If someone would have told me at 18 that I would be writing for a newspaper at 34, then I probably would have laughed at them and asked them what they’d been drinking. I was never an outstanding student in school. I grew up on a farm in the Welsh countryside and was quite well-known for a good singing voice and being built for playing Rugby. I thought that marrying a farmer and punching out a few children was probably my lot in life.
Secretly I’d always been quite good at English and languages, but I wanted to be a doctor or a vet. Why? Because I thought I was clever, well, that, and the appalling careers advice at my secondary school. I coasted through GCSEs, ran into trouble with my choice of A-levels and then by some stroke of luck ended up on a Sciences degree in Liverpool University. I did write for the Liverpool Student times during my Uni days, but again I looked at writing as a hobby, never anything I could do seriously and get paid for it. How I got through my degree, I’ll never know but I scraped a 2:2.
By the age of 21, I was engaged, a published poet, and new to the jobs market. I fell into sales. I started my career path with BT Local Business, based in North Wales, and had my own little patch of Welsh-speaking customers. It was pretty easy, a nine to five that allowed me to put a deposit on my first home, pay for a wedding, new car, the things you want when you first get a job. The business folded in 2004, when I was pregnant with my first child.
I looked at journalism for the first time, but dismissed it as non-viable. I had a mortgage that needed paying.
A few years later, a better sales position with a Xerox concessionaire came along, great wages, brilliant bonuses, but by the age of thirty, I knew there was something missing. Writing. I began ghost writing novels under a pseudo name, writing poetry, and ended up running an online literary magazine.
I found I was pretty good at freelancing, because of pitching, and everything fell into place, after my divorce came through, an epiphany if you like – this was what I had to be doing.
I needed experience, but my local paper in Wales wouldn’t accept a trainee reporter without a grounding in journalism even if I was going to work for free. In July 2011, I took a drastic step and moved my family from Wales to East Anglia to get the support of my ex husband and started phoning around different offices of the local papers. I found the Dereham and Wells times, and a fabulous senior reporter who has subsequently taken me under his wing and supported my writing, giving me practical advice. All of the staff in the Dereham office of the Eastern Daily Press have just been stars, and through their patience I have produced a number of articles for portfolio, even a couple of splashes for the EDP itself.
I’ve been volunteering free of charge for the past 5 months, for practical experience, and its paid dividends. I’ve sustained myself and my family by working freelance; editing and selling short stories, novellas and ghost writing. It’s been extremely tough as the hours of work are after the children have gone to bed, eight until whatever time in the morning I finish.
I started looking into NCTJ fast track diploma courses in September, it was all new to me, but I got some great advice from my editor and fellow reporters which led me to look at the courses on the NCTJ website, I knew I wanted to be qualified quickly, and didn’t have the funding for extended study. The fast track course is ideal, and seems to be a requirement for most trainee reporter jobs. I found News associates had a part-time course, which basically works nicely for me with the children, by now I’ve secured my place in Wimbledon for September 2012.
I took a huge cut in wages and a massive risk in moving from a secure well paid job, to being self-employed. But I can safely say that the last 6 months has been the happiest of my life. I’m finally doing what I feel I should be doing, with a passion, drive and determination that is obvious to those around me.
My advice to anyone trying to break into journalism is take the risk, show you’re serious and get as much experience as you possibly can, get your name out there and don’t be shy about selling yourself. Most importantly never give up. We all know journalism is a tough market, you have to stand out, so make every piece of work count.
Shan Ellis is a published author, freelance writer and trainee journalist, specialising in the arts and technology. She has written for and edited The River Journal, and is currently working and writing for the Eastern Daily Press. Published by Pure poetry, The Scarlet Sound, Mills and Boon, Seducing the Myth, Y Cymro, Metastwnsh (Welsh technology paper) and 3plus international, she embraces a wide variety of writing styles. A single mother to two young children, she enjoys the challenges of daily life, and strikes a balance between professionalism and telling it like it is.
Picture on the home page courtesy of .imelda
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