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Abigail Balfe

Author, Illustrator and Creative Director

Abigail Balfe - She/Her

Author, Illustrator and Creative Director


Abigail Balfe is a Brighton-based author/illustrator and creative director. Abigail’s debut middle-grade illustrated children's book A Different Sort of Normal was Puffin/Penguin Random House's lead non-fiction debut of 2021 and was longlisted for Best Book with Facts at the Blue Peter Books Awards 2021 and shortlisted for Children’s Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2022 British Book Awards. When she’s not writing or drawing children's books you will find Abigail building creative marketing campaigns for TV & entertainment clients at Jellyfish Group. For the last 12+ years she has led social media campaigns for some of the biggest names in the world, including One Direction, Little Mix and Netflix. In 2020, Abigail won an Emmy award on behalf of Jellyfish/Netflix for the Big Mouth Guide to Life, as well as Webby Honoree status.

Please tell us a bit about your career

I work in two different jobs/industries, which is the perfect setup for my ADHD brain! And I work both of these remotely - which is perfect for my autistic brain!

Being an author and illustrator of my own books is an absolute dream come true - not only am I able to write and draw for a living (something I've wanted to do since I was a child), but my telling these stories using my lived experience as an autistic ADHDer I am able to help young (and not-so-young!) neurodivergent people around the world directly - while educating anyone who isn't neurodivergent on what it's like to be ND; which in turn help breeds empathy, understanding and the opportunity for societal change.

My role as Creative Director at digital agency Jellyfish is also brilliant because it allows me to constantly be devising new (beyond the box!) marketing ideas for a variety of different TV & entertainment clients. When I first started out in the social media industry around 13 years ago, I was aware my ideas seemed quite "odd" compared with the ideas of the people I worked with, but I've always stuck to my gut reaction to creating in the workplace - even when (unknowingly) masking in other ways. And it's often been that unique way of approaching briefs which has seen high engagement and even helped win my company awards. I have also been fortunate enough to be able to utilise my knowledge and experience gained from being an ND author within my role at Jellyfish - I particularly enjoy approaching briefs through a DE&I lens, alongside helping build our new Disability ERG group, and contributing to projects/policies relating to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

When I was growing up I thought I would have to choose one career path, but I had so many passions I didn't know how I could ever choose something to specialise in - but it turns out we don't always have to choose. If we follow what brings us joy and we are true to ourselves, often our paths will unfold in a way that is aligned with those passions and how we naturally are born to work. And I think for a lot of neurodivergent people like me, that can often mean deviating from that 9-5 workplace idea that we've grown up thinking was compulsory! I feel really grateful to have been able to explore so many different creative avenues and that where I am now is most aligned with my creativity, skills and my needs as a neurodivergent person.


How did you get into your industry?

I actually worked my way into the TV & entertainment industry through my special interest in Channel 4! I'd worked on a storyboard for a Channel 4 project while at my first ever entry level social media role for a social enterprise back in 2010. And after working on that project I made it my mission to work at Channel 4 - I was quite obsessed! I was watching the channel constantly, checked their jobs site daily and applying to everything I thought I had a chance with. I ticked the disability box on my applications which guarantees an interview if you meet the job criteria, as I also have a physical disability of the spine called scoliosis which affects how long I can sit/stand - I didn't actually know I had ADHD and was autistic too back then! I didn't get any of these jobs, but I got to know some of the people who worked at in 4Talent and started volunteering at their events. I also applied for a work experience placement in the 4Creative department - which I was accepted onto.

A few weeks after the placement was over I decided to emailed 4Creative a list of reasons why they should invite me back for an actual job - and to my surprise they replied saying they were planning to email me as someone was leaving their team! So I started working there managing E4's Facebook page, writing funny (and pretty strange) statuses that resulted in me being offered more social media roles in TV & entertainment.

For my book career, I also hyperfocused on the idea that I would one day publish books. I started completing social media hashtag drawing challenges and writing and drawing on the bus on the way to and from work - I even gave myself a challenge of creating 50 cartoon characters with stories in 50 days and posting them online to keep myself accountable. Then one day I saw a video online about an MA in Children's Book Illustration and immediately knew I had to do the course - I had no idea how I would make it happen, but I knew it had to happen. And it did! I went part time in my social media job, completed the course and in my third year received my autism diagnosis. That diagnosis set me off creating writing and drawings about my life as an undiagnosed autistic person - which turned into my final book project A Different Sort of Normal. The book sample I created received a lot of interest from children's publishers at my graduation show, so my agent (who approached me the week of the show!) helped me create a formal proposal, took my book to auction and then we went with the wonderful Puffin Books and a 2-book deal :)


How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?

My autism discovery 4 years ago literally launched my author/illustrator career! I had been studying an MA in Children's Book Illustration part time but I didn't feel I was a 'good enough' artist. But after receiving my diagnosis while on the course after struggling to try to make work I was told I should be making, I stopped chasing the grades and trying to 'fit in' - I started making work FOR me and ABOUT me. And that resulted in multiple publishers getting in touch.
My career at Jellyfish used to be solely social media marketing, but since my autism and ADHD diagnoses I am always seeing ways things could be improved and have changed the shape of my job in order to be able to help higher up the business.
Now I work remotely part time across two careers that allow for variety and for me to use my strengths and control my environment - which is essential for an autistic person with ADHD in my opinion!


Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?

In my experience, being an author/illustrator works especially well for my needs as an ND woman. I can usually work during the hours that suit my energy levels/health fluctuations and when inspiration strikes. I can manage my own career path, write and draw the books I naturally would like to make and I can choose how much marketing/PR etc I take part in. And I actually love those parts of the job too - going to bookshops and doing signings, speaking at events and on radio/podcasts etc. The variety in being an author/illustrator is very ADHD-friendly in my opinion - it involves so much more than writing and illustrating books. My publishing team and agent are wonderfully supportive too - they always put my health first and I feel confident to ask for what I need - whether that's with regards to the physical aspect of an event, with time, or with clarification/information etc. I'm extremely grateful for my relationship with Puffin Books and United Agents!

Working in social media/creative marketing can also be a fantastic career when you're neurodivergent! I especially love working with my fellow neurodivergent colleagues on projects at Jellyfish, as we just "get" how each other's brains work and often come up with amazing and unique ideas together while having a lot of fun doing it! If the company you work for is doing the work to understand, value and include ND people too then it's a fantastic career to be in.


What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?

Listen to your gut - if something doesn't feel right about what you are doing for work/life etc - identify why that is. And then make changes. Small changes when made daily soon become big results.

Being able to control your environment, schedule and the people around you is something I think is really important. It's something that has changed my life tremendously. And that involves setting boundaries, asking for what you need - and believing your needs are important.

But remember too - it's not all about what you "do" or "achieve in life. Really - simply by "being" we are already enough.



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