Why did you write this book?
Being a travel writer (a job people imagine is far more glamorous than it actually is), I’ve been asked more times than I can count how I make a living from travelling, and how the people asking me can do it, too. It got me thinking about how many people out there are working jobs they don’t love, to buy things they don’t need, and are stuck in this endless unhappy cycle of work, earn, spend. Meanwhile, they’re looking to find an alternative way to make a living but usually either don’t know where to start, or don’t believe that making this change
is possible for them.
So, I decided to write a book that shows what goes on behind the scenes for people who make a living out of things we think of as hobbies – like chocolate making, pottery and knitting. I wanted to show the hard work, determination and sacrifices that it takes to turn your side hustle into a job that pays the bills, but also prove that it can be easier to take the leap than people might imagine. The people I profiled in the book were all also walking lightly on the earth and had plenty of free time for friends and family and being out in nature, which was another important message I wanted to get across. A good life is so much more than a large bank balance.
How did you choose whom to feature? Everyone really seems to have started from nothing.
I started by compiling a list of creatives I’d long admired online, as well as a list of inspiring makers I’d met in person either on my travels or at home in Australia. I also did a callout on Instagram, and asked some of my most creative friends whom they thought I should speak to. I left some room for chance to step in too. For example, I was a month or so from deadline and still had one final spot to fill; I was travelling in India and just had a feeling I would meet my final subject there. Sure enough, I was eating breakfast at my hotel in Mumbai one morning and noticed a beautiful Tanzanian woman sitting across from me. I struck up a conversation with her and it turned out she was a successful fine art photographer who ran an artist’s residency in Tanzania, and had a wonderful story to tell. Meant to be? I think so.
I wanted an expansive geographic reach so I also made sure most continents were represented, as well as both genders and those with and without kids. I then did a preliminary interview with each subject to make sure they didn’t have any sort of financial privilege holding them up. I wanted all the subjects to be self-made, and to prove to the reader that this really is possible for anybody, no matter what their situation.
From everything said by the 26 creatives whom you interviewed – was there one unanimous message they all shared?
It sounds simple, but so many of us overthink projects before beginning them, and you really do learn the most by actually doing the thing. You can dream about being a painter for years and years, you can even buy the paints and canvas and have your own perfectly set up art room, but it isn’t until you actually start painting that you learn anything. And that thing might be that you are Van Gogh reincarnated, or equally that you are no good at all or that you actually hate painting and can’t stand having to deal with all the mess it involves. Making mistakes, taking wrong turns, failing or maybe even flying – that’s all terrifying, yes, but it is also an integral part of the journey and something you just need to swallow if you’re going to live a life outside of the regular 9 to 5. Just begin, is the message.
I love the practical exercises in your book – why did you think it was important to include these? Are these all conceptualised by you?
The intention of this book was always to make the reader feel empowered to take the leap into a life less ordinary themselves. For years I had loved pawing through books about creatives, like Todd Selby’s The Selby is in Your Place or Grace Bonney’s In the Company of Women, but ultimately often felt ‘less than’ after reading them. My life could never be as inspired or ‘cool’ as those of the subjects I was reading about. Like their lives were some glittering, far-off jewel that I would never be able to grasp myself.
So, keeping the reader activated was important to me. I wanted each interview to speak directly to the reader so they could emulate these incredible people rather than just longing to be like them, and the exercises were the best way I could imagine of keeping them both energised and accountable throughout the process. The exercises are a mix of different creative tools I have read about and used, and conjured up over the years. There are practices like writing morning pages, which I borrowed from Julia Cameron’s wonderful The Artist’s Way, and a mind-mapping exercise which is an appropriation of Edward de Bono’s mind mapping concept that I first learned about when I was 10 years old. There’s also an entire exercise I based on Picasso’s brilliant advice that “good artist’s copy, great artist’s steal”, which is about mimicking a skill until you master it. Others, like the exercise about planning a trip to keep you inspired, or the weekly recap sessions where the reader is asked to hold a meeting with themselves to review the past week and plan the week ahead, were tools I created for myself over years of freelancing, to keep me sliding as gracefully as possible along my own path.
You are a source of inspiration to others and have only reinforced this by sharing this book. Who/what do you look for to find your sense of space and moments of mindfulness currently?
A big source of inspiration for me right now has come from clearing space mentally. Switching off my phone and computer for either hours or days at a time, to allow myself space and time to be properly present. Going offline leaves so much more space for reading – at the moment, I’m re-reading every book Dani Shapiro has ever written, also all of my favourite travel writer Pico Iyer’s books – and for meditating and going for long walks in nature. I usually emerge from these offline periods feeling alive, full of fresh hope, and more in love with the world.
I have also been loving the new Sugar Calling podcast where Cheryl Strayed (another favourite author, who wrote Wild) calls some of the best authors of our time including Margaret Atwood and George Saunders, and asks them to share their thoughts about life in the time of COVID-19.
What’s next in your journey? Tell us about your second book?
My last travel writing assignment was to the Arctic last year, where I was faced with some of the real consequences of climate change and realised the impact my ceaseless travels have had. In the months since then I have done a lot of soul searching. Trying to figure out the best way to move forward in the travel space, so that I can encourage both myself and my readers to say “yes” to travel that conserves, educates and inspires more than it destroys, and “no” to the kind that doesn’t.
In order to do that, I have recently finished writing a book about sustainable travel, which will function as a guide for those also wanting to travel without hurting the planet (as much). It should emerge in early April 2021 and will be filled with tips, adventure guides and interviews with inspiring sustainable travellers. I also have another book in the works of a more personal nature, a collection of personal essays based on my most transformative travels: the ones that really help us answer life’s most important questions.