Stop at Nothing isn’t just the title of my novel, it’s been the backdrop to my life!
I’d say it all began when I was a solicitor in the nineties battling against sex discrimination and fighting for equality in the workplace. My experience wasn’t unique – sexual harassment and discrimination was rife, and the glass ceiling was a very real obstacle to progress. I was a bit of a trouble-maker and of course I was warned that this attitude of mine would jeopardise my career, but that only spurred me on to do other things.
When I left the law, I set up a nanny agency, mainly in order to help those women I had worked with in the City find proper childcare that suited their hectic lives, and it was a success, (until Facebook arrived and allowed people to swap their nannies around for free), but entrepreneurship was a lonely journey for a woman back then. The books I found seemed to be directed at men, written by men and assumed an attitude to life and work that made no allowances for family or caring responsibilities, let alone time for fun and games and keeping a relationship going.
That’s when I started up a networking group Wimbledon Women in Business which is still going strong 20 years later and has given much-needed support and encouragement to hundreds of women over the last two decades. It was there that I met Bella Mehta and together we co-wrote Make It Your Business, a start-up guide for women entrepreneurs and the first of its kind. We had Theresa May and Nicola Horlick at our launch and the first print run sold out in a month. We were lucky because our timing was perfect, and there were plenty of inspirational moments that followed – meeting Gordon Brown at Number 10, becoming members and advisers the Small Business forum representing women-owned businesses, appearing on ITV news and later alongside Polly Toynbee at Lancaster House. It was all about getting women’s voices heard above what my daughter would call the cacophony of the patriarchy…
In 2010 I trained to be a teacher, but after a couple of years abandoned the classroom for private tuition, and wrote a series of books for students of French and Spanish GCSE. Having grown up in Brussels and with a Modern languages degree it seemed like the obvious career move, and I have loved it ever since. I have a YouTube channel where I post videos to help students with grammar and their oral answers and it’s been a real hit.
BUT it has taken me until my fifties to get to the point at which I truly fulfilled a lifelong dream and had a novel published. As a teenager if you’d told me that I’d never have believed you. I would have assumed I’d be in a care home staring at the telly.
No! For years I was blown around by the wind of parental and societal influence. Being true to your authentic self wasn’t really the buzzword of the eighties either, so I did as I was told and became a lawyer. It’s called being A* compliant I think. Following your dream wasn’t really encouraged in my world.
Only the usual challenges, and I’d say I’ve had a pretty amazing life so far. Doors have opened and I have had success I never expected, but that was only once I decided to do what I wanted, what made me actually happy. The biggest challenge was forging ahead with a legal career that didn’t suit me. When you’re in the wrong job, it can get very demoralising. But you have to go through those dark times to appreciate the light…
My children (obviously!) – and then getting a publisher for my first novel. I started writing properly just after reading Gone Girl. I was fascinated by how Gillian Flynn manages to manipulate the sympathy of the reader so flawlessly, and wanted to do something similar with my own writing. The happy ending to my story, and the moment that made the years of writing and editing worthwhile, was my novel getting picked up by the publisher of Gone Girl. It was a dream come true.
Bravery and authenticity. When you’re being you, and when you’re stepping out into the world saying this is who I am then you’re on the right path. While you sit in the shadows feeling like a misfit, you can’t make headway. Nobody is a misfit. You’re perfect just the way you are, but you might be in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, knocking on the wrong doors and listening to people whose views don’t matter. It takes so much courage to walk out of what isn’t working for you. But that’s the only way you find happiness and fulfilment.
I would LOVE to do mentoring. I see it as sharing the joy of life, holding someone’s hand on their journey and cheerleading them all the way. Teaching has an element of mentoring to it, as did my work with female entrepreneurs. I haven’t been formally mentored in the past but that’s probably because I considered it a luxury I wasn’t worthy of. I imagine I’m not the only person to think that. I’d sign up to a mentoring programme like a shot if it meant making a difference to someone’s life. I’m just not sure what I have to offer, because all I know is my own life journey. Could I really be useful to someone else?
Now you’re talking. Choosing one thing is too hard – it would be a choice between making childcare tax-deductible, more means-tested early years provision, gender quotas in the boardroom (I know positive discrimination isn’t popular, but I’m a fan), equal pay in the world of sport, investment in educating women and girls to take on leadership roles, and encouraging more boys and men into teaching. Boys in primary schools have so few role models and are much more likely to live with a single mother than a single father.
Choose one? Okay I’ll go with the childcare overhaul to get women back into work. Tax incentives to set up a workplace creche too. Let’s make parenting a joint, equitable and affordable responsibility.
Don’t listen to your mother. Or rather, listen to her, then assess whether you honestly think she’s right!
I want to make every day count. As well as writing the rest of the Stop at Nothing series, I want to fill my life with good things – friends, fun, a house by the sea where I can look at the big sky and remember that nothing really matters as much as you think it does.