Freelance Journalist Interview with Meryl Cubley
Hi there Meryl! You’re getting back into freelancing after some time away – what kind of thing are you looking to write about and work on? Which publications or websites would you love to write for? What advice would you give to budding freelancers out there?
Hi Phoebe! Yes it has been some time since I’ve been fully committed to freelancing, but it feels great to be back! I’m always keen to write about anything that affects women, as well as writing about my own first-hand experiences. The landscape for women both in the workplace and in society in general is constantly changing and developing, and I never tire of projects where a strong female perspective gives good edge to a piece.
I am also now blog manager for an organisation in the financial sector, as well as doing their company copywriting and media-related work; and I am really enjoying it!
It's fantastic to be writing about the current affairs that affect us all, business news, commercial markets, the public and private sectors, banking, mortgages, inflation, utility price hikes, and so on… I've always had a strong interest in these sectors. And it illustrates rather well that in order to make freelancing work you must have strengths in other areas so that you can find regular work that pays the bills – in addition to the work you do simply for the love of it. My advice would be don't let romantic illusions of idealistic and poverty stricken writers cloud your money-making judgement. Freelancing isn't easy – and it's not particularly lucrative – so you have to make sure you're really passionate about what you do.
In addition, at the start of this year I won another ongoing contract to work with an agency who provide copywriting services to many sectors including travel, financial and publishing. It really is a great start to 2014 – and, again, underlines the importance of being able to diverge in one's career, in order to continue successfully. I'm thinking that the term 'wordsmith' should be bought back – it really does describe what I do well.
What do you love most about freelancing – what it is about freelancing that has brought you back to the industry?
The beauty of freelancing is that you are in the driving seat. You’re the boss, if you like. I’ve never been a 'nine to five' person, in all honesty, and I like the flexibility of freelancing – my work fits around my life, rather than the other way around. Of course, there are downsides. Anyone looking to get into freelancing should be very aware that without savings put by (or a very supportive partner or family) you will find it very difficult in the current climate to survive by freelancing alone. I know of editors at very high-end glossy titles who have left to go freelance, for whatever reason, a baby perhaps, and even they are finding it difficult to get enough work to survive. The budgets are simply not there at the moment. Essentially, the bottom line is that household bills come out of your account on a monthly basis and unless you’ve got enough earnings in your account every month you’re going to get into trouble. I’ve been very lucky recently in finding work, which means I now have more freedom to spend on acquiring niche freelance work. It means that some of the freelance work I do can include work I really love doing, rather than work governed by whatever publication pays the most…
The financial crash definitely changed journalism – a lot of people are writing for publications for free now, and with the rise of blogging and Twitter there is always free content out there. Do you think journalism can ever go back to how it was when you started out? If not, how do you see it developing in the future?
No, I don't see journalism going back to how it used to be at all – there would have to be some kind of cultural U-turn for that. How it will develop in the future is that there will be more online magazines and blogs with followers – who will eventually become paid-up 'members' or subscribers. There is already content out there that people have to pay for; and whilst at the moment it's not popular (and why should it be when, as you say, there is so much free content out there) I think what will happen is that eventually people will want to 'belong' to a certain medium that promotes certain lifestyles, interests, culture and so on… People are starting to, or already do, pay for content, and I think in the next few years we will see a shift…
I think it's also possible that online 'areas' will continue to develop, and that gatherings and events and promotions associated with an online presence – yet happening outside of the internet, in 'real time' – will become increasingly popular. You may also see a cult and desire for printed-word materials as we become ever more entangled in our online 'selves.'
You’ve previously written for a huge variety of outlets including The Guardian, Marie Claire, as well as B2B publications – that almost covers the whole industry! What have been some of your favourite pieces you’ve worked on?
Yes, when I started out I was very lucky to work on some amazing titles and broadsheets. It was rather a halcyon time and the work really did come to me – rather than my having to chase it. The financial crash really changed all that, particularly in journalism.
I was incredibly privileged to write the life and times of Iain Banks for Humanitie last summer, following the upsetting news of his death.
My work with Humanitie is always incredibly interesting. I often write book reviews for the publication, and in a previous edition discussed whether we can learn anything from the past by studying yesterday’s society – which was a review of Jared Diamond’s ‘The World Until Yesterday’.
I am passionate about the work that I do for Rude Magazine, working closely with long-time collaborator and good friend Nicci Talbot. Nicci and I go back a long way – we worked together on the fabulous Scarlet Magazine (now sadly defunct) back in the day. What was important to us then is still very much important to us today: A celebration of strong, inspirational women, who offer an alternative to the traditional weight loss/celebrity crashes/how-to-turn-your-man-on, women’s magazine saturation. We’re also big believers in ‘slow journalism’ – meaning that we take the time to reflect on culture and news, rather than churning it out. That’s why we now produce quarterly issues with a specific focus. I get to interview some amazing people with Rude Magazine, far too many to name here! However, my particular favourite has to be the work we did with the most-fabulous TV producer Sue Bourne. Readers may be familiar with her latest work – 'Fabulous Fashionistas' for Channel 4. You can read my interview with Sue here.
Another fascinating interview was with Gabriel Weston, author of 'Dirty Work' – a totally different subject matter, but no less fascinating. Take a look at my conversation with her here.
How do you juggle your regular duties on Rude Magazine and Humanitie with other work?
Both publications are quarterly/bi-monthly so there’s never a problem. Plus I enjoy a little pressure – if you’re no good at multiple deadlines, you’re no good as a freelancer!
You’ve also written erotica under the pen name of Sylvia Hadfield for Ustar Novels – what are the benefits of writing under a pen name, and would you consider branching out into other genres with another nom-de-plume?
When I started working with Ustar I was also doing a lot of corporate journalism work – so the pseudonym was really out of respect for that publication – and its clients. I did have some fun with it however: ‘Sylvia’ comes from my mother’s Christian name (though no one calls her that – she is known by a particular nickname – which I am not at liberty to divulge, for fear of maternal-disapproval!) and Hadfield, comes from the artist Hadfield Cubley – who my father was related to. So really a potentially awkward family conversation about my latest work (erotica is not something most of us want to discuss around the familial dinner table!) became something of a private joke.
My third novel with Ustar is 'Provocative Love' – it’s a story set in Paris, based around a mysterious and explicit mémoire, a world of cloak and dagger anonymity, and is quite a seductive and decadent adventure! You can also find my titles 'Amsterdam Lessons' and 'Pride and Prejudice and Debauchery' on the Ustar website. The latter featured on '8 out of 10 Cats' a few years ago on their Christmas special!
The books are lots of fun and very popular – they make a great present for couples (as they’re personalised) and people really seem to like them, so I’d definitely say they’d make a great and light-hearted gift.
I have no problem writing under a pen name – it gives a certain freedom when writing erotica – however, my future forays into the publishing world will be under my own name. I just need to find the time (and the guts!) to get started on that elusive novel!
Are writers born, or do you think anyone can be a writer?
From a very early age I was writing stories and illustrating them, I’m fascinated by words and structure – if the question is can you ‘learn’ that passion and creativity? I’m not sure that you can – you either love to write and communicate or you’re not interested. Perhaps a creative person would find it easier to set about writing than say an accountant, but I do think that for me personally, writing is something I absolutely must do – if I wasn’t writing it would literally feel as if I had lost a limb. Some writers are better than others of course, but the best writer is one who can write a balanced piece – whilst retaining a ‘voice’ that is both strong and unique – not easy!
How can PRs help you with your work, and how should they get in touch?
A lot of freelance journalists find Twitter useful for inspiration for features and for making contacts – do you use social media in your work?
What media do you enjoy in your spare time (TV, film, magazines, papers, books, blogs)?
I’m a bit of a sucker for 'Downton Abbey'! Or any well-written drama.
I also love boxsets – especially in the winter.
I follow Cherry Healey as I think she does a great job of being accessible – and professional.
When I’m relaxing you’ll often find me soaking in a long bath, with a glass of bubbles, and my nose firmly in a romping good novel!