Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, Neil Broadfoot is here to talk to us about how his work life has inspired his fiction.
Earlier this year, it was confirmed in ‘The Bookseller‘ that Neil had signed a three-book deal with Constable for a new crime series set in Stirling. The first in the series, ‘No Man’s Land‘ is due out in hardback in July 2018.
I always wanted to be a writer. Since the day my primary school teacher passed me an empty jotter with a scalded-pink cardboard cover (which I’m sure my mum still has) it’s all I ever wanted to do. My mum was convinced I would be a doctor or a lawyer. My teachers in high school advised a career in history or IT. But, no, I knew. Writing. That was where my future lay.
It was that certainty that led me into journalism. I wanted to write, I wanted to work with words until the day came when I could do a Stephen King (my childhood literary hero), get a deal and write full-time. It hasn’t quite worked out like that – I’ve still got a day job and I write mostly at night – but you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Why? Because journalism taught me how to write. And, more importantly, it kicked the ego out of me early on.
Let me explain. I get asked a lot about how I write a book. How do you start? Where do you get your ideas? How do you find time? The truth is there’s no magic formula, no muse waiting to sprinkle fairy dust on you and set you on the way. Writing is a job. OK, for me it’s a job that never feels like work, but it is a job. You have to sit down, and hammer out the words. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, day by day. In newspapers, there’s no time to sit and stare blankly out of the window seeking inspiration. A page lead (the main story on the page) might run to 500 words. And you need to write three of them. To a tight deadline. A splash (front page)? That’s 800-1000 words (more if it spreads over multiple pages in the paper). And you have to write it. The single best thing I got out of being a journalist (other than my wife, but that’s a different story) was the ability to see writing as a job. You have a word count and a deadline and you hit it.
But there’s more. Working in newspapers is also a masterclass in the mechanics of story telling. All stories should address six key points – who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. In my first novel, Falling Fast, I had nothing more than the what and the where when I started. I was walking through Princes Street, saw the Scott Monument and had the idea that someone should fall from there into the crowds below (what can I say, I was having a bad day at work).
That was it. I wrote the opening chapter, sat back and thought “What next?” I didn’t have a clue, so I approached the story like a journalist: asking questions, following leads, filling in the what, when, how and who. I didn’t get to the why until about 65,000 words, and I can still remember writing the sentence that unlocked the whole story. Writing Falling Fast was a voyage of discovery, and I loved every minute. It’s why I write the way I do and hate plotting; if I’m trying to work the story out as I go then it keeps it alive and fresh for me. And hopefully that comes through in the work.
I don’t work in newspapers any more, the cuts imposed by accountants and directors who don’t understand newspapers reduced the job I loved to a simple act of reheating other people’s work and slapping it into a pre-made template on a page. But I still work with words every day in communications. And at night, when it’s just me and the keyboard and the story, I’m still there, reporting back what I’ve found for myself and the readers.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.