You are multi-talented writer with 3+ books to your name, are we accurate in describing your occupation as author?
Author is certainly one of the hats I wear. My passions include studying human behaviour, social tribes, international affairs, philosophy, and espionage. I write, I draw; I’ve worked in fashion and in public policy think tanks. I’ve even made a series of felt dolls! But I suppose my favourite mode of expression is the written word in whatever form it ends up taking. When people ask me what I do, I tend to answer ‘writer’. Anything else gets too complicated.
As a former model, how did you end up here?
My modelling years gave me a life of travel and adventure (not always the kind I was hoping for!) They taught me so much about human nature, and allowed me to enter all sorts of different worlds that might otherwise have been closed to me. That’s something that is part of my DNA: the constant questing and seeking new experiences. It is the petrol that fuels me. For as long as I can remember I have kept journals along the way, and it was almost a natural progression to begin to look back and start to shape all the experiences I had had into some kind of narrative. The first book that I had published was an ‘embellished memoir’ about my modelling days. I then went to Oxford and subsequently did a Masters in Strategic Studies and Defence that fed my passion for history and international affairs. My time in that world then led to publishing two thrillers – starring a fashion-savvy female heroine, of course.
Did your studies prepare you for your career?
Not directly. When I went to my Oxford interviews one tutor,upon my telling her I had written two books, said “You do realize that if you read English you may never write again?’ She certainly had a point as it took me a few years after graduating to be able to write another book. I was intimidated and almost weighed down by the extraordinary writers and thinkers that had come before me. I over-analysed everything. (I still do).
My Masters degree (in Strategic Studies and Defence) did fill me with ideas and information about everything from the history of warfare to piracy, terrorism, and pandemics. A lot of the things I learned have found made their way into my books. Ultimately, though, I am a complete magpie. I look everywhere for inspiration and interest – anything that catches my eye for whatever reason gets fed into the ‘machine’ often without a clear idea of what will become of it. The most important thing for me is to stay interested and open and curious. If you do that the right material and experiences will find you. Then it’s only a matter of what you do with them.
Tell us about your ‘Angie Dolls’?
The Angie Dolls are a group of satirical felt dolls I made a few years back. They began life as little cartoons I drew on old brown paper shopping bags, parodying a very materialistic and rather self-obsessed set of values that I could see projected on reality tv, and often in the day-to-day life around me. It sometimes seemed so absurd that I just felt I had to do something with it. The dolls (about 30 cm high) are demonic little creatures that go to the extremes of everything: plastic surgery, bad behaviour, drug taking, drinking, self-obsession – you name it, they’ve done much worse. I used to photograph little scenarios with the dolls or take them out to parties and let them loose. It was an expression of what I saw around me; in a way it was also a social experiment. The Angie Dolls truly took on a life of their own which I find fascinating. They have now clawed their way to Hollywood where they have just signed a deal with a major studio. Needless to say, they have become insufferable since.
Are the ‘Dolls’ based on people you know?
Not specifically, although I won’t deny that people I know have inspired the creation of them. They are a mix of people I know or have met, like all of my fictional characters. Almost everyone who meets the Dolls recognises a friend or acquaintance — or even themselves – in one of them. This makes it a very playful project and fun to work on.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
It’s hard to say. Publishing my first book was a highlight, as was signing a deal with a Hollywood studio for the Angie Dolls; speaking at Parliament House on security threats in the Pacific was an uncomfortable but memorable moment. If I had to pick one, I’d say publishing my first article in a Swiss newspaper, aged 12, on environmental degradation. It was the first time I’d seen my words in print.
How important is creativity in society?
It’s vital in every endeavour, way beyond just the arts. I see creativity as freedom of thought in all its manifestations. Every important choice we make for ourselves, our business, our art, our children. . . should be considered afresh. Automatic thought is the enemy of innovation. Without creativity of thought you are doomed to live a second-hand life. You will only ever follow where others have been before. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” That is one of my guiding principles.
Do you think we sufficiently foster and promote creativity in this country?
The notion of ‘creativity’ gets a lot of airtime; I don’t think we sufficiently foster excellence. Being exceptionally good at what you do should be celebrated – whatever that thing is. It is not something that should make people insecure or jealous or afraid; it should inspire everyone to greater heights. Championing mediocrity helps no one but the people who are threatened by the talent of others. If you can be the best at something, you shouldn’t have to leave the country to prove it. That said, humility and modesty are extremely underrated as virtues. I suppose I would seek to support excellence by not tearing down those who are gifted with special talents; but I would also campaign to cherish humility as a noble quality rather than as some sort of shortcoming in the marketing skills department.
Do you have any advice for people pursuing a creative path in life?
Be brave. Don’t listen to people who tell you “you can’t”, or that it won’t sell, or that it doesn’t work as a brand, or any other such nonsense. If what you do is driven by passion and compulsion, then you are on the right track. Nothing extraordinary has ever been created by being tentative and by pulling back on your original vision. Boldness will be rewarded if you are strong enough to handle the self-doubt. It’s hard though. There are days when everything seems futile. That is a normal day. You are not alone. Perhaps that is the most important thing to share: you are not alone; find people who feel as you do and talk about it. You will likely find that you are all on the same rollercoaster. There is some comfort in that.
Does social media play a significant role in your professional pursuits?
No. But I like Instagram. The filters make me feel like I can take the photos I have always wanted to but haven’t had the skills for.
What does fashion mean to you?
A chance to play at being all the other versions of me — my favourite thing really. And I love the glamour and the fantasy of beautiful editorials. I can lose myself in those ‘What If?’ worlds forever. I always include fashion details in my books because I think that what you wear is an entire conversation that you are wordlessly having with the world. This is something very real to me. I remember deliberately choosing to wear a skirt printed all over with red hearts the night I knew my heart was going to be broken. Fashion is the most wonderful form of self-expression if you can liberate yourself from the tyranny of other people’s expectations.
How would you describe your personal style?
Being an extremely hands-on mum I have to have a few different looks. One is my everyday ‘All Hand On Deck’ look which is quite utilitarian, pared-back, and workman-like: a pair of overalls with leather sandals and a plain canvas bag. Evenings out bring on my ‘rock ‘n’ roll granny’ vibe, with my grandmother’s Chanel jackets from the 80’s, worn with tight, charcoal Acne jeans, or leather pants, and long silk shirts. When I’m relaxing in the wilderness of the far South Coast, I then switch into faded shorts and Norwegian fishermen’s jumpers – all hand-knitted. The constant in all my looks is the ropes of pearls I wear around my neck. They used to belong to my grandmother and great-grandmother and I never take them off. I also prefer flats to heels of any kind as I like to feel as if I could run if I had to.
How have you balanced your career with motherhood?
Being a writer means I can (and do) work from anywhere: home, bed, a hotel, my car. . . It also means that the line between my work hours and my other duties is non-existent. I have to be quite disciplined and make sure that when I do have time to write, I dedicate myself to working and not to all the other millions of things I need to do. Writing is wonderfully flexible and free, but this also means my work time can too easily get eaten up by everyone else’s needs. It’s a constant battle to get the time I need but I don’t think any mother ever feels she has the perfect balance between her career and her children. .
If you had to start all over again, would you do anything differently?
Almost every day I dream up a new career for myself: explorer and travel writer; documentary film maker; political analyst; scuba instructor; cartoonist; my curiosity sometimes exhausts me. I often wish I had discovered, say, a passion for ornithology, at an early age and pursued it, forsaking all else. However, I have come to realize I am not built that way. I am a nomad at heart and constantly on a quest. I think being a writer means I can write about all the things that fascinate me without having to actually turn them into my career. I can live a hundred lives in my lifetime, which does make me very greedy. I do wish I could collaborate with people more; writing can be very lonely.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years from now and what will you be doing?
That’s a terrifying question for so many reasons. I honestly don’t really know. I hope very much to be writing more than ever, but I hope for my projects to have expanded from books and television, to include documentaries, films, advisory roles, and a great slice of philanthropic work too. I see my children by my side – hopefully even helping and collaborating, if they are interested. I see myself travelling more than ever and regaining a slice of the freedom I used to have.
You can find Miranda on Instagram @mirandadarling13
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