Your Name and Age: Liat Hughes Joshi, 36.
Tell us about your family: I live in North London with my husband and four-year old son.
What did you do before becoming a writer and how was it making the transition?
I was a management consultant in the City for nine very long years. I always joke that I think I must have done about 15 years work in that time, such were the working hours. It was challenging and interesting work but there were a lot of late nights and sometimes you’d get sent away to client sites during the week for quite long periods, spending your evenings stuck in hotels, often in quite unexciting locations. Spending weeks in a leaky portakabin ‘office’ at a crisp factory in the middle of possibly one of the dullest towns in England comes to mind as one of the low points. You had to go outside to get to the loos or the canteen and it was always pouring it down. I tried to dodge this sort of thing as much as possible but couldn’t always. It really wasn’t congruent with the kind of life I wanted. I also felt constrained by the working culture and wanted to do something more creative. The turning point came with a particularly demanding project – I was working until after midnight a lot of the time and the project was beset with politics within our firm which made life difficult. I’d had enough and decided to try my hand at journalism – something I’d always been attracted to and which I felt would offer a much better work-life balance.
When did you start?
How did you get started?
I took a short course in freelance journalism and another on travel journalism.
I found a surprising number of skills from my consultancy career were transferable – researching things thoroughly, presenting ideas logically and ensuring I really understand what my clients (i.e. editors and readers) want. I was a bit cheeky as instead of starting small with say a local newspaper or magazine, I sent my first pitch to the Sunday Times. Fortunately they liked my idea and the piece itself. After that I wrote for them pretty regularly for a year or so which gave my portfolio a strong foundation.
Since then I’ve written for all the ‘broadsheet’ newspapers and a number of national magazines. I’ve also had a book published (it’s a guide to baby gear for parents-to-be called ‘What to Buy for your Baby’, published by White Ladder Press) . I’m working on another parenting book which is due out next year and which I’m quite excited about as it’s for a major publisher.
How do you promote yourself? What has worked best?
I’ve got a website but really as a freelance journalist there’s no substitute for building relationships with editors simply by sending strong ideas, writing well and always, always filing work on time.
The website works well as an online portfolio for editors I haven’t worked with before though.
With my book, I’ve tried to drum up PR in several ways. I’ve done a couple of radio interviews and written features on related subjects for a number of publications.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?
I think the hardest thing is being ignored by editors! They are busy people and receive hundreds of proposals from freelance journalists every week, so I understand why they can’t respond to every email they get but it’s tough when you think you’ve sent a fantastic idea for a feature and it’s met with silence.
I tend to deal with it by sending one or two follow-ups and then just moving onto the next idea. I also try and keep in mind that it’s the way freelance journalism is and probably not a reflection on me (well, at least I hope it isn’t!)
How do you fit in work with the family?
I think freelance journalism is as good as it gets when it comes to fitting around family commitments. I’ve been able to match my hours to the amount of childcare I’ve wanted my son to do. So when he was a toddler I used to just do two or three mornings a week. Now he’s starting school I’ll do around 25 hours a week in term time.
I still end up having to work evenings occasionally but I don’t mind that much as I’m doing work I enjoy at home.
I am very disciplined about it all and never do coffee with mum friends or lunches during the hours I’m meant to work but it’s fairly easy to do this as I am committed to my job and enjoy it.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to write for a living?
Don’t expect to write your way to riches. It is a very fulfiling career but I earn far less than I did in the City. Let’s just say that when people find out how little most freelances get paid for a feature in a national newspaper they’re usually quite surprised. Beyond that, if you don’t try you’ll never know…
Your website: www.liathughesjoshi.co.uk