The Innovators: Penny Wincer, author and freelance writer

“What I have done amazingly well is … not giving up, even though at every turn it would have been easier. Raising a disabled child will always make me vulnerable to things going wrong,” says writer Penny Wincer…

Penny Wincer is an author and freelance writer originally from Melbourne. After years as a freelance photographer, Penny began writing about life as a creative freelancer, single parenthood and raising a disabled child. She has written for The Telegraph, The i Paper, The Metro and Red Magazine amongst others and co-hosts the podcast Not Too Busy To Write with fellow author Ali Millar. Her first book Tender: The imperfect art of caring was published in June 2020. Penny lives in South London with her two children. 

This past year, in a word, has been … complicated. I am a single parent, with two kids, one of whom is disabled and I lost almost all my support which I had built up over years.

At first, my work … as a photographer was completely cancelled. I was not legally allowed to shoot between March and July 2020. But I wouldn’t have been able to anyway, as even though my son went to school, we lost his school transport (his special school is 20 mins away by car) and it wasn’t until June that we were legally allowed childcare at home anyway. And I can’t do my work as a photographer at home.

I also released a book in June. That I could do from home – but it required a total overhaul of everything we had planned for the book release. In the end it went fine and I had great press coverage. I had to do all podcast and radio interviews when my son was at school – he’s incredibly noisy and won’t be quiet just because Radio 4 is on the line! There was no option not to work – even though all the press I did was unpaid. I had worked on that book for two years, I wasn’t going to let a pandemic stop me from getting it out into the world.

What I realised I needed to do was … stop being a photographer (after 16 years) and build another business to go alongside my work as a writer. People keep talking about the pandemic ending but for us, the changes that have occurred to some of my son’s services have been permanent and it is no longer viable for me to work on location with clients. It’s not a case of going back to normal for us. My son’s needs have also increased due to the stress this past year has caused him. I need to be far more flexible and work from home.

And so I … have set up a new business as a book coach. I help other writers put together non-fiction book proposals and pitch to agents. It’s incredibly enjoyable work supporting other writers and I feel like it’s an area I can really help people in. I have spent the past few months working with beta clients, doing a qualification and I’m now taking paid clients, although I haven’t officially even launched yet! I have also completed the proposal for my next non-fiction book and launched a podcast with fellow author Ali Millar called Not Too Busy To Write.

Running my own business this past year has been … a huge challenge. There is no option really to furlough because without you, your business collapses and with it, future earnings. It’s not just about getting through the pandemic, it’s about your future as well.

Now, looking back over the 12 months just gone, I feel … like it’s been very hard being forced to make such huge changes, in such a short period of time. It has added huge amounts of stress to an already very difficult year. But I am proud of what I have managed to achieve.

In terms of the future of my business/work, I feel … like I will be much better set up to deal with the challenges of being a single parent and carer in the future, with a business which can be done flexibly from home. I’m better prepared now for things going wrong.

The hardest thing about working through a pandemic is … that it has taken away what I spent years putting in place for my son, which has in turn, put a huge amount of pressure on me as a mother and carer. I no longer feel able to count on the services I once did. This past year has proven that when things go wrong, they’re the first to go. I’m not sure I will ever feel I can truly trust them again.

What I have done amazingly well is … not giving up, even though at every turn it would have been easier. Raising a disabled child will always make me vulnerable to things going wrong. We are so reliant on outside support. So it’s vital for me to have a business that suits me and provides my family with a stable income, as well as rich and fulfilling work that keeps me motivated to put in the hard work. I absolutely love the work that I do, both the writing and the book coaching. And now I have a business that will work for us, even when the shit hits the fan.

You can find Penny on Instagram @pennywincer and on her website