Vicki Liley underwent a major life change in 2006. Up until then she had been an in-demand food writer, stylist and photographer, writing about 10 cookbooks over the previous five years, and working non-stop for a range of clients. “There was a point at one time when every food magazine in the newsagent had something I had either styled and/or photographed,” she says. However, losing the use of her left arm, which required cervical spine surgery, had major ramifications for her career. She was unable to work as a stylist or photographer, due to the continual heavy lifting that those roles require. “It took me many years and a lot of soul searching to get strong enough to re-enter the styling/photography industry again, taking small styling jobs first, then eventually opening [prop hire business] China Squirrel,” Vicki says. She had to update her photography skills too as she had learnt on film and she had to cross over to digital format. However, the upside was that she opened the prop hire business China Squirrel, which makes use of her 30-year habit of sourcing props from across the globe. Vicki adds to her collection on a weekly basis with finds from the USA and Europe. Now she is working on a book for Penguin Books Australia, which will bring together all of her skills and talents once again.

Which five words best describe you? Creative, collector, maker, dreamer, dog lover.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I started with the love of cooking training as a home economist. Thirty-four years on, I now combine my love of cooking with my creative talents and extensive experience in recipe writing, crafting, sourcing props, styling and photography to be able to do what I love every day.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Be yourself and be original with your ideas.

What’s your proudest career achievement? I am presently writing, styling and photographing a book “China Squirrel book” to be published by the Penguin Group (Australia). I am so very proud to be able to create a book that will reflect my unique style.

What’s been your best decision? Having the strength and tenacity to pick up a camera again and start shooting again after a debilitating injury and long break. I have now have the best of both worlds, I do what I love every day, 
I create, make, paint, hand dye and source unique props for my prop hire company, China Squirrel. And I am a regular a contributor with cooking and craft ideas, styling and photography in USA-based Sweet Paul magazine and Australian Country Style magazine, and I’m creating my beautiful book!

Who inspires you? Creative people who are passionate about the job.

What are you passionate about? Hand-dyed fabrics, watercolour paint, texture, handmade ceramics, making beautiful things for my photo shoots and China Squirrel, good food and my dear little dog.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? My grandmother who I never met.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I’d like to one day be able to document my quirky and eclectic style of recipes and my unique skills in creating crafts in a lifestyle television show and then maybe run small workshops.

What are you reading? At the moment I only have time to read and edit my own writings for the China Squirrel book that I’m working on.

images courtesy of china squirrel; photography + styling vicki liley 

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