Tag Archives: authors

Don’t Quit the day Job: Jonny Keen

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’s guest is Jonny Keen, an NHS worker who has published two books so far: ‘The Rider in the Waves‘, a collection of fantasy short stories, and ‘Lightfoot‘ which is a fantasy novel. Jonny’s writing is often described as light fantasy or comic fantasy, but the piece he submitted for WriteNow was literary fiction.

Jonny also writes non-fiction articles for a range of publications including Teach Early Years and the Manchester Evening News. He’s also the editor of Llandudno FC’s matchday programme. 

My thanks to Jonny for being involved.

Vic x

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A friend told me recently that I’m getting to be a bit like Homer Simpson; I seem to have a completely different job every week. I’ve been a computer game researcher, a call centre drone, a test subject for an experimental drug, a nursery nurse, a personal assistant, a medical typist and a few other things too. All this before the age of 25!

It certainly makes for a range of experience that can serve to inspire creative writing. Last year, I sent part of a novel to Penguin Random House for a competition called WriteNow. This is an initiative that aims to help writers from minority backgrounds get their work published, and since I have a disability (dyspraxia) I was eligible to apply. The piece I sent in focused on a character trying to navigate the daily trials and tedium of working in an office. It came from personal experience and I couldn’t have made it authentic without having had that personal experience to base it on. I was selected as one of the 150 entrants invited in for a day of writing seminars, workshops and a face to face consultation with one of Penguin’s publishing assistants, so it’s nice to know my working life got me somewhere in the literary world.

But I think there’s more to be said for working than just inspiration. Working in so many different industries has certainly helped my creativity along. The two emotional states I tend to switch between whilst at work are those of boredom and stress. Oddly enough, I find both states highly conducive to creativity. Those emotions cause me to seek mental escape and I often think up interesting story ideas whilst at work. Occasionally, a job even had good opportunities to note down ideas. When I was a nursery nurse, I used to draft short stories whilst supervising a room full of sleeping toddlers. That job was especially good for inspiration. My first book, The Rider in the Waves, was largely inspired by the slightly surreal things children of two and three would say to me on a daily basis, and the strange games they would make up.

I remember starting my first part time job as a teenager and absolutely hating it. It was in a call centre and I couldn’t stand the environment. I consoled myself with the thought that in a few short years I was bound to be a published author and then I would be free. It didn’t take long before I learned that things were a little more difficult that and even some very successful authors still hold down day jobs to pay the bills. This became a bit of a struggle for me. As I grew up, I had to get to grips with the idea that I was going to have to work a regular job for the foreseeable future. But whilst I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t love to write full time, perhaps remaining in work is a good thing. It helps me to stay motivated, keeps the creative juices flowing and gives me plenty of real world experience to base my writing on. Finding the time to write with a full time job and other commitments can be tough, but sometimes the difficult things in life can help to shape us into better, stronger people and I think that’s certainly the case with my writing.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Miranda Kate

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.

Recently, I gave a call out on social media for people who wanted to share how their day job(s) have influenced their writing. Miranda Kate was one of the people to respond. Here she is to tell us about how work and writing have fed one another. My thanks to Miranda for being part of this feature. And remember: it’s open to everyone. If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email

Vic x

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I didn’t really think that writing would be something I would take seriously. I started out life wanting to be a film director, I even studied drama at college, but I did write snippets of stories (which would now be called flash fiction) – and one day a friend said they wanted more – a whole novel more, so I thought, how do I make this more?

By this time, after leaving my first job of working back stage in a West End theatre, I had moved into clerical work and it was at my first permanent job working in the office of a shoe factory, processing sales orders that I started to debate how I could turn one particular piece into a bigger story. And then one day the Office Manager, who sat opposite me, laughed at something someone had said. It came out as an effeminate cackle, and with his aged, balding, liver spotted head thrown back the antagonist for my novel was born!

I started that novel in 1991 and it has gone through many incarnations and rewrites, but it is now finally about to be released as a novella in my new science-fiction collection: Slipping Through.

I have gone on to write other novels, some only beginnings and others in half completed stages, but one that made it to completion and I hope to release early next year, began in that same job. I wrote the opening, which is now the prologue, for a competition to win a copy of James Herbert’s book Portent (yes, that many years ago), and it still exists pretty much intact, just tightened up and made to flow better. I still remember one of the company directors proofreading it for me. They seemed to have no issue with the fact that I had written it during working hours.

In fact some of my best writing has been done while at work. Moving up from clerical work to Secretary and eventually a Personal Assistant, I always filled the quiet times with my own writing disguised as actual work. I always made sure my work was done on time and efficiently, but I also made sure not to ask for more so I could keep writing.

And now as a stay at home mum for the last twelve years, it is probably why I do most of my writing during the day and not in the evenings. But even though I had no issue with the noise of an office around me when I was working, I struggle to write with children round me. And I need silence to write in, no music, nothing.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicky Black

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.

I read ‘The Prodigal‘ in 2016 and have since got to know Nicky Black quite well. I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle a few times as well as spending time with her at Bloody Scotland and Newcastle Noir. I’m really thrilled to have Nicky on the blog to discuss how her work life has influenced her writing. 

Thanks, Nicky, for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

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Since self-publishing The Prodigal in 2015, I’ve met a lot of authors, some of whom write full time, some who don’t and many who dream of it. Now I like my own company, not because I’m the wittiest, most interesting person I know, but because I’m comfortable being on my own, but there’s only so much time I can spend in front of my laptop, in my living room, staring at the ugly plastic vent on my chimney breast wall. My day job serves many purposes – office banter (love it), a sense of achievement, and it pays the bills and it keeps me and my kitties fed.

I’ve had a 30 year career, mostly working either in, or in support of, “poor communities,” – firstly with Save the Children, then in urban regeneration and in the latter five years in welfare to work (I’m not going there…). I’ve seen the best and the worst of these communities, whether Cowgate in Newcastle or Hackney in London. The problems are the same: high crime, poor health, low educational achievement (there’s an actual list), and above all, a labelling of these communities as somehow undeserving and undesirable. There are many undesirables for sure, but where there’s a ying, there’s a yang, and I’ve also met the most passionate, fearsome, committed people who have nothing to their name, but who root for their communities and give them a voice. 

So, whilst The Prodigal and Tommy Collins (out this summer) fall within the crime genre, they aren’t police procedural stories (I leave that to those fabulous authors who can create twisty-turny whodunnits). My interest lies in the impact crime has on individuals, families and whole communities, and how that is dealt with by the authorities and the communities themselves. I’ve heard how the police talk about these estates, and I’ve experienced the disdain residents have for the police – both are valid in their own right. The Prodigal was actually inspired by a conversation with a police officer back in the nineties about informants or “grasses”– who are they? Why do they do it? The answer was that it is generally family members, almost always women, and they do it because they want that person they care about to stop. Pop those facts into a scenario where the grass is a woman, in love with a copper who’s after her criminal husband, and you’ve got drama. 

The housing estate itself where the books are set (the fictional Valley Park) is a key character, and I couldn’t have written it with any authenticity without the experience of working for 20 odd years with local residents, and the professionals who think they know what’s best for them (sometimes they do, I can’t argue with that). Valley Park is a grim place in The Prodigal, and even grimmer in Tommy Collins which is set ten years earlier in 1989 – the height of Thatcherism, unemployment and civil unrest. I’ve actually started to feel quite protective of the place and the pretend people who inhabit it, even the bad ones. It’s like the Mothership – a place you can’t escape. Anyway, I’m looking forward to book three which will bring Valley Park bang up to date, and I can have a pop at Beardy Men and gentrification (is there ever a happy medium?).

I’m out of the poverty game now. I left London in 2016 (I lived there for 14 years), had some time off, and now I’m back working pretty much full time again for a hospice charity (there may well be a future novel in that, who knows?). Now, my writing influences my day job in a way. I write grant applications, and this requires delivering a story with heart, hitting all the right notes that make those funders want to read on and see what they’ll get for their money. They’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and get some satisfaction from investing in you – much like readers, I suppose. I must be doing okay, because in eight months I’ve secured over £200,000, which is about £160,000 more than they’ve had in grants in any one year. I’m quite proud of that! 

It doesn’t leave me much time to write, as I do like to keep my social life active, my house clean and my cupboards stocked. That, coupled with my inability to stick to a plot, means my second book is about a year behind. But I’m getting there. You can be sure it’ll be full of grit, inspired by some of the best and worst people I’ve ever met through my day jobs.

Thank you for having me Vic, and hello to those of you reading this 😊 *waves* x

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Getting to Know You: Charlie Laidlaw.

Today it’s my pleasure to host writer Charlie Laidlaw on the blog. My thanks to Charlie for sharing his time and experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My first book, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) was inspired by the seventeenth century witch craze. Back then, it was a crime not to believe in witchcraft. What, I thought, would happen now if someone still did believe in witchcraft? That said, to make this improbable tale work, it had to be a bit of a Benny Hill romp. It’s a fun book.

My second, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press), while a gentle comedy, is darker. It’s really a reworking of The Wizard of Oz – young woman gets knocked on the head, remembers her life in flashback, and emerges from the experience as a different person. It’s a book about the power of memory and how, if we remember things in a different way, we can be changed by that experience.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Good question because I have no idea. The basic inspiration for my second book came on a train from Edinburgh to London, which was apt as Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. When I got home, I wrote the first and last chapters. The first has changed beyond all recognition, but the last chapter is pretty much the same.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Not really, no. I tend to be something of a perfectionist and am constantly editing and rewriting. I hope that, for the reader, it comes across as effortless. From my perspective, everything is hard work – so I tend to like most of the stuff that eventually makes it into the final cut!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not entirely sure what you mean. But I think that good books need good characters, a good plot, and good narrative and dialogue. Those are at least some of the basics. However, as I’ve mentioned the word “plot” I suppose I’m a plotter.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I’m always reading because I take inspiration from other writers, and the world and the characters they create. You can’t write if you don’t read.  Simples.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I can’t remember who gave me this advice but, like most advice, it’s both blindingly obvious and wise. Simply: you can’t edit a blank page. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing gibberish. You can go back to it later and turn it into English. The important thing is to keep writing.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope, to be entertained. But also, maybe, to be taken on a slightly mad thought-provoking journey. I like books that are not too deep, entertain me, and make me smile. I hope that’s what mine do.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing and don’t give up. I honestly believe that some of the best books ever written will be mouldering at the bottom of landfill because their authors received one too many rejection. If you genuinely think that what you’ve written has merit, stick with it.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the way that one idea can lead onto another and then another. I dislike it when those ideas turn out to be bad ideas, and I’ve wasted days or weeks of my life. I try now to plan well ahead, with an ending in sight.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
It’s complete and provisionally entitled The Space Between Time. While (again) a gentle comedy, it’s also about mental illness and how we can grow up with false impressions of the people closest to us. It was a difficult book to write, because it has to balance lighter elements with tragedy and poignancy.  It will be published late this year or early in 2019.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’d like to say, putting in the final full stop. But that just provokes me to go back into the manuscript and edit, edit, edit. So, perhaps the best moment is when your editor and proofreader tell you that no further changes can be made!

**Black Water Blog Tour** Author Interview

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Our guest today is Cormac O’Keeffe, author of ‘Black Water‘. I’m delighted to have been included on the blog tour of a book that has been described as ‘…’The Wire‘, set in Dublin’ (Brian McGilloway) so my thanks to the publisher and to Cormac for sparing the time to appear on my blog.

Vic x

Cormac O'Keeffe

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My debut novel Black Water is about a boy groomed into a criminal gang and the fight to save him and bring the gang to justice.

A number of factors influenced the novel. The first was living in communities affected by gangs and the drugs trade, amid economic neglect and a struggling policing response. I wanted to tell a story about that, through the experiences of a vulnerable boy. In the areas I lived, there was no shortage of boys running fairly wild on the street, without much structure and afraid of no one. All those things and a lot more fed into my character of Jig, who is being reeled into a gang. Poured into that mix were other events and experiences from my work as a journalist.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Many of my ideas came from living in communities and my work as a journalist specialising in crime, drugs and policing. I have met many people over that time, from community workers to detectives. But really the ideas come from deep within.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
It’s hard to single out a particular character as a favourite. I have so many of them. I have three main characters that I am very close to. There are a host of secondary characters that I really like, including gang members, such as local crime boss Ghost.

It’s very difficult to choose a favourite scene. There are a number of scenes with Jig that are quite moving, but I do like the shooting scene about a third of the way in and the bomb attack at the end.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A ‘pantster’ sounds more like it. I was definitely not a plotter with this novel. Anything but. I wrote about the three main characters separately, which weren’t woven in together, to about the halfway point. I had to commit an enormous amount of work (and considerable pain) to tease out and establish plots – and go over those again and again.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Absolutely. Often I might even read a novel, perhaps some literary fiction, to get into the use and flow of words, to free up my mind and then get to work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
It’s impossible to single out any particular advice as the best, let alone try and remember who said it. ‘Dive in’ was one of the first bits of advice I remember, which was true. You have to dive and dive deep for a long time. Only then can you worry about all the other stuff. You need the raw material down first (or have started that process), before dealing with, and getting entangled in, structure and plot and pace.

Rewriting, though, is absolutely fundamental. Repeated cycles of rewriting, with spaces in between if you can. Do not rush sending it out, particularly to agents. That is a real biggie. It is very tempting, but resist (counsel others who know) and go over it again and again.

What can readers expect from your books?
Ah, that is hard for me to say. I would like to think a story that is powerful, gritty but with humanity, original, authentic and thrilling. I would hope that readers of Black Water will feel like they have been dropped into a living, breathing community where people are fighting to survive.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes, but I would be slow to be too loud or firm about it. I would say, just start writing. Try not to waste too much time online or on social media. Look for a writing group, a good one if you can. Be gentle on yourself. Yes you will suffer from self-doubt and from procrastination, but don’t give up. Keep on going. Seek help from authors. Don’t rush sending it out. Hold back. Chisel. Fine tune. Polish. Repeat. Don’t crumble from the rejection. Lean on someone for support. Keep on going.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like when it flows. I like when you pierce through and carve out a piece of a character or a plot. I like when the dialogue rings true, when action sings, when you leave a reader wanting more. I like it when you come up with an idea for a plot, or how to plug a gaping plot hole.

I dislike the persistence of mistakes and errors, no matter how many hundreds of times you read something. I don’t like it when you can’t ‘see’ your writing anymore, because you have gone over it so much. I don’t like that feeling that the novel is never going to be finished.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Only inside my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
When, eventually, I realised that there was nothing more I could do and it was the best it could be.

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…

Getting to Know You: Roz Watkins

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Roz Watkins to the blog today. You can follow Roz on Twitter – and I strongly recommend that you do. 

Roz’s debut novel ‘The Devil’s Dice‘ is available now and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading it. I was gutted to miss the launch party in London a couple of weeks ago so I’m hoping to catch up with Roz soon to celebrate her success. 

My thanks to Roz today for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

Roz Watkins

Tell us about your book. What inspired it? 
The initial impetus came from my dog’s foul habits. We were walking in the woods near to my house in the Peak District when I saw him running towards me with something in his mouth. It was swinging side-to-side, and from a distance it looked like a human spine. I thought, Oh Christ, the dog’s found a body! 

When he got closer, I could see it was in fact a hare (they are surprisingly large) but it got me thinking. What would it be like to come upon a body when walking the dog? And that’s what happens in my first book. A greedy Labrador sniffs out a corpse in a cave. 

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This is the day the dog found a hare. At least it wasn’t a corpse!

Where do you get your ideas from?
I mercilessly mine my life and the lives of those around me. My partner complains that he can’t now write the book he was going to write (when he gets a spare half hour) because I’ve stolen all his best stories. This is of course not true, but I do use my life experiences. I was previously a patent attorney so I enjoyed killing one in my first book. I trained as a hypnotherapist, so in book 2, a therapist has to deal with a girl who seems to be remembering the death of her heart donor. I’m an animal trainer, so clicker-trained killer pigs may feature in book 3. Or they may not. My mum was a GP so receives calls along the lines of, If you wanted to kill someone using… She loves it. 

Do you have a favourite story/ character/ scene you’ve written?
I do love the scene where I try to kill my main character in an underground labyrinth with water rising all around her. As I edited the book, the level of torture increased with each re-write, and it was fun! 

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of a mixture. I try to plot, but then it all goes horribly wrong as I start writing. I haven’t really worked out a system and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier! I write in a tiny room that’s impossible to keep tidy, surrounded by piles of paper and post-it notes and stray animals. But I fantasise about owning a huge loft apartment with acres of space where my mind would magically be clear and organised… 

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I always read. At the moment I’m feeling guilty about all the authors who’ve said nice things about my book and whose books I haven’t yet read, because my TBR pile has become so huge! So I’m concentrating on reading proofs at the moment. Sometimes the style of a particular writer seeps into my writing, but not in a way which causes a problem. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
That’s a toughie. I was struck by someone (it may have been Matt Bird) talking about how at the start of a book, we don’t care much about the characters so we’re not really bothered if they’re in jeopardy. You can dangle them off a cliff or throw them under a train and the reader doesn’t necessarily care very much. But we’re wired to want answers to questions, no matter how banal. On my local radio station, they have this thing where they say something like, 35% of men admit to doing this. And you have to carry on listening to find out what it is. Even though it’s a matter of total irrelevance to your life.  You have to listen. Do they not change their underpants every day? Do they pluck their ear hair? WHAT IS IT? I learnt a lot from that. Pose questions on page 1. 

What can readers expect from your books?
Hopefully a detective they can relate to because she’s a normal woman who worries about normal stuff and is a little bit fat and possibly has cat hair on her clothes. A few possibly supernatural goings-on and a touch of classic whodunit, plus a little bit of sardonic humour (I’m told!) 

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Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write about what makes you angry or emotional, because it keeps you going when things get tough.  And treat writing a publishable novel as a learnable skill, rather than something you should just be able to do. I started off writing absolute junk, but I devoured books on writing craft and sought feedback all over the place. 

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I find the first draft feels a bit like pulling teeth, although I do love coming up with the ideas. I enjoyed the first draft of my first book (done without a deadline!) but now I get obsessed with word-counts and how behind I am! I like editing. 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on book 3 (and behind where I should be…) A woman goes missing from an abattoir, and all the evidence points to her having been killed and fed to pigs. 

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve been so lucky there have been many over the last couple of years, but I’m going to choose standing in a piazza in Venice and receiving a call from my agent about a life-changing offer from a German publisher.