20 Questions: Marketing copywriter and now author - of Survival Skills for Freelancers - takes on’s 20 questions

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 29 June 2020 7:16

20 Questions: Marketing copywriter and now author - of Survival Skills for Freelancers - takes on’s 20 questions

As memories go - Painswick before Lockdown to enjoy a cheeky early Friday evening glass of Prosecco is one to savour for Sarah Townsend. 

This week and last she made waves and rave reviews on Amazon with her first book, Survival Skills for Freelancers, which draws on her personal experiences of freelancing over the last two decades. 

If her fantasy dinner guests, David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench and Michelle Obama, flicked through her music collection while she fetched food from the kitchen they would find it eclectic. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending flies high among edgy new-wave instrumentalists like OlafurArnaulds and Nils Frahm - and there is a love of dance and musicals. 

Gloucestershire, she says, has her under its spell and she could think of no better place to live. Despite a busy week of interviews about her book, Sarah Townsend was good enough to spare the time this week to takes on The Raikes Journal's ‘20 Questions’.

Question: What is your favourite film or series? 

Answer: Basically anything written by Aaron Sorkin. The guy’s a genius. The West Wing used to be my favourite show. I’d watch it over and over for the sparky dialogue and the conversations and chemistry between the characters.  

Then I discovered The Newsroom – also written by Sorkin – which bumped it off the top spot. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen series one, episode one, with Will McAvoy’s monologue about America. Just brilliant. 

Q: You’re hosting a dinner party and can invite any three guests from any time in history. Who would they be and why? 

A: David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench and Michelle Obama. I’ve just watched Becoming, on Netflix. The woman is incredible. (Ask me again in five minutes and I’ll probably give you three different answers…) 

Q: What is the best bit of your job? 

A: Since publishing Survival Skills for Freelancers, it’s been helping people on their own freelance journey. I’ve had emails from people I’ve never met saying the book was like having a heart to heart with a trusted friend, and that they wish it had existed when they first took the leap into self-employment. Someone even said they believe it won’t just help businesses – it’ll save businesses. That blew my mind.  

Q: What is the worst part of your job? 

A: Not having enough hours in the day, I guess. I have a tendency to get hyperfocused on whatever I’m working on, and forget to take breaks! I could do with taking my own advice from time to time!  

Q: Who was your childhood hero or the person you looked up to? 

A: My grandmother. She was the warmest, most loving person you could imagine. She gave me my encyclopaedic plant knowledge and my love of dance and musicals, among other things!  

Q: Where is your favourite place in Gloucestershire? 

A: I’ve lived in Gloucestershire my whole life so that’s a tough call! I love photography, so I guess somewhere crammed with picture-perfect photo opps and classic Cotswold charm, like Snowshill, Chipping Campden or Lower Slaughter.  

Q: What advice would you give to anyone starting out now? 

A: When I started out there was no social media – there was barely an internet! I was juggling building a business with being a mum, and it was tough! Nowadays there’s a ton of information to help you get started. Read books and blogs, follow people who inspire you, listen to podcasts… learn from people who’ve already achieved success in your field. 

Q: Was there a mistake or piece of bad luck which changed things for the better? 

A: Almost certainly, but I’m damned if I can remember! 

Q: What is your favourite piece of music? 

A: That’s a very open question! Classically, The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams gives me goosebumps. Other than that, currently something like remember by OlafurArnalds or On Our Own Roof by Nils Frahm.  

Q: What qualities do you look for in a new member of staff? 

A: My business is just me, but if I was thinking of employing someone, initiative and drive would be right up there. That spark that’s so hard to define is worth far more to me than qualifications. 

Q: What is your favourite pudding?  

A: I avoid eating wheat, which rules out most of my favourite puddings, annoyingly! I love a good sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice-cream but it’s unusual to find a decent gluten-free version. Crème brulee has become a firm favourite, despite only discovering it a couple of years ago. 

Q: Has the coronavirus pandemic changed how you see the world? 

A: It’s made me slow down, for sure. I’ve always been someone who fills every minute of every weekend with activity. I need to achieve – to be ticking things off my to-do list. I guess the pandemic has encouraged me to be more mindful of the individual moments that make up the day.    

Q: If it was in the name of pleasure – would it be car, bicycle, walk, run, swim? 

A: I run like Phoebe from Friends, and the pool at my gym is closed, so I’m going to say walk.  

Q: What is the best thing about living/working in Gloucestershire? 

A: You’re never more than five minutes from beautiful countryside. I love going abroad, but whenever I come home – and I’m driving down the A417 from the Air Balloon pub – I see May Hill in the distance and think “I love where I live”. So much so, I’ve never lived outside the county! 

Q: If you could wave a magic wand to achieve what you wanted to at work, what would it be? 

A: I’d love Survival Skills for Freelancers to help tens – heck, why not hundreds? – of thousands of people deal with the challenges of going solo, and get more enjoyment from self-employment. My dream is to get more podcast interviews and speaking gigs to talk on the subject – particularly on the issue of mental health and wellbeing in self-employment. We’re not taught to set boundaries, when to say no, how to deal with self-doubt, and how to deal with the unpredictability of freelance life, and so burnout is common. That needs to change. 

Q: What’s your biggest frustration? 

A: Generally? Probably queuing. Or just waiting, in general. I don’t have a patient bone in my body. JFDI is my motto   

Q: If you could start again and had to do something else, what would it be? 

A: Interior design. I’ve always had an eye for it.  

Q: Cheltenham Festival, any of the town’s others festivals, Giffords Circus, Stroud Fringe, Gloucester Rugby v Bath, Three Choirs Festival, Cirencester Food Festival, evensong at Tewkesbury Abbey, or Newent Onion Fayre? And why? 

A: Tough call but probably Giffords for the bizarre dreamlike magic of it all. Or a food festival. Any food festival will do. I love going around tasting things and going back later to buy all the goodies I’ve sampled. I’m a big fan of eating  

Q: If you had to recommend a pub or restaurant in Gloucestershire, what would it be and why?  

A: Neither a pub nor a restaurant, really… I’m going with The Painswick. Before lockdown it was my go-to place for client meetings, date nights, lunches and cheeky, early Friday night Prosecco. I just love it. 

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? 

A: Older. Not necessarily wiser. I’ve always struggled with that sort of question. My brain isn’t wired to deal with abstracts.  

Q: What would you like to be remembered for? 

A: Being warm, witty and wise. 

First published June 29 2020.

Every week The Raikes Journal champions an individual from the Gloucestershire business community through the '20 questions' feature.

We pick them on merit (but if you want to guarantee to be featured £75 will ensure that happens and the article on you goes to our 10,000 social media connections. Email: