Ex-criminal barrister explores her creative side
Aruna Khanzada practised as a criminal barrister for twelve years before leaving law in 1996 to raise her children. Two years ago she began to dabble in digital photography and took on some commissions. She is now building up a business based around publishing books for her customers through the online self-publishing website “Blurb”. She has published her own recipe book and is now giving cooking lessons too. We spoke to her about her various enterprises, which she runs under the umbrella of “Open and Shut Ltd” while her children are at school.
mtl: Hi Aruna, please can you start by telling us about your legal career.
Aruna: I grew up in Singapore and moved to London to study law in 1979, mainly because it was the done thing in my family to join one of the professions. Left to my own devices, I would probably have followed my artistic leanings in some way and gone to art school. I was called to the Bar in 1982, did a Pupilage at 2 Paper Buildings and became a tenant there in 1985. Initially I did both family work and crime, but did not enjoy the emotional stress of the former so concentrated on criminal work from then on, dabbling in licensing, immigration, children and matrimonial work.
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a barrister, I felt very strongly that I wanted to bring up my own children. My mother worked full time as a doctor in Singapore and I remember wishing that we had more time with her as children. Fortunately my husband supported me in this, both emotionally and financially. After my son was born in 1996, my view was confirmed, particularly as I observed my friends and former colleagues trying to mix work with running a home and family life. I admired them but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it and I didn’t want my children to lose out. I also knew that if it was a choice between a sick child and a court appearance, my loyalty would be to my children and I didn’t want to have to test that.
mtl: So how did your career change come about?
Law, University of London
Called to the Bar
Tenant at 2 Paper Buildings
Left law to have children
Started taking photographs and set up Open and Shut Ltd
Aruna: I considered going back to law when my children were in school, but with the legal aid cuts that had occurred, I decided that it was no longer worth it - crime really didn't pay anymore! I saw no point in working to pay chambers rent and a childminder for a job that I was far better qualified to do! Instead I turned to my creative side and in 2007 I was given a digital SLR camera and a Mac by my family. The combination of these two gadgets has transformed my life as I was able to mess around creatively without it costing anything more than the price of the equipment.
I began to take a lot of photographs, firstly as a hobby and then I started doing portrait photography for other people, before experimenting with turning the results into books. This has now been extended to publishing other people’s photographs and work (e.g. poetry, recipes and art-work and holiday snaps) and I have created over 50 books for customers in the last year alone.
I use a website called “Blurb” which is a self-publishing company based in the US that produces high quality coffee table books and allows you to sell them online. Having been one of the first in the UK to discover Blurb very early on and seeing its immense potential, I was offered a chance to be a guinea pig as the first UK based book-maker to go on Blurb's business directory called BlurbNation. They call me an "evanlegist" and have adopted me as an unofficial ambassador. I give talks on behalf of Blurb on how to use their site to create and/or promote a business and I am considering setting up local workshops to show people how easy it is to create their own books.
One of my customers, for whom I created a recipe book, appeared on UKTV Food's Market Kitchen with it and is now filming a cookery show on Sky with footballers and their wives on the strength of it! I have self-published my own cook-book called “Curry Base.” This has led to a side-line activity of running cooking classes based around the concept of easy cooking. Although I love eating, I hate cooking, so I teach people how to make and freeze a curry base that can be used quickly and easily in many different meals – no more need for takeaways!
mtl: Do you miss your legal career?
Aruna: Although I loved it whilst I was doing it, I have moved on and I don’t miss law in terms of the work, the politics or the rat-race in general. However, I do miss being in Chambers, the people and being in Court. I do the odd bit of research and help local people with informal advice and this gives me enough of a hit.
No doubt I would still be doing law if I hadn’t had a family and I have been very lucky that my husband has been supportive of me staying at home, which has allowed me to indulge in my passions and create a business out of them. I won’t go back to law in the future – I really enjoy what I do now and would like to build on it in the future.
I started out on my business venture hoping to pay the children's school fees if nothing else. I am almost there! I am not making huge amounts of money but I know that if I continue pushing myself to keep at it (not a difficult task as I am so enjoying it!) and do not give up at the inevitable hurdles that I come up against I will be able to make a valuable financial contribution to our family income. It will just take a bit more time.
My one piece of advice to anyone thinking of leaving the law to bring up a family: whatever you do as a parent, you can't win! That is because there is no best way, there is only your way and it is important to follow your gut instincts. I suspect my children will go on to tell their future partners that they will not compromise and will keep their jobs even if they have families because they have looked back on life and wished they hadn't had their mother at home! I can live with that because I know in my heart that the reason I have two level headed, confident and secure children is that I stayed home to bring them up. I will keep my fingers crossed that that foundation will continue to remain strong as they go out into their own futures. In the meantime I am glad I have created my own life around them but not for them so that as they spread their wings, I still have Open and Shut to keep me busy and sane! For anyone interested, I discovered the poem "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran many years ago and the chapters on Children and Marriage have always stayed with me. Read it! It makes complete sense.
mtl: Thank you Aruna and good luck with Open and Shut.
You can see Aruna’s website here.
To see other examples of Aruna’s work, click here.
To read about how to publish your own book on-line, click here.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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