To travel, to really revel in a moment that will forever entwine itself into the depths of your memory, is to give in to your senses so completely that you engage with an experience with your whole heart. The whistle of a warm breeze caressing your ears. The soothing massage of ancient cobblestones under your feet. The sight of an archaic building so beautiful that it makes your heart swell. Close your eyes and re-engage with these senses at anytime and you’ll be transported back across the world to the very place you first experienced them. For some, such sensorial travel memories are a rare treat; fortunately, there are people like author, journalist and photographer Janelle McCulloch to fuel their imaginations.
A dream unfulfilled, as disappointing as it may be, often simply means that there’s an even wilder dream just waiting to come true. Throughout her childhood, Janelle McCulloch dreamed of becoming an interior designer or architect, regularly letting her boundless creativity loose on her parents’ living room. So when the time came to choose the educational journey she would embark upon to take her through her next stage of life, it was only natural that she settled on architecture. But while her passion was unflappable, her maths skills were less than so, and her foray into the design of the built environment was not to be. While her heart may have been broken, retrospect would soon teach her that particular twist in fate was the beginning of a brilliant career.
Prior to that fateful event, Janelle lived somewhat of a nomadic childhood, moving around country Victoria with her parents who were teachers. Inveterate travellers, her mum and dad instilled a fierce wanderlust in their children from the moment they took their first steps. Roadtrips were the travel method of choice and at age three Janelle was already embarking on an extensive journey around Australia, followed by a similar one across the USA at age eight.
“I grew up in a suitcase in a sense,” Janelle laughs of her upbringing. “We’d been very fortunate because Mum and Dad are such avid travellers and they took us overseas on several trips. But living in the country all of
my childhood, I think I just got to an age where I just wanted to be in the city. As soon as I was 16, I jumped on a plane and went to Denmark as a student with Rotary.”
It was when she returned from Europe, and finished high school that Janelle faced the task of redefining her dreams, having had to make the detour from her planned architecture studies. She decided to move to Sydney, where she landed a job as the assistant to a famous, and somewhat notorious, magazine editor. “She’d just fired two other secretaries and two other ones had been put in hospital for nervous breakdowns,” Janelle recalls. “But I survived it for a year and it was such an extraordinary experience, thrown in with the glamour of Sydney and its media and designers.”
Inspired by the experience, she soon returned to university to study media and communications, which enabled her to return to her childhood dream. “I ended up specialising in design and architecture, so I kind of came around the back door,” Janelle says brightly. “I don’t regret going into media rather than architecture; it ended up being a good thing that I didn’t get into the degree!”
In the decade that followed, her media career took her around the world and she worked as a journalist and magazine editor in both Australia and the UK. She also sojourned to Paris for a time in an attempt to soothe a broken heart – and instead commenced an ardent love affair with the city itself.
When she reached her early thirties, having spent the past 10 years working in media, the dream most present in Janelle’s mind was to pen her first book. Her idea was to create a small coffee table book that profiled hidden beach hideaways around Australia. Armed with an unrelenting passion for her idea, she began pitching her book to publishers, hoping that someone would share her enthusiasm. “No publishers would listen to me – even though I’d had ten years of magazine experience by then,” Janelle admits. “It’s very hard to get your foot in the door as a journalist or author, but you just have to grit your teeth and be tenacious.”
Determined to chase her dream, Janelle persisted, finally finding a publisher who was willing to listen to her pitch. ”She said to me on a Friday morning: ‘I’m going on the first holiday that I’ve had for ten years on Monday; if you can be here today, you’ve got ten minutes with me,’” Janelle recalls. “So I got on a plane that day and flew to see her for ten minutes and pitched my idea.”
Proving that your life path can change in an instant, Janelle’s passion and willingness to seize opportunity triumphed. She walked out with a two-book deal, including her first-ever title, Slow Coasting: Australia’s Most Beautiful Seaside Hideaways.
Combining her passion for design, architecture and travel with her talent for writing – and an endless thirst for inspiration – Janelle has since published 18 books, including 15 architecture, interior design, travel and gardening books, two travel memoirs and a novel. Her latest offering is a soul-stirring insider’s guide to the city she fell head-over-heels for all those years ago. Paris: A guide to the city’s creative heart opens a door to the enchanting yet lesser-known side of the French capital, taking readers on a sumptuous visual journey through each arrondissement and its secrets.
Janelle’s inspiration for the book came from her penchant for trying to inspire others. “The book came about because I’d been to Paris so many times and I’d written two other bestsellers about the city, so people kept asking me about where they should go,” Janelle explains. “It’s really important to share your experiences with people, so I thought it would be great to put it into a book as a kind of illustrated guide to the most creative places in Paris. It’s almost like a visually rich collage of the city.”
Asked what made her fall in love with Paris, Janelle reveals that it was its coquettish ability to never reveal itself completely. “Every time I go to Paris, I think I’ve seen it all and then I always discover something new that becomes my favourite part of the city,” she smiles. “That’s the beauty and hidden treasure of Paris.”
Most of the book’s charming photography is by Janelle’s own hand but, despite her success, she is loath to call herself a photographer. “I consider myself as someone who clicks and hopes the picture turns out!” she laughs. “But you don’t need to be a good photographer; you just need to be passionate about the places that you see, because the photos will take themselves. When you’re travelling and taking photographs, you have to remember what you’re looking at in your mind and your heart. Don’t just view life through a lens – put the camera down and take in where you are and appreciate it.”
Though she still travels up to six months of the year for work, Janelle’s dream now is to convert the old country home (and its three libraries) she owns on the outskirts of Melbourne into a creative retreat, called The Old Library House, for those in search of inspiration. She has also recently launched a blog, A Library of Design, where she shares her daily inspirations and tales from her adventures over the years.
Janelle’s advice for young writers, – or anyone chasing their dream – stems from her own journey in life. “Just take the first step – don’t think of what you have to do,” she says. “It’s really important to live the life that you’ve imagined for yourself. And if it doesn’t happen for you straight away, don’t worry. If you really want to live a certain life, you can.”