Life & Style | People

'I turned my hobby into my job'

Having a dream is the easy part. Putting it into action takes blood, sweat and tears. We speak to three Dubai-based women about following their passion, and about how they made a commitment to turn their hobbies into careers

  • By Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius magazine
  • Published: 13:27 August 2, 2012
  • Aquarius

  • Image Credit: Dennis B. Mallari/ANM
  • From left: Liz Fenwick, Teagan Rowlands and Danielle Haggar.

“I write novels”

Liz Fenwick, 49 from Massachusetts, was earmarked for writing from childhood. But it wasn’t until years later, when Liz had travelled the world and got her three children off to school, that she finally found the time and space to make it her priority. Now, with her first published novel, The Cornish House, being translated into three languages and her second novel in progress, Liz looks back over the journey that brought her here.

“I can’t remember when I started writing stories. I think at first I told them, and then when I was about 12, I started writing them down. My creative writing thesis at university was two thirds of a novel. My tutor gave me a contact for an agent, but I didn’t use it. I don’t know why... but it’s probably a good thing because, at 22, my skin was too thin and I was too precious for the criticism that I probably would have received from agents and editors.

“After university, I decided I needed an employable skill and trained as an insurance broker. My father had an insurance firm, so I knew I would always have a job. When I was 26, I moved to London. Two weeks after I arrived I met the man who is now my husband. We were married two years later and a year after that, I had our first child. When my son was a year old, my husband’s work moved us to Canada.

“Over the next nine years, we moved from Canada, back to the UK, to Moscow, to Houston, to Indonesia and finally to Dubai. It was difficult keeping a career going as a serial expat, or a trailing spouse. Eventually I gave up trying and focused on raising the children. I volunteered and became the global head of my husband’s company’s expat association, which kept me busy. I started writing again at that point, but writing non-fiction for corporate magazines.

“On New Year’s Eve 2003, we were sitting at a table with friends, announcing our goals for the year 2004 and I said, ‘I’m going to write more’.

“I decided I would write a Mills and Boon novel, which I did. It took me 11 months and it was rejected, which felt terrible at the time, but it was the best thing that could have happened as it made me join the Romantic Novelists’ Association in the UK whose members encouraged me to give up on Mills and Boon and find my own voice.

“That was in 2005 and, from then on, I wrote book after book trying to find my voice and to find a story that suited it. I started off writing two hours per day while my youngest was at nursery school. As her school hours increased, so did my writing.

I treated it like a full-time job and I was dedicated. My goal was to become a published author and I wanted it wholeheartedly.

“Each year I’d write a new book and rewrite old stories.

I took it very seriously and went to conferences and courses to update my skills, as any other professional would. Writing takes up a lot of your time... that is the biggest sacrifice. You lose out on the time to do other things, like learning to play a musical instrument, spending time with friends, watching TV and even reading gets lost in the journey to publication. I think my only regret about my journey is the time spent writing when I could have been with my children, for example spending time on holiday editing a book. They need you for so short a time.

“It’s hard work being a writer and it can be very discouraging at times. The hardest part was allowing myself to fail and taking the risk of sending my work out and allowing it to be judged.

“I started writing The Cornish House in 2004 and finally got an agent in 2011. I nearly gave up on the dream of being published in 2010. All the agents were saying to me, ‘Your book is good. I would like to see the next one.’ I thought, ‘I obviously just don’t have what it takes.’ But then I went to one last conference as I’d already paid for the ticket and it was here I had a light-bulb moment when one of the speakers said you have to ‘open the vein’. I knew the novel I had been sending to agents was good, but I also knew it was missing something. That speaker made me realise what it needed... it needed me to bleed emotion on to the page. I started working on it again, layering in nuggets of emotional experience that my magpie mind had been saving up for me to use.

“Now, it has been published and is being translated into three languages. I’m working on my second novel, called August Rock, while promoting and marketing the first. It’s busy and although we are living in Dubai, the writing and promoting is keeping me in the UK a lot. But I don’t mind as it’s a dream come true for me. To other women out there with a dream to follow, I would advise them to allow themselves the time to make it happen. This can be tough – in our instant world we have little patience with ourselves. But most of all, you need to believe in yourself.”

For more on Liz’s novels, visit www.lizfenwick.com.

“I make jewellery”

Teagan Rowlands, 27 from the UK, says that although she has tried her hand at various jobs, the only thing that has ever really excited her is making jewellery. Here Teagan talks about making the brave decision to swap the security of a nine-to-five for the opportunity of turning her hobby into her livelihood.

“I started making jewellery when I was about 18. My sister and I used to go to a jewellery-making centre here in Dubai called Bead Palace and it just sort of went from there. People started commenting on my earrings and asking me to make them some. When I went to university, I would trawl shops looking for interesting beads and things. I always had a supply of materials and would tinker around when I had the time.

“At university, I studied media and cultural studies with drama. I didn’t know what career I wanted to follow and, when I returned to Dubai after university, I tried my hand at various jobs including being a sailing instructor and some admin roles, eventually becoming a project assistant at a landscape architecture company. Even though the company was great, I couldn’t see a future there and so, in January 2009, I resigned.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and realised that the only thing that excited me was making jewellery, so I decided to go for it – to make jewellery my career rather than just my hobby. I had swum with Speedo Swim Squads as a child and I’m a qualified instructor, so I started teaching swimming lessons and used the money to stock up on jewellery materials. Once I had a decent stock of items, I started selling at the Arte markets. At one market, I met a woman who had a studio in the Gold and Diamond park and was offering silversmithing courses. My parents bought me my initial course for Christmas and I haven’t looked back.

“It was unnerving to go from the security of earning a regular salary to surviving on what you make on a daily basis. But I get quite a good salary from teaching swimming and I have the support of my family. At first, I was renting maids’ rooms to use as a studio, but now I have my own workshop in Al Quoz. I’ve invested in a website and the silversmithing machinery, which I had to take a loan out for, but it means I can do all my own silversmithing in-house. My mentor has left Dubai now, so I’ve started learning and experimenting with new materials by myself – I love discovering new mediums. One piece of jewellery can take anywhere from ten minutes to five or six hours, depending on the item and the material you use.

“I’m still teaching swimming and I’ve set up a second-hand clothes company called My Ex-Wardrobe with my sisters, but I still work on jewellery in the mornings to keep my stock levels up and also work on custom pieces. I love it.

“I’ve been commissioned to make custom pieces for weddings and special occasions, which I really enjoy. I like being involved in the whole process, from the inspiration, through to the design and creation. People come to me with an idea, or a theme, like a certain flower and I come back to them with a bunch of designs and we take it from there, making prototypes until we get it right. I was asked to make a set of silver jewellery for a 25th wedding anniversary present, which was worth more than Dh1,000. But that was a one-off – I like my stuff to be reasonably priced. I think everyone should be able to afford the joy of having unique, custom-made jewellery. One of my favourite projects was making necklaces for my sisters at Christmas. I inverted the traditional Arabic calligraphy design so that it was a disc with the Arabic word for ‘sister’ engraved out of it.

“I’ve seen some of my stuff walking around town and I made some fun perspex glasses with funny eyebrows and disguises on and saw someone wearing them at a concert recently. The sales through the website are growing steadily, but it’s largely word of mouth. I guess the next step for me will be moving into boutiques and selling on a larger scale.

“Making jewellery will always be something I do and, if it eventually becomes something I can live off solely, that would be great. But I’m still learning, still evolving, I’m just so glad that I took the risk and made the decision to do it.”

For more about Teagan’s jewellery collections, visit www.teaganjewellery.com.

“I teach Pilates”

Fitness enthusiast Danielle Haggar, 28 from Montreal, only decided to try Pilates after being injured in a car accident. Ten years down the line, Pilates has gone from being rehabilitation to being her life path. Danielle tells us how she quit a successful finance career to get back to her fitness roots.

“I have always been into fitness and dance. My mother owns a dance and fitness studio and I was involved in all the activities. I tried Pilates a few times without knowing what it was, but I was more attracted by the dance and martial arts classes and never really gave Pilates a chance. I was young and blinded by fun group activities.

“A series of injuries following a car accident in 2002 meant I couldn’t do dance, or extreme sports, anymore. It was really difficult for me to stop... I gained a lot of weight and was really depressed. In 2003 I started doing Pilates as a rehab tool to help get me moving again. I really enjoyed it and saw the benefits straight away.

“Work-wise, I’ve always been interested in the science of the human body. I studied biology at university, but it turned out to be more about spending four years in a lab than about the body, so after university I decided to train in something completely different – finance and management – and started working in a bank. I thought I loved it, but one day I woke up and decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.

“In 2008, I went on holiday to Egypt with a friend and, while we were there, we saw an art therapist. In one session, I realised that throughout my childhood I had loved fitness and that I really wanted to be working in the health and fitness field. It was exciting, but also a bit of a panic time for me as I came home from Egypt, quit my finance job and took out a loan while I worked out what I wanted to do. I did a short anatomy and Pilates workshop while visiting Dubai and fell in love with Pilates. I spent six months training and doing workshops and did a few other things... I took a travel expedition to Argentina and really took time away from everything. It was scary not to have an income, but I was really enjoying spending time doing what I really wanted to do.

“I started getting into the smaller Pilates group sessions and private instruction. I noticed a much better precision of movement and the teacher had time to correct me properly. It made a huge difference to my body – I’ve lost 30kg since then. I really started becoming passionate about the power of Pilates. So, early in 2009, I started a Stott Pilates instructor training course for mat Pilates. I was hooked and spent the next two years doing all the courses they offered.

“It was a lot of training, combined with teaching and observing other classes. In August 2011, I finished my last training course in Toronto and, although I had been teaching since 2009, I was so happy to be fully certified.

“By that point I was married and living in Dubai, so I came back here after the course finished and have carried on teaching Pilates. I don’t miss finance at all. It was giving me anxiety...

I thought I loved it because I found it interesting. It’s funny how that can happen – how you can think you like something until you find something that you really like and realise how much happier you are. I don’t regret any of my careers or decisions though, as I have benefited from all of them. But everything has changed for me since doing Pilates. I’m more positive and happier and I get a real buzz out of seeing the difference my Pilates sessions make to clients. People with injuries come to me and a couple of months later they tell me they are so much better... it brings me to a higher level of happiness.
“Also, my nutrition is better, my health is better. I have so much more energy and I am surrounded by healthy, happy people. My plans are to open a studio at some point, but I’ll see what happens as, with my husband’s job, we may end up moving. But Pilates is something I can take with me wherever we go and it can fit in around motherhood.
“To other people who are thinking about leaving their job to start something they are passionate about, I would say, ‘Don’t be scared of leaving a job you don’t like.’ I started out in debt and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. People are often scared of the unknown, but you have to be courageous. You have to do it – the longer you leave it, the harder it will be. So, don’t waste time. Do it now.”

To book a Pilates class, email daniellehaggar@gmail.com.

 

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