Ayla Angelos

In Conversation With:

Interviewed by Hannah Green

Illustrations by Mahalia Curtis Lundberg

H: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got into journalism and freelance writing? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?

A: I grew up in a village in the middle of Dartmoor, surrounded by nature. Perhaps it’s because we were quite shut off from a lot of things that journalism wasn’t something that I thought I’d get into initially, or maybe it’s because I perceived it as quite an elitist industry that was tough to crack. Either way, I never really knew! I was just naturally quite good at writing and creating stuff, so I fell into it all quite naturally and ended up studying English at Bournemouth.

One big negative is that I left university without any major contacts (just one long-term internship at the local magazine) and I had to start from the bottom. This is an element which might not have been so prevalent if I had studied in, say, London. I also come from a very working-class family, so nothing has ever been handed to me easily. I can probably count the times I’ve asked for financial help on my hand and I didn’t have anyone to call for a way into ‘the industry’. And that’s the main disadvantage, really – I had no clue how to enter into anything creative nor did I have the financial aid to support the many unpaid internships that it expects of you. So after uni – and a six month stint of frustratingly living back in Devon – I left with £600 to my name and moved to London. I sofa surfed for about four and a half months at my friends’ houses, working part-time in a bar and spending the day at internships. I initially thought I’d get into fashion and worked at a few printed magazines, but soon realised this wasn’t the right industry for me.
'Allow the self-doubting and confusing moments. You have to take risks and work the shit, weird jobs to realise what you like and ultimately what you want to do'
It wasn’t until I landed the 10-week editorial assistant role at It’s Nice That that I felt I had found my niche. After which I worked full-time as a features editor at an Essex-based design magazine – which I thoroughly do not miss for the commute or traditionalistic and sexist attitude that clouded over it – before taking the plunge and building my portfolio in the realms of arts writing. It was definitely the role at INT that ultimately inspired me to go freelance and pursue this field further, as I craved the flexibility and freedom to write about topics that I truly cared about – and of course to return back to them on a freelance basis, alongside writing for publications like Another, Elephant, Lecture in Progress and more.

H: What made you decide to go freelance? What was that process like?

A: As mentioned above, I was longing for the flexibility that freelancing provides – not just with the day-to-day, but also with the freedom to choose what topics to write about and which companies to work with.
The process was daunting, and I have my extremely random repertoire of side jobs to thank for helping me fund my path. This includes writing voice-over scripts for extreme sports channels, to writing AI questions for a children’s computer game about safari animals, numerous bar jobs and working at a Vietnamese restaurant – the jobs that you can completely switch off at and in some ways enjoy for the physical side of it!

I cannot stress enough how important these side jobs have been for me. There’s a lot of stigma around this type of work, particularly for those who are just starting out in the industry but equally for those who are well and truly in it. I’ve hidden the fact that I have had another job to go to in the evenings quite a lot in the past, for the fear that it wouldn’t be perceived as professional. But now I think this attitude is completely off the mark and you should embrace those smaller jobs – the ones that enable you to do the things you want to do! It’s hard work though and the burnout from it is also pretty extreme, and this coupled with the self-doubt, pressure and money troubles are other joyous attributes of going freelance. But the moment when I finally quit working any side job and ended the gruelling 14-hour days was amazing and I don’t regret a thing.

H: You’ve interviewed some really cool creatives - are there certain subjects that you’re particularly drawn to?

A: Photography and art have always been huge interests of mine, and something that I naturally steer to within my research, writing and pitching. Alongside the big names, I also love writing about the weird stuff that you’ve never seen before – like a DJ who makes moving prosthetic coin purses and necklaces. Then there’s the investigative pieces that delve into big topics affecting the industry, and the longer pieces that allow you to really behind someone and their work; I love writing long-form profiles and unveiling the personal narrative behind someone.


H: How do you prepare for your interviews?

A: Most of my pre-interview prep is spent trawling through the internet, absorbing and reading anything and everything on the topic of that person. It probably takes me about 10 minutes to write up the actual interview questions (with some revisions of course), but I think that the research part of it is the most crucial. The questions are also just a basis for the conversation, and a lot of the time I don’t stick to them at all – if you know who you’re speaking to and what you want to ask them, then the conversation will flow freely and that’s when you both feel more at ease... and when you get the best interview! It’s also good to read or listen to other interviews held with that creative to make sure that you’re asking them something new and not regurgitating info that’s already out there.

H: Who has been your favourite interviewee?

A: This one was a bit bittersweet, so rather than saying ‘favourite’ I’ll call it my most hard working and also my most rewarding. It was the interview with Martin Parr for It’s Nice That, and I’d travelled to meet him at his foundation in Bristol. Don’t get me wrong – he seemed like a wonderful fellow at the start and we got on well. But as soon as the interview started he assumed too much about me and patronised the shit out of me too. I’m a young looking girl (I’m 27 with a baby face) so obviously that didn’t compute with him too well when I asked him surprisingly ‘intellectual questions’, or that I lived in Peckham which instantly meant I couldn’t drive (I don’t, but still), or that I’m a “big lefty” (I am) and moaned about Brexit. Besides this, you could tell how tired he was of taking interviews and by that time he’d taken part in about 50 over three weeks after his National Portrait exhibition, so it was quite the challenge! But I managed to politely stand up for myself and didn’t let his remarks phase me, and the conversation was actually pretty great – I think it reveals a lot about his character and the type of work he makes.

H: What role do the arts play in your life? Do you enjoy them for their own sakes or do you find yourself joining the dots and thinking about your next piece?

A: It works two-fold! The arts are a massive part of my life and always have been – it goes far back to the influence of my mum who regularly painted, spun wool, knitted and generally made things, alongside my carpenter father and sister who’s a practicing artist. So there’s the physical aspect of making something that I’ve always liked, but equally there’s the observational part; I love seeing work that triggers something.

The other side is that I consume so much content on a daily basis, especially through Instagram and online generally. It’s incredible how much we have at our fingertips now, but sometimes I feel like this dilutes a lot of things. It’s definitely my favourite way to find new creatives – the ones who literally have 400 followers on Instagram, as an example – and stay up to date, but it makes me yearn for the physical experience of art quite a bit. Especially now in the midst of the pandemic. I actually went to my first IRL exhibition in months at the Barbican, that’s showing Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola. It was incredible and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

H: Many of our readers are just entering the world of work, and trying to forge a career in the creative arts - do you have any advice?

A: Like I said earlier, the side jobs shouldn’t be shunned! If you’re thinking about going freelance then having this safety net of guaranteed rent is going to do some positive wonders for your mental health. I’d also say that if you’re thinking about doing something then just do it – a lot of people
thought I was a bit mad literally leaving a full-time job with no real plan, but it’s worked and I’ve never been more fulfilled with the work that I do.
In terms of getting yourself out there, don’t be afraid of emailing people and arranging meetings. People need to know that you’re available and keen to write for them, so the cold email or coffee meetings will kickstart things and eventually your availability will turn into regular work. Also, social media – Instagram specifically – annoyingly does play quite a crucial role in this too. It’s basically like your own portfolio and a large amount of creatives and mags have reached out to me this way. That’s not to say I like the dm’s as I find this method quite intrusive and in some ways lazy, so do make sure you have an email linked or better yet a functioning website with all your best bits on it.
My last bit of advice would be to allow the self-doubting and confusing moments. You have to take risks and work the shit, weird jobs to realise what you like and ultimately what you want to do. When you feel down about it all and find yourself in another one of those worm holes stalking successful people online, then notice this and realise that what you see online is always the better part of someone’s life and you don’t know the half of it! Sadly the creative industry is still very narrow when it comes to equality and classism, so there are lots of hurdles to combat if you’re someone who doesn’t come from a privileged or a certain background. That being said I do think that the industry is starting to make good waves for the future and we have an exciting time ahead of us.