Vaccinations, chicken pox and deadlines

Plus an interview with journalist and editor, Punteha van Terheyden

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As I write to you today, I’ve spent the best part of my Sunday in A&E. Our son broke out into suspiciously looking chickenpox-like spots on Friday and we’ve been shipped from pillar to post ever since. So, after what seems like an exhausting round of out-of-hours appointments and long waits on plastic chairs (very uncomfortable at seven months pregnant), we’re still not completely sure. We’ve been told to see how the rash develops as it doesn’t look like the usual chicken pox spots, but he has to be kept away from nursery all the same. (Screams into pillow).

Pay me a thought this week as I try to manage multiple deadlines and a spot-ridden toddler full of energy. (Note the very early delivery of today's newsletter if you want a guage of how I'm planning on managing it).

In other news, I received my Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine earlier in the week which was very welcome as I approached my 28th week of pregnancy (the point where pregnant women and their babies are believed to be far more at risk of severe Covid-19 side effects). The decision to receive the vaccine while pregnant can be anxiety-inducing, and totally depends on your individual circumstances, but it has been made harder by a lot of misinformation thrown around social media. So, if you’re struggling to sift through the facts from the online hysteria, I can’t recommend this webinar - organised by Pregnant Then Screwed and the MP Stella Creasy - enough. The webinar features a panel of medical experts who discuss what we know about the benefits and risks of the Covid-19 vaccine for pregnant women, women trying to get pregnant and women who are breastfeeding. It's well worth a watch if you're on the fence or just want to know more.

In between all of the pregnancy and toddler-related excitement, Jess and I also managed to organise an interview with a woman I’ve been dying to speak to for a long time: Punteha van Terheyden, a journalist, editor, ghostwriter and founder of Lacuna Voices, a digital space that showcases beautiful, worthy true-life features.

Working flexibly is incredibly important to Punteha so I was interested to hear all about how she juggles motherhood with such a varied and successful career. I hope you enjoy reading the interview and find her story as inspiring as I did.

So until next time, I wish you all a safe and happy week – and a legal hug or two if you so wish.

Cat x

THE INTERVIEW: Punteha van Terheyden, Journalist, Editor, and Ghostwriter 

Interview by Jessica Morris

JESS: Could you tell us a bit about your career so far and what made you make the switch to freelancing?

Punteha: I have been a true-life features writer for 13 years, and started off on the features desk of a regional news agency. I trained under a former Fleet Street exec, then after two years secured a staff job as feature writer on Take a Break, which is the queen of true-life journalism in the U.K. It was wonderful working there and I remained for eight years. I only left after I had my daughter, as after going through five operations and three rounds of IVF to have her, I wanted to be with her as much as possible, so working 40+ hours a week, and commuting 3 hours a day didn’t work for me anymore. I applied for flexible working but was denied it unless I took a demotion from my senior role as Commissioning Editor, and I wasn’t prepared to do that. Similarly, I have chronic pain and didn’t want to suffer so much anymore. I needed to be able to work at my high skill level, when and how I wanted, for as many or as little hours as I wanted. Freelancing was the perfect fit. I wasn’t quite ready to leave staff editorial and I loved the mag and team, but other things like my family and health became a priority so I took that leap and haven’t looked back. 

Jess: What inspired you to start Lacuna Voices?

Punteha: Being treated badly sometimes as a freelancer. Having sat on the desk of a great national title, I knew things could be done well, and freelancers treated properly. But not all media outlets operate like that, and I hated being made to wait months for payment on work completed. Payment on publication is highly unethical and there is no business justification for it. Just because something has been done a particular way for a long time, doesn’t mean that’s how it should be or that it cant change. I wanted to be able to create a fair and ethical workplace, commission great writers from all over the world, take care of interviewees the way they deserved, as well as create a beautiful digital space that was filled with great true-life and ZERO click-bait. 

Jess: You pride yourself on being ethical and trustworthy, what are your tips for gaining a client's confidence and why do you think it's important? 

Punteha: Be honest and be upfront about how things in your industry and business work, how you operate, and what the client can expect. Managing expectations and laying down your boundaries and understanding theirs is the key to creating great, transparent and long-lasting business relationships. Why lie? Why shield people from the truth of the industry you’re working in? If it’s not a great truth, then you can use that to your advantage by warning clients on what to look out for and what you can help them mitigate in your remit as the experienced professional offering a service. Telling the truth is important because... it just is. Who I am as a journalist is a reflection of who I am as a person. I want to be able to go to sleep at night knowing I’ve done everything in my power to be a good human being. That ethos doesn’t stop when the line crosses from my personal to professional life. 

Jess: How do you juggle your time between Lacuna Voices and freelance work?

Punteha: I set myself a monthly financial target of what I need or want to reach in terms of commissions. At the beginning when I was setting up Lacuna Voices, once I hit that target, or wrapped up my freelance work, I’d spend time on LV. Sometimes, I knew I’d need to block out a week or a month to solely work on Lacuna Voices so I’d make that happen, or I’d set LV tasks and squeeze them in between commissioned deadlines, in the middle of the night, weekend or whatever. It’s a constant juggling act and at the moment, I’m having a lengthy spell of pain so I’ve stopped beating myself up about needing time off and will get back to it whenever I can. Part of being a freelancer is recognising when you’re burning out and that it’s OK to take your foot off the gas. Taking a day off to lay on the sofa and watch Grey’s Anatomy isn’t going to kill your career, but allowing yourself to burn out could send you on your way down that rabbit hole.

Jess: What are your three top tips for successfully juggling your career with parenting?

Punteha: 1. It’s OK to not be able to manage everything the way you want. My daughter goes to nursery more than I like but it has to be that way for me to work and take care of my pain. I can’t work as much as I want on Lacuna Voices but that’s OK, because I have to earn money as a freelancer.  

2. It doesn’t always have to all be perfect, just good enough. That’s not to say your quality of work should be below par. But don’t beat yourself up and spend hours and hours on perfecting something. Sometimes, when the demands of life are absolutely out of this world, your ‘good enough’ is enough. Bunging chicken nuggets and chips in the oven for your kid instead of cooking from scratch one night when work tasks are breathing down your neck is not the end of the world. 

3. Try and carve out a tiny bit of time for yourself, even if it’s half an hour reading a book, internet window shopping, scrolling through Tik Tok, going for a run in the middle of the working day - it’s OK to give yourself that.

Jess: Did becoming a parent change your working priorities/view of work in any way?

Punteha: Yes, absolutely. Before having a baby, all I wanted was to progress up the ranks, have more bylines, more money, another promotion, write books, then another and another. Afterwards, I still wanted those things but on my terms. I didn’t want to work to live, but live to work. I wanted time to enjoy my life, my family, my home. 

Jess: You also suffer from chronic pain. Could you tell us a bit about how you manage your workload accordingly and communicate with clients regarding your health?

Punteha: I allow myself time off when I need it. I have to in order to manage my ‘boom and bust’ cycles. Sometimes, I have no choice but to power through pain, be it because of deadlines, big projects or simply because I need the cash and nobody is going to pay me to not work. But after that, I allow myself to go to bed for a week or whatever I need to recover. I have tried to let go of unfair expectations I used to have for myself, that I could do everything in one go. I take breaks in the middle of the day, or mix up work with rest or childcare or whatever so I can manage my pain. The other day, it took me four separate sessions to just wash the dishes and in the end I abandoned the task and left it for my husband! There are times I have to write copy in two sessions in a similar way. Recognising I need that break is important, but taking it is even more essential. 

With clients, I have a permanent out of office on that explains I’m experiencing a pain flare/have chronic pain, and I may be slow to respond. Usually, I’m fine to respond at my usual quick pace but if I can’t, that holding email does wonders. I have had nothing but kind responses to it. Similarly, if things are very bad pain wise, I sometimes ask for an extension from editors (if that’s doable) or move interviews around so I can do it when I’m feeling better. It’s usually only a matter of days, sometimes just hours, but it make a huge difference to me, and not a lot to them. Being honest about my health means people understand and are kind and helpful. Chronic pain impacts half of U.K. adults so many people have empathy and understanding. 

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