landed a job on Jackie. She has edited more! and Just Seventeen, writes for Sainsbury’s magazine and the Telegraph, and is the author of ten romantic comedy novels. 

Fiona has twin sons who have flown the nest, and lives in Glasgow with her husband Jimmy, their daughter Erin and rescue collie cross, Jack.  As well as writing, Fiona loves to run, draw, cook and is a recent convert to the joy of yoga. 


How did you end up doing the job you do?

Even since I was a Jackie reader, I have always been obsessed with magazines. One day, when I was around 15, I was lying on the living room rug reading my mag and said to my Dad, ‘I want to work on Jackie.’  Dad’s great – he’d worked for a magazine himself (Architect’s Journal) and knew that Jackie was published by DT Thomson in Dundee. He was totally encouraging. I started firing off comic strips and jokes to various DC Thomson comics – which they paid me a fiver a time for – and when I’d finally finished school, I applied for a job at Jackie.

I worked on various magazines throughout my twenties – after Jackie I went to Just Seventeen, then more! – but when I had my twin boys at 32 I decided to go freelance and have a stab at writing a novel. I was still writing features for magazines by day so I had to write the book at night. The way I looked at it, I was chronically sleep deprived and looked terrible anyway – so it didn’t really make much difference! An agent who’d spotted my features in Red magazine asked if she could represent me.


What are you working on right now?

I am at the very best part – starting a brand new novel. I write two a year, for Avon (a division of Harper Collins) which is quite a stretch and means there’s not much of a break between finishing one and starting the next. But that’s okay – after a few days I’m usually itching to get started on something new.

Describe your first job

I was a junior writer on Jackie which involved writing bits and pieces – like the horoscopes (which I made up) and the multi-choice personality quizzes. To be honest, I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d left home and moved into a bedsit in Dundee and found myself working with a fantastic team of lovely people who were my age, or a tiny bit older. I never went to college or university. Jackie was my training for life and I loved every minute of my three years there.

Jackie Magazine

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?

I’d had notions of studying art – I have always loved illustration. But although I applied to art college, I didn’t get in. My portfolio just wasn’t good enough. Apart from that, I had no idea of anything else I wanted to do.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I work mostly in my workroom in our Glasgow flat. However I can get a bit cabin feverish and that’s when I take myself off to a cafe, which really helps. I like writing with lots of chatter – plus good music – in the background. I also love working on trains. Working at home can be a little dreary as I am, by nature, a pretty sociable type! And I do miss all the hi jinx and chatter of office life – although friends tell me there really isn’t time for those sort of capers any more.

What advice would you give your children?

Explore all sorts of things so you can discover the general areas of ‘stuff’ that inspire and appeal to you. For me, it was always writing and art – and I loved French at school too. From this, you’ll start to get a feel for what you might like to do in life. There’s terrible pressure to say, ‘I want to be a such-and-such’ at 14 years old, which is nonsense. There’s no need to decide on a specific career path so early. But it is important to be open to trying things so you discover where your passions might lie. I am very lucky in that I love my job and it doesn’t actually feel like work. I would love my sons and daughter to have this sort of life too.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

This came from Dad, who is still fighting fit at 81 years old and sailed from Scotland to Antigua after retirement! He said, ‘Do a bit extra, give a bit more than is expected of you.’ He said it would help me to stand out and get places. I am quite a grafter and so is Dad – he was a freelance architectural photographer and I saw the passion he had for his work. He didn’t mind working late down in his darkroom to get a job done, and he was often driving at breakneck speed to the post office in order to get a set of prints in the post on time. We are similar in that we are a little harum-scarum in our approach, but we both get the job done!

What are you most proud of?

I’ve loved working on magazines and I also love writing novels. Professionally, I guess it’s finding something I enjoy and making a living out of it since I left school 34 years ago, all through raising three children. Personally, it’s being Mum to my three lovely kids – Sam, Dex and Erin. I’m very proud of them all.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I have worked on some wonderful magazines but I have to say the highlight was editing more! at a time when it was flying off the shelves. At its peak – this was early 90s – we were selling half a million copies per issue. There was no competition as such and I had a brilliant team – features meetings were often held in a tawdry wine bar just off Leicester Square and would dissolve into hilarity and chaos. I came up with the idea of Position of the Fortnight – actually, it was semi-nicked from a feature She magazine used to run called ‘Function of the Month’, a kind of icky old sexual thing that we turned into something cheeky and fun. It was a unique and magical time and, happily – thanks to Facebook – many of my workmates from those heady days are still in my life now.

fiona gibson and cathy cassidy
Fiona with Cathy Cassidy during their Jackie days in the early 80s

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?

Keeping my mind on the job and not allowing distractions to lure me off track. Generally, I can focus pretty well, but writing the middle section of a book is definitely not easy. It can feel like wading through concrete sometimes. I just have to keep going, battering onwards, then something clicks and writing the last few chapters is heaven. But I’d never say that writing 100,000 words of engaging prose is easy!

Right Now I’m…

Watching: Homeland.  My husband Jimmy and I are addicted

Reading: Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran – I just love her

Listening to:  All kinds of soul stuff: Al Green, Lou Rawls, Shuggie Otis. I’m a soul girl at heart.

Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Sarra Manning is a fantastically funny woman and a brilliant author of both adult and YA fiction. We worked together on Just Seventeen and she’s a marvel!
Twitter: @sarramanning

Cathy Cassidy is a hugely successful children’s author and one of my oldest and closest friends. We met at Jackie magazine in the mid-80s and get to the point when we need to see each other.
Instagram: @cathycassidy
Twitter: @cathycassidyxx

Fiona latest novel, The Woman Who Upped and Left was published earlier this year.

the woman who upped and left