We drove into the Somerset countryside on a frosty and bright Saturday morning to meet with Mona and Aaron, the creative couple behind Monalogue, a popular Instagram account and lifestyle blog that brings to life the beautiful English countryside. Sharing an infectious passion for travel and for each other, Mona and Aaron offered us an authentic insight into their collaborative relationship, conversing about the world of Instagram and how they balance freelancing with personal projects. Mona kindly offered us a scenic ride in Maurice the Morris around the neighbourhood and shared with us her dream of growing her personal brand by offering a style that people will recognise and by building meaningful relationships.
For those who do not know you, who are Mona and Aaron behind Monalogue?
Mona: Aaron and I have been a couple since we were 15 and 16, we’re both from the South West. Monalogue emerged around three years ago as a result of my Instagram obsession. At the time I was studying with the intention to become a psychologist, but the brand soon outgrew that ambition. It became apparent that running a personal brand is really hard to do alone. So Aaron began helping me out.
Aaron: I’m Mona’s boyfriend and travel companion, and a photographer/videographer for Monalogue. I’m also studying Journalism as a mature student, the plan is to work full-time for Monalogue once I graduate.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
Mona: We used to see a lot of my mum’s family when we were children. We had lots of cousins of a similar age. After a long day running around my Grandad’s village with my cousins, my parents would drive my sister and I home, which was an hour or so away. They’d always play Pachelbel’s Canon on the cassette player in the car. My sister and I would sit under a blanket in the back of the car and fall asleep to that tape. In my memory it’s always raining outside, and you can hear the repetitive lul of the windscreen wipers.
Aaron: I was out with my family at Ashton court and I was cycling through the grass. Suddenly the hill in front of me turned into a ledge with a large drop behind it. I flew straight off the ledge and landed in a patch of stinging nettles. From my family's perspective I just suddenly vanished with my head just popping up moments later. My family have told me the story so many times, I can almost see it happening.
How did you two meet?
Mona: Funnily enough we met on social media when I was 15 and Aaron was 16. I added Aaron as a friend because I liked his hair and we had a friend in common. He asked if we knew each other and I replied ‘we do now ;)’. This is totally unlike me as I’m painfully shy. We met up in Bristol every Saturday because we both went to different schools during the week, and for the first year or so (until we could convince our parents to drive us to each other’s houses) this was the basis of our relationship. Here we are almost a decade later!
Tell us a bit about your collaborative relationship. How do you influence each other and what are your strengths as a team of creatives?
Mona: I’m quite a dominant person and usually offer the direction. Aaron is amazing at picking up on subtleties, so he can then refine my ideas, and then bring them to life with the camera. Aaron is also calm and optimistic, whereas I can become quite a nervous wreck when I’m stressed. In many ways I need Aaron’s personality in order to work to my best standard. When we are in any given landscape, we both see different ways of photographing it. We can bounce these ideas off each other, and come up with a perspective that’s fresh to both of us.
Aaron: I’m always amazed at how we can both go to the same place and come back with a completely different set of photos. Together we have a much wider perspective.
What or who inspired you to start Monalogue?
Mona: Starting the brand was a very gradual process that almost fell into place naturally. I named the account ‘Monalogue’ just because I’d talk a lot in my captions, and when you don’t know if anyone is reading them it feels like you’re composing a monologue. After a few years of Instagramming, I was offered my first freelance Instagram job – to repost an old photo and link to a tourism board account. I didn’t even know you could earn money through Instagram then, let alone make a living from it. Over time these jobs built up, and a month after I graduated it was ready to become a full-time career. Earlier this year it became large enough to share with Aaron. Having his input has increased the growth even faster.
Monalogue has become a very popular Instagram account in a short period of time. What are the major factors that contributed to its success?
Mona: I don’t think there are any secrets when it comes to Instagram. In the last year (during which the account has grown at its quickest rate) we’ve worked on refining the style of the account to try and make it consistent and recognisable. I think that’s largely what it’s about: offering a style that people will recognise. Then also making friends and building relationships with others, that has unintentionally made the account grow too.
Tell us the story of Maurice the Morris.
Mona: Maurice is my little maroon Morris Minor. I wanted one for as long as I’d known they existed, but I couldn’t tell you why. I just fell in love. When I was twelve I used to say “I want one of those cars from the 60s”. As soon as I started working I began saving. He arrived in the summer of 2017 from a classic car garage in Yorkshire. It was one of the happiest days of my life. He needs a bit more work until he’s perfect, but he’s perfect to me. Aaron actually prefers beetles, so the car family may expand one day.
What is the philosophy that informs your lifestyle?
Aaron: My favourite quote is by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He basically says there are 24 hours in a day, don’t waste a single one of them.
Mona: Mine is actually the opposite of Aaron’s. I think it’s important to live slowly, choose well and consume less. I suppose we reach a happy medium together. Aaron makes us get up early and head out to take photos, and I make us stay out and savour the locations for longer.
What is the most frequent subject of your conversations?
Aaron: The Instagram algorithm. It’s all she talks about. Algorithm this, algorithm that.
Mona: ... yeah. I was going to say that. And Aaron talks about Bob Dylan a lot. I think he knows I don’t understand. We do spend a lot of time talking about cameras. That’s something we’re both interested in.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Aaron: My old teacher told me to always remember your worth.
Mona: Discovering that there aren’t good or bad personality traits was a big one for me. Particularly being told that introversion isn’t a negative trait, and there are lots of good things about it.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
Aaron: My motivation is quite unpredictable, I haven’t figured out how to inspire myself on command. Sometimes it will be a film, sometimes music or a walk.
Mona: We have a favourite woodland walk in Somerset. Sometimes we just go there and walk and talk. We usually end up with floods of ideas just from walking and some fresh air.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
Aaron: A book on personality types told us we should live in San Francisco, apparently it will inspire our creative muses.
Mona: I actually have no desire to ever leave Somerset. I love everything about it. If anything I’d just like to move further into the countryside.
What does the perfect Sunday morning look like for you?
Aaron: I wake up, the dog doesn’t bite me, and my favourite pub delivers me a cooked breakfast. That’s probably all you have time for in one morning.
Mona: That sounds like a pretty good morning. As long as we get out for a walk in the afternoon.
What can we find in your wardrobe? How would you define your personal style?
Aaron: I wear a lot of denim. Sometimes I look like a Levi’s ad.
Mona: I buy all of my clothes second hand, and try to find nice vintage dresses. It’s hard transitioning away from a summer wardrobe because I love dresses so much. In September you’ll probably find me shivering because I insisted on wearing a dress for as long as I can get away with.
What were some of the most inspiring places that you have ever visited?
Aaron: The Scottish Highlands and Iceland.
Mona: I’ve travelled quite a bit, but nowhere inspires me as much as Castle Combe does. Which is convenient as it’s just down the road!
What is the most important lesson you have learned about yourselves since starting Monalogue?
Aaron: It’s inspired me to just keep working at something until it pays off.
Mona: Definitely to embrace the things that make you weird because they make you who you are. And that you can’t please everyone so don’t try to.
Mona, you seem to be a woman radiating positivity and vitality throughout all aspects of your life. What keeps you driven and what advice would you give to those feeling uninspired, insecure or stuck in a rut?
Mona: This is so lovely, thank you! Something that really enhanced my life experience has been reading about personality theory. When I discovered I was an INFJ a few years ago, it was like my whole life suddenly made sense. I’d always felt like I lived in a bubble that few people could penetrate or understand. I hated going out as a teenager and would rather go on a walk or visit a National Trust garden, which wasn’t especially cool at that age. Personality theory has taught me how to embrace me for who/what I am, and avoid situations that I find difficult or toxic. I think it can bring these benefits to anyone and really enhance your life. Find out what makes you you and learn to love it. Beyond that, step back from what stresses you out and embrace the simple things in life like love, friendship and food!
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in your area?
Aaron: Anywhere that plays live music, and being near Bristol is great for this. My favourites include the Old Duke and the Bootlegger.
Mona: I like quiet and green spaces. The Deer park in Ashton Court is one of my favourites. I love Tyntesfield and Castle Combe village on a weekday when it’s quiet.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
Aaron: I just want to be doing something creative.
Mona: I’m happy if we can carry on as we are now. I do hope that Instagram sticks around.
And now a Max Frisch question: What do you need in order to be happy?
Aaron: I need to be creatively stimulated... and well fed.
Mona: Me too. I need eight hours sleep, creative fulfilment and a goal to endlessly chase. Instagram provides the last two. And of course I need Aaron too. He makes the best jokes. It’s pretty much Maslow’s hierarchy plus WiFi.
Can you recommend us:
A book: Mona: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Be warned – you might cry and not know what to do with yourself when you finish the book.
A song: Aaron: Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan.
A film: Aaron and Mona: Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
A place to eat: Aaron and Mona: Tuk Tuck in Bristol.
A place to sleep: Mona: it’s hard to beat a little stone cottage on a harbour in Cornwall.
A place to visit: Aaron and Mona: Stockhill Woods in Somerset.