WORD of MOUTH LONDON CONVERSATIONS
BY: LILY CLAYTON HANSEN EDITED BY: MICHAEL LIPKIN DESIGNED BY: MARISSA ANTKOWIAK POLAROIDS BY: LILY CLAYTON HANSEN
hile it is dangerous to make broad stroke generalizations about other countries, there are cultural overlays that dictate our behavior. Many Brits I chatted with, and one American, during my three months in the United Kingdom seemed to believe that they couldn’t monetize their passion. However, the following interviews show that there are outliers living in London’s own backyard. Every single one of my subjects allowed their passion to override the need for financial stability. Their desire for freedom through entrepreneurialism was stronger than the voices that said, “I can’t.” Expanding their sense of what is possible served as the driving force in each of their stories. I arrived in London at a precarious time. Great Britain as a nation had voted for Brexit three months prior and there was a distinct sense of fear in the air. London was lovely on the surface, yet also laced in gloom. Why was I in London, you might ask? Well, because I fell in love with a Brit. In attempts to understand our cultural differences, I relied upon my favorite medium—the art of conversation. Being new to the country, I felt lost and lonely. The best way to understand my surroundings was through the stories of its people. By means of my conversations with writers, reverends, and psychoanalysts, I began to understand what the country was about. In the same style that I had produced my first three books in the Word of Mouth Conversations series, I partnered with a portrait photographer, Fergus Greer. He provided introductions to interesting folks who matched the criteria I was looking for: soulful, self-made, and spirited visionaries. All were living their truth. Photo by: Stefan Jakubowski
My resulting conversations break the myth that the Brits do not like to talk about themselves or their emotions. Everyone I chatted with willingly opened up about what he or she does and more importantly, how they feel about what they do. My goal was to see each as they were and translate that authenticity in a dignified way onto the page. Passion, drive, and the willingness to work hard underscore their stories. Each person, as shareholder activist Julian Treger puts it best, possesses an edge, or silver bullet. Whether it was a science communicator or toy design consultant, each subject got a grip on what made them unique and applied that accordingly to carve out their niche. Organically, they naturally attracted the right people and circumstances to make their dreams a reality. Money or status was not a motivator but rather, being able to do what they loved. Lastly, most of my subjects had lived outside of London at some point. Being abroad had instilled a global perspective that they could achieve more than the lot they had been given. Through risk-taking they figured out how to live and also pursue what they love. These are not people who worked, retired, and then pursued their true passion. They wanted to exercise their gifts and make an impact on their ecosystem. Their stories exemplify how the right context can influence the choices that we make. Rather than twisting themselves into a pretzel to fit societal norms, they followed their joy. Simply by being themselves, they inspire others and disrupt the status quo. They didn’t live for the weekends.
SOPHIA HILSLEY PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPIST AT A PRIVATE PRACTICE When you’re working with the unconscious, nothing is logical. What is right to one person can feel wrong to another. Psychodynamic psychotherapist Sophia Hilsley takes her patient’s lead and remains fluid in her approach. At a private practice, Hilsley provides a safe space for patients to explore personal challenges. No human is ever the same, therefore it is necessary for each therapist to be malleable in terms of their model. In her own sessions, Hilsley provides a reflective space where one can better understand and learn how to cope with life’s difficulties. However, the bottom line, in the born-and-bred Londoner’s mind, is that one must develop a desire to change. The human mirror is a catalyst for heightening hope and lessening fear.
You had a great piece of writing on your website about being aware of how much media one consumes. Do you think this affects most people? SH: Yes. With Brexit, Trump, and all the difficult things happening across the world stage, it can all feel quite overwhelming. I would find myself getting quite worked up from accessing the news so often via my phone and became aware that I was almost always searching for bad news. A lot of my patients have been affected by recent political events. The immediacy of social media means that things
can feel worse than ever before. I have to be very careful about what I take in because it starts affecting my mental health. SH: Exactly. It is useful to consider the question, “Is it your stress or someone’s else?” You need time to figure that out because it can all start to blend together. When you’re on your own and have a bit of space, you can reflect on these feelings and figure out the source. Therapy also provides a safe space to do this.
What do you think society should do more of? SH: Nothing. It’s easy to get consumed with the activity of doing, rather than being. We increasingly value busyness as an indicator of successful living. Were you always so easy to open up to? SH: If you’ve been through therapy, as I have, it’s easier to be more open and honest with people rather than being defensive about your feelings. Do people open up to you in real life? SH: Yes. You know when you go to a party and you’re the person in the corner having the “deep and meaningfuls” and you’re watching everyone else have a good time? That’s me. Same. SH: Same. People who want to talk about real stuff tend to gravitate towards me. Very early on I realized that I wasn’t very good at social niceties. I found that to be particularly difficult in the environment I grew up in London—conversations could feel quite shallow and inauthentic. When you ask proper questions, you get proper answers. How did you gravitate towards therapy as a career? SH: At university, I got into left-wing politics and representing my student union. I learnt to talk to people who were often very upset. Those skills helped me to coach them through emotional difficulty. Then going through therapy, I realized that I valued the process of figuring out my own patterns. Where does your interest in looking inward stem from? SH: I grew up in South West London, where I was a minority and forced to understand myself in the context of not fitting in. I envied the girls at school with long, blonde hair and would try to iron my own, which was a disaster of course! I was also quite bookish and loved disappearing off into myself. The people I tended to get on with were artistic, nonconformist, analytical, and naturally introspective. How would you describe therapy in your own words? SH: Being able to connect with someone else in the room. The basis of therapy is dependent upon the relationship between patient and therapist. Do you think most people don’t have meaningful conversations? SH: Yes, and they may rarely receive someone’s complete attention and focus. I think most of us realise how rare it is day to day to feel that we are being properly listened to and thought about. Most of us are too busy or distracted to do that. It’s powerful to give yourself to someone in that way. Can you describe that connection a bit further? SH: Most people interact in a way that is slightly removed. Our thoughts may drift onto how the other person perceives us or to other distractions. As a therapist you aim to give your undivided attention. Of course, your mind might wander to how that experience is impacting you, but ultimately it always comes back to how that relates to the person in the room.
What is one interesting fact that most people wouldn’t know about therapy? SH: The patient leads the sessions and therapeutic style. Why do most people come to therapy? SH: As a famous therapist Jacques Lacan once said, “To put their defences back into place.” They’ve been doing something forever and suddenly it stops working, which can feel overwhelming.
“ALL YOU CAN DO IS LISTEN, BE PRESENT, AND PROVIDE A RELIABLE, NON-JUDGEMENTAL SPACE. YOU CAN’T RUSH.” If a patient doesn’t want to change, do you feel rejected? SH: I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it difficult and sometimes even heartbreaking. It’s impossible to not want to blame yourself for not reading a situation more intuitively or taking things more slowly. However, sometimes that ending can be one of the most powerful sources of understanding. Do you ever think “I can’t help this person”? SH: All you can do is listen, be present and provide a reliable, non-judgemental space. You can’t rush. Why do you think we feel so pressured to be perfect in society? SH: I don’t know, but it feels destructive to believe that we have to be brilliant at everything. True liberation comes from freeing yourself of what others think. What is one strategy you use in therapy? SH: A lot of people get very overwhelmed by therapy because if their past was troubled, they can wonder if they’ll ever get away from it. I aim to take a more holistic approach, which is seeing the person in the room and considering what might work for them at any moment. What is one cultural observation you’ve made recently? SH: The world is shifting in a way that can feel oppressive and uncomfortable. It’s why I feel more inclined than ever to speak out against injustice. If I don’t, how can I expect others to? There is good in everyone and everything. What is your favourite thing about your job? SH: I feel privileged and honoured to be able to witness people’s life stories. I’ve learned an awful lot about different types of people, religions, ages, sexualities, cultures and ways of living. My mind has been opened in ways that I never knew it could be. People can never get boring.
NAN RICHARDS PARTNER & MANAGING DIRECTOR AT KCD LONDON, AN AMERICAN LIVING IN LONDON Nan Richards, partner and managing director at KCD London, an international fashion public relations and event agency, is a seeker who will never do the same thing twice. Most recently, Richards had another reinvention at age 50 proving that great things happen when you omit the word “no” from your vocabulary when it comes to life’s possibilities. The small-town Minnesota girl literally embodies the American dream. Her positive mindset is how she gets what she wants. After earning her BA in journalism and attending law school, Richards, who worked briefly for World Championship Tennis, applied for a job at Turner Broadcasting. She climbed the ranks of the media behemoth, from sales representative to President. When she joined forces at KCD in 2012, her experience of managing cable networks, developing new content, and revenue streams, converged. While working with clients from Chanel to Alexander Wang and contributing to the £20-billion industry, she parlays her two passions into a dream career: fashion and making great things happen. While there was never a grand plan, Richards’ zest for life and drive has made for an incredible legacy. In our conversation, she candidly speaks to the realities of taboo topics like balancing work and motherhood, and how by not trying too hard, she has hit on multiple dream careers.
How would you describe yourself to someone who didn’t know you? NR: Jack-of-all-trades, yet master of none. Although a friend once described me as “the least ambitious, most successful person he’d ever met.” I never clawed my way to the top but rather cluelessly took on more than the next person. I fell into my first career and in love with it along the way. I’ve never really sat down and thought about my path before chatting with you but it’s interesting to see how everything pieced itself together because at times it seemed quite haphazard. Maybe there is a rhyme to the reason after all. How much was your Midwestern upbringing a part of your drive? NR: Growing up in Minnesota, I was very sporty and motivated to always do my best. My parents inspired me to constantly raise the bar. I gained a lot of my confidence from growing up in a tight knit family in a small community. I attended journalism school at the University of Minnesota because I loved writing and was a news junkie from a young age. However, I was never fixated on one thing. I always wanted to experience everything. After college, I moved to New York City and started working at CNN. In 1990, I moved to London because of Turner Broadcasting where I was involved in all aspects of the company including creative, production, marketing, and business development. Then, to my kids’ dismay, I left Scooby Doo for fashion. What frustrates you most in life? NR: I wouldn’t call it a frustration but I always want to know and learn more. It’s that desire to see, do and be a part of the next big thing – whatever that may be.
“REAL POWER LIES IN MAKING AN IMPACT WITH OTHERS.”
How does one leap from the advertising sales department of CNN in New York to becoming President of Turner Broadcasting Europe/Middle East/Africa? NR: I worked in New York for Ted Turner, an incredible icon of news and television. He was the ultimate maverick at the time for launching a 24/7 news channel. Everything circles back to my passion and commitment. I loved everything about that space. My career progressed from taking over one division to the next to eventually assuming a multi-faceted role where I was in the middle of a lot. I worked hard, was grateful, and up for anything. Again, I love new. What qualities do you think make someone successful? NR: A lot of success comes down to the people that believe in you along the way. Whenever I felt as though I had mastered one role, my company would offer me something else to take on. They believed in me and provided opportunities that I didn’t know existed. Aside from a solid work ethic, having the ability to get along with all kinds of people is critical. Emotional intelligence is the be-all, end-all in my book. Real power lies in
making an impact with others. What is some advice you would give others in your industry? NR: Be confident enough to hire those who are better and smarter than you. Then everyone on your team will bring something unique to the table. Why do you love fashion so much? NR: Fashion is one of the most challenging and fascinating industries. It’s not frivolous in the least bit. I get to work with amazing people and am inspired every day. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still show up at the office. How did you get into your current industry? NR: My friends, the owners of KCD, wanted to launch a London office. We were always waiting for the right time and also wanted to create something unique. A new-age fashion public relations, marketing, and branding company was the perfect convergence of my skill set along with KCD’s longstanding expertise. Were you ever in a situation where you didn’t do well and recovered? NR: After 20 years at Turner, I went to work at a technology start up for over a year. I honestly, barely understood what they did. It was a total departure from my usual existence and through that I realised that I don’t do tech. While I learned a lot, and was glad to have tried something new, it just wasn’t me so I bowed out. That experience reinforced that I need to be passionate about my job. What is one piece of advice you could give to working mothers? NR: Ask for help. I had the same nanny who looked after my two sons for ten years. She was literally an angel on earth. However, I had to be confident enough in myself to know that I wasn’t going to lose my kids to her. No one can do it all so I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who want to support you. My kids respect the fact that I am careerdriven yet also spend a lot of quality time with them. You learn to make life work in whatever situation you’re given. My motto is, “sleep when you’re dead”, which drives everyone crazy! What is the biggest challenge of being a parent these days? NR: Trying to instill a work ethic in your kids. The world feels entitled because of platforms like Instagram, which makes everything look so easy. I think it’s going to be a real slap in the face when kids have to figure out life on their own. What is your favourite thing about what you do? NR: I love the variety. If I’m not doing a million things at once I get bored. I also feel so lucky to be in an industry where people are so immersed in their work. Lastly, this role is perfect, as I don’t like being the center of attention but love being in the middle of the action on behalf of others. Psychologically there must be a reason for that. Maybe I have some deep-seated issues that I don’t know about. People always ask, “Why are you so happy?” I would think it’s because I’ve had so many great experiences and a charmed life in many ways.
DALE MATHERS JUNGIAN ANALYIST, AUTHOR, PUBLIC SPEAKER
Everything in Dale Mathers’ work circles back to his incredible fascination with story. The Jungian Analyst is fascinated by how we use narration to tell deeper truths, and fallacies, about others and ourselves. Dale grew up on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. Living in the Iona community, a Christian Socialist commune taught him to pay attention to the subtleties of communication. During the winter, their population was less than forty and access to transportation, electricity, and outside news was scarce. This context taught Dale how to walk into another’s house, literally and metaphorically, and realize whether or not he was intruding or not. While the author, public speaker, and Jungian analyst underwent decades of training later on, his ability to analyze, empathize, and unlock doors was learnt early. He uses those skills to help patients share and deconstruct their complexes and patterns. Dale’s curiosity and ability to not pass judgment is why others feel comfortable exploring their pain with him.
What was your upbringing on Iona like? DM: I grew up in a proper commune. For better or worse, I was raised with the idea that Self is always a part of a collective. Really, we are all a part of a group in one way or another, and we have collections of personalities within us. Similarly, people in our lives know us in various contexts. Each person we meet is like a large group. I realized this early on, having 30 mums and dads who all felt at liberty to give me their perspective at any point in time. Did this spark an initiative to find out who you were outside of the group?
DM: It was a very free childhood. I could get up, go have my breakfast, and wander about without anyone asking where I had gone. Iona was a very safe space. We later moved to York, Northern Ireland, and Glasgow. My father was a minister and worked in the youth service. My mum was a maths teacher, which instilled that way of thinking in me. I find analysis to be quite natural. When did you first become interested in psychotherapy? DM: When I was about seven, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. At age eight, I went into the abbey library one day and someone had left a copy of Jung’s Memories, Dreams,
and Reflections on the table, which I read in one sitting. I related to his story about sitting on a rock and wondering if the rock knew what he was doing. The idea that we can talk to nature seemed perfectly natural to me. There was a woman who lived next door to our community who we called the Fairy Woman and her ability to speak to mystical creatures was very real. Even at that age, I related to Jung’s study of dreams and concepts such as splitting, which is the difference between what your mum and dad say and actually do. Can you talk a bit about how your community related to one another? DM: There was an expectation, especially when I was a little one, that people would just say what they were thinking. You could talk to anyone about anything in any time and anywhere. Listening to others and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings within the context of the community was easy. In a commune-based experience you have to be empathic, otherwise everyone would go mental. Did you also have to learn to read body language? DM: Yes. There is a difference between the words that someone says and what is going on inside of them. As a child, I would guide tourists around the abbey and tell them stories about our community. If I didn’t know one I would make one up. That relates to analysis, which is about listening to and analyzing the stories of another’s experience.
“EVERYONE WANTS THEIR STORY HEARD... THAT ONLY HAPPENS IF SOMEONE IS VERY PATIENT, REALLY LSTENS, AND ISN’T PUSHING.”
training. Being an analyst is similar to being a musician in the way that the gift is naturally there. The training teaches you how to keep the boundaries clear so your work and personal life don’t bleed together. Do you think that everyone is playing a role in real life? DM: Yes, because a persona is a very important part of the psyche. Just like skin, if you went out without your persona on you’d leak everywhere. It only becomes a problem when someone goes through traumatic experiences and has to hide their true self because it’s too scary and vulnerable. Most people’s personas are easy to slip in and out like a very comfortable pair of jeans. What initially attracted you to your profession and how has that changed? DM: Going back to my childhood, I always thought people were amazing and awesome. I was fascinated by the infinite amount of stories that we tell others and ourselves. Plus, I grew up in a world where there wasn’t much outside communication, so you relied upon the stories everyone told each other all day. How do you prompt your patients to open up? DM: I try to remember how my analyst put up with me for 15 years, three or four times a week. Everyone wants their story heard and to hear themselves. That only happens if someone is very patient, really listens, and isn’t pushing. When you are listened to deeply then you start to listen to yourself. What is something that you found surprising about your line of work? DM: When analysis is going well, you are in a flow state. You’re not thinking because the action is faster than thinking. It comes from your intuition. People often think that I’m attending to the spoken word when what I’m really watching is the body language. It’s very similar to singing harmonies with another person.
Do you trust your own memory? DM: No. At age 61, it’s also not as spot-on as it used to be. We all make up memories and have the ability to create ones around things that never happened. A lot of my patients retell stories that are worse than what really happened or leave out huge chunks of what did happen. Creating a false memory makes more sense than having a black hole. A lot of analytic work is disentangling whose story you are listening to.
What is the best compliment a client has ever given you? DM: I ran a group for heroin addicts at St. George’s Hospital. They were all in their mid-twenties and nothing had worked for them as far as getting off drugs. One day, the leader of the group said, “We’re not going to treat them anymore. We’re just here to keep them alive.” We had one memorable night where we were talking about knife crime and they all brought their weapons out. Each person was telling me their knife stories and finally said, “You don’t have a knife.” When I left, they gave me a Swiss army knife. I could join the gang as well.
Everything is about interpretation. DM: Exactly. Most of my clients are highly creative people and some dance, play music or perform during a session because that’s how they can explain what they are feeling. Their bodies do the talking.
What gets you up on the days when you don’t want to do your job? DM: The best thing about my job is when someone stops therapy. You’ve been on a journey together and have gotten to the point where they can go off and do it themselves.
Was that what attracted you to Jungian-style psychotherapy? DM: I did medicine at university because, in my mind, that was the route to becoming a qualified psychotherapist. My path was medical training, psychiatry, psychotherapist, and then analytic
In a few sentences, how would you explain analysis? DM: Analysis is about trying to feel like a child. When you build a frame that creates safety for the child inside then the really meaningful stuff comes through.
ROSALIND O’SHAUGHNESSY ACCIDENT & EMERGENCY CONSULTANT, AT A CENTRAL LONDON HOSPITAL Seeing others at their most vulnerable, you realize how precious life is. Glamorous, grounded, and light spirited, one would never think Rosalind O’Shaughnessy runs one of London’s busiest emergency rooms. The Accident and Emergency Consultant at a central London Hospital fell in love with medicine later on in life. Born and raised in Hampstead, O’Shaughnessy is the daughter of a philosopher and a psychoanalyst. She was privy to both of their passions while growing up and she internalized her parent’s philosophy— pursue career paths that excite you. After a medical emergency allowed her to discover her true purpose at age 27, bit by bit, everything clicked into place. She realized the adrenaline-filled, hectic world of acute medicine excited her most. While O’Shaughnessy’s responsibilities are endless, overseeing junior doctors, meeting with her own patients, and guiding a myriad of teams, she handles the stress with grace. The crazy bustle gets her going, yet the quieter moments are also terribly rewarding. Medicine is a lifelong apprenticeship and her source of contentment.
What was your upbringing like? RO: My parents were very thoughtful people, which was reflected in the nature of their work. My father was an academic and also incredibly erudite across all of the arts. He worked on his philosophy from home half of the year, and my mother also had a home consulting room. I am grateful for my stable, lovely family.
What did you want to be as a kid? RO: It took me a long time to choose my career, which is why I have great sympathy for others in the same boat. When I went to university, it was a bit shocking to see that a lot of the students already knew what they wanted to do. I was pursuing my passion but had no idea about my future work life.
How did you stumble upon your own passion? RO: At Oxford I studied maths, which I found terribly interesting but also very narrow, so I began studying philosophy as well. Next, I realized that I didn’t want an academic ivory tower life like my parents. From there, I began working at a breakfast television show, as a researcher in the newsroom. Eventually I moved over to Channel 4 news. While those jobs were fun, I would call that period the “so what?” phase. During that time, I got appendicitis and would see all of the surgeons marching into the surgical ward like the cavalry had arrived. I was so impressed by the environment and work. I knew I could not come home from the hospital and think, where did my day go? What was it about medicine that so appealed? RO: Fundamentally, I am very interested in other human beings and what makes them tick. It’s a very rewarding career. What steps did you take next? RO: After completing the necessary courses I had to take to get into medical school, I applied and was accepted at a top program in London. Next, I moved to Los Angeles to work at UCLA. There, I saw the world of medicine from as high a standard as the UK— yet from a different perspective. The physicians worked so incredibly hard and almost prided themselves on never taking a holiday. Obviously the big difference was that health coverage wasn’t universal in America, which I found very, very strange. Ironically, they thought that the UK’s system was crazy. What drew you to working in the emergency room? RO: When I was very pregnant with my first baby, I wanted to do pediatrics. However, there was no program that would let me study part-time. So I looked around and found a family practice internship program which would let me achieve it over two years instead of one. Yet, I realized rather quickly that I was more attracted to acute medicine. I just loved the energy of the emergency room, which was always buzzing with total madness and great camaraderie between the team members. I imagine the ER requires a choreographed chaos similar to a dance. RO: I knew on my first night shifts in America that the ER was where I was meant to be. I used to do night shifts, which started at 9PM and went through until 8AM, and the only way to get through was if your evening was packed with action. My kids joke that I only have two gears, which are 100-miles an hour or asleep. What are you currently working on? RO: For the last ten years I’ve been working as an advisor on medical dramas like the BBC show Casualty, Holby City, and some episodes of Downtown Abbey. On Casualty, the writers work out the narrative and then ask me which medicine or illness will fit the flow of the story. I usually have to read four or five drafts to make sure each episode is right. What do you think it is about your personality that makes you good at what you do?
RO: The understanding of science, a reasonably good memory, and good people skills. If you do hands-on medicine, you have to be able to make proper contact with your patients. Emergency medicine is also about making fast decisions on your feet. You have to constantly prioritize and re-prioritize, have a high stamina and stress threshold, and not be freaked out by horrible scenes.
“OF COURSE WE RECEIVE VIOLENCE, AGGRESSION, AND ABUSE IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM, BUT I AM CONSTANTLY IMPRESSED BY PEOPLE’S KINDNESS.” Do you think you’re wired in a different way than most? RO: Yes and no. A lot of it has to do with context. If I see a horrible car accident out in the street, I would still find it upsetting. If I didn’t, I would be worried that I had become a lesser human being. In an emergency room environment, my desire to help gets the best of me. You tolerate the situation so you can do something about it. There are scenarios that are upsetting beyond belief. After you deal, it’s important to reflect on them afterwards. Feeling upset is normal. How do you recover from a job that is so stimulating? RO: Downtime, proper holidays, and taking quiet time. You have to switch off. On the other hand, if I stop for too long, I don’t like that either. What do you think would surprise others about your line of work? RO: What other people do and have to deal with. Human beings are so extraordinary in good and not-so-good ways. Do you ever lose faith in people when you see so much bad in the world? RO: No, I would say it’s the opposite—of course we receive violence, aggression, and abuse in the emergency room, but I also am constantly impressed by people’s kindness. You see how deeply families love one another and how much your staff gives to patients. Those moments outweigh the negative experiences. Does your job make you think about the preciousness of life more often? RO: It makes me feel privileged. While you do develop a bit of a shield, I also often think, one day I will be on the other side of the room. I try to always remember how painful the suffering must feel. If I lost that empathy, I would have to give up my job. I always want to remember that I am so lucky to not be sick.
ILLUSTRATOR, TOY & CONCEPT DESIGNER AT TRICLOPS STUDIO Can you imagine working somewhere where everyone has toys all over their desk? Toy and concept designer Luc Hudson gets paid to answer the question, “What could this be?” The co-owner of Triclops Studio thrives when designing weird and wonderful products under a tight deadline. Hudson grew up in the peaceful Lake District in Cumbria, England. There weren’t a lot of shops and his family didn’t have much money. Therefore, Hudson relied upon his imagination, a relentless source of entertainment to this day. After beginning his career as a toy designer at industry giant Hasbro, he carved out his own niche with Triclops Studio. Along with his business partner who is also his all-time favorite collaborator, Rob, Hudson innovates toys, board games and environments for television shows and brands like Lego and Mattel. By not hemming his imagination in, Hudson adds a fresh spin to evergreen concepts. He wants to bring back an appreciation for physical toys in a world where we can see anything we want at all times online.
What were you like as a kid? LH: I remember drawing a lot and always making objects out of whatever was around. My dad taught me how to make a whistle out of a piece of wood, and we would make characters out of clay. There wasn’t an awful lot to buy so you had to make your own toys. It was a great place to be a kid but, when I got to be a teenager I knew there was more of the world that I wanted to see and access. How would you compare your childhood to today’s world? LH: The Internet has been such a massive sea change in
every way, from research, to reference material, to the fact that information is constantly refreshing online. What’s great is having access to anything in the world, and what I don’t like is being constantly switched on. Screens pull you away from the present moment. I do find myself comparing today to how it was before—and therefore missing the past. Whether it’s a toy or a book, I have this very strong need for stuff. LH: I agree and it’s the tactile quality. I bought a Kindle when it first came out but hardly use it anymore because I’ve gone back to books. There’s something weird about
trying to emulate a big, beautiful coffee table book in the virtual world. I’ve witnessed something interesting in my industry, which is that once people see a toy enough times, from this blog to that social media account, they are kind of bored of it because of our ability to access anything. This depletes the value of creations. The world is too readily available. Customers don’t see the hours you’ve invested, which is why they often go with cheap. How do you keep yourself in a childlike spirit that as adults we so often lose? LH: I think people tend to overthink how they’re behaving. They are inhibited by and concerned with what everyone else thinks. Where if we just did what we wanted, that would be a much better way to carry on. In the first two or three years, everyone can draw at a similar level but at a certain point when they feel they aren’t as good, they stop. Sadly then, as adults, they don’t pursue those same creative activities because they’re rusty and think, why bother being artistic? Everyone wants that outlet but they worry too much about if others will think they’re crap—rather than focus on having fun. Right now I have a list of projects I want to do but like anyone I also have to make a living. I feel very lucky that my job is creative because I’m constantly thinking in that way. I can imagine it would be difficult to make that switch if you worked in finance. I think if you’re open to taking that block down in your head that says, “I don’t know how to do this” then you can create anything. It’s why I don’t see myself as a toy designer full stop. Plus, as my dad taught me, you don’t have to be great at everything. LH: Yes and a lot of that comes down to self-criticism. Striving for perfection isn’t healthy because you’re never satisfied with what comes out at the other end. We really should focus more on the process. In my mind the stuff that never made it is just as valuable as the stuff that did. I really wish artists were more open about that. Sometimes you also weed through a lot of ideas before you find the right one. LH: Exactly. I am a musician as well and oftentimes my songs are patchwork quilts of two or three separate ideas. Sometimes that frantic period of letting different ideas fizzle out before landing on the one that works is necessary. Songs, similar to drawings, come from somewhere, nowhere probably, inside of my mind. You can’t force it.
make Action Man are hiring.” They were looking for a concept designer. Toy design, rather than illustration or animation, which is what I anticipated going into, is a great fit. What was most surprising or interesting about your industry right off the bat? LH: How much finances were a part of the creative conversation. But equally, I also felt like I worked at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You didn’t grow up in a world where you could walk to the toy store. What do you think was advantageous about this in terms of your industry? LH: I came from a very different, maybe fresher, place than my coworkers. Also, because it was all very new to me, I was always trying to learn more. I often looked back 50 or 100 years, or to Japanese pop culture, which means my inspirations were much more varied. How would you describe what you do now on a daily basis? LH: As a concept designer, I innovate how a toy or game operates rather than actually engineer the final product. A lot of my clients don’t know what the characters are or the theme of a game is, and that’s what we help them come up with. Can you talk a bit more about the collaborative process and how that inspires you? LH: Bouncing ideas around allows you to come up with new ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily get on your own. Because my business partner Rob and I have different interests and hobbies, we build better products than we could have individually. When you’re unafraid to share you don’t ever really get stuck. What’s the hardest part about your job? LH: The fact that most of our clients want something that is gender-neutral and will appeal to everyone, which is nearly impossible but we try to do it as well. What is one common mistake you see other artists or small business owners make? LH: Most people fear to ask questions because they don’t want to seem dumb. It goes back to being scared of what people will think. As a gun for hire, I had to get tougher skin and be ready to receive negative feedback. The goal is to build a bigger, better idea.
I also find great inspiration in alternating between different artistic mediums. LH: Once you’ve unlocked your creativity it’s easy to access it in many forms. The world at large seems to have a problem with it but I think it’s silly to restrict yourself to one discipline. Fluctuating between mediums keeps me from feeling trapped.
What kinds of people are attracted to the toy industry and who excels in it? LH: There is an element of Tom Hanks “Big,” which I see as those who don’t forget what it means to play. Others fell into it like I did. Everything in toy design boils down to ideas and being able to funnel them into something that will work functionally.
How did being a toy designer initially cross your plate? LH: At random. I moved to London in 2002 to be with my partner and got a job working at Harvey Nichols. One day, I met an architect and revealed to him that I was interested in creating something around children. He replied, “The people that
How much has word of mouth impacted the success of your career? LH: From the guy who came into Harvey Nichols to conversations at parties, I’ve literally had random encounters spark entire chain of events.
AUTHOR, PODCASTER, SCIENCE COMMUNICATOR We read articles about genes all of the time, but it’s rare that someone actually understands the language of the science. Author, podcaster, and science communicator Kat Arney breaks down the logistics of her lexicon in a format that the common folk can comprehend. Arney, a feisty, female version of Bill Nye the Science Guy, relies upon the right and left sides of her brain to speak to non-specialists. A warm, witty, and a naturally gifted wordsmith, Arney, author of Herding Hemingway’s Cats, uses storytelling, one of her many mediums, to inject life into the lab. From freelance writing to her decadelong career as co-presenter of BBC radio show The Naked Scientists, Arney leveraged her artistic abilities to carve out her niche. While her research background and PhD from Cambridge are industry qualifiers, it is Arney’s knack for spinning science as sexy that is her genius. She is driven to make others give a damn about science by merging it with creativity.
Right off the bat, can you tell me where you’re from? KA: I was born in Italy. My parents are English and were working there at the time. They came back to the UK when I was about a year old. All of my childhood I lived outside of London. After attending university at Cambridge, through a slightly convoluted route, I returned to work in medical research. Then in 2004, I quit the lab to become a science communicator.
I love that you break down something complicated into an entertainment-driven format. Do you consider yourself a performer or scientist first? KA: I still wrestle with that philosophical question because I’ve always loved writing and performing on stage, whether it’s acting or as a musician. My parents aren’t scientifically minded but I had a chemistry set when I was young and kept snails in my bedroom. (Laughs) At university, I
started writing about science for the newspaper column. That led to getting involved in Science Week, podcasts, and writing competitions. When was the first time you thought, “I can turn science into a career?” KA: I was always very good at and interested in biology and chemistry because I loved studying the molecules that make the world work. The path I was on equaled: get your pHD, become a researcher, and then become a professor. I felt rather fractured when I realized as a researcher that I wasn’t very good in the lab. I became seriously depressed because I had spent ten years trying to be a scientist and realized I didn’t have the dedication, long-term vision, or meticulous nature of a researcher. I was more fascinated by the stories within the lab.
You were also on the cutting edge of science podcasts, blogs, and video. KA: Social media and Youtube didn’t exist when I was starting out. My first big break was for an online magazine. I submitted an article titled something like “Ten Reasons You Should Leave the Lab Right Now” on spec and was offered a monthly column. It was the first time I realized that people got paid to write online. From there, I began to meet more people doing this kind of work. It’s why I believe that if you want to change fields, find those who are doing what you want to do and hang around with them. Eventually, they will accept you as their own. How did you make the leap from online articles to working with the BBC? KA: I’ve said, “yes” to pretty much everything. At the beginning a lot of it was unpaid and quite hard work. In the passion-driven
world, a lot of the time you learn as you go, until you recognize your value. It’s similar to an apprenticeship. How did you learn to write for radio and why is that your favorite medium? KA: I was put in touch with The Naked Scientists over 15 years ago and really, really took to it. I love interviewing people and doing unscripted, live talk radio. I think radio, audio books, and podcasts are so effective because it’s people’s voices and stories right in your ear. Also it’s a lot easier to make radio than telly! What do you think it was about your first book that resonated with readers? KA: I find a lot of science books to be very boring. I wanted mine to be written in first-person interviews as though you’re eavesdropping on really great pub conversations—in which you learn a lot. I always wondered what scientists did all day. You humanize their jobs. KA: Scientists are grumpy, nice, and have twinkling eyes from time to time. (Laughs) A lot of people get really obsessed with black holes, but I love writing about genes because that’s what matters to us as human beings. Genes affect your health, lifespan, and why we are the way we are.
“I SEE MYSELF AS A TRANSLATOR FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE KEEN TO LEARN MORE.” What is an example of a challenge you’ve had in terms of communication? KA: I spent years working for a cancer charity as one of their spokespeople and had to go out and sell their stories. Trying to communicate certain messages in a way that will resonate is a struggle. I think it’s more impactful if we explain what happens if you drink too much rather than, “Nanny says it’s no good for you.” What was the reaction to your comedy-driven presentation of science? KA: I sometimes worry that it can be seen as flippant and after 12 years of working for a cancer charity, I can assure you there is nothing funny about that disease. My next book is about cancer, and the challenge is going to be to articulate its depth while also finding the comic relief. In terms of the way I write my talks, I try to flex my muscles between serious and happy because that’s how I like to absorb information. My worst fear is being that boring lecturer. Can you describe the ideal group you would want to communicate with? KA: I am interested in those who don’t have a science
background but are curious about the world around them. In one day, I gave the exact same talk to a group of 12-year-olds and then one at Mensa, the top high-IQ society in the world. Both audiences understood and appreciated the information I unpacked and unfolded for them. How do you break science down into something everyone can understand? KA: I never assume anyone’s level of knowledge but rather their interest. I see myself as translator for people that are keen to learn more. In the same way, some scientists would see what I do as dumbing our language down, which I can’t stand. If you were in another country, are you stupid because you don’t speak the language? No! If you are trying to do a complicated legal transaction, you need a qualified attorney who’s had the training. I wish scientists would get off their high horses and try to explain the principles of our field rather than say, “I can’t believe you don’t know how DNA is formed!” What about your personality makes you well equipped for the job? KA: I’ve always read a lot. If you have a lot of words it helps. I’m also a very visual person, which helps me to reach for metaphors and analogies to explain what I’m seeing. Also, I just like showing off! I have spent 15 years practicing, communicating, and learning how to teach others about science. I am always refining what I am doing because I can always do better. What is your favorite thing about what you do? KA: The amazing privilege of being able to acquire information and amazing stories to tell others about. Sharing the wow factor is what I love.
REVEREND, ROSSLYN HILL UNITARIAN CHAPEL There are many negative connotations around religion in British society. Many people have been hurt by it in one way or another. Reverend Kate Dean, of the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, says her branch of Unitarianism resonates with rational people. Indeed, her services create a spiritual experience that grounds traditional stories in tangible wisdom. At Rosslyn Hill, one of the first chapels in London to permit same sex marriage, Dean is the first British minister in 30-years. Prior to taking on the role, her path was an unconventional progression from toy and board game product designer to mentoring young women at the Girl Guides Association. All of her skill sets, from artistry to communication, fluidly aligned when she accepted her role as reverend. Dean’s work is about bringing people together to bond over a common passion and create an all-inclusive, spiritual community. What she sought after in her personal life effortlessly fused with her full-time profession.
Are British people comfortable talking about religion? KD: It used to be said that you should steer clear of religion and politics at dinner parties. Britain is a very secular society, especially in comparison with the US. It is almost unheard of for anyone to regularly attend church, and saying you’re a part of a religious community can make
people feel uncomfortable. Saying that you’re “spiritual but not religious” is much more likely. Is Unitarianism widely known in the UK? KD: In the context of someone stumbling across our chapel, they think they ought to be more informed than they are.
You don’t want to upset anyone by showing your ignorance. In general, British people tend to be a bit more reserved and don’t spill out lots of information. Equally, we don’t want to pry too much into other people’s business. In a way, Americans are like peaches and Brits are similar to coconuts. The former is easy to get to know at first and then takes awhile to pry open whereas Brits may seem closed off at first, but then once they crack, you can be bosom buddies for life. How much does word of mouth play into people learning about the chapel? KD: It is very important because many people come upon recommendation from a friend. Many times, that’s what gives them the courage to walk through our doors. Many people come here because they are seeking an open-minded community, meditation group, or are attracted to the social justice work we’ve done around same sex marriage. Tell me a bit about your background. KD: I grew up in Somerset, in a little village, and attended a Church of England elementary school as a child. At university,
I studied three-dimensional design and took my first job at Hasbro, designing craft kits, toys, and board games. I was given free reign to explore my spirituality growing up. Were you? KD: My mom didn’t have me Christened and rather said I should choose my own religion. When I was about ten or so, I started doing my research. Buddhism was what I settled on, which I eventually gave up because of the vegetarianism aspect—I loved biscuits too much, which all had animal fat in them at the time! For the next couple of decades, I was more spiritual than religious because I wasn’t ready to sign up to a particular path and all of the suggested rules. Describe your turning point. KD: In my early 30s, I went to a Christian wedding where I had the epiphany that I needed spiritual nourishment and a community. London it can be very isolating, and I craved the intimacy that I experienced in my village growing up. I understand that. There is an appeal in bonding over healthy
activities. KD: Absolutely. A specific activity, whether it’s spirituality, screenwriting, or drawing, is a great way to connect because there is a common aim and interest. Walk me through your transition from product design to ministry? KD: I left Hasbro, where I worked for eight years, after being moved over to design board games, which were too competitive for me. Around the same time, I started a knitting group in West London and began working as a freelance designer creating patterns for various magazines. I also worked part-time at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. In 2008, I attended my first service at the unitarian chapel on Palm Sunday. What drew you to Unitarianism? KD: How broadminded it is in terms of accepting many different beliefs. It doesn’t bind you down like other religions. At the chapel, I found my spiritual home and community.
“LONDON IT CAN BE VERY ISOLATING, AND I CRAVED THE INTIMACY THAT I EXPERIENCED IN MY VILLAGE GROWING UP.” What is one positive impact Unitarianism has had on your life? KD: I always appreciate the guided meditations at our services, which made me feel completely refreshed—almost as if I had been on holiday! Also, as someone who is into design I loved being in a beautiful space. I also appreciated the sermons, which were applicable to everyday life and gave me food for thought. How did you develop your own sermon style? KD: At first, everything was based on my previous experiences. The first time I spoke at a service was after President Barack Obama was elected. Being a brown, mixed-heritage person myself, I saw it as a momentous experience. That three-minute talk was a huge watershed because until that point, I had been terrified of reading aloud. My fear stemmed from an off-handed comment that came from a primary school teacher when I was ten years old. That day broke the spell and reinstalled my courage. Over the last nine years, I’ve worked out my own process. How can you tell if a service resonates with your crowd? KD: People approach me afterwards to ask a question or make a comment. I also have friends who are comfortable giving me constructive criticism. Most recently, we did an anonymous
survey, which was difficult to handle because there were some negative comments. However, once I could work out where they were coming from, I felt capable of addressing their concerns. What did it feel like to be chosen as the Chapel minister? KD: It was a slow, slightly nerve-wracking process. I was delightfully surprised when I was elected, yet also trusted in my heart that I was on the right path. That is where the spirituality comes in. In terms of Brexit, how do you suppose your chapel rebels against the idea of nationalism and fear of the “other?” KD: I want our chapel to serve as a place where people from different ethnic backgrounds and religions can congregate. Now, more than ever, we need to champion liberal-minded values, which embody working together and trying to understand one another. As demonstrated by the hate crimes and bullying post-Brexit, there are still deep-seated views of prejudice hiding underneath the surface. It’s why I’ve been trying more than ever to reach out to all walks of life and connect with other groups in case of a disaster. Our real power comes from standing together.
ELIZA POKLEWSKI OWNER , FELT Eliza Poklewski Koziell is a shopkeeper and style icon based in London. As the proprietor and face of Felt, a cult boutique frequented by celebrities and socialites, Poklewski stays true to her mission: have no fear and never be driven by money. For as long as she can, she will deal in jewellery. That sense of discovery provides a great thrill plus, what other kinds of trinkets fit into a small shop. Felt, while inherited accidentally by her former co-owner whose grand idea it was to open the shop, changed the course of Poklewski’s life. She is grateful for the gargantuan following it has acquired as well as the fact that there is no expiration date. Poklewski loves self-employment as it allows her to create a schedule around her life and family. Felt, unlike the corporate world, is why she can mother, make money, and have a flourishing career all at the same time.
What was people’s reaction when they would first walk into Felt? EPK: The business has always grown by word of mouth and a lot of people didn’t want to tell their friends about the secret for a long time. After we opened our doors, friends of friends started coming in. Was that frustrating to be someone’s best-kept secret? EPK: Yes, but I also knew that it’s reputation would get the better of people.
How did word spread? EPK: You have an infinite amount of friends who come into the shop out of charity the first time. Your only hope is that they come back. I also had a Robin Hood type philosophy where if a young man in love came in to buy a gift for his girlfriend, I would always cut him a deal. Because it’s your shop you can do what you like. While our growth was much slower than it would have been had we hired a PR team, it was so much more gratifying. I like the slow burn.
What did the initial vision look like? EPK: I started with an idea and blundered on even when I didn’t know what I was doing. I always loved going to the markets and mixing in the old things with the new ones. Next, I started my barter system to differentiate us from the other jewellery shops on Kings Road. This recycling process helped clients realise the value of their jewellery. Where did your fascination with vintage jewelry come from? EPK: I worked for a man named Bennie Gray who owned some very famous antique markets in London. By accident, I ended up running a couple of them. My first introduction to antiques was dealing with dealers. I fell in love with anything old because as soon as you buy anything new it’s worth exactly fifty-percent. Bennie was obsessed with auction rooms and had this gypsy dynamic. If he was eating cakes, we ate cakes. If he was fasting, we fasted. He was like a dictator and actually gave me instructions from his bath, which I thought was perfectly normal. (Laughs) Then the next man I worked with was obsessed with dumps and car boots, which are obviously a level down. I spent all of my time on a motorbike with him going around the city.
When did the idea of opening Felt first cross your mind? EPK: I did it by accident and it changed the course of my life. I knew the store was available and then one day a friend of mine said, “I’ll open it with you.” Post-film world, I had an advertising business, which wasn’t a great moment in my life, and then became a mother and thought, what the hell am I going to do? From the advertising business I learned to only work with people that I like, and the importance of being numerate. A couple of people wanted to back me when I opened Felt but I didn’t want that pressure. As I tell my son Oscar, “If you spend 12 pounds and you’ve only got 11, then you’ve got a problem.” That’s the only thing you ever need to know in life. Shopkeeping isn’t about complicated algorithms. You buy something and you sell it. What did the first few weeks of your shop look like? EPK: I read a book all day. Nowadays when people launch a brand they do their market research and get their branding sorted. I had no idea we’d become a cult shop. When I found out that Vogue had written an article on us, I rushed around to put up a landing page. It’s why I look like a complete wreck in that photo.
Would you call those gentlemen mentors? EPK: I absorbed their wisdom by osmosis. Call it baptism by fire. I had gone to Florence to study photography and then decided that I wasn’t good enough. Then I came to London where I worked at an ad agency, which I hated. One day I answered a job listing which brought me to them.
“I STARTED WITH AN IDEA AND BLUNDERED ON...”
What were you like as a kid? EPK: Ordinary, ordinary, ordinary. Yet my father was extraordinary and very eccentric. I was always drawn to mavericks like him. Through meeting all of these extraordinary men I blossomed as a human being. The third man who had a fundamental influence on me was director Peter Greenway and the final, my husband and architect Philip Gumuchdjian.
Do you ever consider expanding your brand? EPK: No, because I don’t want to manufacture more rubbish.
How did you go from the antique industry to working on film sets? EPK: I met someone who introduced me to Peter and hired me as his assistant, which I did for the next eight years. Peter and I worked together on films, major installation projects, books, and operas. Through him I got to meet the most interesting people in the world. What do you think Peter Greenway saw in you at the time? EPK: Very busy people will hire you if they sense something, and trust you, because they’re too crazed to find someone else. I was not obsessed with films, which suited him, as most assistants want to be directors. I simply liked working by myself in a crazy studio in the middle of nowhere. He just went with it. What did you learn during that time? EPK: Working with him was like getting an unofficial art degree because he had encyclopedic knowledge. His interests were so myriad and interesting yet they were repetitive, so you got to know them after awhile. That period taught me, if you really want to do something, buckle up and do it.
Were you amazed when all of the celebrities started coming by? EPK: I’ve never seen why you should treat anyone differently if they have a title or are very rich. Maybe that’s because of my upbringing. I had a baby when we first opened and was too busy to look through the tabloids to recognise who was at the shop. I’ve met those people and am not intimidated by them. We’re all the same. Some are just born into better circumstances than others. Not caring takes away others’ power over you. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your shop? EPK: That fact that people who could shop anywhere in London repeatedly come back. Or a 17-year-old girl thinks we’re the best shop on Kings Road. What’s the worst part about the gig? EPK: Sadly, I have a real problem with prostituting myself. I don’t do newsletters or bombard my clients with emails. It might hold me back a bit but that’s my personal philosophy. What is it about the hunt that appeals to you? EPK: Some people might love going to a trade show where there are 300 jewelers but that makes ill. Take me to a car boot sale with 95% rubbish, and I’m like a basset hound in heat. The thrill of the unknown gives me that rush.
ROB PETIT DIRECTOR, DOCUMENTARIAN & STORYTELLER One sunny morning, after a rather soggy couple of weeks, I sat down at one of London’s last greasy spoons with Rob Petit, co-founder of film production company and creative studio Milkwood. Since 2007, Petit and his business partner, and fellow director, Nick Parish have created an impressive portfolio of independent feature films and bespoke commercial work for premium brands such as Jack Daniels, Hewlett Packard, and Nike. Since meeting at MTV’s offices over a decade ago, the pair came up with a business plan to solve the eternal creative crisis—how do you pay your bills while still keeping your artistic spirit alive? Together, Petit and Parish decided they would prioritize their happiness by establishing two separate companies, which allow them to finance passion projects with paid work. Descriptors such as defy, disrupt, and upset are used to explain their mission—with the most positive connotation possible. In their films, they dare the world to look at life differently. In their business, they also go against the grain by using commercial work to subsidize independent projects.
What was the initial idea for Milkwood? RP: Setting up Milkwood was a solution to the conflict that all filmmakers have: we need to bridge the gap between commercial work and the stuff we want to do. We set up a unique business model, which allows us to take risks by financing them through paid projects. Our two companies, commercial work and independent feature films, essentially
feed off one another. The funny thing is, clients are attracted to the passion projects we work on. They want to see that you have influences and interests outside of your portfolio. What initially attracted you to film? RP: Whether it’s a feature film or an advert, you are always telling a story. Career-wise I’ve never wanted to restrict
myself to film, which is why I love having the ability to alternate between multiple mediums and platforms. Initially I got into film because it is my father’s craft as well. All of his equipment was always lying around the house. My mom, a writer, and my stepmom, a film editor, also influenced me. Was it intimidating to follow in their footsteps? RP: You want to define yourself rather than follow in their shadow. Fortunately, I received the right kind of motivation early on from those around me. I became obsessed with editing early on in my career, mostly because it was cost-effective, and closer to what I wanted to do in life than pour pints behind the bar. (Laughs) In one of my first jobs, where I was a runner, I learned about the power of editing and how it can craft a story. However, today I try not to edit my own work. It’s helpful to trust someone else’s eyes, which might take your project in an unexpected direction. When a filmmaker and editor have a great relationship, the film takes on a life of its own. It becomes increasingly independent of you.
What happened right before the founding of Milkwood? RP: My current partner Nick Parish and I were working at MTV at a user-generated, UK and Ireland-based channel called FLUX. No one had ever done anything like it before. Every day there was a different challenge, which over three years taught us a lot. Unfortunately, it didn’t succeed because it was a risky venture in a big institution. When the channel was shut down, Nick and I turned to each other and said “let’s do a business our way.” It was the fork in the road where you decide “Do I work for the system or outside of it?” I don’t think I quite understood the implications of my decision at that moment. What was the biggest lesson you learned? RP: Without risks, you end up making stuff that’s grey and disappears. Nothing is more disheartening than just contributing to the digital noise. What were you looking for when you decided to leap outside of the system?
RP: We wanted more freedom, money, and time because those are the finite resources that anyone is dealing with. The system that we developed enabled us to take more gambles. It was an urge that we both needed to feed. What was it about your business partnership that you knew would make for a nice balance? RP: I guess we didn’t completely know but we’ve been around for ten years so we must be doing something right. We’re different, which definitely helps. If you have two people who are exactly the same, the room can feel a bit too crowded. We teach each other things and keep one another’s perspective fresh. Running a film company and making films are two completely different things. If you two did have a conflict, how would you meet in the middle to resolve it? RP: If you set up a partnership, whether it’s business or a relationship, you definitely have to learn how to negotiate, which is something I’ve learned over time. Relationships have their own unique chemical compound. Nick and I need one another’s brains to solve an issue. Sometimes conflict is necessary.
“WITHOUT RISKS, YOU END UP MAKING STUFF THAT’S GREY AND DISAPPEARS. NOTHING IS MORE DISHEARTENING THAN JUST CONTRIBUTING TO THE DIGITAL NOISE.” What do you think has been one of the secrets to your success? RP: I was given a massive amount of responsibility quite early on in my career. If you join a massive institution, you can spend a lot of time trying to prove yourself. To find our base of clients and team, we’ve identified the people who have the most energy and tried to match it. From that, good things always come. What’s the biggest challenge in today’s filmmaking world? RP: You are expected to shoot, edit, direct, and manage the entire project, which takes a lot of stamina. While it’s entirely feasible, if you aren’t careful the quality bar can easily drop. Budgets are plummeting on a daily basis. The solution is to help your clients understand why you need specific resources to sustain the quality of your work. If you can communicate that, then hopefully they will make the right decision. It’s all about the education. What’s some advice you can offer
to others in your industry? RP: Keep doing interesting things and feeding whatever it is that keeps you creative. If you spend too much time working on projects for other people, then it’s very easy for your ambitions to set. Suddenly, you look at your work and it isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Whether it’s reading or climbing a mountain, you have to do what makes you feel most alive. Young filmmakers should consciously remind themselves all of the time why they do what they do. And what is your favorite thing about being a filmmaker? RP: This is not something I admit usually but when I was ages nine to 13, I was obsessed with magic. I used to practice my tricks all of the time because I got such a high off creating something that made others suspend their disbelief in how the world works. Filmmaking, whether it’s an advert, documentary or a feature film, also presents an illusion—although one that is as close to the truth as you can make it. Whether it’s ten year old me doing a card trick or a 32-year-old director, it’s the same magic. I have the opportunity to change the way people think, which will hopefully make the world a little bit better. If I don’t have that drive then, what’s the point?
ELLA PATON ILLUSTRATOR & ART TEACHER Ella Paton is an illustrator and art school teacher based in London. A fine artist who works primarily in pencil and watercolor, she launched her first business, Ella Patton Illustrates, on Etsy this past year. Rather than focusing on the technical side of her craft, Paton loves to experiment and be playful throughout her process. Art is the activity she most enjoys for the opportunity to share pleasure with her audience. In Paton’s eyes, everything is perception, which is why she injects positivity into her illustrations. Just as she is trying to teach her children, a life well lived is about taking everything in.
Where are you from initially? EP: Brighton, which is a seaside town with great air. Every time I visit I forget how invigorating it is. The vast, expansive ocean gives you perspective, which we tend to lose in life. Water helps me recapture the imagination. Maybe that’s why it’s always a literary reference. Tell me about one of your first memories involving art. EP: When I was a kid my mom bought this massive box, which I believe belonged to a printmaker. She filled every
drawer with feathers, pipe cleaners, and scraps of paper, which I used to make a horrific mess. I was always crafty. My dad, who is a fantastic drawer, began teaching me as a child and I never really stopped. Were you formally educated in your craft? EP: Yes. When I was nine or ten, we did a lot of learning through art, which is unusual for the British education system. Oftentimes teachers are hyper-focused on the core subjects like math and science to make sure they are nailed
down. However, my teacher was a great artist and showed me at a young age how to respect materials by using them properly. As a child I used to copy Pre-Raphaelite paintings for fun, which is maybe kind of odd now that I think about it. (Laughs) What about your upbringing made you feel confident about being creative? EP: Both of my parents have a great respect for art. Also my mom, a historian by trade, taught me to really see the world. The way that she explained architecture or the pages of a book always brought it to life.Through her and my dad I learned a strong visual understanding. You can walk through life and be oblivious to the everyday nuances. EP: Now that I have a daughter I am desperately trying to teach her to be excited by life, caught up in the moment, and always want to know more. You have to give kids the opportunity to do that by pointing the obvious out to them.
That quality is instrumental when it comes to tapping into your creativity. EP: Yes. As a child, I had an epic imagination and read voraciously. My parents actually had to confiscate my books at night because I loved getting caught up in the characters and their lives so much. I’m obsessed with the idea of a hidden world that’s a bit beyond this human life. I believe in a fantasy realm. That element of whimsy also allows you to have more fun in life. EP: I agree. I watch the news most mornings and, every once in awhile, I have to turn it off because the portrayal of the world is so negative. It would be really nice if there was a designated news feature every day that reminded people to be hopeful. We need more positivity in life. Sometimes, as an adult, it’s hard to remain cheerful because change is usually seen in a negative light. Isn’t perception everything?
EP: I think you can approach any situation with the attitude, how can I get through this in a way that suits me best? Has art always been a therapeutic outlet for you? EP: Actually, art became quite stressful through my formal education. While I understood the formalities of fine art, I felt a bit lost as far as what I wanted to say. One year, I had a terrible conversation with a tutor. While I am all about constructive criticism, I think it’s so important to bring people back up. She essentially said, “You don’t know what you’re doing; I don’t think you should be here.” The situation completely knocked me sideways and ramped up the pressure to do art right, which is a mentality that I disagree with. Do you think having such high expectations is a British thing? EP: British people don’t like to look the fool, therefore we tend to under-appreciate the journey and overemphasize correctness. Oftentimes, we might not try new things because it’s frowned upon to look bad. I wish, especially in social media, that we showed our mistakes more often. There is such pressure today to be a success, which is kind of a shame. I still remember being told on my illustration degree: “Only two or three of you will ever make money at this profession,” which made you think why am I here then?! While I have my own theories, why do you think those two or three rise to the top? EP: I think they make the decision that they are going to succeed and devote every second to making it happen. That is either a personality trait, blind self-confidence, or a product of your upbringing. You also have to be focused and not have your fingers in too many pies. If your portfolio is too varied then a client isn’t confidant that the final product will come out to match their vision. People need to be able to recognize you from a mile away. EP: Exactly. How did you develop your current illustration business, Ella Patton Illustrates? EP: I did the original animal illustrations for my daughter Quinn’s nursery, after which everyone including my husband encouraged me to sell them. I spent the last four months of my maternity leave launching my business. How do you balance being a businesswoman and mother? EP: It’s been a steep learning curve. Until recently, I worked five days a week, ran my illustration business, and was a full-time mum. This September I’m going to teach part-time because you can’t have it all. Spending time with my children is the most important thing of all. Have you become more productive since becoming a mom? EP: Having a kid has helped me to prioritize. Before, I was so worried about the outcome that half of the things I wanted to do never got done. Now I just do instead of fretting about everything.
What’s been the biggest challenge as far as starting your own business? EP: Putting it out there. I’ve had to learn to not be embarrassed about self-promotion. My new philosophy is, “Sod it. Just do it. And stop saying sorry.”
“WHILE I AM ALL ABOUT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, I THINK IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO BRING PEOPLE BACK UP.”
ELIZABETH BAQUEDANO RESEARCHER, AUTHOR, & PROFESSOR Elizabeth Baquedano loves what she does and likes to do it well. After several decades of studying her native Mexico, the researcher, author, and professor has proven that it takes a lifetime to understand a nation. The awardwinning ambassador of Mexican culture and history is passionate about presenting information in a way that the general public can understand. She is driven by inquisitiveness, inclusion, and the desire to look at Aztec life from a systematic perspective. The Ohtli Award recipient, credited by the organization for changing people’s perceptions of Mexico all over the globe, scrapes beyond the surface understanding. Through her writing and teaching, which ranges from dissertations on ancient instruments to the significance of death, Baquedano lends a comprehensive cultural overview. By focusing on minute details, she lends great depth to her country’s history. However, it is Baquedano’s poetic, philosophical way of drawing parallels that separate her from other professors. In a style similar to songwriting, the walking encyclopedia pieces together an endless array of knowledge to depict a complex, colorful picture of Mexico.
What has kept you engaged in your studies all these years? EB: I have studied ancient Mexico because I am particularly fascinated by how complex groups of civilizations have
developed. A lot of times people don’t know enough to interpret them in the right context. We always hear gory stories about the Aztecs or think of the Mayans as great astronomers and mathematicians, however I try to look
at them in a complete way. Looking at Aztec art and ideas tells us so much. We forget that these cultures were terribly sophisticated, which is why I want to study them in detail. It’s amazing to look at the smallest things, whether it’s the carving of a rattlesnake or the taxonomy of an insect, which allow you to explain the culture in a more balanced way—rather than just picking up bits and pieces. I’ve been very lucky to teach, lecture at the British Museum, or write pieces that the specialists and beginners can enjoy. While I don’t give every single detail, I provide enough that others come back for more. Why do we think that we know other cultures when we really don’t? EB: We label cultures by saying the Germans are punctual, the Italians love their fashion, or every Brit is obsessed with their gardens. While certain aspects can be true, they are generally superficial observations. Yet we know very little about other countries, which makes me wonder if we did, how much would our perception change? I want to lend a bigger picture to what goes on in different parts of the world beyond the historical labels. Only when people start digging deeply can they really start falling in love with other countries.
At what point in your career did you feel like you were an expert? EB: Expertise takes a lifetime. In my case, I like to think I know a little bit about a lot within the Mexican culture and history. One is never really an expert but rather tries to be thorough and be up to date. The only way to do this is to learn as many languages as possible and read the work of scholars in the native language. When I was given the Ohtli Award, which is equivalent to a national prize, I was beautifully surprised. My country obviously thinks I have done enough to promote Mexico and enhance its understanding abroad. It’s a wonderful feeling that the British have trusted me enough to have carte blanche in regards to what I teach about my country’s history. They allow me to do my job without questioning it, which has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Let’s talk a bit about teaching and your passion for it. EB: Well, when I started teaching I was petrified however I learned early on that the most important thing is passion. If exuded properly, it then becomes contagious to your audience. Teaching actually taught me how to talk on television, which I do from time to time in documentaries or on the BBC. You
learn how to frame ideas in an attention-grabbing way. People are certainly more interested in topics like death, which I see as a celebration of life, or the types of knives that were used in ancient rituals than the history of gold, for example. What is one of your career highlights? EB: My first degree was in the history of art. One year I was able to curate an exhibition around Henry Moore, who I am a huge fan of, around how Mexican sculptures influenced his work. As he said once, “Certain cultures speak to you more than others.” For him it was Aztec sculptures. He saw their beauty through his own eyes and was able to transform them to create original work. Those moments made me realize how lucky I am to have my finger in so many pies. In a world that is divisive, how do you feel that your work is making a difference? EB: I personally think that the UK is a very open nation as far as accepting other cultures, civilizations, and people. I have never experienced racism here and believe in my core the Brits are tolerant of others—despite what is happening with Brexit. I believe that people who are contributing to society will always have a job, whether they are natives or not. The British will believe in you unless you prove them otherwise. I hope that like the many Mexicans doing important work in the UK today, I can also leave a mark in a way that others have not done.
“EVERY TIME I WRITE A LECTURE, I START FROM SCRATCH OUT OF RESPECT TO MY AUDIENCE.” What was it about your field of interest that made you want to devote your life’s work to it? EB: I was very lucky to have one of the leading archaeologists as my supervisor when I first arrived. He was not only an Aztec scholar but also someone who specialized in different parts of the world. I absolutely loved the way he taught, looked at things in such a thorough manner, and the passion that he had for his studies. Around that time I began looking at aspects of death, which is not as we know it, but rather about impermanence and a reminder of your existence on earth. I love how the Aztecs see death as a transformation rather than the end of something. In their culture, for example, the butterfly is looked at as a symbol of death, departure, and going from one life into another. What gets you out of bed on those days when you are overwhelmed and overworked? EB: I suppose it is the love for what I do. I have always enjoyed learning, which is constant in my field, because I am always preparing for a talk, paper, or class. I also get great satisfaction out of preparing my work with passion and dignity. Every time I write a lecture, I start from scratch out of respect to my
audience. Where does that great reverence for your craft come from? EB: My father was a great example. He was meticulous, hard working, and disciplined. In his eyes, work was sacred. My mother also pursued everything in her life with lots of care as well as a great appetite for knowledge. Like most things in life, I picked up all of those traits at home. I think my success comes from working a little harder than others in my field. Dignity, in my opinion, is about doing something well in a way that earns the respect of other people. What are some words of wisdom you can leave me with? EB: You have to be strong in your mind to know what you want. If you have a vision, then it’s easier to achieve it. I’ve never regretted doing what I’ve done.
SHAREHOLDER ACTIVIST, PHILANTHROPIST, & ART COLLECTOR Julian A. Treger embodies a friendlier form of shareholder activism. Treger, whose forte is the restructuring and refinancing of public companies, highlights the altruistic side of the finance world. As Chief Executive Officer at Anglo Pacific Group and Managing Partner of Audley Capital Advisors LLP, which he cofounded in 2005, he influences how shareholders communicate and make changes within corporations. For over twenty years, the entrepreneur has honed his expertise and set himself apart in an increasingly competitive and overcrowded market. Born in Great Britain, raised in South Africa, and educated in the United States, Treger attributes his global perspective to his multinational background. The financier tries to lead an integrated life and remain aware of the world around him.
How did being born in one place and raised in another influence you? JT: I always felt that the world was my oyster, literally. A lot of people feel constrained and donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t believe that anything is possible. I always felt that I could go anywhere and do anything because of my background. My interests range from China to Canada. I try to operate in countries where
one can have a fair chance to make money and a difference. The two go hand in hand. How would you define shareholder activism? JT: I think itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s easy to separate the world into mysterious silos because each industry has its own language. In activism, you are harnessing the democratic nature of
shareholder votes to come together and try to influence the powers that be. The goal is to change the company, its strategy, or the way it behaves. While you can be bamboozled by my industry, I think it’s very much a part of the world and universe. It’s just packaged in a different fashion. What drew you to your industry? JT: My father ran a large engineering business and my mother was a sculptor. I was always interested in global industries and transformation. In terms of art, it’s very easy to put together the usual collection but I’m rarely interested in that. I’m passionate about discovering artists and trying to help their reputation so they can be appropriately appreciated. I am always interested in making a difference.
“SELF-BELIEF AND PERSISTENCE ARE THE GREATEST DETERMINANTS OF SUCCESS. ONE MUST HAVE A CLEAR VISION, WHICH GIVES YOU A CORE OF CONVICTION.” Where does that drive to make a difference come from? JT: My parents were very supportive and going to school in the US instilled that mentality “you can be what you want to be.” In the UK it’s more about knowing your place. I think that gave me flexibility. I also grew up in South Africa, which was like living on a volcano. You knew that there would be sizable changes to your reality so you had to equip yourself with the skills to survive in different environments. There were many circumstances that led to my desire to create my own destiny. A lot of people tend to think “what is, is” and what their parents did, they will do. That lends a sense of stability but is also constraining. Did you always have a clear-cut vision for your career path? JT: I was trained in a traditional banking sense and while I was always interested in finance, I also knew that I wanted to get out of the mainstream and become independent. I worked for Lord Rothschild for a few years, which exposed me to the greatest financiers of the age. Based upon those experiences, moving into activism was a natural extension. No one was doing it at the time, which allowed me to differentiate myself. What made you want to break off on your own? JT: While I was working for Lord Rothschild, I realized that I was working in a court where the rewards were limited. At some
stage, I believed in my talents enough to jump ship. I had to summon the courage to make that transition. I knew that it was better to try and fail than not have gone after what I wanted. What was it like being a pioneer in your industry? JT: Like anything in life, it has its advantages and disadvantages. While I didn’t have much competition, and therefore a lot of freedom, I also had to educate and explain why what I was doing was the right thing. How did you learn to influence? JT: With money and by making as much noise as possible. Activism, while there are various forms, is all about transformation. I also struck out on my own when the UK was in a very difficult place. Interest rates had gone up and we were in a big recession, which fit my belief that it’s a good idea to do things at bad times. How do you know if an opportunity has potential? JT: Over time you develop enough domain expertise that allows you to have a sense of what is and isn’t possible. Generally I’ve shied away from technology business where the rate of change is very fast. I try to carefully assess what the potential of the business is, what it could be, and what the costs are. From there you can make a decision about if the risks are worth the effort. It’s not purely instinctive because judgment plays a lot into my decisions as well. I also try to use consultants and analysts to make my decisions from a scientific fashion. What’s one piece of advice for others in your industry? JT: Have a secret edge whatever that may be. How do you stick to your guns? JT: Self-belief and persistence are the greatest determinants of success. One must have a clear vision, which gives you a core of conviction. Then you can do what is appropriate in terms of delivery. How did you learn the art of persuasion? JT: By enthusing others to believe that your vision is the correct one. I learned to speak in simple phrases and not overcomplicate my ideas, which differentiates and makes your message easily understood. Did you have any mentors along the way who guided you? JT: I have a lot of colleagues who I can call at any point in time but I miss having a mentor. Those dialogues and delivery of sage advice become less possible as you get older. Right now, my wife is the most sensible person in my life. What is one thing that surprised you about your industry? JT: On the activist side, I learned that starting with a very aggressive approach starts to mess with the effectiveness of your strategy. People will see you as trouble and not want to engage with you. While you can create a lot of headlines that way, you can also damage your long-term brand. Can you tell me a bit about what you are currently working on?
JT: Nowadays I am more interested in transforming businesses as a chief executive or by being on the board, be that public or private. While I still use the same skill sets, it’s not done in the same high-profile fashion. I want to be doing more constructive and focused work. Does success feel as rewarding to you if it isn’t public? JT: I’m not rewarded by public acclaim. I care more about the weight of the results than collecting the most column inches. How does your day-to-day work add value to society? JT: As an activist, you are a vacuum cleaner for the corporate world. We take the messy things that aren’t optimized and try to get them to work better. A lot of my work has been rescuing companies that are about to go bankrupt or lose all their employees. Although it’s often portrayed in a very negative way by the established powers, I think it is an industry, which allows companies to prosper, create new jobs, and have a source of stability. I believe in the good of activism.
HISTORIAN, AUTHOR, BIOGRAPHER, AND HISTORICAL ADVISOR TO THE NETFLIX SHOW THE CROWN
Robert Lacey is a British historian and the author of numerous international bestsellers. Published in 1977, Majesty—his pioneering biography of Queen Elizabeth II—remains acknowledged as the definitive study of British monarchy. The Kingdom, a study of Saudi Arabia published in 1981, is similarly acknowledged as required reading for businessmen, diplomats, and students all over the world when traveling to or studying the subject of Saudi Arabia. Like The Kingdom, his follow up Inside the Kingdom has been banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia by the Ministry of Culture and Information. Robert’s many other books include biographies of the gangster Meyer Lansky, Henry Ford, Princess Grace of Monaco, and a study of Sotheby’s auction house. He is the lead historian for the Netflix series The Crown.
I just wanted to start off by asking you a very simple question. When did you realize you were passionate enough about writing to make it into a career? RL: I always enjoyed writing—mostly historical. I loved reading the great English and American writers. I suppose when I look back on it, Cambridge was a very good preparation for what I do now in terms of the tutorial system of history. At the beginning of the week, we were presented with a proposition face-to-face about which you
know virtually nothing. At the end of the week you have to be an expert and present your argument to the supervisor face-to-face. To do that weekly was very good training to become a sharp-eyed critic in terms of the evidence and logic of everything that you write. It was a marvelous apprenticeship for journalism, history, biography, depending on where you put it in the scale. Did you learn to make really fast decisions?
RL: Yes. And it shaped my reading habits. I really can’t read for what most people call pleasure. I’m now reading great books about politics in Britain in the 1950s and ‘60s, all of which I need to help with my current work as historical consultant on The Crown for season three. That set a pattern which has never changed. Intense reading became a more edited version over time to find out what I wanted to concentrate on. I also learned how to write under quite high pressure. I never imagined that I could make a living as a writer. I trained to be a history teacher, which I did for some time in South London. I was also offered jobs in the British foreign office and the British foreign council. By willy-nilly I found myself as a professional writer and have managed to do that ever since.
the book, which was very flattering. Apparently I had failed to understand Islam because I’m not a Muslim. Still, I felt that I gave the best insight that I could into the country’s beauty, conflicts, and shortcomings. How did you learn to take criticism as a compliment? RL: I felt that I had obviously been doing something right if I pressed their buttons. A committee of scholars had spent all of this time analyzing my book, which was quite amazing. Every setback has a purpose and you can learn from everything, can’t you? Clichés are true for a reason. What do you think it is about your personality that allows you to really hit the nail on the head? RL: I’m sure it goes back to the British historical education as inculcated to me first at Bristol Grammar school and then at university. Working on The Crown, which is a drama series rather than a documentary, some characters are invented even though the series is relating history. They are an amalgamation of all the people that writer Peter Morgan and the research team studied for the series. Peter is brilliant at turning clichés on their head, and I have learned a lot from him.
Purely by chance, love intervened with a South African girl because I used to work on my vacations as a travel courier. I would take Americans in the summer and South Africans in the winter around Europe. I wanted to go back to South Africa to see my girlfriend and couldn’t afford it. Just at that moment the Sunday Times color magazine, which was the first, ran a competition for young writers, photographers, cartoonists, and fashion designers. The prize was an air ticket anywhere you wanted in the world. I had to write a 2,000-word piece about a living person, which was the first time I realized that I only write to commission. I don’t sit down and write for hours about my How do you know what the truth is? People’s memories are thoughts or how to put the world to rights. slippery. RL: There you go. As someone I very much admire, Hilary While I didn’t win, I was one of the finalists and won 80-pounds, Mantel, says, “The past is not history. History is the method we which was enough to fly to South Africa where I got to work in have evolved for handling our ignorance about the past. NinetyJohannesburg at the Sunday Times. I wrote think pieces about five percent of the past is what people said to one another or South Africa, which were on the whole about how much I hated dreamed has vanished. All we have left are a few documents, it. The romance sadly did not flourish, but my writing career which are essentially a few pebbles, which the historians did. When I came back I wrote my first book. By willy-nilly I pick out.” Macbeth did not kill King Duncan in his castle. He found myself as a professional writer and have managed to do killed him on the battlefield as far as we know. Shakespeare’s that ever since. imagination brings the past to life in a different life. It’s totally legitimate. How did you develop your own style of biographical writing? RL: In order to write about the monarchy, Saudi Arabia, and I’ve read you also show your subjects the material you extract the Ford family I deliberately tried to immerse myself in those from them during interviews, which is unusual. worlds. Majesty was a tremendous yet surprise success, because RL: Everyone I write biographies about, whether full-scale or most people weren’t interested in the queen at the moment. miniature, are people I love and admire. The images that I paint After that, lots of publishers wanted me to write a book about of them are positive. I am drawn to each of them in different Charles II, which I felt would typecast me. No thank you. In ways. I love the textures of the environments in which my the late 70s, Saudi Arabia was on everyone’s lips in the way that subjects’ flourish, which is why I like to think I’m not a snob. I ISIS is today. I felt there was also a modern, cohesive history love the upper-crust environment in which the queen operates there about how the kingdom was created and battles were but I equally love the semi-criminal subculture of South Florida. fought. It was also hard to get in and through serendipity, I In terms of showing my subjects the work, I see this method as met a young Saudi who said he would give me a visa to come common courtesy. If someone is giving an interview they are and work in Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t speak any Arabic and had taking a chance. I don’t guarantee everything the subject wants no background whatsoever in the Middle East. The only way changed and have had quite fierce arguments when I know I I could compete with other academics and journalists was the am sure of my facts or interpretation. I do my best to reflect my advantage of being able to live there. Getting to know the smell subject’s lives but there are also multiple truths. You try to define and scent of the place by living there with my family was what I what they are and assemble those different interpretations. brought to the book. Although I do find it funny − the great delight people seem to take in pointing out your mistakes to you. The Kingdom captures the romance of that institution whether you love or loathe it. The added bonus was that the book was Do you trust your intuition in terms of making banned in the Middle East, which gave it great credibility and interpretations about an event or a subject’s life? cachet in the West. They came up with 97 complaints about RL: I trust the instinct that allows me to devote three, four years
of my life to a subject. A lot of young writers believe they have to put out a tremendous amount of free material in order to gain any success. Where did your sense of self-respect come from in terms of only writing for pay? RL: Obviously I hoped for good reviews in terms of my books, but my real dream was to be a best-selling author. Tens of thousands of people enjoying a book of mine was something I considered very valid—that what mattered to me resonated with other people was huge. Then the success of one book would inform the next.
“IF THINGS AREN’T GOING SO WELL THERE’S A REASON FOR IT. MOST PROBLEMS CAN BE SEEN IN A POSITIVE LIGHT.” What is one of the most interesting moments of your career? RL: For one project I used the Freedom of Information Act, which is an amazing process because after you submit your request, about a year later, a huge package of documents arrives at your doorstep. Much of the material is solidly blacked out, which is obviously where the truth is. There are writers who make entire careers around speculating about sinister ideas in the blacked out material. On the other end, I feel justified debunking great myths, which most people don’t want unraveled. People would rather live with their conspiracy theories, which instead of looking at the history leading up to an event, study who was the beneficiary. I feel justified debunking great myths, which most people don’t want unraveled. What is your personal philosophy that you lean on when things aren’t going so well? RL: Anger, a “poor me” attitude, and resentment don’t help. Even though it sounds a platitude, there are positives to draw from any situation. If things aren’t going so well there’s a reason for it. Most problems can be seen in a positive light. What is your favorite thing about what you do? RL: The feeling that I am getting closer to truths that teach me things and hopefully help my readers. Now whether my total immersion in the study of other people’s lives has led me to ignore or miss truths about my own life is another question. But for the moment, I find discovering the truth about others to be very satisfying for myself.