Tuesday, 29 January 2013

FIELD NOTES: Joanna Brennan, Pump Street Bakery, Orford Suffolk

Writing for a living can be a pretty lonely occupation, but the pay-off is that you get to pick the brains of and be inspired by some pretty awesome people who have done some pretty awesome things. Like Joanna Brennan at Pump Street Bakery who quit her job as a speech therapist in London and moved to rural Suffolk to set up a café and bakery with her Dad, Chris, a hobby baker who’d spent 30 years in IT. Two years of hard-slog later, and they’ve just picked up Best Food Producer 2012 at the BBC Food and Farming Awards – quite an achievement for a pair whose only culinary training has been a lifelong passion for good, honest food. You can read the full story and see some mouth-watering photos of the pastries and bread that I could have gorged on until next Christmas, in this month’s Country Living Magazine (February 2013), which incidentally also includes a handy guide for anyone inspired by Jo’s story. But, aside from Chris’s simply incredible Eccles Cakes that I’ve been obsessing about since my visit last autumn, let me just quickly share with you one other thing that’s stuck with me from my trip. I asked Jo why she thought Pump Street has been so successful, when so many established businesses were struggling. “Because we didn’t do it for the money, we did it because it was something we really cared about,” she said, squinting in the sunshine as we chatted outside the pink-washed café over which she now lives.  “If you want to succeed at something, you’ve got to put your heart into it. People respond to that.”
Jo’s answering questions on starting your dream café/bakery today from 1-2pm on the Country Living forum 

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Secret to my (brother's) Success

  I’m not a particularly competitive person. I couldn’t care less if I win at Connect 4, or if I end up with four little cheese slices in my Trivial Pursuit roundel. The side effect of this is that my husband thinks he is some kind of board game genius, which is fine – because we both know the truth: I simply pick my battles. In the ‘Spot the Monkey Puzzle Tree’ car game, for example, my superior observational skills are most certainly graded A*. Sadly that particular game has now been banned since I accidentally nearly killed us both during one particularly close-run round. Other than that, I’m usually quite happy, chugging along at my own pace, and measuring my achievements and failures against my very own successometer. Then, something happened – it was last night in fact - my brother handed me his finished novel.
  I suppose I might as well admit it– my sister is also writing a novel, and as you know I have a lifetime’s work of unfinished stories under my belt, so we are in fact the slightly madder and less productive version of the Brontes. Anyway, despite being the only one among the three of us who hasn’t spent a couple of decades drooling over the prospect of becoming an author, he woke up one day with an idea, flipped open his laptop and wrote it in between being annoyingly successful in his career, relocating from Brussels to London, and doing arm-curls with his one-year-old son. He finally typed ‘The End’ two years later on a plane home from Australia earlier this month. Then just because this all seemed a little bit too easy, he left his laptop on said plane with no printed or backed up version of his novel in existence, and it then flew off to Sri Lanka - ‘The End’ indeed.
  Except, by some miracle, the plane did return to the icy runways of old Blighty, complete with laptop, and brother and novel were gratefully reunited. I now have a copy of the finished manuscript on my desk. I’ve only had it for about twelve hours (eight of which I’ve been asleep), but I’m already on page 37, and I can honestly say, without a hint of sisterly affection or family bias… it totally sucks. Sorry - that’s what I was hoping to be able to say of someone who just decides to sit down and write a novel on a whim. Unfortunately, it far from sucks. I love it. I cannot put it down. I hate my brother. For a fraction of a second I have a glimpse of what it might be like for what’s his name Miliband, secretly eaten up with sibling rivalry. How the hell did he do it?! I internally scream.
  But then, over a plate of spaghetti hoops on toast (nursery food is an eternal healer), it hit me: it’s all about confidence. That is exactly the difference between him and me. Because although I have ideas coming out of my ears, and no problem bashing out a couple of thousand words a day, one thing has been holding me back - the fear that it will suck. My brother, on the other hand, inherited the confidence gene. He has unfailing, unflinching self-confidence in everything he puts his mind to, and although he still can’t ice skate backwards, nine times out of ten that means he reaches his goals.
 So sitting here, looking at his manuscript I am feeling very proud, slightly jealous, but most of all, amazingly motivated. Not in a competitive way, but in a ‘Jeez Louise let’s get cracking cos I reckon I can really do this!’ kinda way. Which is great, because learning to be more confident is probably going to get me further than learning to being more competitive. Anyone know where I put the Connect 4….? (Ahem).

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Time is Now

So it’s the third week of January, and despite your meticulously thought-out New Year’s resolutions, you’ve already swapped your evening gym sessions for a box set, a couple of bottles of wine have sneaked into the fridge, and you’re glumly resigned to another zombie-year of eat, sleep, work and living for the weekend. Well, don’t beat yourself up about it. As far as I’m concerned, New Year’s Resolutions should be banned. When it’s so cold I have to sit at my desk in a scarf and gloves with a hot water bottle shoved up my jumper, what do you think’s going to make me feel better?
a) A detox.
b) A militaristic timetable and 500-point goal-oriented to-do list
c) Merrily shovelling the remnants of a holiday-size tin of Quality Street in my mouth.

I’ve always felt life would be so much better if all the things you didn’t do or change on 1st January were still up for grabs in March or November with no guilt attached. Where you could be walking down the High Street one Wednesday afternoon in say September, and stop dead and think, ‘I want my life to be that, not this. And it’s gonna happen right now.’ Well actually, it can be as simple as that. Let me tell you a story:

Three years ago I was very unhappy, which baffled me because things were pretty good. I had a nice flat on the Northern Line, I’d met the guy I was going to end up with, and had not long landed the job I’d been chasing for the whole of my career. Life was pretty cushty.  I mean, I was too busy and stressed with work to enjoy the time I had with the people who really mattered, or do any of the things I really loved doing, and I moped into my Weetabix every morning, and spent every evening dreading the next day - but life was perfect, right?

My Dad began to die. He was 62 years old and it took one short, painful year. But before he died, he gave me an utter gift – he told me that he wanted to see me happy, and that if that meant making some pretty scary decisions, I had to make them, and had to make them right now.

And so I did. I jacked in the best-paid job I’d ever had, with nothing else to go to, during a recession, with just enough money in the bank to pay the next month’s rent. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life: the scarier the path you choose, the better the destination. And I didn’t wait until the calendar flipped another year, or until the ‘perfect time,’ because now I knew there was no such thing. I resigned there and then on an overcast day in September, safe in the knowledge that on whichever journey I was about to embark, at least I was holding the map.
So that’s it. The End. 

Well, The Beginning really...

Because since then I’ve been self-employed, and putting food in the fridge and pennies in my purse every month – it’s not been easy, but I’ve nailed the basics. I’ve also had two years of breathing space and time to think about where I really want to be in life, and most importantly, how I’m going to get there. And that is what this blog is about.

So now that I’ve stopped panicking (mostly) about where the next job’s coming from, figured out how to keep myself in steady supply of cheddar cheese and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, got over the shock of no longer working in an office 9-5, and actually started to enjoy life, I have decided to get cracking on a few of the things I spend a lot of time talking about, but not actually doing. Like finishing a novel for one. I have a deadline, the word count is ticking, the plot is thickening and I’m feeling good. Because what's that old saying? "It's not the destination that counts, it's the journey." And as long I'm enjoying that, I'll take all the blunders and false starts along the way with a spring in my step.