Client profile: Ayesha Giselle Life Coach

Last month I profiled Rachael Cunningham, founder of Sebastian & Millicent, as the first in a series of posts about my small business clients.

Today I want to share some of the work I’ve been doing with Ayesha Giselle, a success and accountability coach based in Hackney.

Ayesha and I met through a networking group for east London freelancers and entrepreneurs, and I knew she was exactly the kind of person I love working with. Ayesha is a driven, ambitious woman, with a passion for supporting and empowering other women. She’s also a fellow east Londoner, so that was a big tick in my ‘supporting local small business owners’ box. And her work is all about self-development, and helping people – particularly young women – get the best out of their lives and careers.

When Ayesha and I got chatting, we realised that our skills complemented each other perfectly. She had the courage and self-confidence to put herself out there, but lacked the writing skills to really make an impact; while I had those writing skills but felt certain that I regularly held myself back from being as successful as I could be. Well, working together has been really quite special for both of us! Since last summer I’ve been writing blog posts, PR pitches and e-books for Ayesha. I’ve learnt so much from her, both through the briefs that she sends me for her content, and from the coaching I’ve received through our brilliant skill sharing agreement.

I sat down with Ayesha for a chat about what coaching means to her and her clients, and how my writing services are helping her to get her messages out there.

SG: What does being a coach mean to you, and how did you get started?

AG: Being a coach means being a source of inspiration, guidance, support and wisdom. Leading by example to inspire and encourage my clients. Using my wisdom and insight to help guide my clients to making the best choices for where they are at on their journey. And to be a support system who is completely in their corner. My client’s success is my success; we win together.

Being a coach allows me to be the person I needed when I was going up, starting my business, and finding myself and my way through life. I always wished I had someone I could talk to who was a bit wiser than me, had more insight into life than me, who would support and encourage me 100% when I found it hard to do so myself. Someone who could push me out of my comfort zone, provide a safe place to explore ideas, and believe in me. Not really having that kind of support growing up made realise what was missing, and who I could be to help others. Funnily enough, I think I decide to become a coach when I was a teenager, after reading one of my mum’s self-help books and thinking to myself ‘this is what I want to become’. At the time I was studying performing arts, which I loved. I initially planned to pursue a performing arts career until I was 30-35, and then I thought I’d have enough life experience to become a coach.

Later I was in university studying Arts Management, which I didn’t really enjoy, and I decided to drop out in year 3. By that stage, I was living life thinking ‘time is too precious to spend it being miserable and doing what you don’t enjoy’. So I made my decision with no plan, just knowing that I no longer enjoyed my course at all, and that it wasn’t for me. However, there was still this strong desire to become a coach as I felt it fit perfectly with who I am – a bold action taker who loves to learn about herself, and always looking forward to growing, teaching, and supporting others. The only thing stopping me was the fact I thought I was way too young to be a coach; I thought I need to be an older person with lots of life experience. In spite of my fears, I took a leap of faith and enrolled myself on a life coaching course, invested in some of the best coaches and mentors, and have never looked back since.

SG: Who and what are your personal inspirations and motivations?

AG: My inspiration to become a coach was Fiona Harold, who I had the pleasure to be coached and mentored by, and Iyanla Vanzant. Both women inspired me through their work and love for what they do.

My main motivation for coaching is making a difference in individual people’s lives, and knowing that I’m having a massive positive impact on them and their future. Nothing can beat the feeling of your client’s success. My clients’ success is my happiness. It brings me pure joy knowing that I played a part in their amazing journey.

SG: What unique experience and perspectives do you bring to your work with clients?

AG: I am able to pass on my resilience to my clients – helping them to keep their eye on the goal, remain consistent, enjoy the process and be willing to challenge themselves, whether that challenge is a self-limiting belief or a fear. I see opportunities within the problems. I help my clients to track, track and track some more, so that they can see the progress they have made. If they want certain results then they need become that person who can get the results they want. Lastly, I know that your thoughts create your reality, and by changing the way you think about yourself or a situation, you can change your reality or an outcome.

SG: Like me, you’re obviously passionate about working with ambitious and driven women – what issues do you see coming up again and again?

AG: I see clients using excuses to hide behind their fears which literally holds them back from becoming their full potential. I see women not believing that they are good enough, and lacking confidence in their ability, which stops them from going after what they really want. And then being scared to ask for what they want. Another thing I  have noticed is that many women know, and deep down really want, what it is they desire; they just don’t how to get it – which is where I come in.

SG: How has hiring me as a writer helped you as a small business owner?

AG: It has helped me a lot. Writing is not my strength, however I have so much wisdom and expertise in my area that I want and need to share with the world. Sometimes it can be so hard to explain what is in my head in a clear succinct way. Hiring you to help write my blogs and pitches has helped me to articulate my thoughts and message in a coherent way. You always deliver on time, with material that surpasses my expectations. You really get exactly what I am trying to convey. It has also saved me a lot of time. Instead of wasting time stressing over trying to produce content, I am now able to focus that time on the things I enjoy and am good at, which is coaching and teaching.

SG: What do you feel the blog and e-book content I’ve written add to your brand?

It has allowed my message to be clear, and really show my expertise and wisdom in my area. It allows my brand to be more polished and professional. It’s a really good investment as what you put out is what you get back in return. If you put out quality work, you attract the right clients and the business that you want. The content you put out represents you, and you always want to put your best foot forward, and the blogs and e-book have allowed me to do just that.

You can find out more about Ayesha Giselle’s range of coaching programmes and services at: ayeshagiselle.com.

Could my writing services also benefit your business? Click here for information about working with me, check out some examples of my work for Ayesha Giselle, or click here to see what other clients have said about my writing.

Being ManKind: The crowdfunding campaign exploring modern masculinity

Masculinity is in crisis. As a feminist, and as a journalist covering mental health, it’s impossible not to notice. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems. They’re significantly more prone to substance abuse than women. They both commit and suffer from more violent crimes.

And, while men benefit from many privileges under patriarchy, they also suffer from limiting and sexist gender roles just like women do.

The more work I do in this area, the more convinced I am that men’s mental health is a feminist issue. And tackling it has to start with some frank and honest conversations about what masculinity really means for mankind today.

Being ManKind

I was thrilled, back in December, to meet the team behind Being ManKind – a collaborative, educational project, aimed at challenging stereotypes and getting men and boys talking about what masculinity really means in the modern world.

Being ManKind is the brainchild of Darshan, Priya and Jenny from social enterprise Super Being Labs. I knew I loved this organisation as soon as they explained that the child in their logo represents their company ethos: “be curious, be creative, and don’t be a dick”.

The initiative aims to use men’s own stories and experiences to challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity and provide positive role models. It all started with their gorgeous coffee table book, Being ManKind Vol. 1, a collection of inspiring stories told by men from all walks of life – from a paratrooper living with the loss of his legs, to a comedian grappling with anorexia, and a foreword by boxer Anthony Joshua.

The book is a fascinating read, and beautifully put together with photos capturing the whole diversity of men and masculinity. According to the Being ManKind team, their aim with the book is to “offer an opportunity for boys to draw on a diversity of experiences, to decide for themselves what it means to be a man. The book wants to show that once you get past polarised gender expectations, you find that the only unbreakable code in humanity is kindness. The idea is that through the stories told, boys and men will be inspired to forge forward as kind and confident individuals, both for themselves and those around them, allowing everybody to succeed together.”

Gender education

For every copy of the book they sell, another copy is donated to a school or youth organisation – along with educational resources and lesson plans – in a bid to spark conversations amongst young people from across the gender spectrum. “Unfortunately, the world still defines people by their gender, rather than their humanity. These gender stereotypes create expectations that not only damage those who are burdened by them, but they also cause harm to the people around them too,” explains Being ManKind co-founder Darshan Sanghrajka.

“After all, you can be powerful but compassionate, strong but weak, competitive but giving, courageous but scared… the list goes on. Gender has nothing to do with it. We need to help the next generation understand their roles as individuals, and only then can they start to positively understand their relationships with those around them. Without this, we can’t ever have an equal and just society; fear and greed will rule, rather than kindness and unlimited potential. It’s why the team and I have embarked on this project – it’s important to a just world and now, more than ever before.”

Crowdfunding

With volume 1 already under their belts, Being ManKind this week launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the project to the next level. With a £75,000 target, and more than £8,500 raised on day one, their goal is to take the Being ManKind conversation to a bigger audience, by extending their work with schools, youth organisations and charities, creating an outreach programme, and continuing to tell more men’s stories through their digital platform and future book volumes.

Please do support them if you can – I’ve pledged £35 to secure my copy of volume 2!

Being ManKind – The Mission from Super Being Labs on Vimeo.

Stress-busting hacks for small business owners

Stress and burnout were a pretty heavily recurring theme of much of my work last month. As a mental health journalist, it was a pretty good warm-up, because April is National Stress Awareness Month!

It’s also the end of the tax year – or, as I like to call it, Freelance New Year – and, as you might remember from my first blog post of 2017, I love any excuse for a fresh start. Blank spreadsheets, new stationery, and a fresh set of goals and targets.

This year it’s more significant than ever. After my new calendar year didn’t get off to such a great start, April is the first month when I’m really able to get back into the swing of things.

Managing stress as a small business owner

A few weeks ago someone at QuickBooks contacted me about their plans for Stress Awareness Month. Throughout the month, they’re hoping to open up a conversation around stress in the workplace, including top tips for freelancers and small business owners. I was really flattered to be asked to be part of that conversation – particularly after I confessed that I use rival accounting software FreeAgent, not QuickBooks, to manage my finances!

I’ve been freelancing either full or part-time for the last three years, and while there are countless things I love about it, there’s no denying it comes with its own unique set of stresses and challenges. I also increasingly work with a number of small business clients, providing content for their websites and blogs – so I know small business owners come up against many of the same problems, and I hope the lessons I’ve learned along the way are helpful for them too.

Work-life balance

This is one of my favourite subjects – and one of the most compelling reasons for going freelance – but it’s also a real challenge to get right. Managing your own time is a wonderful kind of freedom, but you really do have to actually manage it. For me, that’s all about listening to my body:

1. Working at the times when I’m most alert.

For me, that’s usually first and last thing, with a slump in the middle of the day which I’ve long since given up trying to work through!

2. Taking proper breaks for lunch and naps.

Scientifically proven to make you more efficient.

3. Getting plenty of exercise.

Whether that’s a lunchtime swim, a post-work jog, or even just a walk around the block to buy the morning papers.

4. Wearing proper clothes. 

Pyjamas are fine for the odd day when you can afford to take it easy, but getting washed and dressed for work most mornings is a really useful part of your self-employed routine.

5. Seeing other humans. 

It’s very easy to go an entire day where the only living beings you communicate with are the office cats. But even us introverts need some human interaction now and again, and it’s a great way of to get ideas flowing if you’re feeling blocked. I love finding an excuse to meet people for coffee or lunch – whether it’s a potential client, a fellow freelancer, or an editor.

6. Switching off. 

Having a separate, designated work space is so vital – whether that’s a home office in your spare room, or hiring a desk in a co-working space. I have to admit I’m still bad at this, but there’s something really powerful about closing the door on your workspace at the end of each working day, and leaving your iPhone alone for the evening.

Financial balance

I’ve only got on top of this myself relatively recently, but imposing some work-life balance on your finances is a great way to ease the stress of irregular cash flow.

7. Accounting software. 

As I said, I use and love FreeAgent, but there are other options that might work better for you. Personally, I find that FreeAgent takes all the stress out of invoicing, managing my income and expenses, and chasing up late payments. It saves me so much time compared to entering everything into a spreadsheet by hand. Plus it generates handy graphs to track my monthly income, and I can file my self-assessment to HMRC directly from within their interface. (We both get 10% off if you sign up using my referral link.)

8. Separate bank accounts.

This has been my most recent innovation (radical, I know) but it really has made such a difference. I’ve been meaning for ages to find some way of separating out my regular expenses (mortgage, bills, insurance, business expenses, etc.) from my everyday spending – or what my client Ayesha Giselle calls my “self-care budget”. Then my husband got a new job at Starling Bank, a brand new start-up bank offering straightforward, mobile-only current accounts. Well, it seemed like the ideal opportunity – so I signed up for an account as one of their friends and family BETA testers. Knowing how much I spend on monthly essentials and business costs means I can use my main account for standing orders and direct debits. Whatever income is surplus each month goes straight into my Starling account, for me to spend on whatever I fancy. Not only has it made managing cash flow much easier, it’s also a really nice way to support my husband’s work after years of him proofreading my articles! (Again, obviously other bank accounts are available.)

Organisation

I’m naturally a bit of a control freak, so this is probably the part of freelancing I’ve struggled with least. Despite that, being 100% reliant on your own organisational abilities can still be a challenge. Fortunately, there are three tools that I completely and utterly swear by to keep things in order. I think I’d lose my mind if I was ever without them.

9. Evernote

Basically my second brain. This digital notebook takes some getting used to but, once you’ve figured out how it works best for you, it’s absolutely invaluable. I use the desktop, iPhone and iPad versions to keep on top of everything from recipes to receipts. I’ve got folders for article ideas, client and editor contact details, paperwork copies, blog posts to read later, and travel plans. My favourite feature though is the web clipper, which allows you to save articles, emails and information directly from your browser. (You can have a month’s free trial of the premium subscription if you sign up using my referral link.)

10. Bullet Journal.

Although I’m incredibly reliant on Evernote for all my digital notes, there’s still no match for good old fashioned pen and paper. My version of the popular bullet journal format is much less pretty than the ones you’ll see on Instagram. I use a Moleskine notebook, a selection of multicoloured fine liners, and a basic to-do list plus journal layout. I also have monthly habit tracking pages, and an ongoing list of books to read, editors to pitch, and articles to write. Scruffy brain dumps win over delicately patterned borders, for me. As a cure for writer’s block, it never fails.

11. Boomerang. 

This Gmail plug-in is the only email hack I’ve ever tried and liked enough to stick with. As the name suggests, it brings old emails back to the top of your inbox at a time of your choosing. So perfect for reminding you to follow up on emails that haven’t yet had a response. I can’t believe how regularly I use it to successfully nudge editors who’d just missed my pitch first time around. Its other brilliant function is ‘send later’, which I use to schedule those emails I don’t want to send straight away, but also don’t want to forget about! Obviously, I have a referral link.

Have a happy and stress-free New (tax) Year!

March writing: stress, hormones, and psychological photography

Despite taking a lot of time off to recover, work-wise it’s still been a surprisingly busy month. Quite by accident, a lot of my recent writing seems to have focused on stress – an unexpectedly therapeutic subject to write about when your own life feels pretty stressful. Here’s a quick round-up…

My latest blog post for insurance company LV= was published in early March. Written for their Life Insurance blog, it looks at symptoms of stress and how to tackle them. A lot of it sounds like common sense but, collectively, we’re so bad at really managing our stress levels. It was great to get some really practical expert tips on how to identify the signs and catch it early.

Speaking of stress, later in the month I wrote for The Debrief about the science behind burnout. Experts told me what causes it, what it does to our physical and mental health, and how to avoid running on empty. Also for The Debrief, I spoke to endocrinologist Dr Helen Simpson about the crucial roles hormones play in our bodies. They might be another source of monthly stress, but turns out they’re also pretty essential to life!

For healthcare publication Mental Health Today (MHT), I looked into problems with mental healthcare transitions. Young people moving from child and adolescent (CAMHS) to adult (AMHS) services are often left in limbo, without support. I spoke to three young people about the unnecessary stress this caused at an already turbulent time in their lives.

Finally this month, I wrote for Broadly about the exciting work of photographer Diogo Duarte. When I first met Duarte I was struck by the vulnerability and intimacy of his self-portraiture. Since then, he’s been pioneering psychological photoshoots as a way of uncovering something of his subjects’ inner selves.

Identifying 5 stress symptoms, and how to tackle them – for LV’s Love Life blog:

Symptoms of stressHeadache, sweaty palms, increased heart rate: we’ve all felt the symptoms of stress before – but some are less obvious than others…

Mental health journalist Sarah Graham (@SarahGraham7) talks to the experts for their top tips on tackling the lesser known signs of stress.

Stress is a huge issue that many of us face in our day-to-day lives. In fact, between 2015 and 2016 there were nearly half a million (488,000) reported cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

Although it’s often clear when stress levels are creeping up, there are some symptoms that can be harder to recognise.

Continue reading at LV…

The Science Behind Why We Get Burnout

The science behind burnout

Stress, exhaustion and burnout sometimes feel like inevitable side effects of modern life. When we’re all so busy working, playing, and burning the candle at both ends, how is anyone ever meant to avoid the occasional bout of feeling totally and utterly worn out?

Burning out is one of the major reasons for employees taking time off sick, and it can have a huge impact on all areas of your life, affecting your work, your social life, and your mental and physical health. We spoke to the experts about the science behind burnout, and how you can keep yourself from running on empty.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Your Hormones Control – for The Debrief:

9 things your hormones controlWe all know hormones have a lot to answer for – the wild mood swings, the monthly acne, the brain fog – but do you know just how many everyday processes your hormones have an influence over?

As women, we tend to only think about hormones in terms of PMS, pregnancy and the menopause, but there’s so much more to our clever endocrine system than just regulating our fertility.

We spoke to hormone doctor Helen Simpson, from The Society for Endocrinology, about all the things you never knew your hormones were controlling.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Young People’s Mental Health – the Importance of Transitions – for Mental Health Today:

The importance of transitions

Young adulthood is a turbulent time for anyone. The hormones, the acne, the first loves, the pressure of exams, and the seemingly endless identity crisis about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It’s a big and difficult time of changes and transitions; and that’s without throwing a mental health problem into the mix.

There are also the well-documented problems with the transition from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS), to contend with. But how exactly is this affecting teens on the cusp of adulthood – and what can be done to make things better?

Continue reading at Mental Health Today…

A Celebration of Self: Capturing the Inner Lives of Women and Genderfluid People – for Broadly:

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but in a world where 93 million selfies are taken worldwide each day, how much can we really say about ourselves in a photo? For one London-based photographer, the answer is more remarkable than you might expect.

29-year-old mental health worker Diogo Duarte is the creative mind behind PhotoBard—a business offering clients “psychological portraits” that intimately reveal something of their inner selves. And for his mostly female clientele, like psychotherapist Jessica Mitchell, the results have been profound.

Continue reading at Broadly…

I’ve got lots more new stuff lined up for April, so watch this space! And if you’re interested in finding out more about working with me, please get in touch.

Balance: March 2017

After spending most of February hosting my own private pity party, I’m pleased to report that March has been, well… better.

Physically my health has improved enormously in the last 8 weeks. I’m off painkillers, I’m sleeping more sensible amounts at more sensible times of day, without sleeping pills, and my left wrist is finally free of its cast. I can handwrite properly again, which is wonderful, and I’m gradually getting my strength back. More frustratingly, I had expected to be free of the neck brace by now too. After going into hospital expecting to be released, the news that my consultant wanted me to keep it on for another five weeks felt like a massive blow. I wrote off two whole days just lying in bed feeling sorry for myself and depressed. Fortunately though I’ve just about mastered the art of covering it all up under a scarf.

So, what have I been up to?

Celebrating amazing women

March is always one of my favourite months of the year, and not just because it’s when the sun finally begins to emerge from its wintery sleep. Women’s History Herstory Month means International Women’s Day celebrations, Women Of the World (WOW) Festival at the Southbank, March4Women, the Million Women Rise march, and lots and lots of exciting feminist writing and events to get stuck into. This March was quieter than usual, obviously, but there was no shortage of sisterhood.

On 1 March I was gutted to miss the National Refugee Women’s Conference, after so many months of planning and looking forward to it. Women for Refugee Women hosted hundreds of refugee women and supporters from around the country for panel discussions, workshops, performances, and the launch of The Way Ahead report. Although I was confined to watching along on Twitter and Facebook, I was so proud of what an inspiring and uplifting event the team achieved.

Actress Noma Dumezweni, who’s currently playing Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, opened the conference with a moving speech – and musician Yasmin Kadi closed with a performance that just perfectly encapsulates everything I love about Women for Refugee Women. As our director Natasha Walter said, quoting Emma Goldman, “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”:


International Women’s Day (8 March) was fairly muted – but I wore my WSPU T-shirt and wrote a client blog post about feminism, in the spirit of the day.

Then, that weekend, I put my face on and dressed up like a functional human being for the first time since the accident – to see my Women for Refugee Women sisters perform again, this time at WOW Festival. They never fail to blow me away, and it was lovely to catch up with so many of my talented and inspiring friends. As of today, I’m now back in the office a few hours a week, until the new comms exec takes over the role after Easter, and it feels so good to be back with my sisters.

Reading and writing

After having to put most of my work on hold following the accident, March has been a month of gently easing myself back in. I’ll post more about my recent writing work shortly, but in brief… As well as catching up on blog writing for my regular clients, and working on health features for my regular publications, I also started writing lifestyle content for a global healthcare brand, and had my first article published by Mental Health Today.

Of course, some days are easier than others. The brain fog, the forgetfulness, and the inability to get out of bed are too unpredictable to get back into my normal work routine just yet. But, for the most part at least, writing feels like a release rather than a chore again.

Having my cast removed has also made a big difference to my reading, so I’ve started making up for lost time in the book department! It’s been a really great month for captivating reads by brilliant women writers.

A Quiet Life

First up was A Quiet Life  by my colleague Natasha Walter – a gorgeously written, unputdownable novel about the wife of a Soviet spy during the Cold War. A Quiet Life was very almost my favourite read of the year so far – but then I read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing

Homegoing

Set over three continents and seven generations, Homegoing  tells the story of two Ghanaian sisters’ descendants – after one marries a British slave trader, and the other is shipped to America to be sold as a slave. Gyasi’s novel is heartachingly beautiful – both devastating and restorative, brutal and hopeful – and without a doubt one of the best things I’ve read in a really long time. I raced through it in 24 hours.

Ghana holds a very special place in my heart because of the incredible Ghanaian women (and one very special Ghanaian little boy) who’ve had such an impact on my life in the last 18 months. I spent a lot of time thinking about them while I was reading Homegoing ; such a wonderfully raw and poignant tribute to their homeland, and to the power of human connections. I can’t wait to visit some day.

A Single Man

My third book of the month was a ‘get well soon’ gift, Christopher Isherwood’s classic A Single Man . I saw the film adaptation of it years ago (mostly for Colin Firth), but I obviously hadn’t remembered much of the plot. It centres on the grief of English professor George, whose partner was killed in a car accident 8 months earlier. Perhaps not the most thoughtful choice though, for someone recovering from a traumatic car accident! As beautifully written as it is, that detail was still just too raw and painful, and I had to stop about halfway through. I’m sure I’ll come back to it one day.

Shrill

Finally, I read Lindy West’s  Shrill (Notes from a Loud Woman) – another ‘get well soon’ present from a friend – which was far more uplifting than A Single Man. I have a complicated relationship with the Jezebel.com ‘loud women’ school of feminism – mostly because it’s always made me feel that my own quietness is one of my biggest failings as a feminist – but I enjoyed Shrill far more than I expected. West has done significantly more than her fair share of speaking out, and taking the relentless abuse for it, than most of us dare. Her victories – against the social acceptability of rape jokes, of fat shaming, and of Twitter abuse – are hard-won and well-deserved, and speak volumes about the power of women’s voices when we do speak out. She’s also refreshingly human and down to earth; raw in her honesty about the struggle to overcome shyness and self-loathing, and learning to love and accept herself. A really inspiring read.

Topping up my vitamin D

Although – to my huge frustration – I’m still not allowed to run or swim, the sunnier weather has made it easier for me to enjoy getting out and about. Somehow, despite knowing that exercise, fresh air and sunshine make me feel better, as a depressive I’m still always pleasantly surprised when they do. After a grim couple of months, March has been beautiful. The extra vitamin D has definitely given me a much-needed boost.

Self-care this month has meant buying myself daffodils; eating ice lollies, reading books, and sipping cider in the sunshine; going for gentle walks around the park; and enjoying some much-needed quality time with really wonderful friends. Emotionally I still feel unnervingly fragile, like the slightest insensitive question, or unexpected engine noise might shatter me into thousands of pieces. But I also feel loved and supported, and more capable of learning to love and support myself again.

Paris in the springtime

On Saturday, the most glorious day of the year so far, I wrapped up March with a trip to Paris with my mum and two very special little sisters. It was a celebratory trip, planned to mark the ten year anniversary of my parents becoming their respite foster carers. I still can’t believe the eldest is now almost 17, the same age I was when I first met her. Despite their problems, the pair of them have grown into such bright, thoughtful and funny young women, who I’m very proud to call my sisters.

The weather for our trip was perfect, and there really is nothing more beautiful than meandering around Paris in the springtime. I was surprised by how familiar everything still felt after six years away. The eight months I lived there, in 2010 and 2011, were simultaneously the best and worst of my life. I’ve always loved Paris, but the everyday stresses of living there certainly took some of the sheen off. My mental health during that time was dreadful. And yet Paris, in all of its darkness and light, still felt like home. Wandering along the river with my family, and eating breakfast by the Notre Dame, it was such a relief to escape from everything, even if only for a few hours.

There’s still a long way to go, but recovery is so much easier when the sun’s shining.

Client profile: Sebastian and Millicent

Welcome to the first in a series of profiles, featuring some of the most important people in my business – my clients! I’m really excited to share some more of the behind-the-scenes bits of the work I do. And, of course, to show off some of the brilliant small business owners I get to write for.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve probably already seen my blog posts for Sebastian and Millicent. This boutique lingerie and erotic toy retailer launched online in October 2016, and I’m excited to watch it grow.

I’ve been working with founder Rachael Cunningham since she got in touch with me back in July. As soon as we had our initial consultation, over Skype, I knew she was exactly the kind of client I enjoy working with. I loved her punky, feminist spirit; her big passion for her small business; and her purple hair! When she later sent through the list of blog topics she wanted me to work on, they were right up my street – a combination of feminism, health, sex and relationships, wellbeing, and politics.

What I love about Rachael as a business woman is that she really knows her target audience, and she knows they want more from Seb & Millie than just a faceless shop. As a brand, Seb & Millie is gorgeous, stylish, and independently minded – and it speaks to its customers in a real, authentic way. The fact that the products and designers they stock are incredible is an added bonus! I genuinely adore the Ottoline sleepwear range by Hesper Fox – and they’re not even paying me to say that.

I sat down with Rachael for a chat about Sebastian & Millicent’s raison d’être, and how my writing services are helping her build a brand voice that her customers can relate to.

 

SG: What’s Sebastian and Millicent all about, and where did the idea come from?

RC: Sebastian and Millicent is about two things: discovering the vanguard of fashion and accepting yourself.

The idea was in my head for about 15 years before I finally did something with it in 2016. Most of my friends thought I was mad! The recession was still proving an issue for businesses, banks were reluctant to accept anyone who sold adult themed products, and I wanted to retain my full-time job.

However – spurred on by the trends for natural beauty and women’s empowerment, the fact that sex is now accepted in mainstream society thanks to the Fifty Shades trilogy, and a pinch of stubbornness – I ignored the naysayers and opened the business.

 

SG: Who and what are your personal inspirations and motivations?

RC: I’ve always been driven by success, experimentation and the desire to help people. In school, I was the quiet girl who listened and handed in homework on time, so that I could then help the kids who were struggling with abstract science concepts. The business provides a platform for me to help really talented individuals get their names out there and show others what they can do.

My love of fashion, by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Iris Van Herpen, is a constant inspiration for shaping the direction of the business. They really push boundaries with their designs, and I want to emulate that confidence in Sebastian and Millicent. I’m extending this concept with the new demi-couture and haute couture sections of the business, coming in March 2017, whereby garments can be made to individual measurements, for specific clients, and they can book private trunkshows to view the collections.

 

SG: What do you look for in the designers you stock?

RC: The designers are the most important part of the business; their talent allows Sebastian and Millicent to continue growing. The key attributes I look for are:

  • Impeccable construction and quality – lingerie and erotic toys are a very personal choice; they not only serve a practical purpose, but also improve self-confidence, mental and spiritual health
  • A unique point of view or meeting a unique need – such as our specialist ostomy lingerie by Jasmine Stacey
  • A collection that isn’t too widely available – many of our designers hand-make the items, so they aren’t available in vast quantities
  • Innovative silhouettes and fabrics – such as leavers lace, charmeuse silk, and leather for lingerie; and steel, precious metals, and blown glass on the erotic toys

 

SG: You’re obviously passionate about more than just selling underwear and erotic toys. What do you hope your customers will get out of Seb & Millie?

RC: The one thing I would like clients to get is the desire to discover, both in terms of discovering new designers and a personal discovery within themselves. Opening your eyes to new things is exciting, and people can be so enriched if they let themselves go on that journey of discovery!

 

SG: Seb & Millie is currently a side project you’re running alongside full-time work. How do you find the time to fit it all in?

RC: It is difficult at times, particularly when I need to visit a designer to view their collection, or take a phone call during the day. (If you’ve ever tried talking quietly about adult toys, or a new type of bra that prevents ‘quad boob’, in the work toilet then you’ll know how difficult it is!)

I’m lucky to have collaborated with some wonderfully helpful people, who not only assist with the day-to-day jobs – like updating something on the website that I’m finding tricky to do myself – but also bounce ideas around with me to improve things, like you do with my blog.

 

SG: I love the range of topics you’ve commissioned me to write about for the blog. What do you feel that content adds to your brand?

RC: It is so easy to open a lingerie and sex toy store and leave it at that. But people don’t work in such a compartmentalised fashion. People now seek these personal items to help them with sexual dysfunction, to heal mental or spiritual wounds, and to increase confidence either in themselves or with a partner. The blog helps people talk about these wellness concepts, and works to link the products with the person. Ultimately, Sebastian and Millicent is about people and their experiences, and I want to showcase this in the blog.

 

You can view Sebastian & Millicent’s full range at: sebastianandmillicent.com.

Could my writing services also benefit your business? Click here for information about working with me, check out some examples of my work for Sebastian & Millicent, or click here to see what other clients have said about my writing.

International Women’s Day 2017

Women, strong as hellHappy International Women’s Day!

Today is one of my favourite days of the year, because it provides a focal point for celebrating women’s fantastic achievements, and campaigning on all the areas where there’s still work to be done.

This time last year I joined my sisters from WRW in a vibrant and defiant IWD party outside the Home Office – to celebrate the courage of women who cross borders, and to demonstrate against the harmful policies that impact on their lives.

This year, for obvious reasons, I’m not able to spend the day with those sisters who endlessly inspire and encourage me with hope for the future. Instead, I’m holding a smaller, quieter celebration, from home – wearing my WSPU T-shirt, reading some of my favourite feminist writers, writing about feminism for one of my female clients, and reflecting on the challenges ahead for the international feminist movement.

But I also wanted to mark this IWD by sharing some of the articles on feminist issues that I’m most proud of having written over the last few years. Some are interviews with incredible campaigners and activists, while others address problems still facing women across the UK, and worldwide – from representation and healthcare provision, to violence and trauma.

My IWD top 10:

  1. Nimko Ali: A year as the face of FGM (Feminist Times, 2013)
  2. We need to talk about the UK media war on women (Open Democracy, 2014)
  3. Anne Scargill: “There’s no jobs. There’s nothing. In 1984 we knew this would happen” (Feminist Times, 2014)
  4. Why do women still need to ‘Reclaim The Night’ in the UK? (Telegraph, 2014)
  5. Uphill ride? Women’s road races are struggling for status – and survival (Independent, 2015)
  6. Study shows how distressing anti-abortion ‘vigils’ are for women (Broadly, 2015)
  7. “What have I got to lose?” Hunger strikes and protests at Yarl’s Wood detention centre (New Statesman, 2015)
  8. The reality of being a pregnant woman in Yarl’s Wood (The Pool, 2016)
  9. How the UK is failing women’s mental health needs (Refinery29 UK, 2016)
  10. ‘When we get it right, we save a life’: Domestic abuse teams in hospitals (Guardian, 2017)

(Images by Tyler @ roaring/softly)

Recent writing: Gut health, and cancer’s impact on fertility

My latest health articles for Refinery29 UK and Broadly, published in January and February 2017, respectively explored the science behind gut health, and the impact of chemotherapy on young women’s fertility.

Is Gut Health A Load Of Sh**? – for Refinery29 UK:

Gut health

‘Gut health’ is the wellness industry’s buzzword of choice right now, with UK sales of digestive remedies set to reach £333 million by 2021. There’s been some pretty groundbreaking research of late into a part of the body that, until relatively recently, has been taken for granted. So what does science actually now know about how the gut works, and does the secret to a healthy gut really lie in overpriced yoghurt drinks and chia seeds?

Microbiologist Dr. Lindsay Hall is a research leader at the Institute of Food Research, and she really knows her bacteria. “The gut provides a home to trillions and trillions of beneficial microbes,” she explains. “This complex ecosystem is called the microbiota, and the number of bacteria we have in our gut day-to-day is equivalent of about 2-3kg. We’ve known about these bacteria for years, but it’s only really in the last 15-20 years – and, in a really focused way, in the last five years – that we’ve begun to understand the different health benefits that these bacteria actually provide us with.”

If you’re anything like me, your knowledge of this complex microbial ecosystem probably begins and ends with the words ‘good bacteria’ and ‘bad bacteria’. Years of yoghurt adverts where women complain about bloating before eating a magic fromage frais and having a giggle about nothing in particular have taught us that not all bacteria are bad. But in fact, the impact they have on our body – and potentially, our brain – is incredible.

When Chemotherapy Saves Your Life But Leaves You Infertile – for Broadly:

Cancer treatment reproductive health fertility

When Becki McGuinness was diagnosed at the age of 21 with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer, she was anxious about the impact treatment could have on her future fertility. “If I’d known then what I know now, I would have pushed further,” she says, “but my concerns were brushed off by the doctors.”

Now 30 years old, and infertile as a result of the intensive chemotherapy that saved her life, McGuinness is campaigning to ensure all young cancer patients have access to the fertility options she was denied.

“A fertility specialist told me later that there had been enough time to save my fertility before I started treatment, but I feel like [the cancer specialists] made the choice for me,” she adds. “Being young and infertile is such a hard thing to take. There’s no chance for me now; once you’re infertile you can’t go back.”

Continue reading at Broadly…

Balance: February 2017

At the start of the year I set myself a challenge of blogging each month about my efforts to be more balanced. I had big plans for 2017 – exciting ideas and goals to push myself, both personally and professionally. Well, best laid plans, eh?

There hasn’t been much balance in February. On the first day of the month I was discharged from hospital. Since then, there’s been a lot of rest and recuperation, a lot of anxiety and despair, and very little else. I’ve watched a lot of  Parks and Recreation , I’ve devoured all three seasons of Transparent on Amazon Prime (thank you Sarah for the recommendation), and I’ve got steadily fatter on a diet of takeaways and comfort food while spending 20 hours a day in bed.

I’ve struggled with not being able to take comfort in the things that usually give me comfort. For the first half of the month I couldn’t hold a pen to handwrite. I haven’t been able to keep up with work or reading as much as I’d hoped. I read and loved , the third in Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club trilogy , and I belatedly made a start on A Quiet Life  – the debut novel of my wonderful colleague Natasha Walter, which I’ve been meaning to read since I bought a signed copy on publication day, back in June. But sitting up for more than a couple of hours at a time is painful, and I can’t even relax into a hot bubbly bath – much less go for a facial, or a massage.

I’ve been forced to listen to my body in ways I never really expected, I’ve had far too much time to think, and I’ve been endlessly frustrated by the feeling that my life is on hold. Instead of enjoying my final two months at Women for Refugee Women, I’ll have spent them signed off. Today I missed the National Refugee Women’s Conference, and the launch of WRW’s latest report, which I’d been so excited to be a part of. I’ll have lost a quarter of the year by the time I’m free of the cast and the neck brace. I’ll have lost almost half of it by the time I’m free of pain and able to get, physically at least, ‘back to normal’. And then there’s the enormity of wrapping my head around what’s happened. Who knows how long that will take, and if words will be enough this time.

I have though been blessed with lots of love and support – in the form of flowers, chocolates, books, care packages, messages, hugs, meals, so many cups of tea, and help around the flat. I’m so grateful for the support and patience of my friends, family, and clients – and to my friends at Well Spirited PR, The Happy Tummy Company, and Distraction Box for their generosity. I’ve been emailing the wisest person I know, my dad, whose handwritten letters have always got me through tough times in the past. In one of those emails he reminded me of this quote, from the single greatest Christmas film of all time : 

Remember, no [wo]man is a failure who has friends

It’s never rung more true than during this month, when I’ve teetered so close to the edge of my own metaphorical bridge, and yet been overwhelmed by so much kindness. Thank you all, and I’ll try to make March’s post less depressing…