Marvellous Mum Antonia Honeywell had a passion for writing from childhood, and wrote her first novel aged 8! Now a full time mum of four, Antonia had the chance to focus of her long term aspiration and has succeeded in having her novel ‘The Ship’ not only published but also featured in The Evening Standard’s list of London bestsellers on the day of publication!
• Which part of the Chilterns do you live?
• Family members (names and ages):
Husband James, who is forever 31, plus Oliver (9), Thea (8), Adam (6) and Esme (5)
• Sum up your business in a sentence:
• What’s your career background?
I studied English at university, then worked in the Education Department at the Natural History Museum, running workshops for school groups and for the public. I went on to train as a teacher and spent a decade teaching in a range of schools, including Watford Grammar School for Girls. I moved into London when I met my husband and spent two years as Head of Department in a huge Inner London comprehensive.
• How did your career change after becoming a mum?
I gave up teaching to be a full time mother, but I kept up my writing. Even when the children were tiny babies, I had my laptop out most of the time; I even wrote while I was feeding them.
• What first inspired you to start writing (include when you started the business)?
I’d wanted to be a professional writer since primary school – in fact, I wrote my first novel when I was eight years old, during a wet playtime in Mrs Burgess’ class at Benson CofE Primary School. It was about a terrified plastic counter moving around a snakes and ladders board. I’d written throughout my teaching career, but being at home with the children gave me the chance to focus on that long-held aspiration.
• And how did you move from idea to actually taking your first business steps?
The biggest step for me was realising that I needed to work as hard on getting my work published as I did on writing it in the first place. You hear so many stories about writers being ‘discovered,’ as though it happens by magic, and I think I thought that would happen to me if I waited for long enough. But just like singers and actors, a great deal of time and effort has to go into getting yourself noticed, as well as into improving and developing your work. When my parents in law gave me a weekend of babysitting as a birthday present, I used it to go on a writing course. And I’ve never really stopped.
• What skills or experience from your career do you use in your business?
Teaching taught me a great deal about relating to people – not just children and teenagers, but their parents, and fellow teachers. Running a department in a large secondary school requires a great deal of tact, diplomacy and vision, as well as faith in the young people for whom you’re responsible. I also learned just how much history there is behind actions which are apparently simple, and how complicated are the motivations behind people’s behaviour. A teacher is dealing in people’s dreams – and a writer is doing the same thing, albeit in a different way.
• Who is your target customer and how do you find and market to them?
The Ship is a novel that explores a not-quite imaginary future of floods and food shortages and political crises, so I’m hoping it’ll appeal to anyone who’s living through our current turbulent times! In addition, I’m lucky enough to have an excellent publisher whose job it is to get my novel into bookshops.
• What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in starting your own business?
Finding the time to write is the biggest challenge. I’m sure that’s the same for any working mother.
• Your biggest successes to date?
I was over the moon when The Ship featured in the Evening Standard’s list of London bestsellers on the day of publication; I’ve also had lovely reviews in the Mail and the Times.
• What’s your vision for your business?
I’d love The Ship to do well enough to allow me to keep writing.
• What has most surprised you about yourself in starting your business?
I’ve found a reserve of grit and energy I didn’t know I had. Once I realised that agents and editors weren’t going to come and find me, I stopped dreaming secretly in quiet corners and starting really working on making it happen.
• How do you juggle running a business and family life?
Well, I don’t do much dusting! I cook in bulk – lots of casseroles and meals I can put together while I’m doing the breakfast and leave to slow-cook all day. I keep the arts and craft supplies fully topped up and try not to worry about mess. I’m not precious about the chaos that surrounds me while I work, and I always, always say yes to offers of help.
• What advice do you have for other mums who want to start a business?
Find something you really, really want to do and don’t keep it to yourself. Come up with a plan – involve your partner/parents/children/ anyone who wants to help and support you. Make it constructive and realistic, then ask for the help you need and accept it graciously.
• How do you relax?
Practising the piano. I’ve always wanted to learn properly and started having lessons recently.
• What do you love most about where you live?
The green spaces. And the daffodils by the side of the road as you approach the Little Chalfont roundabout.
• What’s your favourite tipple?
Red wine. Always.
• Your simple pleasure?
Reading my own favourite childhood books to my own children.
• Favourite film?
• Favourite book?
Villette, by Charlotte Brontë
• Tell us a joke?
Why was the scarecrow given so many medals?
Because he was outstanding in his field.