Ben Thrush is an experienced journalist and copywriter. He has been working from home for 10 years, on a variety of projects. These include designing, editing and producing a magazine for the pub trade that he co-founded in 2011, sub-editing for various titles and copywriting for clients including Disney films and big utility companies. Ben also teaches English as a foreign language to the children of Japanese expats living in London. Working for Quill fits very well into his lifestyle. Having control over his own time allows him to spend more time with his two young children, enjoy the sunny days and work late at night when the house is quiet.
Hi Ben! Where in the world are you based?
Hello. I live and work in Ponders End, right on the edge of North London.
You co-founded a magazine for the pub trade almost 10 years ago. What inspired you to start your own publication?
I was working for one of two trade magazines then serving the pub sector. Then it got bought and merged into its rival, leaving a few of us looking for something else to do. We figured the shake-up had created an opening for a new challenger, and that with a blank piece of paper we could put together a title that spoke to publicans in their own language. Pubs are in the business of selling fun, so we thought they needed a trade mag that felt like it would be a laugh to go for a pint with. The magazine was to look and feel like a pub, to focus on the people working in the trade and pull out some of the many weird and wonderful stories to be found in publand. Fortunately we managed to find enough backers and advertisers who agreed this was a good idea, and issue 1 was published in August 2011. We’re on issue 93 now.
Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting another magazine?
Now? So much has changed in the magazine market over the past decade that I think you’d have to approach it in a totally different way. I’m not sure how much luck you’d have these days launching a media brand that relied almost entirely on print. You’d want to have a decent website, probably some video content, be on it with your social media before you started thinking about printing thousands of perfect-bound paper copies every month and posting them all over the country. That said, print’s not dead yet – some advertisers still want to spend on something tangible, and we get letters from publicans saying they enjoy getting their paper edition.
I’m answering this question in November 2020, a time when “what would you do differently..?” questions are proving difficult for many of us to answer. But I do think when the times throw everything up in the air like this, it creates chaos but also opportunities. Our mag was born against a backdrop of print titles folding everywhere and swathes of publishing redundancies in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. It wasn’t pretty, but that turmoil ended up creating the space for us to do our thing. There will be new gaps in the market opening up as we speak – if you can spot one and don’t mind working hard to see what can be made of it, it could be the start of something.
One thing I’d do the same is launch the magazine before I had children. Dragging a publication kicking and screaming into the world is exhausting work, as is being in charge of small people. It was definitely good to get one up and running before starting on the other.
You also teach English as a foreign language to the children of Japanese expats. Can you tell us more about how this started?
I taught English in Japan for a couple of years and met my wife there. I missed both the Japanese life and the teaching after coming back to the UK. I saw an ad for one-to-one English teachers near the Japanese School in West London, and got signed up to spend two or three evenings a week teaching children in their own homes. Primetime for lessons is about 4pm-7pm, so it fits in well with freelancing, it would be difficult to juggle with regular office hours.
Other than that I’ve worked mostly at home for years, so the teaching sideline has kind of kept me sane. It got me out of the house, using different skills and the kids are usually lots of fun and a good antidote to a stressful magazine press day. For the past few months I’ve had to move all my lessons onto Zoom. It’s not quite the same, but it’s still a good mental refresh to see the same faces every week over several years and watch their language skills and personalities develop.
Do you like to mix up your working environment or do you have a favourite spot? Has this changed as a result of the pandemic?
I’ve got my office, which I bagsied when we bought our house and my son was too small to protest. It looks out over the allotments and I get nice sunsets, which I will enjoy until my kids start demanding separate bedrooms and I get shunted up to the loft or somewhere. During the sunshine of the first lockdown I located the exact spot in my back garden where I could pick up wifi, the garden office vibe definitely felt like a win. As we head into Lockdown 2 I’ll be more likely to take the laptop down to the living room and sit with my back against the radiator.
What’s your ideal way to spend a day off?
I want to be outside and with my family, so maybe we can go and have a wander around Epping Forest, which is only a few minutes away. There are some epic trees for the kids to clamber about on, my wife will be taking pictures of everything on her new phone, I’ll take my binoculars in case there’s any interesting bird life about. Afterwards there’s probably time for a pint at the pub, then if it really is an ideal day I might get karaage (Japanese fried chicken) cooked for me when I get home.
If you could go back to when you first started writing, what advice would you give yourself?
Stop trying to show off, young man. You’re not in a rap battle, people don’t want to be dazzled by your wordsmithery. They want to understand quickly what you have to say, to be entertained and informed without you taking up too much of their time. Make sure the focus is on what you’re writing about, not how you’ve written it. Also, keep an eye on this digital content thing people keep talking about. It’s going to be kind of a big deal.