In conversation with

Laura Williams

Journalist, author Becoming and Ice Cream for Breakfast

laura jane williams author

Introduction

Introduction

Laura Williams is a columnist for RED Magazine, the author of Becoming and Ice Cream for Breakfast, a happiness expert for Benefit Cosmetics – and an all-round cheerleader for women. Okay, so this last title might not be official, but it’s one that some of our favourite writers – including Dolly Alderton and Natasha Lunn – employ within the context of Laura.

The writer uses her platform to spark honest conversations on subjects spanning the pitfalls of ‘body positive’ marketing, developing adult relationships with your parents and society’s insistence on defining women by their marital status. She listens to her community on Instagram, and is the kind of person who finds stories by scouring comments, sub-comments and DMs. “In the business of telling human stories you’ve got to actually be a human with the people in your industry”, Laura says. That’s why, as well writing for titles like The Guardian, The Telegraph and Marie Claire, you’ll find her hosting IRL events in in London and across the UK (she’s recently moved to Derbyshire, so watch this space).

Question and Answer

Is there a specific piece of writing that set you on a path to becoming a journalist?

It’s funny that you call me a journalist, because I have only recently begun to think of myself that way. All I knew growing up is both that I was a good storyteller, and that books and articles were written by people Not Like Me. I’m middle class and had easy access to a university education, but I’m also from Derby and grew up surrounded by values that reflected a woman’s path to be quite traditional – big old fancy London media was so “other”, and there was no pressure on me to have a career because I’d only sideline that to be a mother and wife anyway. We’d get the Sunday Times every week and so AA Gill and Crista D’Souza and Plum Sykes were regulars in my living room as a teen, but they were very much aspirational over being attainable. And then blogs happened… and that all changed. The Internet gave me the balls to make the life I wanted because it made finding an audience more democratic.

laura williams writing desk
Laura's desk in London

How did you break through into the industry?

Step by step. As a storyteller, I assumed I would write books, somehow. But I suspected I wasn’t talented or lucky enough to do that on merit alone, so as I went to university for a degree in creative and media writing, I started a blog so that I could start building an audience for myself. I blogged twice a week, started to Tweet and use Instagram, and released a couple of downloaded PDFs online that I had the nerve to call e-books. I was very open about my search for an agent, and at the time I signed to her, an editor at a women’s magazine saw me mouthing off on Twitter and commissioned me for a piece. That gave me the confidence to pitch a whole slew of articles as the book came out, meaning that without realising it I had two strings to my bow! I call it the Chinese bamboo work – Chinese bamboo grows for seven years underground before shooting up towards the sky at breakneck speed.

laura williams yellow chair
laura jane williams at home

You were a dating columnist at Grazia. Can you name a stand-out story from your column?

Oh god. There was so much I couldn’t publish in that column! But from what we did, I think what stands out to me is that I complained about a man on a second date being very tired, and readers wrote in to the magazine when I said I wouldn’t see him again to say I was being shallow and that I couldn’t write a person off for being sleepy at 10PM on a weeknight. And you know what? Of course I can’t! It was my first moment of realizing people had opinions on what I revealed, but rather than saying “well they don’t know me! Their opinion doesn’t count!” I took a step back and was like, “Oh, yes. They have a point. Maybe I could be kinder to these dates…” That kind of two-way street to my work is very important to me. To have a dialogue with readers.

What story are you hoping to tell with your new column for RED Magazine?

The RED column is so exciting because Roanna, the digital editor who hired me, basically gave me carte blanche. We talk a few columns ahead about what I’m thinking about and what is on my mind, but she is so gracious about letting me address the things that mean something to me with quite a free reign. I’m on Instagram a lot, and try to listen to my community on there – what they respond to and get excited about. A passing comment in my insta-stories can generate scores of DM’s and I know I have to write a piece on it, or a comment I’ve written buried deep in my replies will get a lot of sub-comments, and that’s where I know there’s more discussion to be had. It’s early days there yet, and I’m as excited as anyone to see where we go with it.

“I don’t believe in bastardising my own experience for the sake of a chapter, but I definitely do just let myself write and see what comes out and then delete as necessary later. ”

Both of your books – Becoming and Ice Cream for Breakfast –have been incredibly honest. Do you set boundaries for writing about your own life or do you believe that everything is copy?

I don’t believe in bastardising my own experience for the sake of a chapter, but I definitely do just let myself write and see what comes out and then delete as necessary later. I refuse to tell anybody else’s story. If I am honest, I am honest about my own life. I try to leave other people out of it, and if I can’t, it means that is probably not a story worth touching. I would never dare risk a friendship or my relationship with my family for content.

ice cream for breakfast becoming laura williams

Which magazines are doing a good job of profiling the diversity of women’s stories today?

Stylist continue to pull it out of the bag time and time again, don’t they? And their brother publication, Shortlist – I think Shortlist hire some of the most woke and generous journalists around, actually. I read everything Chris Mandle, their entertainment director, writes, and really admire the way his dialogue around “bloke’s” stuff is navigated so tenderly that is has to be having a knock-on effect for the women in their reader’s lives. I feel that way about Justin Myers, too, aka The Guyliner. Feminism is a two-pronged attack: women know what we deserve, but continuing to get men to understand needs a more nuanced approach, and these guys are totally on our team.

Which female writers are you loyal to?

Babe. How long have you got? Zadie Smith. Chelsea Fagan. Sophie Heawood. Dolly Alderton. Daisy Buchanan. Ella Ceron at Teen Vogue – in fact, all of the Teen Vogue writers and editors, and everyone at The Cut, too. Holly Bourne just wrote an amazing new book, How Do You Like Me Now? I use #LauraJanesBookClub on Insta to chronicle what I am reading, because I get asked for book recommendations a lot.

laura williams bookcase
stack of books pink wall

Do you listen to any podcasts?

I’m not much of a podcast girl in winter, because I podcast when I walk and I only take long lunchtime walks when the sun is out. But! I have a tentative relationship with Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin, a podcast that is basically a recording of her one-off therapy sessions with couples who need help to move forward in their love. It’s… it’s tough listening. Getting that insight into how we treat each other, how we behave when we feel rejected or unloved or unseen, even by the person who is supposed to know us most in the world… I have to ration it out because it can be quite upsetting to hear myself in the people she interviews. It’s an inconvenient truth to realise I might not be as emotionally attuned as I’d like to think of myself, but my God is it compelling. Important, too.

Which publications do you read for pleasure – in print or online?

I get RED magazine delivered to me on a subscription that I happily pay for, even though I write for them. The whole team there is just so, so switched on. And KIND. I read a copy before Christmas cover-to-cover when I took myself out for a lunch alone, and instead of feeling like I wasn’t enough or needed to go shopping or change something in order to be more like the women in their pages – which is how I feel after reading a lot of magazines – with RED I felt empowered and normal and enough. God, how I love any kind of reading material that makes me feel like enough.

red magazine
"God, how I love any kind of reading material that makes me feel like enough"

What writing advice would you go back and give yourself at the start of the career?

There isn’t much I would change, except for the fact I didn’t understood how important networking is. I always thought networking was a dirty word, and made a person fake or inauthentic, but further on in my career I can see how important nurturing relationships are, across the spectrum. Connecting with editors over genuine shared interests, and knowing other writers, and taking online follows into offline coffees is important, because in the business of telling human stories you’ve got to actually be a human with the people in your industry, you know? Build stories together.

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