Jane De Teliga, Running Away From Home: Finding a New Life in Paris, London and Beyond (with Q&A)

RRP $39.99,  Lantern

RRP $39.99, Lantern

I sat down to glance through this pic-laden book at lunchtime and polished it off in in just one sitting. I love a great travel memoir.  

De Teliga, one of Australia's top fashion stylists and journalists (Harper's Bazaar, Women's Weekly, Sydney Morning Herald), sells her empty-nest house, packs her life in a suitcase and moves to Paris, then London ... and just keeps moving!

Don't we all dream of doing just that sometimes?

However this is no fairytale. De Teliga's is a tale of trying your luck in a new city, redefining a career, bouncing back from a global financial crisis and working out what she needs to be healthy and happy in her late 50s and beyond. 

I was intrigued, so I sent off a few questions so scroll down for the author Q&A. De Teliga comes across in this memoir/travelogue as warm, stoic, practical, curious and hardworking.  It’s also a how-to guide to both travelling and a career in the media. My kids cruelly said to me this week “Mum … you’re not really fashiony” (ouch) but I have to tell you this book had me completely hooked. You do not need to be over 40 (I am), or fashiony (clearly I’m not!) to enjoy it.

De Teliga has worked with a roll-call of Australian and international talent, photographers, and designers. She’s no bragger and this isn’t a shouty me, me, me tale as she shares both her success and her failures. There’s no bitterness towards the knocks, just moments of clarity and change and a real sense of gratefulness for the good things in her life.

The book as an artefact is an impressive package with a whimsical off-I-go-pic on the cover, beautiful bohemian endpapers, intimate snaps and matt paper. Impressive but modest – just like the author!

In the book you talk about starting your career as a museum curator. What subjects did you study? I notice in book publishing and journalism in Australia now the students have mostly studied “Communications”, which is equipping them to work across many platforms at a faster rate than their predecessors. However, I do feel stronger candidates also have a background in science, history, economics, art or literature. How do you position graduates to work globally in your role as teacher?

 When I started out there was no such thing as ‘Communications’ so I did an Arts degree with majors in Fine Arts and Italian, then went on to do a post-graduate diploma in librarianship so I actually started out as a rare book librarian! So I have had a very atypical path from librarian, to art curator, then fashion curator, then on to being a fashion editor on newspapers then magazines. All very eclectic, but everything leads on to the next thing and nothing is ever wasted.  Now I work with my fashion styling students to give them a crash course in the history of fashion, so they have a broader context to help create their ideas, as I did.

 In your book you say:

“Nowadays a fashion journalist needs to be a writer, stylist, photographer, blogger and even graphic designer. Something I now do in my working life. Some days I wish I could stop the world and get some proper training but it’s a headlong rush into the deep end every day”.

You’ve had an enviable career in fashion journalism and though you don’t directly write it in the book, I’d suggest it’s a can-do attitude, natural curiosity and flexibility that are your key strengths. Why do you feel there is a gap … what is the “proper training” you need?

 I think I am still employable because I am naturally curious I want to know how things work, so I am constantly trying new forms of social media, particularly for teaching. Technology and social media are moving so fast and I’d like to know as much as those clever kids on the genius bars at Apple! Currently I’m loving Instagram, because it’s so immediate and so visual. As I’m such a visual person, it’s perfect for me, whereas I have never taken to Twitter.  I’d love someone to give me some formal training though! For now it’s all about Instagram, which is charming and full of pretty pictures. Follow @janedeteliga

Was it a strong knowledge of history combined with a strong curatorial eye that translated well to a career in fashion? You talk a lot about creating a “story” for every shoot – how do you do this?

I have always been obsessed with the visual. I’ve always had an ‘eye’ and, really, that relates to all things to do with art and design. My study of art history has filled my brain with wonderful images, as has the photography of great masters like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. For a lot of visual stories, artists and photographers inspire me and then suddenly concepts seem to pop into my head. The work that follows is the consequence of trying to make that instant muse-like inspiration materialise. The classical idea of ‘the muse’ still rings true for me.

You have recently embraced the role of teacher and academic. Can you tell us what your goals are for the students?

 My main goal is making them employable, no matter what they choose to do, and to enrich their lives with knowledge. We work with them to create blogs, social media platforms and good effective CVs – all the practical stuff. (That last bit about ‘enriching’ sounds a bit high falutin’ but it really doesn't matter if they end up working as a personal stylist instore or on a make-up counter – they have a much broader context in which to place their experiences.

What kind of jobs are you preparing your students for?

 Fashion or beauty stylists, who could work in magazines and newspapers or online, which is the big growth area. The could be also writing their own blogs or working for major online retailers, who are now developing their own magazines. They could work as in-store stylists or in advertising or in PR or in television and film.  It is fascinating world out there!

What would you say to a young student/writer or journalist wanting a career in fashion journalism and styling? Where should they focus?

Develop and find your own voice, something authentic that speaks to people. When I write I imagine I am talking to someone, and I write from the heart. Writing and styling well are often innate skills, although they can be developed with knowledge and inspiration – be that Lady Gaga’s latest video or a 1940s Cecil Beaton magazine photo or Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition.

 Where did the idea for this book stem from? Did you approach an agent or publisher, or did they contact you? I’m imagining with your experience, background and contacts it was a straightforward process from concept to contract?

 It was a relatively straightforward process once it happened but a longer gestation, more of a gradual awakening. I discovered over time that so many people wanted to know more about my story. I was sitting at lunch one day with some wonderful women I had worked with at The Australian Women’s Weekly (Jo Wiles, Susan Duncan and Carol George, now at Penguin Books) and I asked them if anybody would be interested in such a book. They all chorused “Yes!” and that afternoon I got an email from Carol at Penguin reiterating what a great idea a book would be. I mentioned it months later to Julie Gibbs, the brilliant publishing director at Lantern (a division of Penguin) and she said to send her the treatment. About a week later, I had a contract in my hands.

You are an experienced writer. How did you go about writing this longer format? Do you use a different process to shorter articles?

Once I had broken it up into chapter concepts, each one was like writing a long piece, which I had often done when reporting on the collections. And the photographs helped anchor me, as the visual images sparked ideas and memories. The hard part was disciplining myself to actually sit down and write it!

How long did it take you to write the book?

Two years all up, because I was also working full time as a lecturer, but most of the work was done over three months during the European summer; first, the writing and then the second draft.

Jane, I feel this is a very generous book. You share your family, your wealth of fashion experience, invaluable travel tips and even a list of favoured places for shopping, staying and sightseeing, reading lists (I love those!). You are also candid about losing your investments in the GFC, dating and your pursuit of better health. You seem very strong and resilient. What’s next for Jane de Teliga?

 A great personal life!

 What do you like reading in your down time?

My tastes are very eclectic but I particularly enjoy fiction written by women.

 Describe your typical writing day.

In comfy tracksuit pants and t-shirt or even a dressing gown and Ugg boots -absolutely nothing glamorous - with my computer on my lap. Some chocolate is rationed over the day as a reward!

Describe your workspace (or office)  

My workspace is my sofa or in my bed. I have never been one to work at a desk. I have to be cosy and comfortable. Most of my book was written in my sitting room in Winchester on my sofa overlooking the square.

Favourite bookshop/s. Why?

In England, Daunt bookshops, particularly the one in Marylebone, as it so lovely and olde worlde. In Sydney, I love the small bookshops like Potts Point bookshop, Lesley McKay’s in Woollahra and, for something bigger, Ariel Bookshop in Darlinghurst.

 Tablet or book?

Book, as I spend so much of my days looking at a computer screen or my iPhone.

 Book/s that changed your life?

Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I read many of Deepak Chopra’s books in my earlier years on a personal re-education kick.

 What are you reading now? 

I’ve just finished the delightful book by Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project.

 What do you plan to read next?

Caitlin Moran’s new novel How to Build a Girl because I loved her funny modern feminist treatise How to Be a Woman.

 What do you recommend for a cheeky holiday read?

See above! I also read a lot of fashion magazines as that is still my business so Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar are my bread and butter. 

I was sent a review copy from Lantern, however all opinions and comments are my own.