This Month: We speak to Jane Cody
Jane is an accountant turned freelance journalist with a passion for all things Croatian known for her contributions to Time Out Croatia as well as running the oldest English language blog on Croatia.
1) You are a qualified Chartered Accountant. How does one go from being an accountant to being a freelance journalist?
A very good question that could have a very long answer, but the short answer is “Serendipity” – the knack of making fortunate discoveries by accident! After thoroughly enjoying my Economics “A” Level, and ten minutes of career advice from my school, during which the teacher suggested nursing, teaching or accountancy, I drifted into accountancy. I didn’t particularly enjoy the early years, not least because I was working during the day and studying in the evenings while all my friends were out having fun but, once I qualified I found my niche. I became manager of my firm’s overseas work – audits, investigations and acquisitions – which satisfied a wanderlust that I hadn’t yet identified, and involved plenty of detailed research and report writing which I loved. I also became IT and Planning manager, as well as spreadsheets specialist, which meant there was plenty of variety, and not just routine audit work, which suited me well.
I eventually realised that the all male partnership was in no hurry to accept its first female partner and so, when an opportunity arose to join my favourite client, I jumped at it. I had a very happy and challenging 17 years with them in various roles, including 18 months in Dublin, and a part time role as Board Advisor while I was living in Croatia. They were also my first client when I went solo and set up my own accountancy business, specialising in the theatre industry. I remember a busy but happy period when, apart from all our other work, we were preparing weekly accounts and payrolls for four west end theatre productions at the same time. It’s a great industry to be in and one of the most professional I know – everyone knows their job and simply gets on with it whatever the challenges. Deadlines and teamwork are paramount – the audiences expect the curtain to go up on time, and that respect for deadlines, and the planning and hard work required to meet them, permeates all the way through the supply chain and to the newest member of staff.
Not long after I set up my accountancy practice I got “the call” from the producers of “Mamma Mia!”. The musical was in the early stage of exponential international growth and they needed a Finance Director to help cope with that growth. I did need a little persuading to go back to a “proper job” but it was one of those opportunities that was impossible to refuse. I was there for two really, really busy years but I had plenty of fun too, including attending the Broadway opening and seeing the production seventeen times. The casts, sets and costumes were changed every six months and it was a little different in each country so I never got tired of it. It always provided the feel good factor, not to mention the chance to brush up my steps to “Voulez Vous”! I had to beef up the accounting team which included bringing in an old colleague to hold the fort in London and, once all the systems were set up and my team had settled in, it seemed a good time to hand things over to my number two and look for a new challenge. Just as I was working out the details of how to make a graceful exit, I was swept off my feet and offered the opportunity to go on an adventure to Croatia!!
I helped my new partner, John, set up a business in the Croatian marina industry but was pretty worn out from the long hours at “Mamma Mia!” and wasn’t in a hurry to get back to full time work. Even if I was, the possibility of a full time job in Croatia seemed remote. Eventually, of course, I became a little bored with a life of leisure and started trying to work out what I might do.
I’d always enjoyed writing and wondered if I could make the transition from business report writing to a more journalistic style. I took a long distance learning course which gave me the tools and the confidence to think I could. I started blogging and looking for opportunities, and then I struck lucky, twice, very early on. Firstly, we were approached, via a contact of John’s, to see if we might be suitable authors for a Croatia Cruising Companion, and then Time Out arrived in Croatia and were looking for help with their new visitors magazine and travel guide.
So my new writing career was launched and, alongside many other projects that subsequently came along, I have had several happy years writing for Time Out Croatia and getting the Croatia Cruising Companion ready for print – a labour of love with a few ups and downs but an end product of which we both remain very proud and has stood the test of time.
Not such a short answer after all!!
2) You are involved in many things Croatian, such as the Croatia Cruising Companion as well as being a regular contributor to Time Out publications in Croatia. How did your love for Croatia come about?
It was John that originally fell in love with Croatia, after his first visit there attending a job interview. He didn’t get the job but decided, soon after, that he was going to live there anyway. We’d only just got together, I’d never been, but the timing was good and it seemed like the ideal opportunity for a bit of a career break and a chance to take stock of what to do next.
Once in Croatia, I can’t say that it was instant love! Try as we might, we weren’t really accepted as anything but tourists and I didn’t feel very welcome as a resident. I found learning the language difficult and, with the glorious benefit of hindsight, if I’d applied myself a little harder to this in the early stages, it would have been a great help. Clearly I should have done a crash course with Linda at the Croatian Language School!
As foreigners, we couldn’t get a phone line, or a car in our own right, and the phone line was always breaking down just as I was getting close to a deadline and needed the dial up connection. So we had to persuade our lovely landlady to keep ringing Hrvatski Telecom until it was sorted out, and hung onto our amazingly reliable, left hand drive, UK registered Berlingo until she hit 200,000 miles. Trying to stay on the right side of the residency rules was also a headache, despite my monthly trips back to England, and our flat, which was lovely and cool in summer, was freezing in winter (hardly surprising as it never got any sun, we were over our landlord’s garage and there were big gaps between doors and windows and the brickwork!).
Now it’s a completely different story but in those early days it was difficult to find almost anything we were used to in the shops and I was also struggling to get used to the hairpin bends, steep drops and fast drivers, let alone driving up the narrow slippery road, with walls on both sides, to our flat. And sometimes seemingly simple tasks, like sending a parcel home, would seem like insurmountable challenges! On top of all that, John and I seemed to be spending a lot of time on his business without actually getting very far and I was struggling to adapt to the very different way of doing business in Dalmatia. Fortunately John and I generally managed to keep each other in good spirits in those difficult early days as there weren’t many other ex pats around to help form an effective support group!
It wasn’t until I started working for Time Out, and on our Croatia Cruising Companion, that my confidence grew and I began to think I might have something to offer Croatia as well as to take from it. It also brought me into contact with a new breed of Croatian, the best of whom had spent some time abroad and therefore understood Croatia’s place in the world a little better and were open minded to constructive foreign input and collaboration. Living in Croatia was still tough but getting easier.
Really though, it was not until I returned to live full time in England, and made my first trip back to Croatia as a visitor, that I looked at Croatia with different eyes and really fell in love with it, hook line and sinker. Gone were the stresses and strains of day to day living in a foreign country and back were the simple pleasures of swimming in the pristine sea, gazing wide eyed at the spectacular views, delving into the eclectic history, experiencing the vibrant culture, eating the great food, imbibing my favourite wines, prošecs and rakijas…………the list is endless. I was still working on Croatia for various publishers, and so my trips had a purpose, but what a great way to earn a modest living.
3) Recently you finished a 7 week road trip through Croatia and we’ve been following you online, can you tell us a bit more about this project?
This last trip in my campervan was an absolute joy and still brings happy tears to my eyes every time I think about it. All the more so because I had not been able to visit Croatia for four years and also because, after my first camping experience four years ago, I expected to be disappointed by the campsites and perhaps by the whole trip. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The primary purpose of the trip was to research the second edition of the Croatia Cruising Companion. Alongside that, I had an idea that it might be time for a camping guide to try and encourage more Brits to explore Croatia this way.
My challenge at the moment is the sheer volume of research material that I’m having to try and condense and arrange into something of quality that is interesting and useful! I stayed at a different campsite almost every night for seven weeks, visited so many different places on land and by sea, saw so much under construction, talked to so many different people and loved every moment. I spent most of the day wide eyed and with my mouth open – dazed by the consistently stunning views and intrigued by the sheer scale and variety of new projects. Most of the evenings were occupied transcribing copious notes from my dictaphone and cataloguing hundreds of photos taken during the day. There was of course a little time for swimming, relaxing and catching up with old friends but, given the 4,000 miles covered and the work that had to be done, not as much as I would have liked.
4) Apart from all things Croatian you also seem interested in all things canine, can you tell us a bit more about that?
I moved back to the UK from Croatia, partly in order to find a bungalow so that I could move my elderly mum out of her care home and in with me. The fees had been getting ever more expensive and she seemed to be becoming increasingly unhappy so I felt I could manage her care better at half the price!
In a classic piece of role reversal, it was she who nagged me to get the dog I had vaguely promised when we hatched the plan. So we acquired a “Staffy” terrier cross rescue dog, aged five, who had been in RSPCA kennels for three months. In fact I bought the campervan because of him, having vowed he would never return to kennels if I had anything to do with it.
Now I am the canine equivalent of a single parent and have had to adjust life accordingly. Dogs are totally dependent on us, all their lives, and have such short ones, that I think we are duty bound to give them the best lives possible.
I’m afraid I don’t understand people who get a dog and leave it a home all day while they are at work – that’s about 8 hours on its own and eight hours asleep, leaving just a third of their lives for a bit of living! Dogs are pack animals and need company and therefore I try to organise my life so mine does not get left alone very much. That suits me pretty well anyway as I am lucky enough to be able to work freelance from home. However I would like to see more acceptance of well behaved dogs in the workplace. They can make such a big difference to our lives – mine keeps me fit, helps me stick to some kind of routine and makes me laugh out loud frequently – and so many people are, or should be, excluded from having one because they work in a place or environment that is not dog friendly.
Man’s best friend is definitely the best travelling companion for campervan trips like mine! People frequently ask me if I get lonely or feel unsafe travelling on my own and my honest response is that I am not on my own. I might think twice about making such a trip if there was no canine companion but a dog that loves travelling as much as I do, jumps in and out of the campervan wagging his tail, is so well behaved that you can take him almost anywhere, utters a reassuring growl if there’s an unusual noise outside, lets me drive all the time without criticising my driving, enjoys a regular swim to keep cool, and makes friends with all the locals, is the most unique and valuable of travelling companions and that’s without even mentioning the “unconditional love” cliché. I only wish that all his clobber took up less space in the campervan!
5) You also were a director of the Treasure Trails Suffolk company, do you still enjoy exploring Suffolk?
I love exploring anywhere and I learnt from my time living in Croatia that a working purpose helps me get the most out of my travels and explorations, as well as my home base. I came across Treasure Trails as I was contemplating the move back to the UK and, though it was in its early days of growth, it seemed to be a good fit with the other parts of my portfolio career. Suffolk seemed to be the ideal county for running a Treasure Trails licence and also offered an abundance of bungalows, fairly easy access to London and the channel ports, and reasonable house prices. So that’s where I decided to focus my property search and it provided the ideal soft landing after Croatia. Like Croatia, Suffolk is relatively unspoilt, the people are friendly but not intrusive, the local produce is excellent and it has a wide variety of landscapes, ambiences and architecture. I researched and wrote a number of very popular trails in popular places like Aldeburgh, Woodbridge, Thorpeness, Felixstowe, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Newmarket, and that helped me to discover the very best of Suffolk quite quickly.
(The Sorrel house, a classic Suffolk country pub which Jane discovered when writing the “Secrets Around Shottisham Trail”. She liked it so much
she bought a small share in it when the local residents decided to buy it and run it themselves.)
Unfortunately, a couple of years after I took on the Suffolk licence, from what seemed to be a really solid base of good business values and a profitable and innovative core business, Treasure Trails head office ran away with itself, unravelled, and went into liquidation. I chose not to play any part in its reincarnation under, ostensibly, new management, with unlicensed trail writers, but have not entirely ruled out putting my professional trail writing skills to good use in the future, in Suffolk or Croatia, if the right opportunity presents itself.
6) What are your future plans with respect to Croatia?
Such is the enthusiasm and emotion with which I speak about my last trip, to anyone who will listen, that several friends have asked me if I am thinking of going back there to live. That led me to consider the idea quite seriously but my answer is a definite no, at least not for now. Croatia is a magical place to visit and that magic increases the more you get to know it. Some Croatian friends have suggested that I probably know it better than most of them, and perhaps I do like they may know London better than me, but the more you get to know it the more you find there is to know and the more you want to get under its skin. The point is, that when you live somewhere, some of the magic dissipates and, in dealing with life’s daily ups and downs, you forget just how lovely and magical it is. During my last trip I had the luxury of exploring Croatia almost all day, every day, for seven weeks. If I lived there I’d be lucky to find the time and inclination to see as much in a couple of years and would probably appreciate it far less. I’d certainly probably never have got to discover so many great remote campsites, with huge beaches all to myself, and visit all the new ports, harbours and marinas.
So my plans are, first, to knuckle down and turn my latest research into great publications, as soon as I can. That way I should be able to justify another trip on another couple of projects I have simmering away, as soon as possible! In the mean time I’ll just have to settle for reliving and rekindling those magical moments as I write about them. Unless of course I really do follow the dream and spend a year travelling around in my campervan, perhaps with a dinghy in tow – as seven weeks is definitely NOT ENOUGH!