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.
This week, we have the lovely Tana Collins on the blog to talk about how her past employment – and job interviews – have given her food for thought when it comes to writing crime novels. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Tana.
I’ve often heard the expression that victims of crime need to be given a voice. I guess that’s one of the things I aim to do when I write my Inspector Jim Carruthers series. And I know many crime writers feel the same way. Too often the victims are forgotten. We aim to keep them alive.
Before I became a Massage Therapist in Edinburgh I had a stint working as an intern for the United Nations Association in Central London. For those who don’t know who they are the United Nations Association or UNA is a non governmental organisation aiming to throw a spotlight on what the UN actually does. Although the post was unpaid it gave me valuable work experience in to a very difficult area after I finished my MPhil in Philosophy. Not the easiest course to get a job in, especially in the UK. For six months I worked full time on the Human Rights and Refugees desk. And it was a real eye opener.
Some of the highlights included attending meetings at the Houses of Parliament and carrying the United Nations Association flag (boy was it heavy!) to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. Mostly it was answering letters from members of the public on the UN’s involvement in former Yugoslavia whose devastating civil war was raging. I won’t ever forget the heart rending letters we received from school children pleading with us for the United Nations to stop the war and I remember how frustrated we all felt in that office that the killing was continuing.
Whilst war was raging in the Balkans, back in Central London the IRA were still very active. On more than one occasion our building was put in lock-down whilst a controlled explosion was carried out just up the road. There had been a small bomb that had actually exploded in the street the year before! We knew to keep away from the windows and go down to the basement.
It was around this time I had a series of interviews to join the RAF. Crikey, things were a bit desperate on the job front for me. I had to find a career so I decided to sign up for 16 years! I didn’t get in to the RAF but that’s another story.
During my final interview before my three day assessment at Cranwell, the phone rang and after a short but terse talk the man interviewing me abruptly terminated the interview! It turns out there was an unmarked white van with a couple of well known IRA suspects sitting just across the road casing the joint.
We needed to leave the room with the big glass windows immediately. I never did find out what happened to the suspects in the vehicle but thankfully we didn’t come under attack. That experience though didn’t do much for my nerves in subsequent jobs interviews, I can tell you.
People ask me where I get my stories from. Little do they know…
My books have been called thrillers. Certainly my debut novel, Robbing the Dead, is a thriller and it definitely draws on the experiences I had and emotions I felt back in Central London. That book in particular looks to try to understand why people are driven to become terrorists. However, it also looks at questions about free speech and whether we still have a right to free speech, if by exercising it, we put ourselves and strangers in danger. It’s a fascinating debate.
They always say that nothing you do in life is ever wasted and I’m a firm believer in this. I’m utterly thrilled that not only did my short stint at the UNA come in useful in my writing but so did my MPhil in Philosophy. Although I still have the day job as a Massage Therapist, which I love, I feel very blessed to be a writer.