Even though I have lots of successful freelancer friends, and my partner Sam has been running his own small business pretty much the entire seven years we've been together, leaving a secure full time job to strike out on my own was still terrifying!
It forces you to confront what you really want to do with your life, how much you want to get paid, who you want to work with and how to say no to the people you don't. Throw in a global pandemic that forces the entire world into lockdown, and things really get interesting.
I'll be working, either freelance or in full time employment, for another 35 years at least, so I don't claim to have got it all worked out in the last six months of going it alone. But it has been the most incredible little adventure, Coronavirus notwithstanding. I have always been really keen not to over-brand myself, to over-promise on my skills or 'pass this over to the finance department' when it's just me, out here, doing my thing. In a world of Instagram filters and over-excitable hashtags, this can feel like a super radical act.
Anyway, here are some of the best things I've worked on, and what I'm looking to take on more of going forward.
*** I should add how grateful I am to have received funding from both the Arts Council and the Audio and Radio Emergency Fund, which has bought me and other freelancers some time to reflect on our practice, and think about how what we do could be adapted for a post-Covid world. I am lucky to be able to continue a lot of what I do from the comfort of our spare room, but this whole situation would have been a lot scarier without that support.
Young Writers' City
Landing a three day a week freelance contract to work on New Writing North's young writers' programme was probably the push I needed to go self employed in the first place. It was a huge comfort not to be leaving Sage Gateshead on Friday and having to build up work from scratch the following Monday - I already had something in the pipeline I knew I would enjoy and would challenge me.
On top of the producer role at Excelsior Academy, where I help our guest writers to facilitate brilliant creative writing lessons in the classroom and run extra curricular clubs, too, I also host the Newcastle Young Songwriters Group on a Wednesday night (along with the brilliant Kema Kay who, thankfully, does the rapping and performance teaching!). I even got to deliver some podcast masterclasses to the young writers' Saturday group at City Library (run by writer extraordinaire Zoe Murtagh).
Of course, the closing of all UK schools in March forced my fellow producers and I to adapt rapidly, creating more online content, including videos, audio recordings and PDF lesson plans. This is, of course, no substitute to working with the young people face to face, but hopefully provided them with a much-needed break from their studies or from sitting bleary-eyed in front of scary news updates. You can have a look at all of the content I've been producing on this page.
My friend and pen pal, Olga
Just as I was going self employed, a friend got in touch to ask if I would help his grandma, Olga, with writing her memoir. She had already done so much work on it, but needed an outsider to help her structure it, edit it and suggest which parts to expand upon.
I am always worried about taking up these opportunities, particularly with adults, because I am still on my own publishing journey and don't know how much wisdom I actually have to pass on just now! However, after one coffee with Olga I knew what she actually needed was another writer to bounce ideas off, the occasional cheerleader, and a decent proofreader (and, sometimes, a handwriting decipherer - Sorry, Olga, if you're reading this...).
This has been one of the loveliest aspects of my new life as a freelancer. I'd never have had the spare time during the day to do something like this. I'd barely have had time on the weekends to do it. And even though my friend had to become our de facto postman during Covid-19, moving heavily disinfected piles of papers between his grandmother and I, we've made great progress and I look forward to attending her glitzy book launch party some time in the future.
Just before Christmas I met with the marketing and PR team at top 100 law firm Ward Hadaway, who for some time had been harbouring dreams of making their own podcast for HR directors.
We started strong, meeting for a mammoth brainstorming session as well as some lessons on how to use recording equipment (Ward Hadaway wanted to purchase their own handheld mics and record interviews and panel discussions themselves, outsourcing the editing to me, which is a brilliant and cost-effective way of doing it). Our first episode went up, we celebrated, we planned episode 2, Coronavirus ruined it.
Because 'Laying Down the Law' is all about getting interesting and varied people from across the sector into a small, soundproof room together, we aren't quite sure when the rest of the episodes will be released, but it hopefully won't be too far in the future.
While she's been twiddling her thumbs waiting to be able to interview people again, Ward Hadaway's PR guru Rachel McBryde started chatting to her colleagues and friends on LinkedIn about 'Navigating the New Normal'. Here's our chat and my views on whether business podcasting will have a 'moment' after Covid-19:
Dingy Butterflies and 10x10 Creative Gateshead
Did you know that in 2018, there were still more than 7 million adults who were classed as 'non internet users', who had not been online in the past 3 months? (Source: ONS)
All of the online resources created during lockdown have been brilliant, but we mustn't forget that many vulnerable people in our communities may only have their phone data and no laptop, they may not be able to afford WiFi, or they may be too isolated and not have any kind of internet connection set up for them. That's why I was delighted to hear a callout from Gateshead-based organisation Dingy Butterflies, who were specifically looking for artists and writers to work on a physical activity pack for vulnerable young people and adults in my local area.
Ten artists were chosen to work with ten community groups, each creating an activity to include in the pack. I was paired with the brilliant Michelle Harland from Creative Youth Opportunities and, together with feedback from the young people she works with, we created a nature writing activity which is adaptable based on how easily people can get outside (e.g. if they are shielding). The tasks can be completed beside an open window, or fully immersed in a forest, whatever the person can manage.
The final drafts of our activity have just gone off to the design team this week - I'm so excited to share the finished piece with everybody and I hope they are used and enjoyed by lots of families on my home turf - what a lovely feeling!
Let's Talk About Loss
Last but not least, I've developed a wonderful relationship Beth, founder of the national bereavement charity Let's Talk About Loss, in the past few months. Writing was incredibly helpful to me when I was coping with the loss of my Dad in 2018, and so becoming their unofficial 'writer in residence', coming up with prompts, workshops and facilitating their Facebook group for writers has been brilliant. If you are aged 18 - 35 years old and have been bereaved, you can find out more about them and join your local group by visiting their website.
Fancy working together?
I would love to hear from anybody who thinks they might benefit from one of the skills I have to offer, particularly if that's creating podcasts for businesses (or teaching you how to make your own), or creating writing resources. You can message me using the form below or via the 'contact' page above.
A big thanks to everyone, personal and professional, who's helped me navigate the first six months of self employment with motivational zoom chats, cups of tea, advice on funding and plenty more besides - it's certainly been a wild ride...