You can believe what you want about this: I was sitting in the pub with friends and this guy approached me and said ‘Show me your hand.’ I didn’t even know who he was. He just came across and read my palm. He looked at me and said ‘Why are you doing that job?’ A few months later I actually quit…It made complete sense.
A tragic bereavement, an encounter with a fortune teller and turning forty are three events Rachel Cochrane credits with giving her the courage to quit her successful but un-fulfilling pharmaceutical career and take her writing career into her own hands. That was ten years ago. Now she runs Listen Up North a spoken word celebration of writers based in the North East of England. “I want the content to be intelligently written but not elitist. I want it to be accessible to everyone, even people who don’t usually listen to poetry or short stories” she says.
It was very frightening to give up my job because, although I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t know what the future would hold for me. I don’t regret it for one minute.
Following seven years of what Cochrane describes as “writing and getting nowhere” she decided to give herself a platform after discovering what digital media could do for her and the problems with creativity online and in the North East. Firstly, there was nowhere for mature people to access creative online content that was made for them. Secondly, nowhere for local authors to broadcast their talents. Listen Up North kills two birds with one stone and after three years it features the work of over sixty writers and nearly thirty actors. Cochrane has funded the project entirely on her own, only recently being awarded a grant for recording equipment.
“At the moment there’s only one paid for item, a supernatural thriller in six episodes. I’ve just put that onto iTunes and Amazon MP3. It’s 69p an episode and they’re each 15-20 minutes so there’s quite a lot of content for your money,” explains Cochrane. Defending the cost of the content is hardly necessary, as the rest of what Listen Up North has to offer is completely free.
Cochrane created the site out of desire to manifest her work as dramas and to put it out there for an audience. Initially, she thought only about her own writing but found she couldn’t generate quality content quickly enough to satisfy the voracious maw of the internet. She considered at that point that featuring other writers would be a good practical decision. “I really thought that there was a lot of work out there which was of good quality and that people would be interested to hear it,” she adds. The relationship between Cochrane and her writers is a mutually beneficial one. New writers (or established ones) have somewhere to exhibit their talents and she gets content for her website.
The web holds the future for Cochrane. She’s promoting her new film, Celia, on YouTube. Made with virtually no budget and one actress, Celia is another example of good writing being allowed to speak for itself. Starring actress Penny Lamport as the eponymous character, the film was written and directed by Cochrane, with friend and co-producer Shirley Anne Wood editing it for the screen. The music was composed by Rosie Cochrane, Rachel’s daughter.
The beauty of Listen Up North’s audio content, including Celia, is that the writing speaks out to you, and feels more interactive than written content on a web page.
However, while the website is a gallery of diverse content (book extracts, drama, interviews, newsletters, poetry, short stores and newsletters) and writers (62 unique contributors), Cochrane’s own art has suffered. She has discovered that the internet’s savage appetite is for time as well as content and she hasn’t focused on her own writing in months. Her commitment to running a website and exploiting social media to promote it have made her venture a modest success but have been a harsh lesson in the benefits of time management for the creative spirit.
In order to ensure the high quality of the site’s audio content, Cochrane insists on doing all of her own recording. While this means that it must all be done in the local area, she doesn’t feel that this is a limitation, in fact it’s central to the main achievement of the website so far. “I’ve really built an archive of North East writers and writing about the North East.”
An ambassador for the North East, the internet, undiscovered talent, fortune tellers, ex-pharmacists and entrepreneurs, Rachael Cochrane’s dedication to her own creative drive is paying off.