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Georgie Abay on life after Vogue, The Grace Tales journey & her new book, Best Laid Plans

Australian-based editor, author and entrepreneur, Georgie Abay on her latest book which explores what happens when life plans don't go according to plan...

08 January 2023
By: Emily Armstrong
The Australian-based editor, author and entrepreneur, Georgie Abay, founded her own media company, The Grace Tales, (a beautiful and real lifestyle platform for mothers) a decade ago when her eldest child was a baby. Prior to this, she was the Deputy Editor at Australian Vogue. Over two decades as a journalist, Georgie has interviewed hundreds of people from all over the world and shared their stories. What she learnt through her own experience and those candid conversations is that how we choose to deal with life’s unexpected twists and turns is what defines us. She explores what happens when plans go awry in her new book, Best Laid Plans and discovers that sometimes there is magic in the alternative plan…

Here we chat with Georgie about her own experiences of life changes and learning resilience: on leaving Vogue, launching The Grace Tales and what's next, parenting over the last decade, moving to the countryside and her new book, Best Laid Plans...   

Can you tell us about your early years growing up in Sydney and your future aspirations?
I grew up in the leafy suburbs of Sydney and have memories of just roaming around the streets with my best friend. There was always something to do and none of it involved looking at an iPad or watching TV. We’d climb onto our neighbour’s roof, or make floral bouquets from the garden or swim in the pool. I had a large cupboard off my bedroom and my parents let me paint it. I suppose I knew two things about myself growing up – I was creative, and I loved animals. I always had a growing collection – dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs. My best friend had a farm in the country and some of my happiest memories are spending the holidays there horse riding or avoiding snakes. 

You studied fashion at the London College of Fashion and in your book, you describe feeling validated for the first time with your writing. Can you tell us more?
I still remember that moment very well actually. I’d never felt seen at school. It was a very academic school and while I had a fantastic art teacher and was able to spend hours in the darkroom processing photos, art wasn’t taken seriously. To be seen, you needed to master subjects like science and maths. I also found English lessons challenging – I write in a very chatty, conversational style. We were supposed to use long, florid sentences and never start a sentence with words such as ‘but’ or ‘and’ (something I do all the time now). There were so many rules on how we should write and no room for exploring our own style. When I decided to enrol in a semester aboard at the London College of Fashion, I had no idea what to expect. When we started the fashion journalism module, I felt right at home. We were asked to write a story, and mine was read out to the class as an example of great fashion writing. I wanted to cry – my work had never been read out to the class at school. Here I was, in the middle of London, and I was being given the validation I needed to push forward with my career. Sometimes, we need to take the long road to get to these moments of validation.

You were the Deputy Editor of Australian Vogue which sounds hugely glamorous - but what led you to this - a lucky break, years of hard work?
It was a very, very glamorous job and one I worked very hard for. I always knew I wanted to work in fashion magazines. Ever since I was a teen, I’d race down to the newsagency and buy all the new copies of my favourite magazines. As a teenager, I started buying international editions of VOGUE, the UK edition being my favourite. I started working at a publishing company as an assistant while I was finishing my media degree. When I finished, I joined the company full-time. It was the same company that published VOGUE. I got a job at VOGUE in the end through sheer determination. I emailed the then-editor of VOGUE for two years expressing my interest in working for the magazine. In that time, I left the company and moved to Dubai for two years where I worked on the launch edition of Harper’s BAZAAR Dubai. I’d continued to email her during my time away. She never wrote back, until one day, she did. I had a job interview – and got the job! Working in magazines was a very rewarding, challenging and glamorous chapter of my career and one I’m very grateful for.

You then spent years working at Vogue being flown around the world for shows, launches, and interviews with celebrities. Were they the halcyon days of magazines?
They really were – I was flown all over the world. To Paris for the Couture shows. To Seoul to see an exhibition of Prada skirts. To Hong Kong to see a Louis Vuitton jewellery exhibition. To New York to interview Tommy Hilfiger. I was in my 20s, had no children, and I was free to go wherever I liked. I look back and can’t believe some of the things I got to do – it was all so extravagant, and unashamedly so. I guess all the travel made up for the salaries being so low. Magazines have changed so much since I left. They’re no longer what they once were, but it has been great watching some brands evolve into powerful digital brands. I still love magazines and feel they have their place.

When did the shift occur for you in terms of what you wanted to do… when did the shine wear off?
I fell pregnant when I was at VOGUE. At first, I believed this little bump that kept getting bigger and bigger wouldn’t change a thing. As my pregnancy progressed, I kept asking people what I should read. Where were all the great magazines and websites? Turns out, there were none. There were plenty of websites which would tell me what fruit my baby was the size of (which by the way, is important and for some reason fascinating information when you’re pregnant). I wanted to read other women’s stories. What was their experience of motherhood – and what did I need to know? I started workshopping the idea for a website for mothers. Something beautifully photographed and written that resembled a magazine. I launched the site when Arabella was around 10 months old. I’d become so fascinated by the world of motherhood, and less interested in fashion. My second arrived 17 months later, and it was a very difficult birth. I experienced a post-partum haemorrhage six weeks after the birth and needed five blood transfusions. It was such a life-changing experience, and I knew I couldn’t go back to magazines. I could do it all – but not all at once. I couldn’t do the big job, and be the kind of mum I wanted to be, so I closed that chapter and left. 

Georgie on board the Blue Goose boat from The Boathouse Group welcoming India Hicks to Sydney with guests on the harbour...

I moved to Dubai for two years where I worked on the launch edition of Harper’s BAZAAR Dubai. I’d continued to email (the Editor of VOGUE) during my time away. She never wrote back, until one day, she did. I had a job interview – and got the job! Working in magazines was a very rewarding, challenging and glamorous chapter of my career and one I’m very grateful for.

    The Grace Tales is known and loved around the world as a platform for mothers who want inspiration, honesty and a little chic in their every day - tell us about how you launched and scaled the business.
    I look back on those early days of launching The Grace Tales with such fondness. I made so many connections in those early days. Each interview and photo shoot felt a little like a therapy session. There was so much sharing that went on – so much openness and honesty. It combined all the things I loved – story-telling, fashion and interiors. It was very small in the beginning – I’d publish one or two stories a week. At first, I was running it at night while I worked at VOGUE. Brands started getting in touch and asking if they could work with me and organically, it turned into a business. Scaling has been very organic. The size of the business has gone up and down. During COVID, everything shut down and I closed my office in Sydney. Now, it feels like we’re through the worst of COVID and in a good place. I’m excited for the year ahead and deepening our story-telling.

    Can you tell us the five interviews on The Grace Tales that are your most memorable?
    So many I love! In terms of stories, I love the tales we shared on: Beata Heuman, India Hicks, Teresa Palmer, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Vanessa Kingori, and of course Willow Crossley. Her interview was so refreshingly honest. The tale of Peta Murchison is very, very special. You’ll need to read it to know why – her story is unforgettable and will never leave you.
    And your 3 favourites on your award-winning podcast?
    I started our podcast when COVID first hit, and it’s now my favourite part of The Grace Tales. Some favourites here (although I love them all!):
    Candice Brathwaite
    India Hicks
    Turia Pitt 

    What happened during COVID? We are so excited The Grace Tales has returned...
    COVID was very challenging. Over four days, every single advertiser pulled out. Suddenly, I had no way of paying my staff or bills. I still remember my brother coming to help me move out of my office. He helped disassemble these cheap IKEA shelves I had and thank god, he’s the funniest person on the planet otherwise I think I would have cried (I did cry a lot, by the way). There have been a lot of changes to my business over the last two years, and I have to say, I’ve missed The Grace Tales so much. It’s always going to be my third baby, and this year I’m excited to put renewed energy behind it. I’ll never run it at the pace I once did – it’s impossible to keep up. I want to continue to focus on quality storytelling.

    In your new book, Best Laid Plans, you unpick the concept of what happens when life doesn’t go according to plan - and through myriad stories share the silver linings of this. And how sometimes our biggest failures become our biggest opportunities. What have you learned most from your own personal experience and that of the people you have interviewed over the years about embracing a change of plan?
    Things rarely go to plan in life – and if they do, you’ll often find you take the long road to get there. I’ve had so many failures throughout my career and life. I failed at pregnancy. I couldn’t ever make it to full-term. The first time I got a book deal, it was cancelled. COVID hit, and the deal was off. A year later, my publisher emailed me again to say it was back on. I’m not a patient person – I like things to happen right now. But they never do. Good things – hard things – take time and determination. You just have to keep going. There are going to be days w things feel impossible. You know those yucky flat days? Or things don’t work out how you imagined? You just need to sit in the feeling as it will pass. In almost every interview I do, I hear the words: “it wasn’t the plan.” There’s comfort in that. You’re never alone.

    You cover the big life topics in this book - from love and loss, friendships and failures and the demands of parenthood and complexities of careers. What was the most challenging experience for you personally of a ‘best laid plan’ that didn’t go to plan for you?
    Probably pregnancy. I never thought I’d birth two premature babies. And I never thought I’d find myself on the bathroom floor bleeding uncontrollably when my daughter was six weeks old. I still remember the feeling of the cold tiled floor, and the ambulance arriving. I remember sitting in hospital trying to pump milk while the blood transfusions were administered. It was almost 9 years ago, but you don’t forget an experience like that. It changes you forever. 

    Georgie recently moved to the Southern Highlands of New South Wales from nearby Sydney and wishes she'd made the move to the countryside earlier. Georgie's daughters Lottie and Arabella. Images above of Georgie's home. Photo credit: Abbie Melle

    You’re a mother of two girls. A decade later, what are your biggest learnings about parenthood?
    I was thinking the other day about how juggling work and kids just never feels easier. In fact, they’re now 8 and 10 years and it almost feels harder. They need so much of me each day – both physically and emotionally. It’s impossible to do everything well. So, I guess knowing it is going to be demanding until they leave home at least sets you up with the right expectations.  Everyone’s capacity is different. If I put too much on my plate I get bad anxiety, so I really need to manage what I load myself up with. Inevitably it will be too much, but I do try to manage it!

    Can you tell us about the launch of your fashion & lifestyle brand, Versify Lifestyle? Was this always part of your plan?
    I always wanted to do a product line as part of The Grace Tales. It has only just started. and I’ve got lots of ideas for where I want to take it and what I want to do with it. It’s a side hustle at the moment, but a dream come true to be able to create wearable, beautiful clothes for our audience.

    At age 40 (just!) how do you feel about the future? Is life easier as you get older do you think?
    I have to say, I loved turning 40. It felt like a new chapter had begun and with a new page being turned, I felt like there were new possibilities. I had no idea what this decade will bring, but I have so many ideas and endless creativity still bubbling away inside me. I hope I can travel more (having not left Australia for three long years) and also work harder on my podcast. Also, I hope this decade will bring another book!

    What are your best tips for managing the demands of running a business with juggling family and friends?
    If you can, get up early. The more you tackle before the day begins, the easier the day will be (this is, of course, if you’ve slept the night before!). Know when you’ve got too much on and cancel anything that’s not essential. You can’t do everything. We recently moved to the country and having lived in the inner city for so many years, life and the demands of work and motherhood, feel so much easier. My girls now get the bus to school from the top of our driveway. There is no traffic on the road. Everything is just so much slower – and easier. I wish we’d made the move earlier.

    Georgie Abay with her new book, Best Laid Plans

    “Good things – hard things – take time and determination. You just have to keep going. There are going to be days where things feel impossible. You know those yucky flat days? Or things don’t work out how you imagined? You just need to sit in the feeling as it will pass. In almost every interview I do, I hear the words: “it wasn’t the plan.” There’s comfort in that. You’re never alone.”

    What are you currently working on? What’s next for Georgie Abay?
    There are LOTS of things happening with The Grace Tales. I’m also excited to immerse myself in the world of Versify this year and grow the brand. I’m hoping to do a trunk show in the UK in June so watch this space.

    We love your style - what are 3 things sitting in your online shopping cart - for fashion, beauty & interiors?
    I’ve always got many, many things sitting in my cart:
    This Versify suit – it is HEAVENLY! 
    A splatter candlestick from Willow Crossley
    A rattan tray from Alba Store (my friend launched this brand a year ago and it’s beautiful)

    Lets Play Favourites - Georgie Abay

    Flower – this is SO hard but I’ll say hydrangea!
    Scent / Fragrance –
    I’ve been wearing Vyrao’s Georgette lately
    Travel destination –
    I can’t actually pick one place. There are so many places I love in the world. France is very special.
    Place in Australia –
    The Southern Highlands of NSW. It’s magic.
    Book (current or all-time fave) –
    Best Laid Plans! I also loved Where The Crawdads Sing. I read it over a year ago and still think about it.
    Podcast – I listen to GOOP a lot. Also The Grace Tales podcast!
    Wellness ritual –
    I just downloaded the Down Dog app and have started doing yoga again. 30 minutes each day.
    Colour –
    Forest green!
    Make-up must-have – Future Skin Gel Foundation by Chantecaille.
    Music – Whitney Houston, always. My mum always had her blasting throughout our house and I’m the same.
    Muse – My girlfriends. I love them all!
    Season – Summer in Australia – it’s the best.
    Restaurant  – Hotel Costes in Paris. I got engaged there so it’ll always be special.
    Era or decade –
    The 90s!
    Guaranteed laugh –
    Following Victoria Emes on Instagram – I think she’s the funniest person on Instagram! 
    Time of day –
    During the week, it’s all pretty chaotic so I’m going to say Sunday morning when there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go!
    Day of the week –
    Quote – "
    Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck” – Dalai Lama.

    Follow Georgie at @thegracetales and @versifylifestyle and visit The Grace Tales at & Versify at Order a copy of Best Laid Plans here