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Third Place – Sarah Rees, UK

Sarah Rees

After finding out she had Crohn's Disease Sarah was made redundant. Determined not to be left on the scrap heap she decided to find a skill from which she could earn an income. Now Sarah runs her own PR company for small local businesses and is in control of her future career.

A Time, a Place ... and a Pen

By Sarah Rees


2.30pm. Friday 16 March, 1997.

Birmingham. A time and a place. Memorable to me but, perhaps, not to anyone else. It was the time and place where my career in advertising fell apart ... with a phone call. I remember it well.

I had been ill for months, undergoing tests at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, in Birmingham. On 16 March the hospital called me at work, with a diagnosis of Crohn's Disease. To me it was a strange, unknown condition.

I put down the phone, experiencing relief that my illness now had a name. This suggested a course of treatment and a cure. I told my boss.

10am. Monday 19 March, 1997. I lost my job. Redundant, but I knew the real reason. A busy advertising agency cannot risk a member of staff being away for long. I was not in a state of panic about my illness. My boss was.

Gone ... my career, my health. Hospital appointments followed, then surgery. My doctor said I would not be able to return to work for many months, but he knew I was ambitious and restless stuck at home. He suggested I find something to occupy me while convalescing. Something I could do when strong enough. No pressure of commitment.

I discovered The Writers Bureau in my mother's Readers Digest magazine and typed my entry submission on Mum's old typewriter. Tipex at hand ... It was 1997, after all!

Recovering from surgery I spent my 'redundancy' money on my first computer and began The Writers Bureau course. My motivation, a strong desire to attain a skill which would provide an income, if I ever lost my job again.

That was how I began ... over 10 years' ago.

I studied the course material and indulged my creative senses. But I had spells when I was tired, my enthusiasm interrupted by illness. Then I felt better, grew stronger and secured a new full-time job, working in marketing for a printing company. At about this time, assignment 5 required me to interview a local personality. I interviewed a TV weather-presenter and wrote a ‘celebrity' article – which I thought would lead to my big break.

Then my Mother died suddenly.

It took me almost three years to place the article. Despite aiming high, submitting it to national press, the article finally appeared in a local magazine, in July 2000. I was paid just £25.00. But I achieved a whole page feature, with a credit on the magazine cover. I photocopied the article twenty times and posted it to everyone I knew. It was a glorious moment in my life.

I continued with the course assignments in earnest, inspired by feedback from my tutor. At last, an article I'd written featuring a violin maker appeared in the national "Classical Music" magazine. It was also featured on the magazine's website. Words cannot express the pride I felt at this achievement.

I had just completed The Writers Bureau assignment 7 when I got married and went on a fabulous honeymoon, to the South Pacific. On my return, an article I'd written about a retired businessman appeared in a national trade journal. I forged ahead with assignments 8 and 9.

Then I discovered I was pregnant. Due to my illness, pregnancy was a dream that may have eluded me. I was delighted and suddenly creative juices flowed like tears of joy. Morning sickness and food cravings gave way to a weekly column in The Birmingham Evening Mail. Unpaid for my quirky pregnancy anecdotes, I enjoyed the weekly euphoria of seeing my name and work in print, my picture at the top of the Women's Page column. It was worth more than a salary. I was a columnist, for a major regional newspaper.

When Dylan was born, in April 2003, the newspaper ran a double page spread featuring me and my gorgeous son. Minor celebrities, for a brief moment in time.

The scrap book of press cuttings I will hand to Dylan on his eighteenth birthday. It forms a unique legacy of my thoughts and feelings as he grew inside me. I am proud of what I wrote and I hope he will be too.

Motherhood and my full-time job encompassed my life. The computer lay dormant for months, shrouded in baby clothes, nappies and the paraphernalia that accompanies a new arrival. Thoughts of a writing career gave way to night-time feeds and Teletubbies.

This was a new and exciting time in my life, full of commitments and emotions previously unknown. However, the writing bug would not readily surrender the firm grip it had taken so long to attain.

I returned to work in 2004 and began writing again in earnest – usually after the 2am feed, when it was difficult to fall back to sleep. I interviewed an artist, wrote about ghosts in Prague ... but nothing was published. I did, however, find success with the letters page of national magazines, as suggested early on in the writing course. It was a great tip for getting work published and usually paid dividends in the form of a prize. I was the featured star letter month after month – and everyone had perfume for Christmas that year!

2006 was a momentous year. I placed a wedding article I had written, two years' before, with a glossy regional magazine.

And my second son, Oscar, was born.

The beginning of my maternity leave heralded the start of a twelve month contract, writing a series of wedding articles for the magazine. I was now earning a decent additional income and, at the end of my contract, negotiated a further six months' work, writing home-improvement features.

In January 2007, my life seemed close to perfect. I was working full-time in a job I enjoyed. I had two beautiful sons. I wrote part-time for a magazine. My health was good.

Then I lost my job.

The company I had worked for, for the past 10 years, closed suddenly in 2007. It was 10 years' since illness had caused me to lose my previous job but now I had children, a husband and a mortgage. I also had drive and determination. I would not be beaten.

My father, a Latin scholar in his day, had bored me as a child with intellectual phrases. Only now did I appreciate the poignancy of his teachings...

"Carpe diem".

I seized the day in July 2007 and set up my own business – Big Splash Communications. Dylan was about to start school and the value of being able to work from home was priceless. Running my own business afforded me the freedom I needed, to be there for my family.

The original business plan was to handle design and print work but clients soon asked for wider marketing support. I discovered that press coverage led to credible exposure for client companies. My business developed; with public relations proving a key to success.

On behalf of my clients, I now write regularly for trade journals, local newspapers and consumer magazines. Nearly every week something I have written appears in print. I have learnt to adapt my writing skills to the requirements of different media. I am successfully winning new business based on my PR portfolio.

Over 10 years' ago, I began The Writers Bureau course to enable me to survive if I lost my job and the course did not let me down. Inspired by the challenge of each assignment, I wanted to succeed from the moment I enrolled. I like to think the course put the pen in my hand ... but I had to prove I could write fluently with it.

I will always remember typing the initial assignment, "Why I Want to Write", on my mother's typewriter. The assignment introduction stated the hope that the course would "open up new avenues" for me. I stumbled down some avenues on occasion, but whenever I lost my way, the sign posts were there!

I hope I will one day have time to complete the course. I want to hang the certificate on my office wall. I will consider myself an on-going student until that day, when I fulfil the contract I entered into, a decade ago.

But that's just me.

10.30pm. 30 December, 2008. Home.

A time and a place. Memorable to me and now, perhaps, memorable to you too.


Annemarie Munro Writers Bureau's Student of the Year 2022

"I have seen my writing journey as an adventure: What can I write? What am I best at? What new aspects of writing can I discover and contribute towards? I have welcomed the wide range of modules covering different types of writing, challenging me to try new aspects in style and content, pushing me gently outside my comfort zone with encouragement.

"I signed up for the course in December 2020 as a Christmas present to myself and I started the first module in January 2021. I have had eight pieces published: three paid earning £1080 and a star letter where I won a £250 hotel voucher."

Annemarie Munro - Writers Bureau Student of the Year 2022

Read Annemarie's full story

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