Toni Kent on being happy and following your dreams

PUBLISHED: 14:04 22 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:16 22 November 2013

The county's countryside gives Toni 'space to think'

The county's countryside gives Toni 'space to think'

Archant

We all need reasons to be cheerful, and Berkshire author Toni Kent has plenty to share from how her own life has developed.

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to throw caution to the wind and follow your dream? Well, Berkshire-based author Toni Kent did exactly that just under two years ago to pursue her long-held ambition of writing for a living.

Basingstoke-born and now living in the West Berkshire countryside with her husband Ben, their children Beatrice and William (aged seven and five), and four very cheeky chickens, Toni’s bold decision to dramatically switch careers paid off with her gaining national recognition for her blogging skills and publication of a first book.

So just how did Toni make her journey from stressed-out executive to cheerful creative?

“The decision to change came about in my tenth year of working for Microsoft at their Reading HQ. Whilst it was rewarding financially, the long hours, and pressure to achieve increasingly complicated scorecard metrics, were becoming less and less compatible with my desire to write.

“I had always wanted to lead a creative life, but having grown up in a low-income family; I very much wanted financial security and so writing took second place whilst I pursued a career in IT with great gusto.”

But ‘great gusto’ can only take you so far; as Toni discovered, however well paid the job, if your heart is not in it, the pressure to perform can feel exhausting.

“I was dangerously close to burnout and feeling like I was not at my best at work or at home. It came to the point where the pull of wanting to be with my family and needing to write became stronger than my love for the job. I took the decision to save my sanity and left big business to become a freelancer. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Toni recorded her experiences of leaving corporate life, and embracing her creative spirit in a blog called ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ which you can find at www.tonikent.blogspot.co.uk. Such was the response to her writing about being true to yourself, the emotional joy and fashion pitfalls of motherhood, fighting a long-running battle with technology and the unexpected thrills of living in the countryside, she was recognised by Cosmopolitan Magazine as one of the UK’s Best Newcomers in their 2012 blog awards – just six months after the blog was started.

Daisy’s Dream

Nearly a year down the line and 21,000 blog visitors later, Toni has recently published a book of her best essays entitled ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Part One’ which as well as featuring stories relating to Berkshire people and places, will be raising money for the Twyford-based charity Daisy’s Dream (www.daisysdream.org.uk).

Toni explains why she has decided to dedicate 25% of the book’s profits to this charity: “I really wanted to support Daisy’s Dream because they specialise in helping children and families in Berkshire that are affected by life-threatening illnesses and bereavement. My father died when I was 14, and having lost three friends in the past three years who were mothers of young children it makes me acutely aware of the impact that the death of a parent can have.

“By dedicating a portion of the profits from the book to Daisy’s Dream, I’m hopeful that I can help to raise awareness of their work as well as making a financial contribution.”

‘I did that too!’

So what can you expect from the book? With an engaging, positive and confessional writing style; Toni covers topics as wide-ranging as Facebook being a pet-lovers paradise, trying to avoid gadgets despite working in the technology industry, setting fire to her kitchen in pursuit of Jamie Oliver perfection and the horror felt by her husband at having to pretend to be a uterus during an NCT meeting.

“My aim is to bring people stories that they relate to, whether that’s acknowledging your handbag is more like a dustbin than a piece of arm candy or the transformative power of a conversation with a good friend. I try to find happiness in even the darkest of corners and share my own hiccups and mistakes in the hope you’ll laugh and say ‘I did that too!’”

And it seems to be working; comments left by fans on her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cheerfulblog) say how they feel she has captured their feelings, and the latest book review posted on Amazon describes her writing as ‘an inspiring, funny, real-life read’.

But it’s not all just about words, Toni is also passionate about music and each chapter and essay in the book feature a song title which builds up to a soundtrack, providing an insight into her eclectic tastes. We challenge you to remember all of the artists!

“I’m never without a song in my head and I will often find myself thinking about things that have happened during my day and applying a song title to them. The name of the book and the blog came about as I wrote a farewell email to my colleagues at Microsoft. I wanted to leave on a really positive note and so compiled a list of the things that had made me cheerful during my time working there, hence ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ which is taken from the Ian Dury and the Blockheads song of the same title.”

Toni has found that her love of music complements her career as a writer as it’s often from songs that she’ll note interesting couplings of words or phrases. With this in mind, we weren’t surprised to learn that she’s often asked to write poems for special occasions, most recently to celebrate a friends’ wedding.

“That was really nerve-wracking. I’d made some minor amends on the morning of the wedding and didn’t realise that the registrar would need to sign it off before it was allowed into the order of service. Fortunately she was happy with the wording and I managed to make it through the reading without crying. It’s amazing how you can stand in a room of strangers and give a presentation and yet a room full of friends can make you so nervous!”

What did surprise us was the story about how she was commissioned to write a rap for a US-based company to use at one of their sales and marketing team meetings:

“The executive who commissioned the work wanted the participants at the meeting to do something that would take them out of their comfort zone, so I was asked to construct a rap that detailed their performance and achievements over the past year. It was a great experience and provided me with some validation that my love of hip-hop can translate into business. I’m just glad I wasn’t the one who had to perform it!”

Corporate armour… be gone

Musical leanings aside, the other thing we noticed about Toni’s book is her striking choice of cover art. Featuring a Lego ‘Stormtrooper’ taking off her helmet to reveal a head of lustrous pink hair, it really stands out from other books on the Amazon shelf.

“The artwork is called ‘Helmet Hair Number 2’ and was produced by an artist and former colleague of mine; Tony Cocks. I chose it because it represents to me the taking off of corporate armour to reveal the fun and creative side of my character. It really spoke to my experience of changing career and the sense of freedom it has brought me.”

So what next for this cheerful writer? As well as keeping an eye on sales of the book which you can download from Amazon for Kindle, iPad and Android here: http://amzn.to/17Aqkl1, Toni is busily finalising the print version, continuing to blog and working on a novel codenamed ‘Teenage Kicks’.

There’s also some time for things that aren’t writing related - Toni enjoys feeding the chickens with her children, running cross-country and painting in oils and acrylics. She also tells us that she wonders if she is secretly harbouring an inner-cook. Based on the Jamie Oliver inspired kitchen fire detailed in her book, it would seem that she isn’t, but she is most certainly cheerful!

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