Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Edinburgh Fringe Festval 2015 - Day Two

Following on from my previous blogpost, here's what we saw at Edinburgh Fringe Festival on my second (and last) day.

[fyi: going at the end of the Fringe means you can make some very good choices about what to see based on recommendations. This has been my shortest trip yet, but such quality theatre fitted into that short time frame. Just a heads up if thinking when to go, but also - I don't think everything is fantastic. Some of this stuff really, really was.]

Ross & Rachel

Photo: Alex Brenner

At first dubious about the pop culture title I was quickly convinced that this would be more than that. I anticipated a meditation on relationships and love, with some cheeky Friends references thrown in, and that it'd be a bit dark but also funny, but I didn't know more than that. And I got a lot more than I was expecting.

It begins fast-paced, hard to keep up, with the frenetic energy of romantic pride, of claustrophobia, of introductions and of uncertainties, of fantasises of something different - maybe something better.

Then there's something unexpected. A diagnosis. Test results. "Anywhere up to a year".

And suddenly the insistence on independence ("when did the 'and' appear after my name?") feels futile. The idea of one without the other is impossible.

We go through the whole ordeal with them, the doubts and nausea and imaginings of a future without, and it was honest and raw and it just about broke my heart.

Molly Vevers' performance and James Fritz' writing together are just astounding. This will surely transfer to London and tour, and when it does you should see it.

Iphigenia In Splott

Photo: Mark Douet
This is the story of a girl in Cardiff. She's drunk most days and scaring mums in the street who try to cross her. She's judged and she knows it.

Everything changes when she meets a wounded soldier. After one night together she no longer feels alone, even when things aren't quite what they seem.

Performing as Effy is Sophie Melville, and she is one of the most phenomenal performers I've seen. Beginning with this aggression and then melting into a sense of warmth, childlike and strong and ready to care, and then into a place much darker. The writing is funny as well as moving, and it all just feels really genuine.

While the performance was naturalistic, her physicality was something else - at times moving to the rhythm of the words and changing in a way that was subtle but intense.

This was one of very few standing ovations I've ever experienced at the Fringe and so, so deserved.

Again, if this tours - SEE IT.


Photo: Jane Hobson
I feel like there's a lot of theatre around about dementia at the moment. It makes sense: we have a growing, ageing population and it's something people are having to encounter more and more. Reading about this piece following a recommendation seemed a little different though. I'll be honest: it was the robot that drew me in.

Preparing for his passing, a man makes his wife a robot, uploading all of his "data" so she could have someone to talk to, about their wedding, or to play games of "I Spy." Encounters with this really rather remarkable robot play alongside flashbacks to the couple's youth and the beginnings of their relationship.

While the writing didn't always feel novel (I feel like I've seen the older couple mirrored by younger couple device many times now?) the story played out nicely with believable performances.

[My parents absolutely loved this and thought it was really very special.]

Sofie Hagen: Bubblewrap

I don't really know how to write about comedy except to say that Sofie Hagen is hilarious and ridiculous, partly because of her actual Westlife fan fiction, but also because HOW IS THIS HER DEBUT FULL SHOW? She is so natural and assured you'd think she had been performing forever.

Sofie has just won the Best Newcomer Award and this really is so deserved. The writing is skillful, she's charming and the show is just very, very funny.

Also huge points for addressing mental health, self harm and body image in a way which isn't scary, it's just a part of who you are and it needs addressing and just bloody YES.

And I so hope that the members of Westlife will get to see this show. I would pay good money to see their reactions..

Monday, 31 August 2015

Edinburgh Fringe Festival - Day One

With so much going on I wasn't sure I was going to make it up to Edinburgh this year but I couldn't quite resist and decided on a flying visit for the final weekend.

So, even though the festival's over, I'm sure many of these shows will have a future life. I really was properly in awe of the talent this year. Here's what I saw on the first day.


Photo: End Of The Line Theatre

Seeing Ernie was a result of a changed plan and a "nearby now" suggestion - and I'm so glad it worked out this way. James Craze performs this one-man show telling the true story of his grandad's life.

The show is full of charm, charisma and energy. Despite living and working through the Second World War, the tone is not bleak. There are moments of pathos but Ernie's sense of hope and enthusiasm always propels him forward to the next day and challenge.

Many wartime pieces seem to focus on romance and strife but here the story follows career, adventure and camaraderie - we meet Ernie's managers and mentors and follow his career and struggle to support his family.

This was such an enjoyable watch with a really impressive performance from James - cleverly switching between personas (over 32 of them) and using his physicality to have us truly imagine the moment. A lovely, innovative example of this being his medical exam - seeing his arm pulsate for blood pressure, and then chest for heartrate.

Ernie felt like a hidden gem, and a joyous light amidst the often heavy nature of the Fringe!

The Solid Life Of Sugar Water

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

The set for The Solid Life is striking: a vertical double bed with bedside table and open drawers. The couple are there as we come in, sleeping, upright.

The play begins with the couple talking us through them having sex. It's detailed and an odd mix of familiar and awkward, with humour sitting alongside references to something that's happened, that they're recovering from.

Through two tender, personable performances we find out how they began, of each date, of him being intrigued by her deafness, finding it a little exotic. They're just a normal couple and they're likeable.

Without giving too much away things do get heavy, and flitting between their pain and back to their sex, we feel almost too close to their situation - it's moving and uncomfortable. Jack Thorne's writing is fragmented and powerful and I enjoyed getting to both hear and read the script via the creative captioning. This added to the experience in a way I wouldn't have anticipated.

A Sudden Burst Of Blinding Light

This playful piece explores mental health alongside looking at romance and vulnerabililty, with a bit of magic thrown in too. The vehicle for this story is a dreamlike game show with big smiles from our cheeky presenters. We hear of Jude's mad mother, and flit between the presenters' flamboyant interpretations (pictured) and the duller, more painful reality.

An unexpected highlight came from the smooth voiced, hysterical Frankie Valium - in both his musical number and storytelling.

Jude was played by Rosemary Terry, an incredible actress I was lucky enough to go to university with. All bias aside, Rosemary is wonderful and my parents agreed they could watch her for hours. Those eyes! But in all seriousness, her portrayal of Jude breaking down on London Bridge, afraid and alone, was just so moving.

Jonny And The Baptists: The End Is Nigh

We saw Jonny And The Baptists last year and so knew what to expect - these guys are brilliant, performing musical comedy numbers and bouncing off each other with such a fun chemistry. Where last year felt like a comic gig, the Paines Plough Roundabout gave way to a performance that felt more theatrical but also more inclusive.

Following previous political outputs, the guys acknowledged the election result and, through a worrying promise to Jonny's four year old niece to solve climate change, chose to tackle this issue, in their usual ridiculous, epic way. (Side note: guys, can you please write a full musical one day? I feel like it'd be incredible.)

Also a shout out to Backstage In Biscuit Land's Jess Thom who was in the audience with us. Her contributions throughout (Jess has Tourette's Syndrome) really added to the show - with one in particular prompting a round of applause, and me cry-laughing. I'm so hyped to see her show.

Five Feet In Front

Photo: Richard Davenport

Having caught up with a friend after an earlier show (Rosemary!) we took onboard her strongest recommendation for Five Feet In Front at Summerhall and again, so glad we did.

The story here follows Jonny Wilo, a girl oddly named after her father who has been killed a year previous. She talks to, and makes a deal with, the wind: to find something good in her town, to save the community from an incoming storm and certain death.

It's an odd little tale and I loved it for that reason - as an escape from the everyday. It was also told in the most brilliant way: with a chorus of singing folk musicians, with the most gorgeous voices and harmonies, but also tap dancing in a powerful stand-off between Wilo and Wind, and visual effects through lights and shadows. It felt like every element was considered in a way that surpassed other Fringe efforts.

This magical piece reminded me of a mix between a Steinbeck novel, a Studio Ghibli animation and a Tarentino film. And turns out I bloody love that combination.

It makes me sad that with a cast of six this show may struggle financially to tour and just hope it has a further life: I could even see it developing to a longer, mid-scale piece. The Letter Room are a young company with a wisdom beyond their years both in concept and execution, and I only hope they can be supported to share this work with as many as possible.

Read about our second day at the Fringe here, when we saw Ross & Rachel, Iphigenia In Splott, Spillikin, and Sofie Hagen.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On new beginnings & being brave

I know the way. To work. Around the theatre. From the kitchen to my room in the dark. Roughly.

But it's all still so new.

I clock a road sign and it affirms my belief I'm going in the right direction. I feel for the light, and then a bit further, and it's there.

It's odd this stage isn't it, that feeling new in a place, and knowing that soon you will feel so settled. It will feel like home.

But for now, it all feels very novel and very nice.

To get you up to speed, if it's not apparent, I've moved: from Canterbury to Kingston via Medway (it's been a busy couple of weeks). I have a new job and so also a new place to live, in South West London.

Being so close to central London has me a stupid level of excited. I've visited all my life, never living more than an hour away by train, but actually being here is kind of surreal. In a good way.

I'm not entirely sure the point of this post except wanting to mark where my thinking's at right now, and to, amidst feeling a little shattered and overwhelmed, take a little minute to reflect.

I suppose this year so far has been all about trying to be that little bit braver. It's the sort of thing I'd say each year but either not care enough (who keeps resolutions, really?) or, be limited by my health. But 2015 has been a different story.

For one thing my health really is so much better. My POTS gradually improved after starting on Ivabradine in March 2014 but now, I'm just so rarely symptomatic it's ridiculous. I'm never conscious of my own heartbeat, other than when it's appropriate, and I never hit the floor anymore. And it feels wonderful.

And through that I've actually gone and done things. Real, big, brave things (for me) including:
  • Climbing the o2
  • Joining and going to a gym (even if it did only last a few months!)
  • Writing and recording some poetry/spoken word and putting it on the internet
  • Flying to Asia by myself and travelling across Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with a group of people I'd just met
  • Starting driving lessons
  • And finally: leaving my job and town for a new job and town
This might read really braggy but it's not. Or actually, maybe it is. I'm proud of myself. 

For various reasons, this year is the first time many of these things have even been possible. I've been held back by my physical chronic illness but also before that a lack of confidence. And now I'm not, and I put the effort in to take a risk and do these things. Things that may feel normal to others but feel like achievements to me. I think sometimes British modesty prevents us from patting ourselves on the back when it's due, but we should.

As cliched as it may be it's so true that experiencing loss puts things into perspective: that our time is limited and uncertain, and you have to make the most of it. I really do want to live life to the full and I finally feel like I'm actually putting the whole Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway thing into practice.

And now London is a whole new challenge. Already I feel tired, from the moving but also the meeting of new people - all of whom are lovely but I suppose it all takes energy.

But I'm finding the challenges and I'm saying yes to things. Yesterday I went to a You Me Bum Bum Train meeting/rehearsal and will be performing a few Saturdays in September. I can't say much more about it except that I'm so hyped.

Then there's the theatre I'll get to see. I live 20 minutes from the National Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre, Bush Theatre etc, and my bank balance is going to hate me for it but I'm going to see SO MUCH THEATRE. And hopefully write about it too. I want to get back to writing about things I enjoy.

It's odd - a few weeks back I was thinking about how we romanticise moving. We imagine a new life, but also a new, better version of ourselves. There's an admirable sense of aspiration in that which is positive but it could hold the same sway as resolutions. "I'll be tidier, read more, go for long walks" etc.

I brushed it off and thought it was kind of silly, but now I do think it also makes sense. It is a new start so why not embrace it for that. 

As much as possessions aren't really important, I feel better for having bought a few new things for my room that are actually nice (I tend to just acquire functional things) but also for having brought with me so much less than I usually do. And my space feels good. And I'm making the most of opportunities.

And I'm probably a little naive in thinking that means everything changes. It doesn't. I'm still going to be a bit shambolic and ridiculous but that doesn't mean that the change won't inspire me, or that the novelty will go stale.

What also threw me in all of this was just how supported I felt. I know I have good friends, but people texting good luck wishes on moving day and first day of work and asking how things have gone, and even helping me find somewhere to live - it was just overwhelmingly lovely, like a massive hug and a high five all in one. I felt reassured and energised in equal measure.

And I knew these people cared for me, but I guess there's something in a goodbye or a life change that brings honesty and feelings to the surface.

And I just feel so very lucky.

So cheers to new beginnings, and tell the people you love that you love them, and sorry for the rambley blogpost xx

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A response to Ruby: how honest should you be about your mental health?

Image via Rex Features

I'd planned a response to Ruby's piece in my head.

A response saying:

I get it. I get that I've been lucky, and many others haven't. But that I'm not naive in wanting to be honest, because surely that's how we move past stigma. And people aren't all bad.

That would have been the crux of it. Optimistic and probably quite pushy.

I angrily titled it in my head, "Why Ruby is wrong, and you should be honest about your mental health."

A bit of context, mental health campaigner and OBE recipient Ruby Wax recently told The Times:

“When people say, ‘Should you tell them at work?’, I say: ‘Are you crazy?’ You have to lie. If you have someone who is physically ill, they can’t fire you. They can’t fire you for mental health problems but they’ll say it’s for another reason. Just say you have emphysema."

Reflecting on Ruby's piece and my ideas for a response, I then saw @MarkOneInFour asking on Twitter, why is the tendency to talk in imperatives when we talk about mental health. "You must do this, you mustn't do that."

And I realised he was right. Completely right. And I wondered why that was. Maybe that our experiences around these issues feel so loaded, fueled either by anger around a negative reaction, or gratitude around a positive one. The reactions can vary so vastly, but our reaction either way will be strong, particularly around the negative feelings.

All we have is our world view, backed up by our experiences. We can listen to others but we're going to be shaped emotionally by what we know and what has happened to us. For me in this case that's heightened by a sense of optimism (people aren't all bad; we're moving on) and such a strong desire for change (we have to move through this: honesty is the way).

Then how we share these thoughts online is filtered through what's worth clicking on: something to be angry at, or to ardently agree with, but something strong and plosive, and not necessarily balanced. Essentially click-bait, and that doesn't feel right: it's black and white, and not how the world works.

So, how honest should you be about your mental health to an employer? It depends. The cop-out answer but the reality.

Personally, I would hope people could feel they could be honest but it does depend on so many things.

It can depend on how open you are generally as a person but specifically regarding mental health. Personally I'm now very open, something that started in person, at Ruby's theatre show Losing It. (Sidenote: I think she's generally brilliant, I just don't agree with her statements on this issue) Then, online - blogging about my experiences.

From there talking about these issues in real life became a lot easier. I also became such a strong supporter of shattering the stigma around mental health, even when that's difficult, so that's inevitably going to give me a bit of a different answer to the question of honesty.

Another factor in honesty is how you experience your illness, which could mean many things but specifically meaning whether episodic or chronic. For me, it's been acute and episodic, but at the time - when I had to be honest about it (I needed time off, I was falling apart, I felt like I couldn't not say) - I didn't know it was acute. It felt like it would go on forever, and I felt in no place to reassure my employer.

I've told three separate managers when I've been having mental health problems, causing varying degrees of impact on my ability to do my job, and all three were fantastic. I had good relationships with all three but believe they would have reacted the same to anyone.

So was I just lucky, or are things in a better position than people think? Maybe we talk about the worst case scenarios more than the quiet moments of acceptance?

I just don't know. I'd love to know the statistics but that's problematic in itself.

I also have the comparison point of having a physical chronic illness. This made Ruby's suggestion of inventing a physical ailment ("just say you have emphysema") to mask the mental health difficulties an uncomfortable one.

My condition, POTS, used to be unpredictable and pretty intense, causing me pain and fatigue but also very public fainting episodes, which felt like an inconvenience to both myself and my colleagues. I let my manager know after I'd got the job and he was great: so supportive and understanding.

Surprisingly I found it a lot more scary to talk to my manager for the first time about this then anything mental health related, perhaps because of the ongoing nature of it, and it being a daunting thing for others to see and experience.

Comparisons of what is better or worse in terms of living with the conditions and the stigmas involved are ridiculous, but let's just say that talking about a physical condition is not the easy option.

So there are lots of factors at play as to whether someone would be honest and why, but in terms of whether people should be honest about mental health I'd say (cards on the table, acknowledging this is just my view point): yes.

Because stigma is probably more about ignorance than malice, and if we're all honest the stigma has to lessen.

Because our expectation shouldn't be the worst case scenario, even if that is a possibility and does happen (if anything is going to make you anxious this will).

Because you're protected by the law.

But crucially because it's about looking after yourself. If your manager knows what's going on and what you need they can help you. They can back off, swoop in or lessen the workload - if they're supportive - or at the very least they can listen and be aware.

And maybe if it's the first time they've experienced the situation, they'll learn and be more prepared the next time.

So, essentially this article has been a mash-up of conflicts, anxieties and uncertainties. I was wary of sharing anything at all but I wanted to, to put my experiences forward. To say that being honest can work out just fine. But that I acknowledge I'm not in a position to tell you what to do, because no one is.

Articles like Ruby's, and even like some of the response pieces, can make speaking up and continuing the conversation around mental illness incredibly daunting: you worry you'll say the wrong thing, but there is no wrong thing, only multiple, conflicting truths.

Every person is different, with different experiences and different opinions and that is valid: so let's hear them all. Let's put it out there and give people the confidence to do whatever they want (when they feel able).

Mental health stigma has moved on so much, even in the past five years. So let's keep going. I think we're getting somewhere.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

My Contiki Asian Adventure

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Around 8 months ago I was having a lazy Sunday afternoon catching up on blogs and social media when I stumbled across a post from fashion blogger Lily Melrose about her "Contiki Asian Adventure".

I clicked through and found out about her two-week group tour through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. She'd had an amazing time, and I was jealous.

Before then, I didn't know travel could work this way. I thought of "going travelling" as something you did for months at a time, by yourself or with a friend, but definitely not suiting working full-time.

Suddenly it became entirely plausible. I decided pretty immediately to do it and that month I booked the trip for May, leaving a day after my 25th birthday.

After months of saving, excitement and anxiety, the trip finally came around, and then went way too quick: I didn't want it to end!

contiki asian adventure route

One of the best parts of the trip was that I didn't experience it alone but with a group of 28 others, mostly solo travellers with some groups, all 18-35 years, and from all around the world. They started as strangers but very quickly we got so close and I now feel lucky to consider them friends.

Ahead of the trip I'd been a little nervous about meeting so many new people in one go but I needn't have worried. Everyone was so lovely!

(If you think this trip would be out of your comfort zone you're probably right, but it's the same for everyone, which makes for a really welcoming, curious and fun group mindset. You'll be fine.)

The trip has something for everyone too, suiting any personality with stunning sights, culture, history and just plain old good times.

We saw so many temples, from impressive gold constructs to intricate stone carvings. We were blessed by a monk, sailed down the Mekong river, bartered at night markets and ate street food.

We did too much to tell you but all of it wonderful! Which is why it's hard to pin down highlights, but something really special was the Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai.

A local chef showed us around the food market, with as much banter (such a joker) as knowledge on the fresh ingredients he was showing us.

At the market, learning about and smelling all the produce.

Then in an open-air kitchen in the countryside, we learned how to make authentic Thai food. With guidance we made our own dinner consisting of four separate dishes, and it was genuinely one of the best meals on the trip!

Cooking with fire!
Another really special moment came on the last day when we experienced sunrise at Angkor Wat. Bleary eyed from lack of sleep we stumbled along, to be met by the most stunning view. We were just blown away by the beauty of the place and it felt like a real privilege to be there. Here's the view from Rainbow Bridge, "where earth meets heaven".

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

We just generally had the best time with great meals and nights out, and constant laughs along the way. And the last night really was the best.

Amidst all the sights and experiences, I loved just seeing the everyday in the places we went: children playing outside their houses, cows walking down the street, buddhist monks going about their day, families living in houses on the lake surrounded by water, and even the kind of infuriating tuk tuk drivers!

While the trip is fast-paced, you really get to soak up the atmosphere of each place you go: the sights, smells and sounds of a place worlds away from home. We also had lovely and often funny local guides who'd talk to us about their lives, their town, the culture and the history of a place.

And the history was both fascinating and devastating. Having fallen in love with these countries it was awful to hear what they've been through, and what they're still going through now.

In Laos we visited the COPE centre and learned about how between 1964 to 1973 two million tons of ordnance were dropped on the country: every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. A third of these bombs did not go off at the time, and are still risks today. This rehabilitation clinic provides necessary, life-changing support, including prosthetic limbs, to those affected.

Then in Cambodia we heard about the reign of Pol Pot, when 3 out of the 8 million population were killed over the space of four years. We visited The Killing Fields where over 20000 innocent people were brutally murdered, and also the genocide museum, which was the prison at the time. It was so disturbing to hear of what happened, and really made us stop and think.

The fact these atrocities are unknown to most of us makes them all the more shocking.

The view from Laos' version of the Arc de Triomphe, in capital city Vientiane.

So, a really varied fortnight. I would recommend this trip to anyone, and with this company. We saw so much, were looked after, met amazing people and just had the best time. You won't regret it!

For a full day-by-day itinerary and trip details, visit the Contiki website here.

And for anyone interested, in terms of my health - I mostly coped! For those that don't know I have a chronic illness called POTS which causes a fast heart rate, fatigue and fainting. I'm doing really well on my meds but knew this trip would be a challenge as heat is a trigger.

I doubled my medications up to maximum dose (with approval from my doctor) and just tried to stay hydrated and know my limits. The trip was exhausting, I did pass out (but only once!), and sure I struggled a little, but I still had the time of my life. Even a year ago I would not have been able to make this trip, and knowing that made me appreciate it all the more.

I'll post a few more photos, but if you're curious about the trip and have any questions, please do comment below, tweet me @amyjanesmith or drop me an email!

Wat Rong Khun, or, the White Temple, in Chiang Rai.
Wat Rong Khun, or, the White Temple, in Chiang Rai.

With some creepy/cool detailing!
Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep
A Buddha for each day of the week, at Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep.

Bayon temple in Siem Reap
The Bayon temple in Siem Reap, one of my
favourites, and covered in over 200 faces sculpted in.

Ta Prohm temple
Ta Prohm: a 900-year-old temple with a massive tree right in the centre.
This was the temple in Tomb Raider!

Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang, Laos
The gorgeous (and very refreshing!) Kuang Si Falls in
Luang Prabang, Laos, where we also visited the Bear Sanctuary.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Little poems on theatre and stigma

I've done something a little bit different. Something a little bit scary to share, but enjoyable to make.

I'm wary of calling them poems because I don't know that they are, but here they are anyhow!

So, here's a piece I wrote about the experience, and love, of going to the theatre:

And here's one I wrote following the stigma-provoking coverage of the Germanwings flight 9525 crash and the mental health of pilot Andreas Lubitz. This is not in defence of him or his actions, but rather an attack on the media's damaging delivery of this story.

I don't know if I'll do any more of these, maybe, but either way it was nice to try something new!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Lessons learned from Karren Brady (the ultimate #GirlBoss)

Karren Brady autobiography

She's the strong, silent and ever-so sassy advisor on The Apprentice. That's how I knew her and not much more.

Browsing for my next read I stumbled across Karren's autobiography and thought it might make an interesting read. And that it was!

Having skipped the traditional route of university Karren went straight into the world of business and was Managing Director of Birmingham City by the age of 23. 

She's built up an overwhelmingly impressive career and has learned a lot. She shares this with solid advice to inspire confidence and behaviours that will help guide you through life and work (not just business). Just to look at her life and career is inspiring but the way she writes is genuinely rousing and energising. 

Karren dismisses the idea that a good leader is founded in gender-related qualities (obvs), yet she doesn't shy away from engaging with issues surrounding being a woman in business, specifically in football-based business: both raising a family and dealing with other people's bullshit. She's a proud feminist, fighting to get more women on boards. And that's wonderful.

Anyhow, I found myself constantly underlining little pieces of wisdom so I thought I'd do a post to share some of those. But do go read the book.

On confidence

"I learnt never to belittle my contributions, and to say thank you when people paid me a compliment about my work. I didn't say, 'It's nothing', because it wasn't nothing. And if I didn't value it, who would?"

"Self-esteem eliminates fear... [it's] about valuing yourself and your opinions and not being afraid to voice them."

"...nobody will champion you or your career if you don't. I never waited for someone to say, 'You did a good job.' I'd be saying to people, 'Look at what I've done! Isn't it great? Shouldn't I head up the next project?' To me, that was a more straightforward approach."

On dealing with difficult people

"I have never let people put me down, make me feel inferior or say that I wasn't good at something. It's about being able to say, 'I'm sorry, you may think that's acceptable, but I don't.' I think that comes from that inner belief in myself."

"Handle the difficult men with class. It's important to be decisive and shut down a problem effectively and quickly. You must stand up for yourself and show that you cannot and will not be intimidated."

On determination and hard work being the most important factors to success

"I meet a lot of people with great ideas, but they lack the energy and determination to see them through. But if you're determined, with a steely core and a can-do attitude, you're an entrepreneur."

"People should do the things that need to be done, when they need to be done, whether they like it or not."

On taking risks

"A lot of people fear failure so much that they can't achieve anything."

"Calculate the worst thing that can happen and be comfortable with it."

On dealing with difficulty

"If you panic in the face of a problem, you're going to have an unhappy life because life is a series of problems. How happy you are relates to the solutions you find to deal with them...For me, a problem is an opportunity to show off my talent and put everything I know into action."

"No matter how bad things are, no matter how hard the battle you face, you have to accept the reality of the situation and embrace the pressure. You just have to take the view that it has to be done."

"Before you achieve success you nearly always face temporary defeat - sometimes total failure....success is about having the backbone to work a way through."

On the power of personality

"No matter how much you know, you have to have the personality to deliver it. People need to have confidence in what you're saying."

On leadership & team work

"It was about creating an environment where everybody had a role...every role was respected and every role was important."

"Great leadership is as much about paying attention to the nitty-gritty as it is about sounding the part."

"The best leaders are not afraid to work with and listen to people across a broad spectrum, and they get excited when they meet people better than them. That's because they are confident in their own ability."

On gratitude 

"...in an ideal world everyone would have a near-death experience that turns out all right. It teaches you an awful lot about yourself....it teaches you the importance of doing the things you want to do. About aiming high and asking a lot from life."

On feminism

"There's this idea that if you're a woman and you put yourself out there, you've got to take on the chin whatever anyone wants to throw at you. But why?"

"I want to defeat this view that successful women are a special breed - actually you just to have to work bloody hard, to have an idea, go for it and be dedicated to it."

"Have confidence. Walk tall. Be direct. Never be afraid to be a woman."

On balancing having a family with a career 

"What I now appreciate, and didn't understand then, was that a career spans a lifetime, and that taking a few months off would not have harmed mine." [Karren took just three days' maternity after her first child.]

"In my experience, there is never an ideal time and worrying about when will often mean you leave it too late and miss out. If you think about things for ever, you can come up with as many reasons not to do something as to do it, so you have to just go for it."

And a reassuring truth

"Sometimes I just think, oh shit."