Having moved to the Outer Hebrides, how do you make a living – especially if you’ve decided you don’t want a proper job, you have three pre-school children, and you live over 25 miles from town?
Working from home always seemed like a sensible solution - no commuting, no daily slog up to town – however lovely the drive might be, plenty of time to juggle work/children commitments and nice scenery to look at while you’re working. Perfect!
Well, not quite. In the first place, no daily commute means no money coming in – or at least, not at first, and when it begins to arrive, it isn’t enough. I make my living as a copywriter, so the first thing I had to do was build up a client list, which meant lots of letter writing and trips to the mainland. In some instances, it was necessary to explain what a copywriter actually did. I knew this was bad news. It’s hard enough trying to sell your product in a foreign environment, without the added complication of your target market not understanding what you’re talking about …
Never mind. That was 1994, before the days of email and long before the days of broadband. For the first three years, I did all my work via fax and telephone. How quaint that sounds now.
But there were plusses, not connected to technology. One immediate impression was that it was a lot easier being freelance in the Outer Hebrides than it was on the mainland. On the mainland, most advertising agencies in need of additional copywriting expected me to go and sit in their offices to work. That meant a worse travelling schedule than having a day job! I am big on not having to drive miles at either end of a working day if I can possibly avoid it. There are other things I’d rather be doing. Moving to the Outer Hebrides was the start of a new way of life – if I was going to end up commuting, I might as well have stayed in Bradford.
But the Highlands and Islands culture is used to long distances between destinations, over sea as well as land. So it was expected that I would work from home, unless I was required to do face to face interviews. This was a refreshing and practical attitude that suits all sides of the equation. For the agency, it makes economic sense – no expense accounts to pay and efficient turnaround of work – and with nowhere to go except my desk, it’s time efficient for me, too.
I was lucky I had a skill that could come with me. But even now, while it still provides our main income, it’s only part of the household economy that keeps us going. If I love anything about living here, it’s probably the fact that life is continually surprising – just when you think you’re stuck in a rut, something jolts you out of it.