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Five gripping reads to give your working life a boost

What better inspo for giving your career a shake-up than the story of a creative genius who defied her generation and became a living legend. We've found the best books that embrace the Clarice Cliff spirit...

Phoebe Dynevor as Clarice Cliff

CV flat-lined? Career in need of some oomph? Take inspiration from the new Sky Original film on Sky Cinema, The Colour Room. It’s about the stellar career of ceramicist Clarice Cliff, who busted stereotypes and succeeded as a pioneering artist against the odds. Want a little of that Clarice Cliff sparkle? We’ve whittled down five brilliant new work/life books to help you find it.

We’ve boiled down the essence of how Cliff was so successful and the modern-day career books that define her path. If you want a slice of her brilliance, read on!


Basically, the message is: cut out shame, self-loathing, imposter syndrome and doubt and take decisive, bold steps. Cliff’s ‘power moves’ include switching factories early in her career and not being held back by self doubt – frankly, caring less and taking the leap.

Read all about how to do it… in Lauren McGoodwin’s Power Moves: How Women Can Pivot, Reboot, and Build a Career of Purpose, which draws on the experiences and challenges faced by the high-powered audience of McGoodwin’s networking and careers advice website, Career Contessa.

McGoodwin did everything right – the right school, grades, university and work experience, but things didn’t go according to plan. She explains why, sometimes, careful planning isn’t the answer and sometimes throwing aside convention is: “Power Moves – those unexpected, not-always-conventionally advisable actions or behaviours that make it possible to find fulfilling work you love, on your own terms.”


Cliff never let her gender – or class – get in the way of her success and rose from the ranks of ‘factory girl’ at 13 to become art director of Newport Pottery, at a time when there was no such thing as ‘career women’. She shattered a gazillion glass ceilings and was never daunted by stereotypes.

Read all about how to do it… in Marlene Wagman Geller’s Women who Launch: The Women Who Shattered Glass Ceilings. Geller’s book charts the journeys of women activists, artists and entrepreneurs who launched some of the world’s best known brands and organisations – Estee Lauder, Arianna Huffington, Helena Rubinstein…

“A conundrum faced by women is that if they stay boxed in by the dictates of the paradigm – passive, sweet, agreeable – they may not be viewed as mover-shaker material. But if they decide to break free from this mould – decisive, aggressive, assertive – are often perceived as ‘bossy'”

Geller’s stories take the reader through how to escape this pigeon holing and carve their own path.


Cliff and her ‘Bizarre’ girls dressed fashionably beneath their artists’ smocks and Cliff put her own stamp on her outfits by making many of her own clothes. She didn’t tow the line, either sartorially, creatively or in her career path.

Read all about how to do it… in Helena Morrissey’s book, published this month, Style and Substance: A guide for women who want to win at work. It was only a matter of time before Morrissey; financier, mother to nine, and founder of the 30% Club (a campaign to get more women on the boards of FTSE100 companies), wrote a book. And this is Morrissey’s modus operandi in print: “Too often, talented, capable women are overlooked because they’re simply not perceived as such”.

Like Cliff, Morrissey advocates being yourself rather than trying to mimic men. In sartorial terms this means embracing bright shades and feminine shapes but only wearing what suits you and what works. “I became a leader by acting and dressing like one,” says Morrissey.

As well as a table on the best tights (M&S scores highly!), and chapters on make-up, Morrissey charts the personal style of a diverse group of successful women. If it all feels like a backward step (remember those headlines about Theresa May’s leopard print kitten heels…), Morrissey reminds us that first impressions count and that clothes inform a gal’s confidence as much as her attitude.


Cliff had both the creative ability (to both design patterns and model pottery), which distinguished her from the competition in the Staffordshire Potteries at this time, but she also had the sense to stick to what she loved, and have fun with it. Cliff once said: “Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist, and people who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by innocent tomfoolery.”

Read all about how to do it… in Your Creative Career: Turn Your Passion into a Fulfilling and Financially Rewarding Lifestyle by Anna Sabino et al. She advocates taking your chosen passion and adding a smattering of business nous and clever tactics to turn it into success.

The book details how the creatively gifted can actually go about selling their work and “transition from artistic solitude to creative entrepreneurship”.

The mantra? “Purpose, profit, fame, money, fun, and time… Once you give yourself permission to measure your life according to what’s important to you, you will start designing your life on your own terms.”


Cliff never rested on her laurels. She continuously learnt new crafts, moving from a gilder to freehand painting, to modelling, and throughout her work at the pottery, she studied at various art schools, often in the evenings. She employed almost 100 women (her ‘Bizarre girls’) and though she had the instincts of a ball-breaker, she was a caring manager, giving other women a leg-up in her wake. She was a pioneer, but didn’t leave others behind.

Read all about how to do it… in, When to Jump: When the Job You Hate Isn’t The Life You Want, by Mike Lewis, who seeks advice from others who “jumped” out of established careers and started afresh. There’s the marketer who became an inventor, the publicist who became a bishop, and his own jump to professional squash player… All of the case studies he investigates involve embracing pioneer spirit to break new ground and leave behind the safety of a regular wage.

In her foreword to the book, Sheryl Sandberg says: “Like this book, Mike is smart, friendly, and ready to help people make a jump of their own. He explains the simple framework that many successful jumpers have followed and offers insights not just from his own experience but from people of many ages and backgrounds with dreams of all kinds.”

Got you thinking? Here’s three more career reads to help channel your inner Clarice Cliff…

The Ladder Down by Dolly Jones

You Coach You: How to Overcome Challenges and Take Control of Your Career by Helen Tupper

The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World by Dorie Clark

Find more ideas here

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