STEPPING DELICATELY IN MY MOTHER’S FOOTSTEPS BY JULIA BOGGIO
By the time I started university, my mother had changed careers at least 5 times. She was a primary school teacher before I was born. Then she owned her own business for a while—a sewing shop where she sold fabric and Berninas (the Ferrari of sewing machines). As the child of an entrepreneur, I was dragged to more Quilting Conventions than I care to remember. Then she switched to teaching piano to local kids. After she and my father divorced, she opened her own cleaning company; it was called Hearth & Home. I still have PTSD over this. After that business folded, she went into debt collection for a while. It’s definitely not just for big burly men.
In search of something more stable, she eventually retrained as a nurse. In fact she trained at my university at the same time as I was studying business. She was my friend’s lab partner. She went on to be the Head of Psychiatric Nursing at a mental hospital and “retired” at the age of 74. Since then, she’s been:
An Organic vegetable farmer.
A Writer and publisher.
A House renovator.
An Air BnB operator.
She is now 84.
“I’ve learned a lot from watching my mother’s journey. Number one is: if you’re lucky enough to have one, always be nice to your cleaner.”
Second, changing careers multiple times is absolutely fine. It’s healthy to want to try new things; however, make sure it’s a calculated move. I observed my mother flail from job to job, looking for that jackpot. She never found it.
My mother has entrepreneurial spirit (and energy) in spades; what she has always lacked was practicality. Thankfully, I was born with the gift of both. Maybe it was the marriage of her genes and those of my father, who worked for one company for most of his life.
Aged 48, I myself am on my third career, all of them creative.
Out of university, I worked hard to break into advertising, and I got a job as a medical copywriter. I won some awards, and lasted about 8 years. The reality of the job didn’t marry with the “Mad Men” dream. I couldn’t find my bliss in reading scientific papers all day and coming up with slogans to flog pharma to doctors.
On a trip to South America, I discovered photography and retrained while still working as a copywriter. When I felt ready, I switched careers. A 15-year stint as a professional photographer came next. You may remember me; I used to be the exclusive photographer at Purple Dragon and have photographed many PD children. I ended up creating one of London’s top luxury photography studios. I even photographed the Queen. It was rewarding work, but also draining. I began to lose my bliss again.
After 15 years, I needed a change.
“My girlhood dream was to be a writer, but as a young woman I lacked experience. I didn’t have a story to tell yet.”
Neil Gaiman, author of Good Omens and The Sandman, had the idea for The Graveyard Book when he was in his early twenties; however, he realised that he wasn’t a good enough writer to do that story justice. He waited 23 years to go back to the project and finish it. The Graveyard Book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2009, among many other awards.
At a photography conference, I was having coffee with a friend and I told her that I was toying with the idea of writing romances about photographers. She said, “Oh, you want to be the Jilly Cooper of photography!”
It was amazing. In that moment, a title, a story, and characters jumped into my head. Shooters was born. I closed my business shortly after in late 2019. Good timing, as it turned out. Little did I know just how much time I’d have to write in the coming months.
Fast forward to now. My book is about to get published (today in fact, if you’re reading this on March 14). It’s been an interesting journey to publication.
Again, learning the lessons from my mother, I went about this change of career strategically. I applied for a 6-month selective writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, a course that taught me a lot of new skills, introduced me to my writing tribe, and my agent. At first, the plan was to pursue the traditional publishing route, but, even though the publishers loved the book, they said they were looking for younger writers with a better chance of going viral on TikTok.
So I decided to self-publish. In the end, I think this is the best route for me.
“Thank goodness I’ve inherited my mother’s boundless energy.”
Moreover, having worked in advertising and run my own business for 15 years, I seem to have been training for this moment all my life. I have strong ideas and opinions on how to market my own work, and the experience to do it. Many of my traditionally published friends don’t get any input into their books’ campaigns (and most feel like their publishers’ haven’t put much budget behind them either, which is very upsetting for an author).
If you want to see an example of the kind of campaign a single person can create on her own, take a look at my socials to see what I put together with photographers around the world to launch my book. I think you’ll like it.
I also started my own podcast called Two Lit Chicks, which is like desert island discs, but for books. Aiming high, we’ve spoken with Bonnie Garmus, Damian Barr, Claire Fuller, Nikki May, Jo Browning Wroe, Milly Johnson, Kit de Waal, and Georgia Pritchett (and many more). Our Friday literary quizzes are extremely popular. In the time since launch last June, we have gathered a following all over the world with almost 10,000 downloads. It’s a great platform for me, although I will forever hate the sound of my own voice.
I don’t know if writing will be my last career. I’m still in the honeymoon phase. If you’re on the cusp of changing careers, my advice would always be to go for it (with caveats). Make sure you have a plan (I am a big fan of writing marketing plans). Train properly. Set goals and envisage what success looks like to you. Then take the plunge.
The other day, my 11-year-old daughter showed me a meme she’d created. It read: “I don’t think I can die from listening to my mum talk about her book, but it certainly feels like I can die from listening to my mum talk about her book.” The little girl in me who used to get dragged to Quilting Conventions feels like we’ve come full circle. Hopefully, I’m setting my daughter the right kind of example.