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The Folly Of Emily Broadmore

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17 October 2023

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Running two businesses, wrangling twins and launching the literary journal Folly has been keeping Emily Broadmore busy. She tells Sharon Stephenson how, and why, she does it.   

Some days you’re Superman and some days you’re Clark Kent.

When we chat, Emily Broadmore’s day is skewing more Clark Kent than the man in red tights. 

The Wellington businesswoman and publisher of new literary journal Folly is dealing with a case of sunstroke, another of boredom and an absent husband.

Emily is speaking to Woman from Australia’s Port Douglas where she’s on holiday with her parents and 7-year-old twins Connie and Hugo. In the first flush of holiday excitement, Connie spent all day in the pool and is now recovering from sunstroke, Hugo wants his mother to take him to a nearby wildlife park and Emily is wishing her husband Will was able to be with them instead of being stuck in Wellington with work.

But the 36-year-old, who admits she’s been running on adrenaline and hope for most of the last 12 months, is in desperate need of a holiday.

“I probably bit off more than I could chew this year running two business and getting Folly off the ground,” says Emily with a cheerfulness somewhere between heroic and frazzled.

Those businesses are Heft Communications, a PR agency she set up with former Beehive staffer Sarah Maguire in 2020, and the Wellington Writers’ Studio, a social enterprise/shared creative hub for writers that opened last October.    

But the real reason Emily is interrupting her holiday is to talk about Folly, the sumptuous 100-page literary journal she’s launching on 3 November. 

The idea came from journals she’d seen in the US. Why, she wondered, wasn’t there a similar outlet for Kiwi writers?

“Of course we have great literary publications such as Landfall and takahē magazine but I wanted to produce more of a literary magazine than a journal which was provocative and held a mirror up to society but didn’t take itself too seriously. Basically, the kind of writing I wanted to read and could take on holiday without worrying about getting sand and margaritas all over it.”

Anyone who knows Emily knows that she sits at a solid nine on the ‘get shit done’ scale. So she threw herself wholeheartedly into her passion project, co-opting friends Dana Turner (art direction) and Tiana Jones (marketing) to help realise her vision.

The trio put the call out for submissions in February and within a few months had received 1,400 fiction and non-fiction entries from writers and poets, some as young as 17.  

A $1000 prize no doubt sweetened the deal as did the 1,500 word limit which was imposed to ensure a quick literary sugar hit.

“I have to take in so much information for work that I don’t really have time to read a novel these days. So when I sit down to read, I want something that doesn’t require a huge commitment, something I can dip in and out of.”

Established writers Caroline Barron and Hera Lindsay Bird helped whittle the submissions down to 28 works from mainly Kiwi writers, including one who lives in Berlin, as well as writers from Canada, the US and Norfolk Island.

“We’ve got a story about living above a cinema and another about a conversation between a man and woman having a cigarette outside a building – accessible slice-of-life tales about who we are as human beings.”    

When it came to illustrating the inaugural journal, numerous art galleries came to the party.

“We basically said, we have no money but can you help us? Galleries were hugely supportive and we’ve ended up with works from artists such as the late, great Ans Westra, Laura Williams and Hiria Anderson.   

As part of Folly’s “fun, provocative, risqué” shtick, and as a way of funding the project, Emily decided to hold a series of events at a local Wellington sauna. It sounds delicious: a group of 15 women sitting around in hair wraps, sweating out toxins while being read pieces from the first issue. 

Not everyone was on board: some in Aotearoa’s literary community brandished their online pitchforks, displeased by such an unconventional approach.   

“The feeling was, who are these three woman, what do they know and what right do they have to launch a journal? We didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes but we saw a niche for a literary journal that wasn’t super high-brow, that was more accessible to readers and that would hopefully encourage more people to read and write.”

You can hear the joy in Emily’s voice when she talks about Folly.  The written word, it turns out, has been her passion for a long time. But like many of us, after school Auckland-born Emily gravitated towards a subject that would land her a good job.

Her father is an accountant who owned his own accounting practice so self-employment was baked into Emily’s DNA, but while studying for a business degree at Victoria University, she  attended a political science lecture by Dame Margaret Clarke.

“Dame Margaret transformed my life! I hadn’t been exposed to politics growing up in Rotorua so the strategy behind political decision making enthralled me. Unpicking that decision making, and the ability to be involved in it, was exciting to me. I immediately changed my major to political science.”

That led to a place in the highly contested political intern programme at Parliament and a five year stint working for the then National government, first as a research adviser, then as a political advisor and press secretary. 

After writing an op-ed for a minister, her boss complimented her on her writing skills.

“I was like, what? No-one had ever told me that before. Was I really a good writer?”

After having the twins, Emily started writing in the gaps when her children were at playgrounds, play groups and asleep, eventually churning out two manuscripts.

A script asessor friend suggested she try short stories and since 2021 Emily’s work has been published in journals and won writing competitions.   

Today, she fills her literary cup running the Wellington Writers’ Studio, a social enterprise she claims didn’t previously exist in Aotearoa. “I first became aware of writers’ studios as a concept about a year ago, and while they are so common they are franchised overseas, I couldn’t find anyone running anything like this here. The main difference is in the way they are set up and the membership fees. For example, membership at the Wellington Writers’ Studio is about a quarter of standard shared office space. I visited a few studios in New York and realised the concept could work well in New Zealand.”

The studio’s motto could well be, it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, as long as you’re writing: to date 22 writers have signed up, from poets and freelance journalists to retired locals writing sci-fi novels and memoirs. 

Having penned two stories for Folly – one a travel piece about fantasy meeting reality in Barcelona, based on her experiences earlier this year, and the second a chat with her former mentor Dame Margaret Clarke – Emily is keen to get back into her own writing.

She’s currently dusting off one of her manuscripts which combines “the trauma of having twins with the often toxic parliamentary environment”.

“I loved my job in the Beehive but it was a pretty toxic culture, a bubble of A-type personalities, which I am too, working 16-hour days in a hugely addictive, adrenaline-filled environment. That can lead to bullying and harassment. I’ve fictionalised it but it’s loosely based on my experiences.”

To help manage her eternal work/life balance Emily has hired a studio manager and plans to bring on an editor for next year’s edition of Folly. And hopefully more staff at Heft Communications, which specialises in government advocacy.

“Heft grew 300% last year so that’s been busy. And I didn’t expect Folly to blow up the way it has. When we started we thought it would be a bit of fun but it’s become so much bigger than that. I hope we’ve created an accessible and fun journal. The aim is for it to be in the green in five years and have a team around it so that I’m not the main driver because I’ve realised that I’m best when I’m creating a space for people to get involved.” 

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