Writer Phoebe Morgan on How Her Love Affair With Books Became a Full-time Career


Love is a really, really tricky thing. Relationships with other people can be challenging, heart-breaking, uplifting, confusing and wonderful – and above all, two-sided. You need two people to be in a relationship, whether that is a friendship, a love affair or a family bond. And sometimes, that can be hard – the other person doesn’t have the same script as you do, and even when you think you both have all the love in the world, there are times when that just isn’t enough.

I’ve had good relationships and bad relationships, and it took me quite a long time to realise that I couldn’t actually control them as much as I thought I could. For someone like me, this was frustrating at best, devastating at worst. I think lots of people feel like that too. To make myself feel better after this realisation, I turned to the one thing I knew I could (at least try to) control – my career.

I had a real crossroads moment a couple of years ago where I knew I had to make a decision – stay in a job I was really unhappy in, or change it. I didn’t decide overnight, but I did decide: I had to make a change. Hmm, I thought to myself, what do I love? Really love? What would I be happy to spend every day doing? The answer came quickly – books. I have always been a big reader; growing up, we didn’t have a television so I read all the time, whatever I could get my hands on, and when it came to deciding what to study at university there was no question – it had to be English. Throughout my life, books have been the thing that have allowed me to escape – to block out worries, help me through difficult situations, make me laugh – and the idea of making a career out of books felt like a breakthrough in my mind.

So what did I do? Well, I bought some more books. I read non-fiction guides to the publishing industry, I read the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, I read How to Be A Writer by Lorrie Moore, and I re-wrote my C.V. and applied for all the publishing jobs I could see. After a while and quite a bit of rejection, it paid off. I can still remember the day I got the call from a publishing house offering me an assistant job – I answered the phone in a disabled bathroom because it was the only place I could hide in for a second, and when I hung up I felt an overwhelming sense that something had shifted inside me. Finally, I was going to be able to do what I loved. And no awful break-ups or unhealthy friendships or bad housemates could alter that.

Fast forward a few years and I work as a commissioning editor in a London publishing house, reading, buying and editing books all day long. I also write, and my first novel was published this September. My life is full to the brim of books, and I love it; no matter what else is going on in my personal life, I know that when I sit down at the computer I am doing something that fulfils me, and that connects me to other like-minded people. A lot of the authors I work with are very talented, and immersing myself in their manuscripts is a privilege. When I get home, I write my own books and that too is a real pleasure, even though at times I get stuck and want to throw my laptop at the wall (but I can’t, because it belongs to my company so that would probably be a mistake). Writing can be like a form of therapy – it allows you to completely focus on something other than yourself and your normal life, and it lets your mind go wherever it wants to (at least in the first draft!)

So, why do I think it’s so important to try to love your job? Well, firstly, because it’s where you spend the most time. It’s where your energy goes, and it’s quite often how you’re forced to define yourself when people ask that dreaded question – what do you do? I am fully aware that not everybody has the perfect financial or personal circumstances to make a career change, but I do think that there are nearly always steps that can be taken to change our careers if we truly want to – one step at a time. I never, ever would have quit my job without another one to go to because I did not have the financial backing to do so, and to this day doing that is not something I would advise unless you are in some sort of danger or harmful situation. When I was starting out in publishing I worked four jobs at once to make ends meet in an expensive city, I didn’t have much of a life because I was always at work and I was really, really tired – so much so that my periods stopped for three months (that was a scary moment…!) But it was worth it, because even though I can’t control other people around me and I can’t always guarantee that every personal relationship will work out, I can spend my time doing something I love and that for me is very important.

None of this is to say that there are not still times when life feels difficult. Of course there are! Jobs are challenging, and not every day is perfect. Nor am I anywhere near reaching the pinnacle of my career – I still have a long way to go. But when I remember how it felt to spend every day feeling miserable at work, I remind myself how lucky I am to have changed that and I feel grateful for the people who supported me in that decision. I think getting to a stage where you can say you love your job is a really wonderful thing, and every single one of us deserves to be able to say that. Take the time to think about what it is you love – it could be anything at all. Ask yourself questions that feel scary and uncomfortable, and be brave enough to change your mind. I felt like a total failure when I admitted to myself that the first job I went into was not for me; I’d trained for it, paid to do that training, and spent a lot of time trying to do it, so changing my mind felt frightening and I was terrified of what people would think. But you know what? Nobody really cares. Your job is for you, and you are the one spending eight hours (or more!) a day doing it. Find what you love. You owe it to yourself!

The books I love:

:: The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank – this is a brilliant novel about being a young woman and navigating the world of relationships. Set in the US, it will resonate with anyone who has ever turned their back on a friendship or a romantic relationship. Plus, it’s full of dry humour and great one-liners that will make you smile.

:: It’s Called A Break-Up Because It’s Broken by Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt and Greg Behrendt – this is SUCH a life-saving book if you’re going through a break-up, and I have given it to a lot of people! Written by a husband and wife (they weren’t always husband and wife, don’t worry) it’s hilarious, heartfelt and genuinely super helpful.

:: This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell – a beautifully written novel about family and place; this is one of her best.

:: Bark by Lorrie Moore – a collection of short stories that uses language in a really interesting way. She is the queen of the short story!

:: Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close – a book about friendship, love and what it means to grow up.


Phoebe is commissioning editor at Harper Collins and a novelist. Her new book, The Doll House, is out now.  You can read more of Phoebe’s writing on her blog, here. 

Follow Phoebe on Twitter, here.

Main image photo credit: Freddie Marriage (via unsplash.com)