I’m so grateful for some of the interviews I’ve been able to do as part of this Inspire Interview Series – it’s mind-blowing to see the range of different but reeeeeally cooool shizz people can do when they put their minds to it! If you missed any of the previous installments, they’re all collated here on my careers page, so go and check them out!
Today, though, we have an incredibly special Q&A with a phenomenal woman tackling, among other things, proving publishers wrong, writing books, kicking cancer’s ass – in other words, grit and life wisdom from a gorgeous girlboss warrior.
I think ‘career inspo’ style pieces can end up being very glib, trite, very ‘yeah! postivity woo, follow your dreams!’ and I wanted to make sure I’m sharing real stories, real experiences with breadth and depth and struggle as well as glossy corporate fairytale stories, so today I think this much deeper, harder, more real interview than any featured so far in this series is the most important – it’s definitely affected me the most of the pieces so far, and I hope you all find what you need from it too ❤
Alice May Purkiss (author of Life, Lemons & Melons, out later this year)
While already battling depression, Alice was diagnosed with cancer. Ultimately, she kicked its ass and survived it, and continues to document her journey on social media (@Alicemaypurkiss) and she has written some incredible pieces on her experience and given a range of speeches and workshops. She is now a freelance writer, self-published author, trustee for Cancer Charity CoppaFeel and much, much more.
Upon being told by publishers that her social media following wasn’t big enough to publish her memoir about her experience of cancer, depression, and everything in between, Life, Lemons and Melons, Alice successfully crowdfunded the project, sourced illustrators and singlehandedly proved them wrong (click here to pre-order now!) She now works as a freelance writer and has written for Stylist, Metro, Red Online to name a few.
I wanted to share as much as possible of the insights from this awesome human with you, both life lessons, career and writing, because I think we all struggle with figuring out what we’re doing, where we’re going, career stuff… but this is a girl who did it / is doing it while simultaneously frying much, MUCH bigger fish… so without further ado, let’s go over to Alice.
The lesson is this: depression or no depression, PTSD or no PTSD, cancer or no cancer, any emotions you are feeling are valid. You’re feeling them for a reason. We’re all guilty of shutting ourselves down when we’re experiencing emotions that feel more intense than we’re used to. But they are part of the human experience. They are part of what it is that makes us a human. Without sorrow we cannot know joy. Without loss we cannot know gratitude. I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, a bit wishy washy and probably a bit like I’ve read too many books on feelings but we are consistently told to keep our emotions in check because we are scared of how our feelings will be perceived. But if your emotions are on extra loud, for whatever reason, sit with them for a while. Don’t try to get rid of them. Recognise them. Learn from them. – Alice May Purkiss, Life, Lemons & Melons
B: Please could you give a little intro of your journey of the last few years for anyone who doesn’t know you from social media?
A: Writer. Avid eater of food. Northerner on loan to London. Feminist. Had a run in with breast cancer. Trustee for
B: You’ve been through an incredibly difficult ordeal and what’s been amazing about following your journey is how you’ve managed to transform some of that into a force for good, with your advocating for women checking their breasts for lumps [#CheckYourChebs], writing your book Life, Lemons and Melons, speaking at various events and sharing your experiences… do you have any advice for people struggling with similar (or different but difficult) situations?
A: Life is tough. We are consistently thrown curve balls that keep us on our toes and these can have long lasting and far reaching effects. But there is nearly always some good to be found in the difficult situations, it’s just about switching your view up so you can see it. And it’s important to remember that while every day might not be good, better days will come. Like the sunrise and the sunset, time is constantly moving and the world is always changing, so you won’t feel like you do now forever.
B: This seems like a stupid question as it must change so much, but how has your journey with breast cancer and everything you have to deal with as a consequence changed you and your perspective on life, looking after yourself, and work?
A: I get asked a lot if being diagnosed with breast cancer has changed me – and the honest answer is I really don’t know. Some days I feel like the same person I was before I got sick, other times I feel like a completely different human. I’m a bit of a contradiction really because sometimes it makes me more cautions and other times it makes me more adventurous. I think the best way to describe it is I’m a bit like a twin of myself – with the same basic DNA (minus the cancery cells) but with tweaks to my personality and my outlook. I’ve always been “work to live” rather than “live to work” and this is SO MUCH WORSE now, which is a blessing in many ways but also means I need to give myself a kick up the arse a lot more than I used to. And in terms of looking after myself, this has become completely crucial to me. My body has been battered and bruised and my brain has taken it’s fair share of a battering too – so things like yoga and meditation have taken a bigger priority in my life than ever before.
B: Can you talk a little bit about your process and experience of writing your book Life, Lemons and Melons?
A: The process of writing Life, Lemons and melons has been a pretty long one. I started my “journey” towards publishing this book about 18 months ago, when I secured an agent and he began talking to publishers about my work. They felt that despite the fact that they loved my idea and my writing, I didn’t have a big enough social media following for them to take a punt on me. So I decided to stick it to the man and do it anyway. I launched a Kickstarter and raised £5000 in 30 days last October and since then I have been knee deep in the writing trenches, driven on by nought but my own perseverance and the 176 investors who chose to believe in me with their hard earned dollar. As the book combines a number of difficult topics, it’s taken me quite a lot of time to geth through the chapters, and it’s really important to me that I am looking after myself while writing, so I’ve taken my time and tried not to put too much pressure on myself to get it done. I also have to be in a very particular place mentally and emotionally to write it so I don’t make my way into a mental nosedive, so I have to be really careful.
B: You moved from a marketing role to going freelance and writing your book – any tips for people looking to do the same?
A: Take your time – don’t rush. The move doesn’t need to happen immediately. Start putting some feelers out for freelance work before you take the plunge and leave your job. And don’t be scared of the peaks and troughs that come with being a freelancer – there are many and they never get easier but where there are troughs there are always peaks.
B: Can you describe a (working/writing) day in the life of Alice Purkiss?
A: God I’m so bad at sticking to a particular schedule so it varies massively from day to day. I still struggle with fatigue so I don’t usually rush out of bed – even if I’m awake (which I usually am) I don’t get up til about 8.30 or 9, then I’ll get my breakfast, have a wash and start my day at 10am, unless there’s anything in particular that needs to be done first thing (usually dealing with social media clients or responding to emails). Then I usually work for a few hours on whatever projects I have on, whether social media management, writing pieces I have been commissioned for, doing the copywriting work that pays the bills or banging out some words for the book. I usually work til around 2 or 3pm. But this can all change if I have an event to go to, or a meeting to attend, or if I want to go for a swim, to yoga or to another exercise class.
B: What has been the most challenging part of going freelance and working for yourself?
A: Being kind to myself when things are difficult financially. Freelancing is so variable – some months I have lots of work coming in, others I don’t. That’s just the way it is for most freelancers but I have a tendency to tell myself I’m not doing enough, not trying hard enough, should be doing more etc etc. So working on treating myself better and learning to relish the downtime has been a big learning curve.
B: You’ve been very open about your struggles with depression before and during your breast cancer, and the importance of mental health which is so inspiring and I’m sure has helped so many people. What would you say to someone who is suffering and needs help or advice?
A: It’s such a hard question because everyone is so different but I think my number one piece of advice is that the sun will come out again. Better days are coming. You will know lightness again. Just hang in there. Kind of reminds me of this section I wrote in the book:
“There is one key thing I have learnt over the last three years. I think this lesson has partially occurred as a result off my extensive CBT and counselling but partly just as a result of living through a trauma and probably as I approach 30 and develop a bit of hindsight on the life that has gone before me. The lesson is this: depression or no depression, PTSD or no PTSD, cancer or no cancer, any emotions you are feeling are valid. You’re feeling them for a reason. We’re all guilty of shutting ourselves down when we’re experiencing emotions that feel more intense than we’re used to. But they are part of the human experience. They are part of what it is that makes us a human. Without sorrow we cannot know joy. Without loss we cannot know gratitude. I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, a bit wishy washy and probably a bit like I’ve read too many books on feelings but we are consistently told to keep our emotions in check because we are scared of how our feelings will be perceived. But if your emotions are on extra loud, for whatever reason, sit with them for a while. Don’t try to get rid of them. Recognise them. Learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up for not reacting the “right” way to something. There is no “right” way. Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. And if the intense emotions you’re feeling are horrible or scary, find someone to sit with them with you, someone to hold your hand and remind you that everything’s going to be ok. I think every emotion comes to teach us something. We just have to be open to learning.”
B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?
A: 1) Living well and making the most of the life I’ve been given and sharing it with people I love
2) Managing to do the above!
B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?
A: My life’s mission in a nutshell is to do my bit to help stamp out late detection of breast cancer by educating the masses on the signs and symptoms that you should be looking out for when you do your monthly check (that’s why I volunteer with CoppaFeel!). I want people who are struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone – that they can talk when they are ready and things will get better. I want those people to know that the world is better with them in it. I want to tell stories and go on adventures, to laugh, to be happy and to be healthy for as long as possible
Swimming or running?
SWIMMING. Every time.
Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
Dinner (or tea as we call it in the North)
Forests or beaches?
Beaches near forests?!
Nature or nuture?
Talent or hustle?
Chocolate or cheese?
Fave self-care ritual?
A good book or netflix?
“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Tea or coffee?
Neither. I am a traitor to my Yorkshire kin.
Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)
GOOD ONE. Erm. Margaret Atwood, Bryony Gordon, my Grandma, Zadie Smith, Jon Ronson and Adam Buxton.
The best meal in the world is…
My husband’s mum’s roast ham Sunday dinner with all the trimmings. It’s honestly the best ham I’ve ever tasted. But I also bloody love seafood so anything fishy works for me.
Thanks SO MUCH Alice for sharing all of this, and I can’t wait to read your book!
Check out Alice on social media via the below links, and please do spare a minute to browse the CoppaFeel website and don’t forget to not only #CheckYourChebs but remind all of the lovely ladies in your life to do the same (breast cancer signs and symptoms explained here).
Spend more time with Alice over on her website, instagram, twitter, and read more about Life, Lemons & Melons, out later this year here.
Boobs, cancer, questions, queries…?
If you have any questions or concerns, whether you want to donate or have worries about your own health… have a look at the CoppaFeel website and other relevant charities but please do not hesitate to book a boob check, and speak to a qualified health professional. Other resources include: