When she started putting decorative stickers on her goggles in high school chemistry class, perhaps Colleen Tully should have known that a science career wasn’t for her. “I was starved for creativity,” she says. In fact, she actually won some awards for her writing in high school. “But I spent a lot of time riding horses and wanted to be a vet, so I felt I had to focus on science and math.”
Tully grew up in nearby Elora and enrolled in U of G’s agriculture program, but she soon switched her major to English. “My heart just wasn’t in science and biology,” she says. “I found myself poring over novels and realized that I just wasn’t going to make it to vet school. I am so happy that I made that change.”
So are readers of the Canadian Living website, where Tully is currently the online food editor. “It’s a big job, but it’s such a great job and so perfect for me. It has an analytical side; I do a monthly food trends report and really enjoy doing the statistical stuff. I know, I’m such a nerd!” she jokes. Balancing the analysis, though, is the creative side, and Tully is able to not only write articles and newsletters but plan and direct videos.
“We recently re-launched our food blog, and I am having a riot putting my own personality and stories on the site,” she adds. “I made my first pie and wrote about “How to Become a Pie Samurai.” I carved an angler fish out of a watermelon – now that was fun!”
But it’s not all carving melons, nor is it as easy as pie. “Every single day is an exercise in time management. I have to balance the material from our print partners, our e-newsletters, blogs and the web-only projects. It gets hairy staying on top of the enormous pile of work. And it changes all the time; you also have to work to stay on top of what Google’s doing next.”
Tully’s route to her current job took her through a detour to South Korea about six months after she graduated from U of G. “I was farm-sitting and working nights at the Royal Bank,” she recalls, “but I wanted to travel, so I decided to become an English teacher abroad.” She was hired to work in South Korea for a year. While there she designed a creative writing course for the school and took on a part-time job as a freelance editor for the Korea Herald newspaper.
It was that newspaper experience that helped her get into the post-graduate journalism program at Centennial College. “After I returned from South Korea, I taught special needs children and ESL in Canada while I tried to decide on my next step,” she says. Should she go into creative writing or journalism? Knowing that it would be easier to make a living as a journalist – and with that Korean newspaper experience already under her belt – Tully applied to Centennial and was accepted.
During the final semester of the program, students do an unpaid internship, and Tully says she was lucky enough to land at Canadian Living. “My science background turned out to be a benefit because I was brought into the health department on the print side,” she says. “I could write about neurosurgery and had the knowledge to understand what the doctor was talking about.”
After her stint on the print magazine, Tully was offered an internship on the digital side. “It was a steep learning curve,” she admits. “I tell the interns we have now to go to bed early because you’ll be exhausted by the end of the work day.” The content management system used for the website is complex, she explains, and learning to write for search engines as well as human readers can be challenging. After her internship, she freelanced for a period of time, and then did some work on the website for home and garden magazines – sister publications to Canadian Living within Transcontinental Publishing.
Shortly after that, the food editor position came up. “I’ve always been interested in food. I grew up in Elora and remember riding my bike to get corn from a local farmer and putting a dollar in a cup and riding back with the corn. That’s local food,” she says.
Her interest in local food and cooking continues today, and she loves having the opportunity to help others. “What I can do online is fill out the details they just couldn’t fit into the magazine. They might have a complicated recipe; we can put up 15 slides that show all the steps to making it.”
Tully’s husband also works for Transcontinental and they live in a Toronto condo. “We get to have lunch together every day.”
She adds: “My writing career is enhanced by the breadth of courses I was able to take at the University of Guelph. I especially loved the small seminar courses where you read and chat and debate.”