Under the Radar with Melanie Sherwood
Handling a silver pitcher worth around £17,000 is all in a day's work for the Editor of Homes & Antiques. Melanie ended up in publishing as a "wonderful coincidence" after originally pursuing a career in theatre. She's never stopped enjoying Hugh Jackman's "beautiful" singing voice though...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
It was never actually my aim to work in the magazine industry – I have a degree in Drama Studies and English Lit, and spent much of my formative years working backstage in theatres. For the vast majority of my university days, I was working toward the goal of becoming a Theatre Manager, but at some point in my last year one of my English lecturers suggested I try looking at careers in publishing as well as theatre, and the first job I was offered just happened to be on a wedding magazine. The fact that I really enjoyed it was a wonderful coincidence – and the hours are much better (as is the pay!) in publishing.
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
I started out as Editorial Assistant on Perfect Wedding magazine, then I spent two years on a craft title before moving onto Immediate Media’s bookazine team as a Production Editor. That was a hectic role – a team of seven produced 26 titles a year for brands such as BBC Wildlife, Focus magazine and BBC History. One of those titles was an entry-level history bookazine, which was such a success that Immediate decided to launch a new monthly mag: History Revealed (though I still believe it should have been called Epic – a much stronger name). After a couple of years as History Revealed’s Production Editor, I moved onto Homes & Antiques as the Deputy Editor, and then I was promoted to Editor just before Christmas last year.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
Not really, but as a general rule I like to keep it simple. Now that it’s spring I love to wear a sassy tee with a midi skirt, or a loose shirt with skinny jeans – and sneakers, whenever I can get away with it.
What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?
Tea and snacks really help me cling to my sanity through a stressful deadline. We often brag that Homes & Antiques has one of the best snack tables in the office. Right now, I can see a pack of brioche, Percy Pigs, two kinds of chocolate biscuits, a tin of treats from Biscuiteers and (for a pathetic nod in the direction of a healthy alternative) some strawberries. We often joke about getting the gin out, but thankfully things haven’t quite got that bad (yet!).
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
Last week, I found myself holding a silver pitcher worth somewhere in the region of £17,000. That was an unusual Tuesday! I had to wear special gloves when handling it and, once I had it in my clutches, I really didn’t want to put it down! It was an extraordinary piece – it had been hammered by hand and, though it looked totally smooth, you could feel all of the hammering marks through the gloves.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
Maybe that we don’t actually see that many antiques in the office. We see some when we are out and about, and plenty at shoots, but they are rarely knocking around our desks. We don’t drink out of antique cups! Though I wouldn’t say no to having a samovar full of tea…
Walk me through your typical day.
Every day starts at around 9am with a cuppa, while I hack my way through the absurd number of emails that have accumulated overnight (who’s sending press releases out at 2am?). Then, depending on where we are in the schedule, I might move on to preparing copy for layout and editing picture selections, or working on future issues, brainstorming and planning features for down the line.
We plan our photoshoots very far in advance, so that requires a lot of consideration, and the houses we feature are like an ever-evolving puzzle. Barely a day goes by when the Houses Editor and I aren’t consulting on them. Equally, I’ve always got part of my mind thinking about the cover, or a future cover, and cover lines usually evolve over the course of an issue.
I definitely lose at least half an hour to Instagram every day – it’s a valuable tool for our market, as it contains so many feature leads, but it also contains many adorable dogs. And cats, for that matter…
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I’d sleep anyway. Sleep is wonderful.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
Genuinely, it’s a picture of the inside of the mag. I took a few pics of some particularly beautiful features for Instagram.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Neighbours. I do love that god-awful telly. It’s pure trash, and an excellent way to completely switch off your brain for 20 minutes.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Hugh Jackman’s. I’d get him to sing to me whenever I needed cheering up. He has the most beautiful singing voice (and face). I first saw him perform on stage when I was about 12 – I think before he made it big in LA – and I’ve been mildly besotted ever since.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve been pretty lucky on the advice front. There have been some excellent role models in my career thus far. I did once have an Editor tell me that I shouldn’t pitch ideas above my station, after which it took me a long time to regain my confidence to pitch anything at all. Now I’m an Editor myself, I respectfully disagree with that advice. Having recently gone through a redesign, I have seen first-hand that the best ideas can come from any member of the team, no matter what their level of experience.
What/where is your happy place?
A sunny, comfy window seat with a good book and a cup of tea. If it could be sunny and rainy at the same time, that would be ideal. And could the cup of tea magically replenish itself? And biscuits – obviously there would need to be biscuits. (And Hugh Jackman singing to me from the corner.)
What would people be surprised to know about you?
As anyone who has had a conversation lasting more than five minutes with me will know, I have a filthy potty mouth. On a previous team, the Staff Writer and the Art Editor would save up bad news and then place bets on what my swear word of choice would be when I eventually found out.
What would be in your Room 101?
Coriander. I swear that stuff isn’t actually edible. I have been trying for years to make myself like it, or even tolerate it, but I just can’t.
Introvert or extrovert?
An introvert, trying desperately to seem like an extrovert.
Optimist or pessimist?
A pessimist, trying desperately to be an optimist.
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
TV – I love to binge-watch great telly shows. I hardly watch live telly at all anymore. I’m currently working my way through Legion, interspersed with Russell Howard & Mum: USA Road Trip when it all gets a bit much.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
I suppose I’m slightly more of a night owl…
Tea or coffee?
TEA! Yorkshire English Breakfast, milk, one sugar, to be specific.
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Cool, but only when used sparingly. My most used two are the sleep ones!