From Classrooms to Children's Stories

“The workload was brutal.”

Image of Catherine Carroll
From Classrooms to Children's Stories

Catherine Carroll was giving hours of her free time over to her job. Then, her priorities changed. Here's how she forged a new, more creative work identity, and built a business that fits around her schedule.

What work were you doing previously?

I was an English and Drama teacher in a secondary school.

What are you doing now?

I've started my own company called Mummy Make Me A Story.

My company writes, designs and illustrates children's stories. We aim to champion the bedtime story and the wonderful parents that bring them to life.

I'm currently working on a new version of Rapunzel, set after she was rescued from the tower.  Having two daughters of my own now, I was really worried about the gender stereotypes pervading children's literature.  My Rapunzel takes matters into her own hands and ends up becoming a successful entrepreneur!

We also run The Knackered Parents' Book Club, which encourages parents to get back into reading for themselves.

How did you feel about your work before you decided to make a change?

I loved my subject and that I was doing a job that was making a difference to children's lives.

However, the workload was brutal.

The paper work was never-ending and the marking would take up hours of my free time. There was little room to reflect or be creative.

Why did you change?

I got pregnant with my first child and my priorities changed.

I couldn't see how I could keep up with that level of work and look after a baby. I went back after my daughter was born and found the environment stressful. I was frustrated that the focus was all on results and how the school looked, as opposed to the actual learning of the children. I didn't feel creatively fulfilled.

I got pregnant with my second child when my daughter was a year old and I decided not to go back after he was born.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

At the time having two children under two (I now have three!) forced me to make the decision not to go back.

Childcare would have cancelled out my wage. And I'm not sure when I would have done the marking!

Are you happy with the change?

Yes!

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss the relationships I had with my colleagues and the students.

I'm quite a sociable person and working from home around my children can be lonely.

However, I don't miss the relentless marking and paperwork, especially when I knew most of the work I was doing was pointless.

How did you go about making the shift? And how specifically did you choose your new career?

I'd already told work I wasn't going back after maternity leave.

I felt quite isolated and confused about my place in society. I'd always worked; yet, I no longer had the social interactions that going to work brings. Time was not my own anymore and my baby didn't sleep!

I felt like I'd lost my previous identity and become almost invisible. The mundane tasks involved with looking after a baby were monotonous and I definitely felt de-skilled.

I started writing stories to help my baby sleep; then, it was actually a chance conversation with my mum that started me on the road to publication.

My mum is in her early seventies and has had a very interesting life. She was an opera singer and also happens to be an amazing artist. I confided in her one night about my identity and confidence issues as a new mum and was surprised to hear that she felt the same.

She confided that as a woman in her seventies you're seen as just some old lady: “People on the street don't know what you've done or what you're capable of. You slowly feel like you're losing touch with the world and you definitely lose confidence.”

I decided to ask my mum to illustrate my stories. Her first response was, “No one will want to see my paintings!”

These feelings of inadequacy we shared concerned me. I started looking into how to boost our self-esteem. I made a list of the skills a stay-at-home mum / dad needed, (organisation, time management, behaviour management, budgeting, patience, communication, empathy, creativity, storytelling). The list seemed to go on and on; it saddened me that so many of these skills are not recognised.

My mum and I joined forces to write, illustrate and design The Little Girl Who Couldn't Sleep and The Little Boy Who Couldn't Sleep. Both help your children to drift off peacefully.

And now a key aim of Mummy Make Me A Story is to be a platform for other parents or grandparents who have skills to share and stories to tell.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

In the beginning I went down the normal route of trying to get a literary agent and publisher on board.

I ended up signing up with a self-publishing company; I was very disappointed with the process and the result. Ultimately, they were in it to make money from the writer (me), not the reader. The product was poor quality and all the things I was paying for were within my skill set to do myself.

I then set up Mummy Make Me A Story and I now have total control of my brand. For me, it's the fact that I'm a mum to three young children, collaborating with my mum, writing and producing stories for other mums that is my unique selling point.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I'd saved up enough money for initial costs.

I wouldn't have been working anyway, because of the kids, so we were already in a position where we were surviving on one income.

What was important for me was that if I could do something myself, I did (instead of paying someone else to do it).

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

It's hard not having a stable income to rely on.

I've had to be extremely self-motivated. The only time I have to work on the business is the evenings.

I've also needed to keep believing in myself. Starting my own business has felt risky as I've put myself out there for judgement and rejection. I've been the one who's had to pick myself up and keep going.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I wish I hadn't wasted money on the self-publishing company.

I've subsequently re-published under my own imprint. Having a clear vision for my company and the brand I want to build has helped focus me.

What help did you get?

Just encouragement from friends and family; but that in itself is very important if you're starting to have doubts.

What resources would you recommend to others?

Your own imagination.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learnt that rushing into things without a plan can end up costing you money.

But I've also learnt that there is no reason you can't achieve your dreams.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

If you're not fulfilled in your job, ask yourself what is keeping you there.

Do something you can feel proud of, and connect with other people who have similar interests or aspirations.

Thanks to All By Mama, the marketplace for creative parents, for this story. Visit www.allbymama.com to learn more.

To find out more about Catherine's business, visit: www.mummymakemeastory.com.

What lessons could you take from Catherine's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org. and you could win a £25 / $35 Amazon voucher in our monthly draw.