…and together we’ll produce books, newsletters, long-form essays, podcasts, events, & more.
What You Get When You Join
Hello potential member!
This is the first year of the membership. Join as a monthly, yearly or lifetime member and you’ll get immediate access to:
- Regular “office hours” slots, to share what’s going on (first come-first served).
- Members-only livestreams, where I talk about what I’m working on without all the hoopla of “performing” for a wider public audience.
- A signed, limited edition art print every six months (first 100 members only, so please be one of them!)
- a 20% discount on all artworks and paid events that I create in the future (yearly or lifetime members only)
But the main reason for becoming a member should be:
I like what you do, JPF, and the world needs more of it.
If that’s good enough: thank you.
Unlocking for others
As well as the members-only perks, your membership supports the production of projects that I want to make available publicly.
- Everyday Writing (monthly newsletter, in which words always come first)
- Portraits of the Artist in X (a pop-up newsletter, led by illustration: one artwork each day for a limited period)
- Great Speeches (another pop-up newsletter, weekdays for four weeks)
- How To Change The World: 10 Years On (yet another limited-time pop-up newsletter)
Together, these will comprise a way to blow up ideas into something bigger. They will also help me to make sense of my vast archive of writing and art on this site. As you read, I hope it will be like looking into a notebook of work-in-progress on future books and essays. Better still, you might feed into them by your comments and insights.
What We Made Last Year
As we all known, 2020 didn’t work out as planned. Here’s how I was supported through the year by some wonderful people.
In February 2020, I drew 36 portraits of people in my local parish, and they were exhibited just as lockdown started. The pictures are still up, a whole year later.
In the same month, working in the wonderful setting of the British Library, I finished writing A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech. As is common in publishing, it would not be published for another year.
Then came pandemic, and lockdown. Talks I was lined up to deliver in person were cancelled, as was other work. I was turned down for the first three UK government income support grants, but qualified for the fourth, a year later.
It turned out that art would become a significant line of work for me. In April 2020, I was invited to do a second series of portraits, this time by The Union Club in Soho. It was all on Zoom: I chatted with members, while I sketched.
One who signed up to this fundraiser for Soho’s homeless people, was an Oscar-winning actor:
The same month, I worked with the Arvon Foundation, where I’ve previously run residential courses, to create its debut online “residential”, for a group of writers to work intensively together on memoir, over a week in May.
At the same time, I posted daily writing challenges for people I’d met on earlier Arvon courses. I ran a few writing courses of my own.
In May I put a few works up for sale on Instagram, with half the profit going to Woman’s Trust, where my late friend Tazeen Ahmad had been a patron. We raised a few hundred pounds: thank you.
With Joel Levack, I started regular online drawing collaborations. This turned out to hold remarkable opportunities to create companionship during lockdown; and drawing together helped to unlock storytelling.
The more art I put out, the more people seemed to like it, and I found myself getting commissions for art: I drew individuals, homes (inside and out), whole families and more. It was enormously gratifying.
As summer turned to autumn, I wanted to test what I was about to publish in my book, and put on a month-long speaking course. I kept the group small, because I prefer to give more than people expect, not less.
We had weekly get-togethers, and an online space to share work in progress. A theatrical voice coach, Colette Murray, gave one-to-one support to participants (as did I). Steve Chapman visited to talk to us about the strange experience of doing a TEDx that went viral. At the end, participants delivered speeches that were variously funny and moving, but uniformly impressive.
As an experiment, I decided to share bits the audio from our sessions in a podcast that I kept secret outside the group. The point was to try something on a small, friendly audience. If it worked, I could make it bigger, more public.
I sometimes wonder why I work with groups at all. Why not just keep my head down and get on with writing? I think the answer is that I simply enjoy being with people, creating a space to aim for their best, and achieve it. Without that, I can find writing very lonely.
Bearing that in mind, I decided to create a mutual support group to run from January to April, months that can be hard any year, and this year (2021) we were in lockdown. The group comprised a mix of creative people and proved a great success, so I started it again in May, to run till the end of July.
With support from that group, I took the podcast public (after removing the audio from the speaking course). It gave me a strong sense of owning my own platform – strange, really, considering that I’ve run this website for nearly 20 years.
I put out a new episode every three days. It became a habit. I wasn’t trying to win the biggest audience in the world. I would be delighted if strangers enjoyed it, but that was never the main aim.
By trial and error, I was learning not to wait for somebody to give me “permission” but to make a plan and tell people. If they join me, great. If not, that’s fine too. But sharing my plan, with a supportive group, is crucial. That gives me permission.
So: this membership.
In 2020, seventy-two individuals and organisations paid me for work. Some just once, others several times. The largest payment was for £3,995. The smallest, £1.50. I’m grateful to everyone. With this membership, I’d like to formalise the relationship.
Before everything else, I’m a writer. Sure, I do speaking – but I only started that because I was asked to talk about my books – first Sew Your Own, then How To Change The World…
I’m ecstatic to have an agent, Jaime Marshall, who has already sold two books to great publishers, extending my experience beyond fiction and non-fiction, into poetry and illustration.
I’m also a journalist, having been feature writer on The Financial Times magazine, and on the Sunday Times. I’ll never stop being a journalist.
This membership allows me to write things I need to write, regardless of whether they fit the agenda of a particular newspaper or magazine, and / or to elaborate on what I’ve written for publication elsewhere.
If I hadn’t put out my art on Instagram, I wouldn’t have raised money for Woman’s Trust. I wouldn’t have been commissioned, by a major publisher, to illustrate someone else’s book (Nic Hooper’s The Unbreakable Student.)
And I wouldn’t have been commissioned by another major publisher to write my next book: a collection of my own poems with my own illustrations (about 50 of each). The book hasn’t been announced publicly, so I won’t say more here – but I delivered my work in May 2021.
In this membership group, I will share work in progress, whether it’s a painting, a drawing, or part of a series of art works. I’ll invite members to choose which images to print, in signed limited editions, every quarter. And members will always take priority for commissions.
Talks, workshops and events
In the last few years I have given talks and run workshops and courses for thousands of people, on topics including How To Write, How To Change The World, Become A Better Speaker In 30 Days, Create Your Own Family Project Heirloom, and How To Have Better Conversations.
With a membership, I will be able to schedule similar things, for members only.
I will also continue to create new ones. These might be like the Desktop Pilgrimage we did during April 2021, “walking” from home in north London to Canterbury entirely by Google Streetview. Every weekday afternoon, we gathered online to share stories, ideas and good company.
I didn’t tell many people about it, because I wanted the space to be natural, authentic – not forced, and showy as public events can be sometimes. Having a membership group will make that easier.
In lockdown, I couldn’t do the walk in real-life. I hope to remedy that next year. Perhaps you’ll join me.
Other events – courses and one-offs – will often be open to a wider public, but I’ll give members priority access and discounts wherever possible.
When I was writing this page, it dawned on me that I’ve been doing that for a while, but without a formal structure: when I ran that speaking course I mentioned (above), the fee was £697, but I gave a 15% discount to anybody who had previously bought from me.
If I can’t offer a discount, I’ll try to offer something extra on top, like the hour-long office hours I give freely to people who do my Idler course, How To Write.
For now, that’s all I can tell you.
Some questions you may have
Is it easy to unsubscribe?
Yes, instantly. Just send me an email. No hard feelings. I don’t want anybody unhappy.
Are my payment details safe?
Absolutely. I don’t see any of your details, and nor does anyone else. Payment goes through Stripe or Paypal (your choice).
I’ve never heard of you, just landed here. What should I read to get a sense of whether this is something I’d like?
I wouldn’t sign up either yet!
If you like what you find, I hope you’ll come back.