Meet Simon Barnes – freelance journalist

  • Becoming a freelance journalist takes hard work and dedication.

    Route to Job:

    “I finished school with three A’ levels, then gained a BA in English at Bristol University, but had not decided on a career when I graduated. Theonly skill I seemed to have was writing, so it had to be journalism.

    “I worked as a trainee journalist for a local newspaper for 2 1/2 years, which included a block release course and various exams.

    “During that time, I moved from news to sport. I was not particularly “mad” about sport, but I always had a desire to tell a story, to make people real and vivid. The subject matter – whether it be a car accident, a person keeping an owl as a pet, or a local council row – was a secondary concern.

    Next I moved to another local paper group, still on sport, and then uprooted and went to Hong Kong to work for a newspaper there.

    “Unfortunately, I got the sack, but with hindsight it was one of the best career moves of my life, as it launched my freelance career.

    “I eventually returned to England after four years travelling and writing around Asia and now write sports columns for various high profile publications, as well as non-fiction books and novels.

    Simon¨s day:

    “I work seven days a week, more or less, but of course, since I work from home, I have a different perspective on things. When I am in the middle of a book, I try to turn over 1,000 words a day before I start anything else. On Saturdays I travel to a sporting event. This makes a half-day when I go to Arsenal, or a rather longer day (say 14 hours) when I go to Newcastle.

    “I used to travel a great deal, spending weeks at a time charging around the United States and elsewhere after stories. I loved this for years, but grew weary of it. But big events, like the Olympic Games, mean I am away for three weeks.

    “I also need to travel into London to meet editors and other contacts. That tends to involve a full day and I have to do it, say, once a week. It is all terrifically busy, but I still manage to ride both my horses about five times per week.”


    “People often write to me telling me that they like sport, and they want to become a sports writer. Occasionally, a horsey person does the same thing, but with dreams of a still narrower specialisation. They want to work with horses: perhaps journalism will be an acceptable second best to being Mary King.

    “This is all upside-down. You should go into sports writing, or “horse writing”, because you like writing. That is to say, telling a story. Telling us about people.

    A background in general journalism will make you abetter specialist. You understand better what a story is, and how to tell it. It’s all about stories, you see: how to recognise them and how to tell them.”


    “As a freelance, I have no salary. My current income, touchwood, is very good – enough to be able to keep two horses at livery without qualms, anyway.

    “A freelance journalist just starting out can earn anything from £500 a month, and when you are just starting there will be weeks when your wage may just cover costs. An established journalist can earn between £10,000-£40,000, depending on the publications and capability of writing. But a six-figure salary is not beyond the range of a self-employed sports journalist.”


    “Writing better is perhaps the only legitimate ambition for a writer. In particular, to write more novels.”

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