Category Archives: Don’t Quit the Day Job

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Cathie Devitt

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.

My guest today is Cathie Devitt who will be telling us all about how her working life inspired her writing. Cathie’s final novel in the Bernice O’Hanlon trilogy, ‘Don’t Break the Circle’ is due out later this year. Thanks to Cathie for being part of this series.

Vic x

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My working life began at the tender age of 15, I lied and said I was 16 to get the weekend job). 

The children’s clothes shop I went to work in was owned by the female half of a wealthy Italian family for whom the men’s business was ice cream. Yup. Ice cream.

The clothes were all imported from Italy, designer label and very expensive. Parents all want their little angels to look their best, even if it meant paying for the outfits on credit. That, and the regular visits from celebrities and football stars, kept the business going. There were loads of interesting characters to draw on from that experience.

My full-time work varied from working in National (yawn) Savings (yawn) Bank to working in a bakery putting the jam into doughnuts. Mis-shapes were a perk of the job as was overfilling said doughnuts and slurping hot jam as it dribbled down my hand. The characters I have worked with in catering have given me great one-liners and insight.

Life chuntered on and I worked as a waitress, cleaner, in a supermarket, as a civil servant and for youth charities. I was a housing officer for years working in one of the poorest areas of Scotland. Most of the housing was flats within closes, so 8-12 flats in one building. Have you ever seen a tank housing Iguanas fill an entire living space? The fact that the tenant fed them live crickets didn’t go down well with his neighbours who found the critters in their cornflakes and were wakened by a morning chorus of crickets rubbing their legs together. 

I have travelled extensively on high class airlines courtesy of my sister’s staff travel perks and have seen “trolley dollies” in action. Believe me, their lipstick is a badge of honour. Strong characters, strong stomachs. Watching the crew and the travellers was a gift for a writer.

Some people say they long to write full time as a career. For me, with the retirement age going up, I am likely to expire before I retire, but I feel that writers benefit from interaction with other people and what better way than working with the general public?

I currently work in local government and see first-hand the issues faced by people, the way politicians handle situations and the press coverage that can make or break policies. 

I have never blatantly characterised a real person in my writing, but my current trilogy, the life of Bernice O’Hanlon, is loosely based on my friend who is a High Priestess, Wiccan witch. The plot is based on some true events, some are total fiction. That is the power of the pen. I wouldn’t want to expose someone or hurt anyone’s feelings so my characters are all patchwork.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: James A Tucker

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, James A Tucker – writer of ‘Space Expectations‘ and member of Elementary Writers – is with us today to talk about his rich and varied career and how they have enabled him to imagine worlds far, far away. 

Vic x

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Some authors seem to collect weird jobs.

Well, I haven’t been an unarmed combat intructor or anything.  I volunteered in a homeless shelter but they sensibly never put me on night shift, so I didn’t see much of the trouble.  I delivered telephone directories around the lanes of Somerset, where the houses were numbered in the order they were built.  I think that has helped writing about isolated and odd almost inaccessible places, but it wasn’t much of a money maker.  To buy a bass amp I spent a while getting up at two thirty am to work in a sandwich factory, doing things like putting four slices of tomato on every bread slice passing by on a conveyor belt, standing inside a giant refridgerator.  I sneezed over one sandwich, but it was gone before I could do anything about it.  I don’t learn, because I still eat ready-made sandwiches.

Had a holiday job at an oceanographic lab.  The most writerly things about that were the isolated setting, the abandoned civil service estate in the forest with its empty houses, the sailor’s tales of worse things happening at sea.  But it also gave me a glimpse into the lost world of employment inhabited by my father: where bosses could be bumbling, relaxed and kindly.

The rest of my employment hasn’t been much like that at all.  But I should probably mention the training.  I am a strange person who was always good at science, physics especially.  So I did a physics degree.  Then, being the contrary person with depression that I am, I decided not to do it for a living.

I like to think that my sci-fi scenarios and hardware are distinctly above par.  On the other, realism and plausibility are not necessarily what people look for in their genre fiction!  It might be a lot better not to spot laughably bad science and plot holes.  But I’m a pedant who reckons that without a working world to stand on, you can’t have a serious story.

Then I worked for ten years as an Occupational Therapist.  The first benefit for a writer was figuring out how to explain what an OT is and what we do; and to realise that the answer depends on the context and the audience.

In a kind of shock therapy, I was plunged into a world of intense human drama, life, death, suffering, resilience, hope and despair.  In the first draft I started writing and couldn’t stop until it was way too long for a column.  So what are the most important things to say?  That if many of the things I saw or experienced were written in anything but a black farce, people would say they were too extreme or unbelievable.  Fiction differs from life in that it has to make sense, and villains have to show depth and complexity.  There might be a redeeming reason why a nurse is covering up patient neglect by smearing other people, but in reality, you’re unlikely to ever find out.
One interesting thing was that I went from a 90% male profession to one that was 90% female.  There I experienced both positive and negative discrimination for being a minority.  Gives you perspective… the sexes really aren’t that much different.

In the end, I burned out from stress and management bullying, and am now unemployed.  Is there a fresh career as an author awaiting?  Let’s find out…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Chris Ord

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.

My friend and client, Chris Ord, has led an interesting life and he’s here to talk about how every job he ever had led him to writing his debut novel ‘Becoming‘. 

Vic x

Chris Ord

I have worked in education most of my career. It has been a major influence on my life and my writing. The most important thing it has given my writing is discipline and structure. These skills are often underestimated. Yes, there are lots of factors involved, but I think these are the most important ones, along with self-belief.

I began my career as an English language teacher, living and working abroad, then taught at Warwick University before moving into education research and policy. I chose education because it represented freedom and that was something I craved as teenager. There weren’t many opportunities for young working class kids in the North East in the eighties. The pits were closing and industry was dying. The service economy hadn’t really found its way up north. Education was my way of taking some control of my life and escaping. After university I decided I wanted to give something back, help influence and inspire others. Education had changed my life, and I believed it had the power to do the same for others.

My move into education policy was my attempt to change the world, or at least a small part of it. I soon realised how misguided and naive I was. Things weren’t as I imagined or would have liked them to be. Education policy was all about putting young people into boxes, training them for the needs of UK PLC. It wasn’t about finding the talent or creativity of young people, but sifting and sorting, spoon feeding them Maths and English.

I believe every child is special. Everyone has a talent and something to offer. It’s the job of education to find that talent, nurture it and help it grow. Every young person needs to find their own sense of freedom and the best way to contribute to their community and society. Education is too narrow and it’s letting our young people down. This was one of the big themes I had in my mind when I gave up my career in education in 2015 and decided to write Becoming. I wanted to write a book about how I felt in my late teens, what my frustrations were, and how difficult it was to make the transition into the adult world. That’s what the book is about. It’s also about young people trying to find who they are, how the adult world treats them, how it fails them.

My eldest son gave me a wonderful piece of advice which I tried to follow – ‘I want to read books written about young people, but not for them.’ I tried to write from that perspective rather than trying to guess what might interest a young person. I wanted to write something exciting that I would enjoy reading, and hopefully others would too. I think if you try to second guess an audience you’re likely to fail. Everyone is so different and you only really know what you like. Just write from your heart and I think your passion and sincerity will come through.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jane Risdon

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 longtime online friend, Jane Risdon is here to share her interesting experiences with us. Thanks Jane, I’ve really enjoyed having you on the blog again.  

Vic x

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We don’t know what we know, until we sit and think
By Jane Risdon

Write what you know. That’s what we writers are advised. But, you have to wonder where that leaves crime writers – commit a murder, a robbery, a sting and then you know what you are writing about perhaps? Who is going to admit to having a day job involving murder? Yet our lives and experiences do influence our writing, it has to.

How has my ‘day job’ influenced my writing?

I no longer have a ‘day job’ unless you count writing, but I have had two careers both of which greatly influenced my writing. Firstly I worked for government departments and that gave me some insight into the workings of the world of foreign embassies and how our government operates overseas. It spiked my interest in all things espionage in that I worked for a department whose staff were employed in embassies and were not always what they appeared to be, given their job titles. Great fodder for a fertile imagination.

A great deal of my writing, about crime and organised crime, has been influenced by my time working in that environment. It sparked an interest which I continue to feed by reading all I can about the murky world of the secret security services, organised crime and all it entails. Many of my crime stories have elements of covert operations and possible Mafia connections running through them, including my series – Ms Birdsong Investigates. Although I can’t be specific about anything I knew from back then, I can play with the facts and indulge in a great deal of poetic licence.

My second and longest career has been in the international music business, working mainly in Hollywood, Europe and in S. E. Asia. There is nothing like power and money to bring out the worst in people – as we are discovering now with all the sex scandals detailed in the press. Many of my stories have musical elements and are also mixed with organised crime or espionage as I mentioned. I suggest some research and reading if anyone is interested in how the music business and movie business might possibly have anything to do with organised crime. Mixing with the ‘movers and shakers’ in this business has been an amazing experience and, I must admit, it all came as a bit of a shock to me when first working at that level in Hollywood. Nothing in your face of course, all hinted at; I was directed to ‘gen-up’ on who I was working with and was recommended some well-known books to read. All filed away for future reference and as background for my growing interest in being a crime writer. Which I now delve into when necessary.

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Yet, crime is not all I’ve found myself writing. My latest co-authored novel with Christina Jones, Only One Woman, is anything but crime. It is a love triangle set in the late 1960’s UK music scene, and my experiences married to a musician and being involved in music all my life, has been a fabulous resource for writing this book. My day jobs back then have given me access to experiences and memories so vivid it has been like writing about something that happened yesterday at times. Total recall provides me with so much to be thankful for as a writer.

Writing what you know. It’s great advice. Sometimes we don’t know what we know, until we sit down and think.

You can find Jane on Facebook, GoodreadsTwitter and her blog. ‘Only One Woman‘ also has its own Facebook page and blog. There is also a playlist to listen to while you listen to ‘Only One Woman‘.  

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Matt Potter

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 I’m chuffed to bits to have Matt Potter on the blog to talk about how his work experience gave him plenty of material for his writing. My thanks to Matt for sharing his time and his stories with us today.

Vic x

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Sometimes, it takes someone else reflecting back to you, about your writing – a blurb or review of your work – for you to realise what you write about.

It took me years to pinpoint just what it is I write about. As for genre, I would think domestic or intimate comedy (whatever that really is, I kind of just made that up).

But what I really write about, the constant theme, is compromise. What are the deals we do with ourselves to get through life. What are we willing to put up with to get what we want? When does not enough become really not enough? When do we decide to walk away, and when do we decide to return or start anew?

Many of the day jobs I have held have been in community services, because I am a qualified social worker. Disclaimer: I have never been a very good one, certainly not in the traditional mould.

Many of these jobs involved advocacy – supporting others by being their mouthpiece, or assisting them to do so; or planning (future health or care issues); or training and information provision (hundreds of public sessions); or in communication roles: web content, newsletters (when newsletters were really a thing), media releases, leaflet and brochure text, poster and flyer design.

Many of these jobs also involved talking to people about their lives – really talking with them and listening – and of all the things I did in my social work career, chatting to people about their lives has always been the best, most fun, most interesting thing for me.

Setting the scene or environment so people can talk about themselves – despite me also being a great talker – has always been really easy for me. Getting to know people intimately, and quickly, so they unburden themselves, give me what they need to, sometimes when they don’t really want to or initially feel uncomfortable doing so. It’s about being open and receptive and the other person recognising this instantly.

I also taught English as a Second Language for a number of years, and ultimately, found that more rewarding than social work, but that’s another story.

Have I ever directly written about the stories people told about their lives? Only once – a man in his late 20s told me he had finally dealt with his father issues, which meant he wasn’t gay anymore! – and another story has played around in my head for 11 years or more … again about personal deal-making.

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A reviewer of my new novella On the Bitch wrote that I have “the ability to put the reader into whatever scene is playing out at the moment” and I think that is true. So it’s about instantly being there, in the situation, and not somewhere else. YOU ARE THERE! And that’s what listening to the hundreds of people who spoke about their lives and their troubles and their issues and their plans taught me. BE IN THE MOMENT. You can read it, see it and experience that on the page through my writing.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda Huber

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.

Our next writer to be influenced by her day job is Linda Huber. My thanks to Linda for so willingly sharing her experiences with us. It’s so interesting to hear how everyone’s professional lives have prepared them for a life of writing. 

Vic x

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I’ve had two significant day jobs in my life, and both have hugely influenced my writing. As a starry-eyed youngster in Glasgow, I began training to become a physiotherapist, which was the best job ever for many years. I worked in hospitals at first, gaining practical knowledge of wards and intensive care units, as well as departments like X-Ray and Outpatients, and I came across a vast and colourful collection of different healthcare professionals. A few years later, I moved to Switzerland, where I worked in clinics and schools for disabled babies and children. Little did I know back then that I’d become a published writer, and put large chunks of my work experience into firstly my psychological suspense novels, and now my feel-good novellas.

Medical ‘stuff’ so often comes up in crime fiction. A murder? Enter the police doctor. A mysterious illness? Call the GP. An attack? The characters find themselves in hospital. In two of my novels – Ward Zero and Death Wish – medical staff and conditions are directly involved in the plot, and I was able to put my hospital know-how to good use.

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After over a decade of physiotherapy, I turned my attention to having babies, and took time out from the day job. It was during these years that I began writing seriously, magazine stories first, and then novels. Unfortunately, a back injury meant that physiotherapy was no longer an option when the time came to return to the working life. An English speaker in lovely Switzerland, I retrained as a language teacher – and realised how little I knew about the grammar of my native language. Speaking a language perfectly doesn’t help when you have to teach people about defining and non-defining relative clauses, or conditional structures. But when you do know all the grammar stuff that makes people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about it, it’s enormously helpful to your writing career. My proofreader complained once I didn’t leave her enough to correct. Mind you, I still make mistakes. There was once a stationary shop that should have been a stationery shop. A typo, of course…

Today, I teach one day a week, and the rest of the time is for writing. With my Lakeside Hotel novellas (written under my pen name Melinda Huber), I can use all my various work experiences. The main character Stacy is a reluctant nurse from England who ends up working in a Swiss spa, helping guests with minor illnesses and injuries, as well as coping with life in a foreign country and learning a new language. She faces the same frustration I once did at her lack of ability to communicate swiftly. In all, my books wouldn’t be what they are if I hadn’t had my day jobs. Even some of the drama I went through in my ‘third’ job – being a mother – comes in useful to Stacy, when head lice appear in the hotel!

Melinda Huber is the feel-good pen name of psychological suspense writer Linda Huber – she’s hiding in plain sight! You can find Linda on Facebook, Twitter (as Linda Huber and Melinda Huber) and on her website. Download ‘A Lake in Switzerland’ here.

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Thomas Pluck

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.

Thomas Pluck has worked on the docks, trained in martial arts in Japan, and even swept the Guggenheim museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He hails from Nutley, New Jersey, home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, but has so far evaded capture. He is the author of ‘Bad Boy Boogie‘, his first Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller, and the upcoming story collection ‘Life During Wartime‘, both from Down & Out Books. Joyce Carol Oates calls him “a lovely kitty man.”

My thanks to the lovely kitty man for joining us to talk about how his jobs have influenced his writing. 

Vic x

 

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A writer is always working, so a day job is just an extension of that. Our currency is character, so surrounding ourselves with people assists in our work, whether it’s at a coffee shop, an office, or a work site at the docks, where I worked for eight years with organized crime figures and extras from The Sopranos. They were a cheeky bunch.  Richie the Stork kicked a door in for us when we lost a key. Mike the Dock Boss gave me three turkeys at Christmas for fixing his iPhone. It was impossible to not write about them, so when I needed heavies to lean on Jay Desmarteaux, I brought them in. Not to slag on The Sopranos, which I love, but the real guys are usually quiet. The knockaround guys who think they are connected tend to have more swagger, because they need it. I knew Little Sammy Corsaro before they killed him, and relatives of Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. They were gentlemen, not pushy, no trouble. At least not to citizens who weren’t in their way. Loudmouths who cause problems and affect the earning of a crew tend to disappear. You get to see the power behind things, too. When New Jersey’s governor McGreevy resigned, he was tied to a union boss who was on the way out. There was more focus on the sex scandal than the upcoming criminal trial of his former supporters, and I think that is the way the political machine wanted it.

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My job is technical, I’m a computer administrator. And it was fun working with longshoremen and stevedores, because a salaryman and a labourer view work differently. I got paid the same no matter how many hours I put in, but they were paid overtime, so they thought they were doing me a favor by asking me to perform tasks they could do themselves, like replace the toner in a printer. I thought they were being lazy, but no, they didn’t want my job to be at risk. So we got along, once we understood each other.

As a writer of crime stories, seeing the operation of a shipping terminal–made famous in season 2 of The Wire –was interesting as well. The realities of shift work, the complexity of union labor and the logistics industry, they were eye-opening, and still inspire stories and characters, such as truck drivers, construction workers, and so on. And you get to see how diverse the workers in those fields are. It’s not all white guys with mustaches. There are a lot of women driving heavy equipment. The shifts are tough, and well-paid. I’m in an office now, but the day job remains an inspiration. I work in fashion retail now, so we get younger people from all over, and it keeps me from writing about the same old boring people–like me!

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