Who or what inspired you to go freelance?
Before I was a Mum I worked in financial recruitment for 12 years and although I enjoyed it at the time, I’d been working very long hours, spending hours each day commuting in busy city traffic and living on adrenalin too much. Even when recruiting Finance Directors, I was a bit of an oddity in the industry I worked in though. At weekends I was more interested in heading off on my bike to buy vegetables at farm-shops or pottering about in the kitchen making chutney, rather than hanging out in cool bars or spending my bonuses on a new status symbol car. While still working in recruitment we took on an allotment and loved growing our own veggies. Inspired by how much I enjoyed pottering about amongst my chaotic collection of vegetables, herbs and flowers I decided it was time for a complete change in lifestyle. I left recruitment and started writing as a freelance journalist about the rural subjects that interested me. We also moved to a house that at the time was lacking a kitchen and had no plaster on the walls but was in a great location, up a hill in the Cotswolds, surrounded by ridge and furrow fields. And it had space for me to grow my edible goodies. As by now I was a Mum, it was also brilliant to have space for my daughter to run around outside, grow a few things herself and generally play in mud.
What are the advantages of being based in a rural area?
I love heading off across the fields for great adventures with my daughter and being able to pop out for a quick walk on my own to clear my head in the middle of working on the computer. I feel so lucky every morning just doing the school run to be able to enjoy the lovely countryside around us in all weathers/seasons. The food is great too! There are such wonderful ingredients being grown and reared all around us and we have more space than we’d ever be able to afford in a town so it’s lovely to be able to produce lots ourselves.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Again I feel really lucky when I think about it. We had pigs last year so before getting my daughter ready for school, I would pop outside to feed the pigs, enjoying the excuse to be in the garden early in the morning. After the school run, I try not to get too distracted by the state of our house (fortunately this is something I’m very good at!) and sit down at the computer to work on an article I’m writing or to submit ideas to editors. If it’s a cold day I’ll light the wood-burner to keep me warm while sitting still and my mid-morning treat is to put the coffee pot in to brew while I work. Having flexibility is brilliant. One day last Autumn, a friend called to say she was free to bring her sausage machine round. We had large amounts of lovely meat from our rare-breed Berkshire pigs and it was brilliant to fit a session of chorizo and salami making with a good friend into my day. On some days I may head off on a visit to gather material for an article – this could be a school teaching smallholding skills and restoring an old orchard, or maybe another Mum who grows organic flowers for village fete style weddings. I love being able to interview people about subjects that I’m interested in. If it’s a gorgeous day I’m often tempted to fit in a little bit of veggie gardening too – which gets me thinking about what I might cook for dinner later.
How do you manage to juggle the demands of a career whilst raising a family?
Working on a freelance basis allows me to be flexible, stopping my work to do the school run and enjoying big chunks of the school holidays with my daughter. This does mean that I often end up working late into the evening and the other downside of working part-time and freelance is that it brings in a lot less money than I used to earn. I think you need to be quite strict with yourself about allocating time to different tasks when you’re working from home – i.e. not getting distracted to cook or unload the dishwasher when an article needs writing! But being able to juggle writing, rearing and growing our own food and being a Mum is fantastic and I totally appreciate the quality of life that goes with it. I think it’s important to fit in time for us rural mums to relax too, it makes you function better work-wise and as a parent. That’s my excuse anyway! In the Spring and Summer, dusk gardening is my favourite me-time. Pottering about weeding and planting, seeing everything springing into life is just the job for my befuddled mind at the end of the day. Noticing runner beans starting to emerge and broad beans enthusiastically flowering has me daydreaming about the meals I’ll cook with them. Dim light combined with my increasing need for reading glasses and scruffy handwritten plant labels means that there’s often some interesting placing of seedlings. I’m often surprised the next day to discover that I’ve planted cucumbers instead of courgettes. But as my veggies are not exactly planted in a regimented, orderly way, it rarely matters.
Who or what can’t you work without?
My espresso pot on the wood-burner to give me a mid-morning boost.
Would you consider moving to a more urban area in the future?
I can’t imagine not living surrounded by countryside, it’s so relaxing and inspiring. Obviously things change and I can’t predict what will suit my family in the future though. But then I remember evenings dusk gardening last summer – pottering around outside and noticing the sudden burst of noisy activity from all the creatures sharing the last bit of daylight with me. Owls in nearby woods, the wild guinea fowl having a last bit of activity before roosting in our Oak tree, the pigs making excited snorts and squeals when I appear (as it often means extra snacks) and lambs in the fields around us sounding as if they’re having a crazy last bit of skittish time before sleep. Protesting to the Ewes: “We’re still playing, it’s not bedtime yet Mum!” Then suddenly all is quiet. Just the bats starting to dip and swoop. And I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy all of this from my own back garden…
In career terms where would you like to be in five years time?
I would like to develop what I’m doing – write for more magazines/publications, maybe write a book and continue to enjoy what I’m currently doing. More Guinea fowl, chickens, bees and possibly a few sheep would be great too.
What advice would you give to other mums thinking of moving into your line of work?
Think about what you genuinely enjoy doing; if you find something that you’re really passionate about, your enthusiasm should show through in your work, you’ll enjoy it, and find it easy to be tenacious in making it work.
To read more of Andrea’s often shambolic attempts at living a simple, rural life see her blog at www.shabbychick.me.uk