Jess French is a children’s author, conservationist and vet, she has also presented a series on CBeebies called Minibeast Adventures with Jess. Jess is currently taking a break from her full time job treating dogs, cats and and an array of zoo animals to look after her 9 month old baby.
It’s a pleasure to interview Jess on the blog. Her book is both an important and beautifully illustrated read and my children (ages 6 and 8) were utterly captivated, and inspired to do as much as they can for the animals and our precious planet.
Describe a typical day for you?
With so many different plates spinning, there isn’t much routine to my life. But one thing I can always count on is waking up cuddling my 9 month old baby girl. We co-sleep so her lovely little face is the first thing I see every day – often still snoring because she’s a late riser! (Don’t worry I haven’t got it that easy, she’s usually been up half the night to balance the 9am wake ups!).
Once we’ve dealt with nappies, breakfast and walking the dog, it can be nearly lunchtime! If I can get bubba down for a nap then I address the emails of the day and try to do some writing. As far as possible, I reply to emails as soon as I get them, otherwise they drift down my inbox and can slip right off my radar.
At the moment it can be tricky to balance the writing I am commissioned to do with the writing I am desperate to do (a fantasy fiction novel that has been bouncing around my brain for about 10 years!) but I get as much done as possible as fast as I can before she wakes. When she is awake, we spend a lot of time at baby classes – she loves swimming! – socialising with her baby friends and lots and lots of time at the beach with our dog, Baxter. It’s quite a contrast to the life I was leading before I had Fenya, I often worked 14 hour days at the veterinary surgery – and could be up for calls all through the night.
Like I said though, we don’t have a typical day and with one phone call it could go from a chilled day at home to a visit to a zoo to having to ultrasound a snow leopard or a last minute TV/radio interview – taking baby with me wherever I go!
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
It’s such a cliché but becoming a mum has been hands down the best adventure of my life. I won’t deny that going from a full time career of saving animals’ lives, writing books and working as a TV Presenter to full time caring for a newborn was a shock to the system. But I needed to slow down, I was burning out. Now I have to put her first and it’s made me kinder to myself too.
Professionally, I’m so proud to be writing books that inspire children to care for the planet and hope they have as much fun reading them as I did writing them.
I’m also really proud to have made it through vet school in one piece, it’s a relentless slog – something akin to pregnancy/birth/motherhood actually! I don’t think people outside the industry realise what a problem it is, but working conditions in veterinary practices can be pretty horrendous – we do it to ourselves because we want to do the best for our patients – but I see a lot of vets really struggling with the emotional, physical and psychological strain of the job – and I’m so saddened that there isn’t more support to keep them sane. If you have pets, then please be kind to your vets!
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
My current ‘handbag’ is my changing bag, stuffed full of reusable nappies and wipes – did you know it takes 500 years for a disposable nappy to break down? It’s really hard to be an eco-friendly parent when you are also a busy mum and I don’t profess to be perfect or zero-waste yet but every little helps! I usually pack way more things than I need for Fenya and absolutely nothing that I need for myself. Thoug,h I do usually have a notebook to scribble down ideas when they come to me in the most ridiculous places!
What are your ambitions in life?
I feel so lucky to already have ticked off some of my greatest ambitions:
Becoming a mum
Qualifying as a vet
Becoming a published author
Another great ambition is to make a difference, I think I’ve already done this in some small way – perhaps to the animals I have treated or the children who have read my books, but I will always strive to do more and better.
Although I have had the great fortune of travelling to some amazing places and undertaking some physical challenges, I still feel this is a chapter of my life that I would like to explore further.
One other thing that I would still love to do is to finish and publish the fantasy fiction novel that has been bubbling in my imagination since I was a teenager. It terrifies and excites me in equal parts but I find it hard to give it the time it needs to grow.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
It will be OK. It might not go to plan, but it will turn out just as it should. Oh and – GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK.
What helps you when self-doubt sets in (as it does for all of us)
Oh, I’m terrible for this. I really suffer with anxiety and feelings of worthlessness, which I’m trying to combat on my own – but most times my partner Dan has to get me out of it, luckily he’s great at it!
Where do you see yourselfin 5 years time?
Hopefully coming up with a better answer about how to deal with self-doubt, having mastered it myself! If I’ve managed that then maybe I will also have allowed myself time to finish my fantasy fiction novel and that could even be published! I guess I will be back at work being a vet and maybe my family will have grown a bit more. Mainly I hope I will be happy. I’ve only realised recently how much more important happiness is than success.
What advice would you give a budding author?
Get an agent, a GOOD agent, who cares about you as a person and write the story that wants to be written, not the story you think readers want to read.
What advice would you give a first-time mum if relevant?
I would advise to take all advice with a pinch of salt and do what feels right for you and your baby.
Finally, happiness is…
Buy my bestselling book in paperback or audio
My debut book is my guide to surviving and thriving at work and at home and offers insight into how to create a digital business or return to work with confidence.
Mumboss: The Honest Mum's Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home (UK 2nd Edition)