Living the dream: How we found our perfect profession (Part 1)
From sailing tall ships and discovering remote islands to penning award-winning page-turners and running a planet-friendly, organic salon, these three ladies have all found their dream professions
THE TRAVEL BLOGGER
Steph Edwards, 34, from Exning, is a travel blogger who runs The Mediterranean Traveller. A self-confessed ‘beach bum’, she’s happiest by the ocean or exploring the Greek Isles. . .
“I have loved travelling since I was a child and remember our family holidays vividly. When I was 12, we went to Turkey and it felt like the most exciting thing in the world. Even the 10-hour delay at Stansted, though I don’t think my parents would have agreed!
I studied Ancient History at Nottingham University, and I had no idea what I was going to do, though the idea of starting a website surfaced around that time; I just wasn’t really aware of it as a career path.
After university, I worked at Cambridge University Press in the digital business department, and later in ELT in project management. In between those jobs I sailed a tall ship around Africa! I’d just read a Wilbur Smith book about tall ships and the East India Company, then I saw a newspaper advert for 10 days voyaging around the Balearics with the Sail Training Association, who work with disadvantaged children, and thought ‘that looks cool’; it appealed to the historian in me. I remember going up the mast, out at sea for the first time, and thinking ‘this is amazing’. I also remember parking the boat in Ibiza, which was terrifying because it was massive!
Once home I scoured ‘crewing’ websites for more opportunities and that’s where I came across my next sail, on a Venetian ship for a year. I flew out to Tanzania and joined the ship, then sailed clockwise around to Syria. It was an amazing experience, a big test of patience and endurance, and certainly changed my perspective on the world. The Azures were beautiful, and when we sailed up the Atlantic we saw remote islands like St Helena, before it had an airport, and Ascension Island, which was wild and barren.
A year was a long time away from friends and family and I missed the changing seasons. When I got back I didn’t leave the house for a month, I was just so happy to be home.
I returned to Cambridge University Press for a couple of years, then moved to London to work for a publishing company. But when I hit 30, I fancied something different, so I quit my job to go travelling. I spent a year in Greece, mainly in Athens, helping a friend with his Airbnb business.
Returning home in 2016, travel blogging was becoming increasingly popular and I thought ‘well, if they can do it, so can I’.
I started by writing up a trip to the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, which I’d really loved, and I thought if nothing else, I’d have a nice record of it. I worked part time at Newmarket Specsavers, which took the financial pressure off and gave me time to experiment. The website has evolved as I realised the most enjoyable conversations I had were those where I helped people decide on ideal travel destinations, so I offer lots of advice on that.
I’m a total beach bum so a big focus is on beach resorts. I particularly love Greece; Naxos is my favourite island. It has incredible beaches, as does Skiathos and Sicily.
I love weird little islands, tiny, remote ones that are hard to get to, as well as that certain smell you only get at Mediterranean beach destinations. Often there’s pine forests behind the beach, so you get the scent of pine, herbs and eucalyptus mixed with salty sea.
My next trips are to Malta, Cyprus, and Sicily, and after that I’d like to visit places that have been hit by a decline in tourism because of terrorism and the refugee crisis. I’m thinking of Lesbos, Kos, Samos and Leros, and also an Italian Island called Lampedusa, south of Siciliy. They have some beautiful beaches like Rabbit Island, and it’s one of the closest islands to Africa so gets a lot of their refugees.
I really love waking up every day and being able to write about places that I love. That’s what makes me happy. Sitting around in my pyjamas with all my books and magazines, doing my research is wonderful - and it’s also pretty nice going to an amazing beach and thinking ‘this is my job!’”
Read about Steph’s adventures at themediterraneantraveller.com
Cara Thurlbourn, 33, is an author and book coach based in Suffolk. Mum to a two-year-old boy, she began writing with the dream of one-day working for herself
“I know it sounds cheesy but I’ve always loved to write. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t scribbling things down, but I didn’t pursue it as a career until I turned 30.
I got a place to study Creative Writing at university but I turned it down because when I was young, being a writer just didn’t feel like it was an option. It was something that only happened to very lucky people.
Just before my 30th birthday, in 2016, I decided I was going to write my first novel. My husband and I were making plans to start a family, so I thought ‘If I don’t go for it now, it will always be something that remains on my bucket list’.
I gave myself six months to write my first book - and I did it! It was a young adult fantasy novel called Fire Lines, and I’d dreamt up the plot sat on an aeroplane on my first holiday, aged 15.
The first in a trilogy, it’s about a teenage girl who lives in a walled city where magic is banned. She possesses magical powers, and is the key to saving the world, which is about to be taken over by a dark force. It’s inspired by the fantasies I loved when I was young, so has a The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe vibe to it.
In the middle of editing Fire Lines in 2016, I wrote my first children’s book about my dog Molly, called Bat Dog’s Forever Home. I crowdfunded its publication in February 2017, and started my own imprint Bewick Press, which went on to publish Fire Lines in September 2017, just before my little boy was born.
I was worried that having a baby would stunt my creativity, but while I was on maternity leave I wrote The Boy Who Lived In The Ceiling, a stand-alone coming of age story about a homeless boy
who lives in the attic of a family’s house and falls in love with the daughter. It sounds creepy, but it’s actually really lovely! It was Longlisted for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2018. I call it my accidental novel as I had it in my head for a while and I’d written about 5,000 words, then I showed it to an agent and they wanted me to finish the novel.
When my maternity leave came to an end I started working for myself as a book coach, helping other people to publish.
I’ve always wanted to be involved in books, and my previous career was in publishing. I did an MA in publishing at Oxford Brookes and worked in marketing and digital business development at Cambridge University Press, then became the managing editor for an independent educational publishing house in Cambridge. That was great because I was able to get involved in every part of the process, from design and commissioning to organising the final printed product. I loved working in publishing, but always had a behind-the-scenes passion for self-publishing – probably because I’m both super organised and a bit of a control freak!
My current project is working with a reflexologist/yoga practitioner, an acupuncturist, and a nutritionist, who have been researching fibromyalgia. They’re writing a book to explain what it is and how to deal with it. I have it myself, and it was a long process to diagnosis, about seven years. It’s a chronic pain condition which has around 200 symptoms, so anything from brain fog to not being able to drag yourself out of bed. It’s one of those conditions that doctors don’t seem to know how to treat. Lady Gaga has it, and Morgan Freeman. I try not to let it affect my life too much and it’s easier to deal with now I’m self-employed and can work to my own schedule. So this is the book I am most excited about because I know it’s going to help so many people. It’s due out this spring.
Next, I’m going to focus on a sequel to The Boy Who Lived In The Ceiling. I’ve also been commissioned to do some ghost writing, some crime thrillers, and just after Valentine’s day I’m launching a new sweet romance series under a pen name (Poppy Pennington-Smith).
I love my job now as I’m able to work on lots of different projects combined with writing my own books. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to shape my own career.”
Find out more about Cara’s own books and business at carathurlbourn.com
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