The book “From Moscow to London. Notes on happiness and business” by a new Russian-British author Alisa Zotimova launched in Moscow in December last year. A non-fiction hardcover was published in Russia by Alpina Pro (part of the prominent Alpina Publisher family) and came out simultaneously in e-book and audiobook.
London, England, 2021. The protagonist (also the author as it’s an autobiography) is 41, owns her own real estate business, has a young son Leo, and a loving husband Artem. Alisa is happy. But what is happiness? To adapt and succeed in a foreign country and culture; to win in a heavily men-dominated industry; to be financially independent, but not to scare away a worthy suitor and friends… Is there anything else left to strive for? And why is she not in her homeland Russia? In the course of the book the author discovers and crystallises the answers along with her readers.
There are plenty of inspiring and motivating books on business and personal success on the market, but Alisa Zotimova’s “From Moscow to London” offers a much-needed reality check. This is a story about how to use all the opportunities, and if there are none, create them yourself. On the one hand, the book presents a unique combination of support, wisdom and practical ideas shared by a successful Russian-British woman and businessperson. On the other hand, it’s a conversation with a more experienced friend, an example of support and sisterhood that can help the reader make a change in her life, give her confidence and strength.
In this exclusive interview for RA+C, Alisa Zotimova spoke about her story, a writer’s inspiration, and motivation for creating the book.
First of all, please, Alisa, tell us a few words about yourself.
My name is Alisa Zotimova, I am an entrepreneur, writer, mentor and public speaker. Originally from a Moscow suburb called Krasnogorsk, I graduated from high school in Texas, studied economics in Moscow, worked in the restaurant business and then – for more than a decade – in senior positions of international real estate companies JLL and Cushman & Wakefield. I moved to London in 2007, worked in a big corporation some more and in 2012 founded my own property consultancy firm AZ Real Estate. We help private clients looking to buy, rent or invest in UK residential and commercial property. Now it’s an established company with a total transaction volume of over £170 million.
I am also a happy mother of a two-year-old boy and a stepmother of a teenage girl. And recently I wrote a book and got it published! I think we’ll focus on that today.
How did the idea of this book come about?
I did not come to write this book through formal literary education or journalistic experience. I am a real estate expert. But I’ve loved literature since I was a child. I love to read, mostly fiction but non-fiction as well. I am also a writing person, I’ve been keeping a personal diary since my mid-teens. When I was considering writing a book, I always thought that it would be a fiction book. I understood that I would never write as exquisitely and captivatingly as my favourite authors, and was at peace with that. To each their own, as they say.
But at the end of 2020, I accidentally stumbled upon a webinar and then a course on how to become a writer and to get your book published. It completely changed my perspective: I realised that, indeed, I had something to share, and came up with the idea of a nonfiction autobiography that I eventually wrote.
I consciously did not take the topic of my real estate expertise for the book. I absolutely did not want to write a dry textbook on the real estate business or a manual on closing deals. If even the idea of it bothered me, there would not have been any inspiration and I would have never finished it. So I chose what was initially “brewing” in my head and begging to come out.
Not a property textbook, so what came out after all?
I decided to share my life experience, the journey of an immigrant and a 21st century woman and the hard-earned lessons that came with those. I wrote the book mainly for women who may need the support the book offers, the assurance that this has already happened with someone before and that “you are not alone!”. To show them that it is all right to fall and to fail, and that, in fact, everybody does it. I think that the key to success in life is to keep on moving forward no matter what.
So the book is part my autobiography and part motivator/self-help book for women. In the subtitle I deliberately say “notes’, not life hacks or lessons or another format that would pretend to be the only and failsafe solution for everyone out there. I share what I have and hope it sticks and resonates and works for the reader.
And now that the book is published, I started receiving reviews and feedback from readers in Russia and abroad telling me how motivated and encouraged they feel after reading it. They believe in themselves more and can “move mountains” and that, in return, gives me tremendous satisfaction.
Any particular reason as to why now (apart from that fateful webinar)?
In some ways my book became a silver lining in the cloud of the pandemic. My business had several quiet months during the lockdown, I didn’t need to go to the office, the number of meetings and networking events decreased. It gave me time to temporarily slow down and a chance to do something else.
Writing a book is not about coaxing a Muse out of hiding and meeting her from time to time. It’s about self-discipline and the ability to work, every day. Otherwise, the book will never be finished. At least it was that way for me. My goal was to write 5000 characters (with spaces) a day roughly five days a week. It’s doable, not too little, not too much. Most of the time I didn’t need to push or additionally motivate myself. Once the idea and the concept crystallised, I was consumed by it, it was moving me forward. With every new page written, it was becoming clearer how the book will look in the end.
What are the highlights of the book?
My book is about a little bit of everything – both personal and business, so I hope there is something for everyone in it. This book is about how to adapt, how not to be afraid to move to a foreign country where there are no relatives or friends, how to leave a stable job towards the unknown. I share both my successes and failures. There is a lot about London, since I have been here for a long time and I love it and it’s my home. I share my secret places, some of them are away from the tourist trails that open up other faces of this amazing city.
There are also very detailed and specific chapters on starting my own business – from considering a departure from the comfort and stability of a corporate job to finding one’s niche and naming the business.
I hope my story will encourage others who, like me, look at the world with eyes wide open, not to be afraid, to go ahead and experiment.
Who do you think this book would appeal to?
From the very first pages of the book, I talk to female readers. I wrote it for women and about women but I welcome all the men to read it so we can understand each other even better. I hope that the honesty of my story and real experience of life and doing business will be of interest to a wide range of readers. The book is for anyone with a passport and a will to see the world; for everyone who strives to develop and grow or to just have an interesting life.
You say, it’s a book about happiness and business, can you please tell us more about this?
It really is a mix of the two! And I try to show that those two big parts of life are not mutually exclusive as is often presumed for women these days. Someone may see in it a book about women’s happiness, someone – a textbook on starting a business, someone – a guide to London, and someone – a guide to emigration. This is a motivational book about a career in real estate, women’s entrepreneurship, achieving goals, work-life balance. It’s about gratitude to parents and the value of learning foreign languages, about how to become a mother at 39 as well as love, travel and true stories of interesting people. To me, these are all ingredients of a happy life and as I draw lots of satisfaction from my work – business is part of it, too.
There are several chapters about my business and career: how I started in real estate, my first steps both as an employee and as a businesswoman. My company AZ Real Estate is a huge part of my life, marking its 10-year anniversary this year. In my book, I offer life hacks about how to prepare to start your own venture and what questions to ask yourself to understand whether you need to do it or not.
You say the book is aimed at women – is it written by a feminist?
Yes, you can say that! There is still a big gap to be closed in talking and writing about advancing women before we can feel like a balance of genders is reached. I am definitely for women. But as friends and allies with men. In my book, I also advocate for sisterhood. I believe that women should support each other any way they can. And I live what I preach. In my company, 95% of employees are women, of which six are mothers, who have a total of 14 children between them. Three of the team work full-time in the office, the rest work remotely and on a hybrid schedule. For me, my company is not just a business. It is a reflection of my values. So it is a conscious choice – to implement the ideas of women’s mutual help and support, which I promote in the book.
What drives you forward?
My family, a chance at personal fulfilment, a sense of having fun – all propel me through life. And a desire to make this world at least a little bit better. The book is an attempt at that. I close it off with my favourite quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on Success, look it up!
Is the book only available in Russian?
My big plan for 2022 is to get it translated and published in English as it could then have a much wider reach. And I think my themes of immigration, women striving and succeeding and reaching one’s personal potential are universal. So, any publishers out there, please form an orderly queue!