What an exciting week: Freelance Pod hit 10,000 downloads!
The first time I made a podcast, Black Mirror Cracked, it hit 20,000+ downloads in launch WEEK. So it’s safe to say that I went into making a solo podcast with a skewed sense of what good download figures look like.
[Having said that, the strategy behind BMC was rock-solid - see my talk from Next Radio 2018 below]
Making my own little pod independently, not on a well-known platform and not about an already famous subject with a fandom, I had to modify my expectations. Maybe I’ll do this for a year, maybe I’ll make 35 episodes (to get a little further than the first 30 episodes of BMC that I made; the podcast has continued at the Daily Mirror beyond my April 2018 redundancy and involvement).
Once the pod got rolling though, I was enjoying it too much to stop, except for a period of a few months at the end of 2019 and start of 2020 when I was ill. I’ve now got to 47 episodes, after 20 months, and yes, the pod has tipped over 10,000 downloads. Incredible.
Thank you to everyone for listening, and to all my wonderful guests for giving me your time.
Read on for more about the latest episode’s guest; a lovely letter from lockdown by former pod guest Samara Linton; and a dissection of my Artsy personal essay, This Artwork Changed My Life: Masaccio’s “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (you can pitch for this series!)
The podcast guest: Lauren Razavi
Writer and strategist Lauren Razavi is the guest on the latest episode of the pod! Lauren has worked worked at Google, The Guardian and as a digital nomad, so she’s been writing and thinking about the subject for most of her career.
Lauren’s ideas around how the writer can use the tools of the influencer were super-interesting to me before we got started, and we both had a read of Study Hall’s The Writer As Influencer before we got recording.
Lauren touches on the digital nomad lifestyle, which will have been paused over the pandemic, and how that will have to change in a warier, post-COVID world. The performance element of that lifestyle is applicable to writers, even if we’re just Instagramming screenshots of Zoom panels we’ve taken part in this week, rather than gorgeous views of the sea.
Have a listen to Lauren’s predictions for the future of work - and the skills we need to get us there - by clicking the button below, or searching for Freelance Pod on any podcast app.
Letter from Lockdown - Samara Linton, London
Samara is a doctor, writer, editor and now BBC Production trainee. Along with Rianna Walcott, she co-edited the anthology on BAME mental health in the UK, The Colour of Madness. The book has just been chosen by comedian Sophie Duker as one of nine new obsessions for when you’re finished with Michaela Coel’s BBC-HBO series I May Destroy You.
Samara’s appearance on Freelance Pod marked Mental Health Awareness Week, and our conversation led me to write for the first time about my late mother’s mental illness, for gal-dem.
Continuing the Global Letters from Lockdown series in this newsletter, Samara writes about being physically in London during the pandemic, but how her heart and mind have been elsewhere.
During lockdown, I found myself yearning for the familiar. I returned to the foods of my childhood, bouncing between online recipes and my mother’s vague instructions to fill my flat with spiced aromas. I returned to the films of my youth, taking advantage of all that Netflix and Disney Plus free trials had to offer. I returned to the stories of my ancestors. I carved out an hour each Sunday evening to speak with my elder relatives, learning and documenting the tales of those who went before me.
I am one of those 1.5 generation migrants. Those migrants who crossed oceans at the will of their parents, who entered new lands and tasted new foods before they were old enough to appreciate what they had left behind. As a 1.5 generation migrant, I flit between the labels Jamaican, British Jamaican, and Black British to describe what I am and who I am. I do not have the certainty of my parents who entered adulthood on the same shores they spent their formative years. Nor do I share my friends’ nostalgia for Bernard’s Watch, Live & Kicking and the opening of the Millennium Dome.
And maybe, it is from this experience of straddling that my longing for heritage arose. My 23andMe genetic profile sums up a history of migration, colonialism, and slavery through blue and purple pie charts. Infrequently, notifications inform me of the discovery of a new DNA relative, and I make sure to document this fresh piece of the puzzle. I download birth and death certificates from archival websites but repeatedly come to a dead end. I find that many of the clues to my past are hidden behind a paywall, and I am angry that it is we the survivors, not them, the thieves of history, who must pay.
My wall is covered in Post-it notes, each one representing a piece of the puzzle. Many are decorated with question marks: women known only as ‘wife’, water stains rendering handwriting illegible. Many a time, I have found myself standing before this wall of clues, feelings of curiosity, desperation, resentment and awe wrestling under my skin. I know my heritage does not define me. Piecing together my ancestry will not suddenly cure the disconnect I often feel with this world. I ask myself why I am doing this. Why am I putting myself through this? Then I find a document, a naturalisation record, and the name and the photograph. My pulse quickens, and my breath stops. I am enraptured by the face before me, the familiarity of their features. I am connected to someone and something beyond myself, I am reminded. I am but one piece of the puzzle.
In the run-up to my Zoom masterclass on Masterclass: Using personal essays to break into a new publication or niche (three tickets left!) I’ll be revealing how I wrote some of my own personal essays.
I pitched this idea for the ‘This Artwork Changed My Life’ series on Artsy in partnership with Elephant Magazine. Here’s a pitching guide from Elephant.
This piece was one of those one-drafters, in that it was mostly all there from the start. This is true of about 60-70% of my personal essays, but by no means all. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need an editor for this piece, or that I don’t need to edit it myself.
Ponte Vecchio, Florence, 2005
What happens in this essay actually happened to me even though I couldn’t understand its significance when it happened. Just after leaving university, where I had taken four years to complete a three-year English degree, due to repeating the second year after my father’s death, I went to live in Florence for six months.
When I told my tutor at uni - who covered English and Art History - my plans, she encouraged me. She said that it was worth learning to look at art in the way I looked at literature, which would come in useful if I was thinking about going into journalism. Later, when I saw this fresco by Masaccio in an art book, I knew that I needed to visit it in the chapel, and that I wanted to go alone.
Piazza Santo Spirito, 2005 (taken on the way to the Brancacci Chapel in the next square, Piazza del Carmine)
It was incredibly comforting to me to enter this very old place, filled with history. I was so young, and struggling with the sudden loss of family, protection and love, even if I couldn’t explain that at the time. I felt like I’d been thrown out of my nest before I’d learnt to fly. Here, in this medieval church, was proof that we could create art that would live on beyond us.
It’s clear from this work that Masaccio has seen someone grieving before, and the detail in Eve’s face makes me think that it must have been a woman he knew. Look at Eve’s face. It is unambiguously full of pain and shame. She looks both very old and very young at the same time. This feeling slipped into a layer of my mind that wasn’t quite conscious. I was stunned by the fresco, but not able, then, to say why. Knowledge had changed Eve; and what I now knew about grief and orphanhood had changed me, too.
Masaccio’s The Expulsion, Brancacci Chapel, Florence, 2005 (we couldn’t use flash)
Writing this essay and then leaving it enabled me to come back and tease out some of the imagery. The opposition of light and dark jumped out at me when I returned to edit - as you can see from the photo above, it was pretty dark in the chapel, even on a sunny afternoon like the day I visited.
You can see the faint outlines of shadows behind Adam and Eve - Masaccio is showing us that they are facing the same window that lights the chapel, that they are walking into the light. Noticing this little detail (and then checking it by reading art historians) opened up the dichotomy of dark / light / grief / hope for me. If Adam and Eve could be moving from one to other, could I do that too?
The view from the centre of the Uffizi
They’re in a transitional moment, and so was I. There would be a before and an after, but one would bear no resemblance to the other. I was an atheist when I walked into that chapel, and I remained one when I came out, but this is the closest I have ever felt to a religious experience. Someone who had lived and died 600 years before me had stood in this very spot and understood pain like mine, and he had made this with it.
So that’s what went on in the background when I wrote this personal essay for Artsy earlier this year. You can find more tips on writing personal essays in this piece from The Writer Magazine, and also by snapping up one of the last three tickets for my masterclass on 4th August.
That’s all from me this time, I’ll write again soon x