I’ve been amazed at how positive, creative and productive she has been in the short while I’ve known her, so as with all of the Clear-Minded Creative Types so far, I wanted to find out what her secret was, and she hasn’t disappointed with her extremely honest and generous answers below, which I found very inspiring – hopefully you will too.
Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?
I’m currently living and working in Edinburgh delivering Environmental Education and training for Changeworks 2 days a week. The rest of the time I’m writing and doing random creative projects, recently I’ve been making podcasts and films and I’ve just published my first book, Banana Me Beautiful which includes my poetry, art and photography.
My formal training is in science communication (I do love a good science experiment). I recently turned my CBeebies programme idea into a 15 minute pilot episode with BBC Scotland, which I wrote, researched and presented.
Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?
Good question. I’ve always been creative, I just didn’t have the courage or time to really try things out or follow opportunities until recently. When I was 9 I wanted to be a writer, but I was awful at spelling so I shelved that dream. When I was 16 I wanted to be a TV presenter but I wasn’t perfect looking and I was scared to stand up in front of people, I shelved that too. I still can’t quite believe I’ve presented a pilot episode for CBeebies. Thankfully with CBeebies it’s about being good with children and on camera, not about perfect looks.
I came through the writing route, I wasn’t trying to be a presenter anymore but it happened. So there’s two things I completely gave up on, I’ve still not taken either of them in. Its like on your birthday, you don’t feel any different the day after to the day before.
I think generally now I have ideas of what I want to do and other things pop up along the way and I go with them if I think they’re the right. I’m not so driven by one aim or idea, I’m happy to be directed, happy to change my plans and not defined by what I do.
Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?
Yes, massively so. I’ve taken big risks financially, creatively, personally. I’ve agreed to do things and forced myself forward even though I don’t feel capable and I’m scared. I want to make a difference and you can’t do that if you let fear hold you back.
A year and a half ago I went down to 4 days a week with my current job, to allow space for writing. I lived off ‘reduced to clear’ food so I could pay my mortgage. I was pretty cold in winter too because I don’t even have central heating in my flat.
I didn’t really tell folk I was struggling, it was my choice so I didn’t think I should moan. At the same time I was the happiest I’d ever been, I was able to enjoy writing and being myself. Then a few months ago, just when I’d got financially comfortable I went down to 2 days a week with my current job. I’ve ended up with work ever since, but at the time I made the decision, right up until the time I was on less hours I had no guarantee I could pay my mortgage. I decided it was the right thing to do but had to be prepared to sell my flat if it didn’t work out.
I’d rather have a go at doing something different, something I think I’m meant to do and fail than have a comfy, risk free life. I say that now but there were plenty of times where I’d be in tears, scared shitless. Sometimes I think I’d like to just be comfy and watch DVD’s.
Then mentally I had lots of work to do too, I kept a thought diary for a couple of years, I used to struggle massively with negative thoughts. I listened to podcasts, read books and was accountable to a couple of trusted friends with my thoughts and worked slowly and painfully to change years of bad thinking. That was a sacrifice of my old self and a choice to change even if it was uncomfortable.
It’s brought so much freedom, I’m happy to be me and be creative and I’m not controlled by fear of what others think any more. But that’s why I’m passionate about people, especially children, finding freedom and self acceptance. That’s why I put out something so personal with Chipmunka, a mental health publisher.
How do you define success?
We’re brilliant, complex, imaginative, loving creatures with capacity to do so much, and I think we’re defined by our choices and they determine our success. We choose how we react to life. I think success is more about your character and how you deal with what life throws at you; how you respond to feedback, how you adapt to change.
To me success is the ability to be content in the now, no matter if it’s good or not. When everything falls apart around you and you’ve got nothing, but you can still smile, that’s success.
What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?
I love Twitter, I hate Twitter, I write poems to Twitter about my Twitter addiction and I don’t tweet them since this would exacerbate the problem. I’m working on my addiction at present.
That aside, I see modern technology as a massively positive and powerful sharing tool. I use audio and video to tell stories and social media to share them and connect with other people and their stories.
I think it’s important to have a good balance of being with or without technology. I wrote one of my favourite stories when I was out in the wilderness, away from modern technology.
Too much technology can be unnaturally stifling. My eyes hurt some days when I’ve been editing audio and emailing and I’ll go for a wee walk to remind myself I’m a human being, separate and unconnected to my computer…
Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why? And if you collaborate, do you have any essential do’s and don’ts when it comes to working with others on creative stuff?
I do both but I really enjoy working in a creative team, I feel alive when I’m contributing and inventing something new with others, creating a bigger picture and seeing something grow. It’s a wonderful process to be part of when together you’re more than the sum of your parts. I usually write stories or poems alone but take them to others for feedback.
Do’s: When collaborating, encourage others. Listen to people. You need to be honest but respectful with it. If you have an issue, talk to the person about it, not about the person to others.
For a team to work on a creative project get a mix of skills, people who will get work done, those who will look at the detail and others who will look at the big picture, and inspire with vision. It’s easy to be a creative team that’s all ideas and no action. Cake and tea are essential too!
I have to work alone to get some things done but I respond to feedback so where ever I can I will seek it because I want to know how I’m doing, what I could improve, what was good. I’m motivated by praise and encouragement from others – if I don’t get feedback I tend to be less motivated and produce less, and if someone tells me I’m doing a good job I tend to do it better in response. I find working alone for long periods of time hard since I lose motivation.
Is community important to you – either local or online -and if so, why?
Yes, massively so. I think we need community to keep us sane. I know I need people around me who are real and honest and will tell me if I’m being an idiot and I owe it to others to do that too.
I have community in my friends in Edinburgh, it’s been hard lately since 6 of my closest friends have moved to different countries (in the last 6 months) and I’ve had to make an effort to make new friends and re-establish my community. I’m getting there slowly.
I go to church so that’s great for community, there are community groups that meet through the week and I go to one with a bunch of young professional every Tuesday. I’ve always volunteered in the community too, since I was a child, I think it’s important to have a focus on what you can do for others rather than what you can get from them.
I’m trying to find a new writers group since most of the people in the group I was in have moved away and the last is about to move to America. While that was going we all provided support and encouragement to each other and it was brilliant to be able to share your work with people who care and are interested.
Lastly, I really enjoy being part of the social media community on Twitter, I like reading peoples links, responding to them and generally sharing ideas. It often makes me smile and laugh too, I like that about it, it’s fun. I’ve gone on to meet people in the real world and work or socialise with them but we started our acquaintance on Twitter so it’s an online community that establishes creative, geographical and physical community in the real world too.
I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?
I’ve done around 14 storytelling courses over the last few years and have worked to develop skills through training but also through using it in my every day job with children. l still go to courses now when I can even though I deliver storytelling training now myself – you never stop learning. Playing my guitar though, because it’s not my day job, I don’t put the effort in. When ever I do play it, I love it. I want to do it more but I don’t.
So my advice is learn something you’ll use and use it so you’re forced to keep learning. Always look to improve and grow and learn and if you don’t enjoy something then learn something else you do enjoy. And then use it!
Thanks Emily! There’s some more info below on the multitude of escapades she’s up to if you want to find out more. In the meantime, if you found this interview interesting, please say hello in the comments.
Emily has performed her stories to a variety or audiences including live to 1000 children on the Internet through Scottish National Schools intranet Glow (breaking a record) and to the Queen herself during the presentation of the Queens Award to the Scottish Seabird Centre.
Emily volunteers as a multimedia journalist for award winning Hyper-local website Greener Leith and as an Edinbuzz Social Media surgeon (helping community groups with things like Facebook and Twitter). As shown in the video above, she received an Inspiring Volunteer Award for her volunteering earlier this year.
Emily will be at the Fringe Thursday nights in August at the ‘Live in Leith’ (part of Leith on the Fringe at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall). She is also doing a Ragged talk on 28th August as part of Leith on the Fringe.