Global Entrepreneur: Jo Parfitt
By Claire Bolden McGill
Jo Parfitt is what might be called a serial expat. She’s been on the move since 1987 and has established her expat role as her career. Jo, 53, is a British publisher, author, writer and mentor currently based in Kuala Lumpur, and she’s got sage advice for anyone wishing to share their expat story, as many of us are inclined to do.
Tell us about where you’ve lived and what the reasons for your moves have been.
I went to Dubai the day after my wedding to Ian in 1987. After Dubai, where our kids were born, we went to Oman, then Stavanger, Norway, then England for seven years, followed by the Netherlands for ten. In 2013 we had three months in Brunei and then moved to Kuala Lumpur, where we currently reside. Each move was prompted by a job opportunity for Ian.
Having lived in so many places, can you share your top three places to live and why?
Oman, without a doubt. It is beautiful, the people are lovely, the food is great and I was able to do freelance journalism. Next it has to be the Netherlands, because it is like living in a 17th-century painting, because of my bike, because of the incredibly diverse international community, because it was easy to work (I set up a business there, filed Dutch taxes and everything) and because of its location near a great airport so we could travel easily. Finally, Dubai. I have a soft spot for the Middle East; our kids were born there and Ian and I fell in love there, so it is hard not to have an emotional attachment to the place. However, Dubai in the 1980s was very different from now. I love the energy of the place but not its new shininess.
If you had to give a new expat your top pieces of advice about living abroad, what would they be?
Find your passion and ensure that you do something for yourself that gives you meaning – work, study, voluntary work, craft – something that is not for the family. You need to keep hold of something you can control. I’d also recommend they learn about the gentle side of networking so they can make friends easily without being scared. My saving grace everywhere has been that I know my passion is writing, so I always start a writers’ circle. Everywhere. Always. This is how I find my friends and my soul mates. It is always free and always in members’ homes. Now, in Kuala Lumpur, I run a Writers’ Café too, which we hold in a café. This is very popular and fills me with inspiration every single time.
As well as writing your blog, you run Summertime Publishing. Tell us a little bit about how this was set up and what you wanted to achieve with it.
Summertime was set up in 1995 because, when in Oman, Sue Valentine and I wanted to publish a cookbook called Dates. We found a local sponsor and formed the company so we could do this properly. Seven years later I started The Book Cooks and specialized in helping people to write their books, though I did not publish them. However, with the advent of print-on-demand and digital publishing, in 2008 I started to publish books for my clients and now have published 91, though I have worked on twice that number. I have written 31 of my own, though only published about six of those. Summertime Publishing specializes in books by and for people living overseas, and our USP is that my business partner, Jane, and I provide a very personal ‘right-by-your-side’ service, including all aspects of editing and design. Jane is an expat based in the Netherlands. Summertime employs a number of freelancers based all over the world. Today, Summertime is focusing on books about Third Culture Kids and families. In March 2015 its ‘little sister’, Springtime Books, headed up by Jack Scott, who wrote Perking the Pansies, was launched. Springtime publishes all new non-TCK titles.
I have been lucky. I have had several lucky breaks. I wanted to give expat writers a chance to get published and to earn decent money with their books. This is why I run a Partner Publishing service, which means that we pay our authors a royalty of at least 50% (most traditional publishers pay 7%) but they pay all our costs.
First, learn to write in stories. Look out for stories. Ensure they have SPICE (Specifics, Place, Incident, Character, Emotion), and practice writing them. Get feedback. Now read other books like the one you want to write. Next, plan it, then write a ‘sh*tty first draft’! It is better to get it down but finished than to never progress beyond chapter one because you want to be perfect. Next, go back over it again and again and again. Finally, hire an editor!
You also started up Career in Your Suitcase – what’s the story there and how has it expanded?
Career in Your Suitcase began in Stavanger in 1996 when I attended my first women’s professional networking group. I thought I had nothing to say, but when I ended up chatting to the program’s organizer about my writing career spanning nearly a decade and three countries, she asked if I would be the next month’s speaker. I was terrified, but shared what I had learned. They loved it and so I planned both a workshop and a book called Career in Your Suitcase while I was there and ran the workshop with another expat writer, Elizabeth Douet. In March 1998, she and I were invited to run our workshop at a Paris expat women’s conference, called Women on the Move. The book was published in time for this event and received a great reception. I continued to learn about portable careers and write about them as a journalist, and kept on revising the book. In 2013 the fourth edition came out, this time with a Canadian, expat, career counselor as co-author, and Colleen Reichrath-Smith and I are now working on more material. Now that we have the Internet, the time has never been better to have a career in your suitcase.
What is the secret to your expat success?
Am I successful? Well, it has to be first and foremost that Ian has always supported me in doing whatever I have done (and enjoyed the fact that I rarely ask him for money!). He is my number one cheerleader. And now the boys are proud of me too, so I feel validated. If, though, I am responsible for some of this success, it has to be down to the facts that I am optimistic, flexible, willing to admit my mistakes, love people and have ‘bouncebackability’, but maybe most of all, I am not afraid to ask for what I need.
Finally, are there any countries that you haven’t been to yet that you’d happily live in, and for what reasons?
I just want to go back to Oman! And I’d love to live in London. I’ve always dreamed of living in France again. I did a French degree and long to go back there, buy my baguette (sorry no one makes it the same way) and perfect my Gallic shrug. I am a travelholic now anyway, and love language, but the reason I want to go to France so much is because it is the only language I was ever fluent in and I want to use it again. I adore cooking and eating and I want to spend my days in markets and kitchens, speaking French and then writing about my experiences.
[Images courtesy of Jo Parfitt]
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