I actually heard about an opportunity. I was here at a university at a careers day for doctoral students and recent graduates and I happened to hear at lunchtime that the Youth Justice Board was looking for writers and I was in the process of applying to academic jobs and I thought 'well this is interesting, I'll make an enquiry'. So I went home and I mentioned this to my husband and he said 'oh yes I know who to contact about that' and so we made a phone call. We were interviewed and offered the job and this was a literacy project, they were looking for people who could write quite a small bulk of literacy materials that would be tried out in various young offender institutions to build up teenagers or some children as young as 10, build up their skills. So we got involved on the literacy side but there were also IT and numeracy strands feeding into the project. So we were each hired to write five lessons which we did and this was done under the auspices of my husband's media company because the Youth Justice Board was now our client for this little bit of work. I was then invited to go to a day to find out about writing for the Basic Skills Unit and for personal reasons I didn't take that up because it didn't excite me and I felt that again there were straightjackets involved which I didn't want to get into.
My husband meanwhile had a number of video and audio clients who wanted some print materials done and he is not very strong on the writing whereas it's what I had been doing for years with freelance writing and academic writing and committee minute writing as a lecturer and so we wrote some articles for one of his clients to go into a pharmaceutical journal and we ghost wrote three books for another client of his who was a motivational speaker in London and we wrote other, I think we did some text for a website for another client and so although I had moved now into a business context in a sense it wasn't very far from what I had been doing before. I wasn't writing scholarly academic writing but I was still writing to communicate. I was still seeking to find a way to connect with an audience and it was I suppose a way of transferring, adapting some of the skills that I'd acquired as a doctoral student in a commercial setting and while at this point it became clear that there were fewer and fewer academic jobs that I wanted to apply to either because of geography or because of the work involved or the lack of relevance to my doctoral research there was enormous demand for someone who could write materials for business people. And so basically there was as much media work as I wanted to take on but we also had property as a sideline going on during this time.
By now we had sold our Australian property and we had bought a little property in Wales which was being rented out to cover the mortgage. We had bought an ancient, probably Victorian cottage, run down, west of here to refurbish and so we had the media work going along. We also had the property work going along and it became clear that at some point we would have to focus on one. We couldn't give both equal attention so we decided that we would give the year 2003, we would give that year; that would be our experimental year. We would let these two strands, the media work, the property work show us which one was going to take over and in fact the property work kept us busier and so by the end of that year we decided just to formalise our property activities as a private limited company. But there is also if you like a socially responsible philanthropic side going through that because the projects that we undertake are always linked to local communities so that the houses that we design will not only be as far as possible suitable within their environment, in keeping with the character of the property, in keeping with the landscape and so on. We'll also as far as possible fit the needs of the local market and also the finance that we bring in, we have a number of private investors who chose to invest in our work partly because they like our ethos I suppose because a number of them also have got a sense of wanting to contribute to communities in that sort of way. They're not averse to prospering materially but they also want to build environmental prosperity, community prosperity, relationship prosperity, whatever it might be and much of the work that I do as Communications Director in our property company is keeping in touch with investors or keeping in touch with tenants. A lot of the work is writing or meeting people or networking and those communication skills and people skills are there just as much as they were when I was teaching.
Can I ask, how has the PhD equipped you to undertake the work that you've done since?
It taught me to write efficiently. It taught me to set priorities and to let interesting and important but less crucial matters wait for a while. It taught me to focus. It built my confidence enormously. I think that is probably the single biggest contribution that my supervisor and the topic maybe, because as the topic helped me to understand more about who I am and about how I use language to communicate and about the whole process of translating concepts into language, whether as a speaker or a reader or a writer, that has given me much more confidence in my own skin and all of those qualities I use every day in my business activities. So I'm not working in a scholarly context but I feel as if the skills that I developed as a doctoral student are being used every day. It also taught me to read efficiently, to skim material to find relevant information. It taught me to listen more carefully to people, trying to understand not only the words they're saying but to try to understand what some of their own context might be because I think that meaning does depend very much on context.