Category Archives: Don’t Quit the Day Job

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Lucy Cameron

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 talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, my friend Lucy Cameron is sharing her thoughts with us. Her experiences may not be what you might expect…

Vic x

When I shouted ‘Pick me, Pick me’ to be included in this blog series I hadn’t really thought it through. I am a crime/horror writer, but my day job in no way connects to what I write, or ever has.

I am not a solicitor or barrister, I have only ever been in a police station to ask if they rent out uniforms to film makers (they don’t) and I have never been in a court house, if that’s even what they are called outside of films. As for ever committing a crime…? Okay, I once had a parking ticket. In short, I have never worked within, or outside of, the law.

What about medicine? Were I ever to see heavy blood flow I have little doubt I would faint, my uncle works in the local funeral parlour, but I’m not sure that counts.

Other avenues into the field of crime writing? I have never been a journalist, or an editor, or even written for a student magazine. I have never taught creative writing, nor have any qualifications in the above.

For a long time I believed you had to have done one of the aforementioned to even consider writing a crime novel. I was wrong.

What did I do to while away the hours before becoming a writer, and by this I mean pay the bills and mortgage, was work as a Convenience Store Manager for a food retailer. For anyone that’s ever worked in a public-facing job, if that doesn’t put you in situations where you want to kill people, or indeed meet people on a daily basis that could easily commit a crime, I don’t know what will.

I loved every minute. Okay I loved half of the minutes I worked in food retail, it was fast, it was busy, it was a minimum of sixty hours a week. The teams I worked with over the years were like family and we shared plenty of laughs and tears, and it’s this people experience I draw on when writing.

Writing I can do now that I have left my glittering career in food retail far behind me. Days were full of little interactions with customers, throwaway comments overheard. Once you have the characters in a story, once you have the idea, you can go and find out about the procedures and any and every job allows you to do this.

Now I am a writer, what do I do to while away the hours that I should be writing, and by this still I mean pay the bills and mortgage? I work as a Business Administrator for a local theatre, this time a job I do love every minute of, and that allows me the time to write. If you want to be a writer, you can be, whatever your background and this sounds like great news to me, and a future full of varied and interesting books.

Write because you love it, not for the money, and don’t worry if your job doesn’t seem to fit with ‘write what you know’, fiction is after all, exactly that.

You can catch up with Lucy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Harrison

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 talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today we have Paul Harrison talking about his time in the criminal justice system and how it’s influenced his writing.  

Vic x

I had a career within the criminal justice that spanned four decades. With over twenty years being spent as a police officer. Needless to say, I’ve seen a lot. Things that no living person deserves to see.  I’ve been told things I wish I’d never heard.  I joined the police to make a difference, to put the bad guys in prison to keep people safe. Little did I know, then, the route my career path would take.

Interviewing the darker side of humanity, and getting inside the heads of incarcerated criminals like serial killers, sounds terribly exciting, because fundamentally, it is. However, when those connections are made, and the killers believe you are their friend, it get’s a bit scary. That’s when they begin to open up, to tell you their innermost secrets. They make demands on your time, and you. They try their best to mess with your head, to intrigue you, to give them some control over your life. It’s fascinating stuff, and not at all for the faint hearted.

After a time, you begin to notice similar traits in the criminal interviewees, they are demanding, full of their own self importance, and most have a need to be liked. When they realise the friendship is nothing but a professional one, they retaliate with threats, violence and abuse. Hopefully, by that point, you’ve extracted all the required information because there’s no going back.

Those kind of experiences, and there’s been plenty of them, taught me how to interview and to read people. To give out very little information about myself, but to maximise what I collected. Every interview is different, so you have to be adaptable to each individual.  Not every killer is like Hannibal Lecter, in fact, there’s only I’ve met, who I’d put in the same intellectual plain. I wont mention his name here, but he’s in an English prison and he’s the master of psychological games.

With all that experience behind me, it’s natural that I should use it in my crime fiction writing. When I wrote: Revenge of the Malakim (Williams & Whiting), I wanted to create a believable serial killer, someone that walked among us, unnoticed. The killer is a psychological mix of a couple of real life murderers, with their own agenda for murder.  It creates for confusion among the detectives investigating the crimes, which again, is realistic.

Most murder investigation are painstakingly laborious, it takes the skill and tenacity of a good team of investigators and solid scientific support, to help snare a killer. Then comes the all important offender interviews. The mind games to catch the killer out, or the overwhelming evidence that proves guilt.

My career in the criminal justice system may be over, however, my crime novel writing one is just beginning, and I’m about to unleash some pretty horrific killers on the reading public.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Rachel Amphlett

Welcome to the first Don’t Quit the Day Job of 2018! It seems like a long time since Paul Gitsham’s post, doesn’t it? 

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 talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Kicking us off for 2018 we have Rachel Amphlett, the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers. Rachel’s novels have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.

You can follow Rachel on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as her website.

Vic x

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, I spent many a year working as a project and contracts administrator supporting engineers in delivering major projects in the gas, infrastructure, and railway industries.

It doesn’t sound as sexy as crime thriller author by a long way, but those years behind the scenes have served me well in my current career as a writer.

For example, I was surrounded by people who had held different roles prior to turning to project management, and often within the armed forces. As an author of espionage fiction for a number of years, it meant that if I kept my ears open while ferreting around making sure sub-contractors were paid on time and monthly reports were delivered to management without a hitch, I could bribe someone with a coffee in return for hearing about their military experiences.

From an ex-Lynx helicopter pilot to a weapons guidance systems engineer who helped me blow up a submarine in Under Fire, I had all sorts of combat and non-combat experience at my fingertips – and I made full use of it.

On top of that, chatting with colleagues in the break-out area, I soon had an offer of being taken pistol shooting so I could find out what it was really like to fire a weapon.

When my writing took off in 2016, I’d already been implementing a lot of project management techniques within my writing business and these enabled me to really focus on what was important.

The best tool in my business is that of a project schedule – I use a simple Excel spreadsheet format for this, which gives me a 12-month look-ahead for the books I want to write and publish (typically a minimum of three), broken down into the steps that need to be taken to publish each book.  These include finishing the first draft, getting the final draft to beta readers, drafting again before handing over to an editor, working with my cover designer, and setting up everything else that is needed to publish a book successfully (and on time).

I can then highlight the really important milestones that I need to hit for those books – this is known as being on the “critical path” in project-speak. That is, if I don’t hit those milestones, there is no book!

Having this project schedule keeps me focused – and, if something changes during the year that means I have to switch a project with another to take advantage of an opportunity, I can. All I have to do is adjust the dates, and off I go again.

Now that I’m a full-time writer, I can use this scheduling tool to make the most of my time – it’s likely going into 2018 that I’ll double my output, but at least using my project background, I’ll be able to keep track of where I am and mitigate any hiccups along the way.

Could I be this productive without a project management background?

I doubt it very much.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Gitsham

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.

Following on from Linda MacDonald’s insight into how teaching A Level Psychology contributed to her debut novel, we have another teacher on the blog to talk about how teaching has inspired him to write a series of crime novels.

My thanks to the lovely – and very busy – Paul Gitsham for taking the time to write about his day job. To find out more about the DCI Warren Jones series,  go to Facebook, Twitter or Paul’s website

Paul’s will be the final blog in the Don’t Quit the Day Job series for 2017 because December, as always, will be taken up with daily guests reviewing their year. Don’t Quit the Day Job will start again in January 2018.

Vic x

“You know, if you bury her body under the new school hall, no one will ever find her, Sir.”

This was not a helpful plot idea from one of my students, rather the response of another pupil to his classmate’s question “are trees alive?”, asked precisely three weeks before the class were due to sit their biology GCSE.

Fortunately, the question appeared to be little more than a random synaptic misfiring – probably caused by stress – and the frantically blushing pupil went on to do very well.

If I tell someone at a literary festival that I am a school teacher (often in response to the question, ‘why don’t you write more quickly?’ or ‘can’t you take the afternoon off to arrive at a more reasonable hour?’), they naturally assume that I teach English. That I am a former biologist and now teach science seems to bemuse many people.

Yet I find that although teaching full time eats into my writing time, it also feeds into what I write. For example, DCI Warren Jones is happily married to Susan, a – you guessed it! – secondary school biology teacher. She even supplies the odd crucial insight – thus allowing me to vicariously fulfil my own fantasies…

The first person we meet in my debut novel, The Last Straw, is Tom Spencer – who just happened to be sitting opposite me, marking coursework, as I dreamt up that book. By contrast, the laid-back, portly, pony-tailed Crime Scene Manager Andy Harrison, who appears in all of my books, is the polar opposite of his namesake, another former colleague. A number of workmates have given me explicit permission to either kill them off or name a serial killer after them. If nothing else, the people I work with or teach are a useful source of interesting names and personality quirks.

It was also through school that I met my forensic science contact. Lee ran workshops for our science and engineering club, but his day job is that of a crime scene investigator for Essex police. An endless source of dark and blackly humorous war stories, he’s given me countless ideas and advice.

Like all writers, I am a trivia magpie and nowhere is a better source of random information than a science classroom. For example, did you know that deer stand still in the glare of headlights because they interpret the lights as eyes, but are confused by the lack of legs? Thanks to eleven year old Francis for that fact – look out for it in book 2, No Smoke Without Fire. I’ve also spent ten years teaching about diabetes and blood glucose regulation – a key plot device in Silent as the Grave. An A Level practical investigation into how blood is identified at a crime scene triggered a lovely little sub-plot in an upcoming novel.

Writing this article has really made me consider the impact that teaching and being a teacher has had upon my writing. And so, for the foreseeable future at least, I have no plans to give up the day job entirely.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

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 on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: David Videcette

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’re talking to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

As a former Scotland Yard detective, David Videcette has worked on a wealth of infamous cases, including the 7/7 London bombings. He is the author of bestselling crime thrillers The Theseus Paradox and The Detriment – based on real events. His motto is: ‘I can’t tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story…’™

When David isn’t writing, he’s commentating for the news media on policing, crime and terrorism. You can find out more about him via his website  or chat to him on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  For the chance to win signed copies of David’s books, pop in your email address here.

Thanks to David for taking the time to explain how fiction compares to life at the coal face.

Vic x

Timing is everything
Having spent a career as a Met detective, I know that the most complex investigations take years to solve. Real life cases involve dead ends, false leads and red herrings along the way, which drain resources and often our will to live. In crime fiction, these real-life tales would never fit into 350 pages, and readers would tire of them. With experts saying crime novels should be tied up in around 90,000 words, this is totally at odds with reality, and my policing brain. But that’s my burden as an author – to make these stories work.

Tempo
Real detective work is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. That 90% is slowly and methodically piecing evidence together – painstakingly linking phone number to phone number, or trawling through witness statement after witness statement for that golden nugget that solves the case. The boredom is not what people want. They want that moment you find the golden nugget and the 10% of sheer terror when someone shoves a gun in your face. And who wants the reality of police officers constantly rowing about childcare with their spouses in their nail-biting thriller? Finding that balance in a novel is important. 

All the loose ends
Then there are the nice tie ups that readers expect at the end of a book.  That bit where the crime gets solved; the relationship puzzle and sub plots tie up; the sun sets over a glass of wine; and everyone lives happily ever after.

In real life, sometimes we don’t solve the case, sometimes innocent people die, and sometimes we never get the girl…or we work in windowless offices where we don’t see the sun for days on end.

The troubled detective is inescapable
Many people expect police officers to be some sort of cross between Superman and Batman in our day job, then go home and have dinner with our partner and forget all about our investigation till the next shift. Yet there is always a build-up of trauma which will eventually impinge upon your mental health. We teach ourselves to put protective barriers around our emotions, but there are often chinks in our armour.

For example, a lot of police officers find that dealing with adult deaths can become just about bearable, but when suddenly faced with the death, rape or torture of a child, their defences aren’t able to cope and they unravel. If you’re used to dealing with stabbings, but then come across scores of people blown up by a bomb, this can completely wreck the impenetrable armour you thought you had in place.

The troubled detective who drinks too much is no cliche. He or she is very real, made of flesh and blood, and often wishes that he were just a fantasy trope invented solely for the purposes of making crime fiction books more interesting.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: J.A. Baker

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, J.A. Baker talks about how working full-time as a teaching assistant has inspired her work. 

You can find Judith on Facebook and Twitter. Given how busy she is, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Judith for finding the time to share her experiences with us. 

Vic x

I am the first to admit I find holding down a full time job and writing, a difficult juggling act. Time is always against me and I struggle to fit everything in – writing, making sure I don’t neglect my family and friends and, of course, housework. That said, I don’t think I could give up the day job. Writing is a solitary business and I enjoy the routine of getting up every day and going out there and meeting people.  The contact I have with people helps feed my imagination, keeping my mind ticking over. Without it, I fear my writing would become dry and stilted resulting in 2D characters and poor dialogue.

I am a Teaching Assistant in a primary school so my days are usually pretty full on with no time for taking notes should an idea pop into my head. I write psychological thriller/domestic noir novels which are absolutely nothing to do with my day job … or so many would think. My qualifications are in education and psychology and I channel an awful lot of that into my stories, using my experience and knowledge of how people think to create most of my characters.

A lot of the staff at work have bought and read my books and are constantly asking when the next one is due out. The most bizarre experience was finding out from a group of pupils that their parents had bought and read my debut novel. Another weird encounter was finding out that one of the classes had used my author page to learn about writers and what sort of people dedicate their time to producing books. I happened to be passing through the room and spotted my profile picture up on the interactive whiteboard. That was a fairly surreal moment. Every now and again, a small child will run up to me in the playground or in the classroom shouting at me that I’m famous. I think I often help challenge their idea of what constitutes famous!

Are any of my books ever set in a school? My most recent novel, The Other Mother (due out later this year), centres around a school setting and my second book, Her Dark Retreat, had a character that was a deputy head, so the answer is yes. The old adage ‘write what you know’ comes into play. Why have all that information to hand and not use it?

Of course the big bonus of working in a school is the holidays. That’s when I do the bulk of my writing. Without them I’m pretty sure none of my books would be out there. I have author friends who also hold down other full time jobs that don’t have such generous holidays and I take my hat off to them. I have no idea how they do it, writing two to three books a years with only four weeks holiday. So as much as I like to moan about how difficult it all is, juggling the workload involved with writing and being a TA, I actually have very little to complain about. I love my job and I love writing and the buzz that accompanies finishing the first edit of my next book. All authors dream of being the next Stephen King or Paula Hawkins but the truth is, I enjoy the challenge of working two jobs. However, I hear you asking, would I quit the day job if I wrote a bestseller and sold millions of copies? Well, all I can say to that is, I’m a positive person and I enjoy being busy, but I’m not an idiot.