Tag Archives: jobs

Review: ‘We, The Survivors’ by Tash Aw

A murderer’s confession reveals a story of class, education and the inescapable workings of destiny.

Ah Hock is an ordinary, uneducated man born in a Malaysian fishing village trying to make his way in a country that promises riches and security to everyone, but delivers them only to a chosen few. With Asian society changing around him, he remains trapped in a world of poorly paid jobs that just about allow him to keep his head above water but ultimately lead him to murder a migrant worker from Bangladesh.

Ah Hock’s description of the years building up to this appalling act of violence – told over several days to a local journalist whose life has taken a different course – is a portrait of an outsider like no other. 

We, The Survivors‘ reminded me of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ by Mohsin Hamid, possibly because it’s the story of a life-changing event, told in second person.

We, The Survivors‘ is a story of class, education and what it is to be an outsider. The idea that Ah is a person who’s excluded from the rapid modernisation of Asian society, despite the dominant narrative being that of everyone can succeed marks him as different even though there are many people that have a similar experience. The struggle to survive in a constantly changing world is almost palpable. 

The level of detail that Tash Aw goes into when describing locations and scenarios is astounding, building up tremendously evocative imagery. 

Tash Aw’s character study of a man who loses control in the most appalling way makes ‘We, The Survivors‘ an insightful, thought-provoking read.

Vic x

2018 Review: Adam Peacock

Adam Peacock is our guest on the blog today. Adam is a member of Elementary Writers and has had a whirlwind year. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him and introducing him at Noir at the Bar. 
My thanks to Adam for taking time out of his insanely busy schedule to look back over 2018. 
You can catch Adam on Twitter and Facebook.  
Vic x
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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
It has been a manic year in so many ways for me. I changed jobs, attended the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, set up a new writing group, finished writing my novel, signed a publishing deal for Open Grave and released it! The highlight has to be my book launch, though. Sharing that moment with friends and family was an amazing experience and one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
 
Book Launch 2
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Getting to meet Lee Child, one of my favourite authors, at Harrogate this year, has to be up there. I’m told Jo Nesbo is attending next year’s event and it would be a dream to meet him. 
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Favourite book in 2018? 
My favourite book that I have read this year would be Dangerous Lady by Martina Cole. It was absolutely astounding and I can’t believe it was her debut! I know it wasn’t released in 2018 but I have only just managed to read it. I’ve been missing out, that’s for sure.
 
Favourite film in 2018? 
This is so difficult as I watch a LOT of films. It would have to be between Avengers: Infinity War and A Star is Born. Two very different films but both excellent, nonetheless. I also really enjoyed Ready Player One.
 
Favourite song of the year? 
I listen to quite a bit of music but, like most people, I’m now stuck in a particular era. However, Wade in the Water by John Butler Trio has to be my favourite song this year. They are an amazing band to see live, too.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
There’s been some family illness this year which has made things difficult. Fingers crossed things can get better on that front. Professionally, it has been a fantastic year for me, though. I just need to work on giving myself more credit for it as I don’t always take the time to sit down and appreciate things.
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I don’t usually make resolutions, as such, but I would say that I am keen to find the time to sit back and enjoy the process a bit more. With writing there is always something else to aim for and, suddenly, just writing a book no longer seems enough on its own. I think perhaps being more mindful would be a good shout.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I really want to attend Harrogate again and meet Jo Nesbo. With regards to my own writing, I’m looking to have book two in the DCI Jack Lambert series released at some point. I have a tentative date but won’t reveal that just yet! I would also love to get on some panels. Being on a panel at Harrogate has a nice ring to it…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

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.

Poet Neil Fulwood is here to share his experience of work and writing with us. My thanks to Neil for taking the time to tell us how work has affected his life as a writer. 

Vic x

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My grandfather was a miner; my dad ran his own haulage business. It’s not a matter of record whether granddad liked his job or not, but he was definitely a grafter. Dad subscribed to a “dignity” of work philosophy that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nevil Shute novel. In three generations of Fulwoods, I was the odd-one-out.

In my late twenties, I came across a Raymond Carver poem with these lines: “… this much is still true – / I never liked work. My goal was always / to be shiftless”. I’d been putting in the nine-to-five for a decade at that point: I’d worked as an admin assistant, a receptionist and an estimator for a firm that made road signs. Even with the benefit of longevity and a minor tendency to hagiography, I wouldn’t file any of them under “job satisfaction”.

My first job ended in redundancy after four years. I’ve been downsized several times since then. The “job for life” of my father’s generation is a thing of the past. I’ve quit a couple of jobs of my own accord – one with a financial services firm as a matter of conscience, one at a training company after I was threatened with violence and wasn’t convinced that effective safeguarding was in place.

I’ve never really had a career path or any professional goals. Work was simply an act of pragmatism: there was board to pay, then rent, then a mortgage; a car to run; food to put on the table. Debts to pay off or holidays to save for. Beer money. Bookshops. If one job ended, I temped till another came along. To date, I’ve worked in the manufacturing and retail sectors, financial services, training and healthcare. The same culture of mismanagement, office politics and grassroots employees treated as cattle has been prevalent in all of them.

Some folk succeed in dodging what Larkin called “the toad work” and I have friends and colleagues who deplore these people as spongers and scroungers. But if I’m being perfectly honest I quite admire those toad-avoiders. That I’ve never managed to join their ranks says something about me, though I’m not quite sure what.

While I’ve seldom enjoyed work – the one job I had that I genuinely engaged with ended in redundancy after just a couple of years – it’s given me material. For a while I held off writing poems about office life, convinced that paperwork and poetry weren’t a good match. Then it occurred to me that no-one was documenting the white collar whereas the blue collar experience had champions of such stature as Fred Voss and Philip Levine, and the toad-avoiders had Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski on their side.

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I found my voice as a poet in my mid-thirties – I’d written during my teens and early twenties, but what I produced was shallow and derivative – and by the time I published my first collection, No Avoiding It (Shoestring Press), at the age of 45, poems about work accounted for a third of its content. In a review published in The Morning Star, Andy Croft noted that I was “especially good on the mental slavery of contemporary work”.

‘Nuff said!

**The Kindness of Strangers Blog Tour**

kindness strangers.jpgOooh, hello there, readers. Allow me to share with you an excerpt from ‘The Kindness of Strangers‘ by Julie Newman. 

When Helen’s chance at happiness is threatened, what lengths will she go to in order to hide the truth? Deceived by her husband and desperate for a ‘perfect’ family life, Helen will do everything she can to get the life she wants.

Following the gripping and controversial ‘Beware the Cuckoo‘, Julie Newman’s new novel lifts the lid on family secrets, and the dark past that haunts a seemingly happy household…

Vic x

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The Kindness of Strangers

EACH NEW SUNRISE does not just herald a new day, it is a new beginning offering new possibilities and the opportunity to be better than before. That’s what I always used to believe. It was the mantra of my boss when I first started working in the city. But now, well now it sounds like a pretentious soundbite that has no validity in the real world, certainly not in my world. Every day is the same for me. There is a brief moment when I first wake when I’ve forgotten he’s gone, then boom, it hits me and the darkness descends once more. Today is no different. Perhaps if I still worked my focus would be on what I have to do rather than what I can no longer do. Maybe that’s the answer, to go back to work; but where? Marilyn has replaced me and I couldn’t go back at a lower level than before. There are other firms, but would they be interested in a 56 year-old woman who’s been out of the game for almost eighteen months? I know I wouldn’t employ me and I know how good I am. Even if I considered a junior position I’d be competing with a new crop of graduates and interns. And besides, there is still more to do here; papers, accounts, and all the interests we pursued together. I must cancel our golf club subscription for a start; I won’t be going there alone and I never liked playing much anyway.

The study is incredibly stuffy. I’ve opened the window but that hasn’t made a great deal of difference. I think I’m going to take  some of these files and sit in the garden and sort through them. I make a pot of tea and go outside. It’s surprising how many things we signed up for over the years and more surprising is the fact that I’d forgotten we had them. Our joint account has already been dealt with, as have a couple of accounts that Robert had. But what I’m looking at now is an old account of mine that I haven’t paid attention to for a long time. I transfer money into it each month to cover the direct debits, but I don’t use half the things I’m paying for. This is the downside of not receiving paper statements anymore, I’m rather remiss at checking my accounts online. This is the account that the golf membership comes out of; I write down the account and membership numbers so I can cancel it. There are also a couple of magazine subscriptions, a consumer group subscription and insurances for appliances which I don’t even know if I still have. I write down the relevant information so I can cancel them all. When I’m done I pour another cup of tea – well half a cup as the pot is almost empty – sit back in my chair and look around the garden. Somebody comes to cut the lawn every couple of weeks, everything else in the garden Robert and I do, or did. Well Robert mainly. I suppose I’ll have to get on with it myself now, not that it takes much, it is quite a low maintenance garden. We had a designer revamp it many years ago, and her brief was simple; it had to be full of colour and easy to maintain. It certainly is that, although parts of it are looking a little neglected. The roses catch my eye, they need dead-heading. I go back into the kitchen for a pair of scissors. As I take them out of the drawer I picture Robert standing in the garden waving a pair of secateurs at me and saying, ‘the right tool for the job, Helen’. I smile to myself; a nice memory.

It takes me a little while to locate the shed key. For some reason it’s in a small pot at the rear of one of the dresser drawers, instead  of hanging with the garage and summer-house keys in the kitchen. I unlock the shed hoping the secateurs will be easier to find. I never go in the shed, it was Robert’s domain. He liked to sit in there and read; he complained the summer house was too hot, something that never bothered me. I’m pretty sure he used to have a bottle of whisky hidden away in there too. The door creaks a little as it opens and warm air is emitted from within. It smells stale and fusty. It’s clearly in need of ventilating. I pull the door wide, putting a large terracotta pot in front of it to keep it open. I peek in before actually venturing inside; Robert’s old chair sits proudly in the centre, there is a work bench to the right on which sits several pots of various sizes, a couple of gardening books – maybe he did read them after all – and the secateurs. I pick them up and look around the rest of the shed; there is a lot of stuff in here, another thing to sort through in time. As I turn to go back out something catches my eye. It’s the old picnic blanket we used many years ago, I thought it had long since been thrown out. We enjoyed going for picnics, although to be honest they weren’t really picnics. We would head out somewhere for the day, weather permitting of course, and find a nice spot and put the blanket down. We would lay and read for a while; I always took a flask of tea, something for Robert to drink and a few snacks. On the way back we would look for a nice country pub and have a meal before heading home. I pull at the blanket which is draped over something, as it comes off it reveals an old, battered filing cabinet. It’s made of metal, grey in colour and mottled with rust spots. I pull open the top drawer; inside are two glasses and an almost empty bottle of whisky, an unopened bottle of whisky, a box of matches and a half-smoked cigar, and various bits and pieces that include garden ties and string and plant labels. I try the next one but that won’t open. There is a lock at the top of this drawer, and I look around for a  key. I can’t see one, but I’m puzzled as to why the drawer is locked and I want to get it open. The roses will have to wait.

After spending almost an hour in the shed looking for a key -to no avail – I’ve come back inside. Where might the key be? I go through the dresser drawers again and the kitchen drawers and I search the utility room. It’s a mystery. There might not even be anything in the drawer, but I won’t be satisfied until I know. I go back out to the shed, pulling the drawer a few more times, but it won’t budge. I look around to see if there is anything I can use to force it open. Bashing it with a hammer doesn’t work, neither does poking around the lock with a penknife. I’m frustrated now, but I won’t be beaten. Maybe, I could ask the gardener when he comes to do the lawn if he could get it open, that’s not for over a week though. Anthony would do it, but after the other day, I don’t think I want to ask him. I’ll have to go and buy something so I can do it myself. The lock can’t be that strong, I’m sure if I had the right tool I could prise it open.

***

About the Author:

Julie Newman was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster. Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen.

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.

1 - On the Bitch cover for back pages

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.

A Lake in Switzerland - High Resolution

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: Robert Parker

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 Robert Parker discussing how his occupation helped inspire his crime writing. I first met Robert on the Crime & Publishment course in 2016 and he’s a top chap. Robert has, however, chosen to retain his anonymity – I’m sure you’ll understand why soon… 

Thanks to him for sharing his experience with us. 

Vic x

You are now twenty times more likely to be a victim of cyber crime than you are to be mugged in the street. It makes a lot of sense, from a criminal perspective. Why would you bother to actually mug someone these days? Why take all the risks; the chance of someone calling your bluff, the chance of someone mugging you right back, the chance of going to jail, if, like me, you harbour a suspicion that you might just be a bit too pretty for that? Why take the gamble when you can sit on a couch in the comfort of your underwear, with a laptop, eating food that probably came in a bucket, scrolling, clicking and punching in the odd stolen card number.

That’s where we come in. Online fraud is big business these days and as time goes on it’s only getting bigger, more complicated and harder to spot.

I wound up in my job almost by accident. Almost. It isn’t something you can fall into. There’s a bit of commitment required. Competition for jobs can get fierce. It isn’t an option you just settle for. But I didn’t know it was something you could do until about a year before I shoehorned my way in.

It was 2010 and I was working two jobs at once, waiting on tables in the family-owned coffee shop and fitting cattle mattresses (yes, really) for my step-dad’s agricultural engineering business. I was living away from my fiancée during the week and driving the hundred and thirty dark winter miles to and from Edinburgh either side of the weekend. I needed to spend more time where I supposedly lived. I knew I would have to find something a bit different. They don’t do farming in the big smoke. I’d never worked in an office. I thought I could give that a go. It had to be warmer than a byre in January. How hard could it be?

I failed the data entry test (yes, really). That sounds like it would be hard to do. In my defence, I didn’t know my way round a keyboard, much less a clunky, chunky, nineties relic, mothballed in the damp basement of a recruitment agency. They were prepared to take a chance on me. They were counting on me. I couldn’t let them down, I was told, by an overly earnest man who had to be ten years my junior.

I was sent to the offices a of a tech firm who needed me to enter data for two weeks. It meant I could spend some time with Caroline, if nothing else. I remember thinking then that there must be something more interesting than data entry going on inside the offices of a travel website. I just had no concept of what that might actually be.

I didn’t get to do any data entry. I managed a tour of the city centre office, a coffee and slack-jawed stare at what must have been an expensive view of the castle, before someone in the contact centre got fired for looking at Facebook.

That’s how I wound up in a contact centre. A couple of weeks later I overheard a conversation between two of my new workmates in the pub, one asking the other “How are you finding the fraud department?” That was the light bulb moment. That was when I knew I’d found the something more interesting. It took me another twenty months to get in, but I’ve been here ever since.

So how has it contributed to my writing? In a lot of ways that I might have seen coming and a few more I didn’t.

First of all, there’s the day-to-day. I’m a fraud analyst, part case-by-case investigator and part long-term strategist. We deal with the fraud as and when it arises, working individual cases, catching people in the act and hopefully stopping them, but we also follow patterns, predict trends and take steps to counteract them. Where we can, we help the police, build cases and compile evidence, with a view to putting people safely away.

The first thing you learn is that it isn’t quite as glamorous as the expectations of your friends and family. My mum seems to think my day job is something like cyber CSI, and it is, but like a real life CSI. It’s methodical. It involves hard work and you don’t actually get to chase, or even see the bad guys, not in real life, though ironically for the girl whose job I originally stole, I do spend far more time on Facebook than can ever really be healthy.

It isn’t something you could write a book about, not a thriller anyway. Man-gets-mildly-excited-and-spills-cappuccino-after-left-clicking-and-discovering-some-fraudulent-transactions or man-deals-with-brief-existential-crisis-after-opening-an-intimidating-Excel-file doesn’t make for a particularly compelling elevator pitch. Or maybe it’s just a bit too literary for me.

It’s all relative though. You can get lost in the data for hours and you do get a buzz when you uncover a web or a pattern. But it’s the stuff I’ve learned as a consequence of my job that inspires and informs plots, research and characters.

So much of our lives today happen online. Like it or not, you leave traces of yourself wherever you go. Even a Google search records multiple pieces of information, all of which affect what you’re shown next time around. Police investigations naturally have a higher emphasis on our online, connected lives as time goes on.

It isn’t just fraud that has moved online either. The dark web is a one-stop shop for anything you want. Feel like ordering up a kilo of heroin? An Uzi? A human being? It’s all out there, lurking below the surface. You just have to know where to start digging. And the customer service is better than you’ll find anywhere else.

You learn about these things when you come into contact with the right – or wrong – people, when you’re trained by the right people. It’s the stories you hear that stick in the mind. The public consciousness seems to have fraud down as a victimless crime, but a conversation with the police would quickly convince you otherwise. Fraudsters are pretty often the same people committing the more serious crimes, with the proceeds going to fund the drugs, guns and human traffic.

Different gang cultures have different hierarchies. With the world getting smaller there are clashes. That thought led me to the plot of my first novel, Snow Storm. Throw in a conspiracy theory, a few bodies, add a twist or three and hopefully you’re halfway to a decent story.

Sometimes though, inspiration can be as simple as dumb luck and geography, like my wife dropping me off at work, bleary eyed and achy after the office Christmas party, next to a lamppost someone had hung an oddly shaped bag from.

“Do you think there’s a head in there?” I heard myself say, through a boozy haze.

And the opening of Snow Storm landed, fully formed, between my ears.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jackie McLean

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.

My friend Jackie McLean is here to tell us how her previous day job has helped her write compelling characters. Thanks to Jackie and her partner Allison for always being such fun to be around – can’t wait to see you again soon! 

Vic x

Being able to create believable characters, and knowing which subtle touches to add that will help readers know and empathise with them, is probably the greatest skill in writing.  For honing that skill, there’s nothing better than a spot of people-watching.  Fortunately for me, my day jobs past and present have given me plenty of opportunity to study people in a range of habitats…

Around ten years ago, my partner and I decided to throw in our comfortable public sector jobs and open a pet shop.  It was one of those “we don’t want to look back in twenty years’ time” moments, and for the next six years we had great fun running our shop.

While the routine of running a pet shop revolves around caring for the animals, keeping the place clean and fresh, placing orders and unpacking deliveries, dealing with the customers provided me with some priceless insights into the human character.  I also found that, dealing with around 100 different people every day, I soon learned how to read body language and – crucially – to become very good at spotting when a person is fibbing.  This, in addition to the many humorous anecdotes, meant my notebook was never far away.

There was the man who came in with his young son, concerned that his hamster was ill.  It had developed a swelling under its tail, he told us.  No amount of hinting to him that his boy hamster was now a man hamster made the penny drop, and eventually (having described in my notebook the many facial expressions), we sent him to seek the vet’s advice.

It was surprisingly common for people to mistakenly think that eggs laid by solo birds or reptiles would hatch, but generally they’d realise as soon as we explained the whole thing about unfertilised eggs.  Except for the woman with the solo turtle.

But what will I do with the babies?

There won’t be any babies, the eggs aren’t fertilised.

 Will you take them in when they hatch?

 They won’t hatch, there’s no daddy turtle to fertilise the eggs.

And so on, to no avail, until we gave up and said, “Sure, bring them in when they hatch.”  Good for describing the frustrations of a pointless discussion.


Then there was the large gang of yelling schoolchildren who rushed into the shop one morning, concerned about a seagull that had been hit by a car.  The gull was alive and distressed, but couldn’t fly far.  The vet promised to treat it if we could catch it, which led to a mass chasing along a very long street, armed with boxes and nets.  The chase led through gardens and finally into someone’s shed, where we captured the gull.  There were tears and cheers, and the notebook recorded all the details.

I often wondered if it was because we were animal lovers, but customers would confide the most personal details of their lives with us.  Many were the times we’d laugh and cry with complete strangers, and this (not to be mercenary about it), provided me with great studies in emotional behaviour.

We sold the business a number of years ago, but the notes I took during that time still provide me with plenty of material for developing a rich variety of characters in my writing.

Jackie’s debut novel, Toxic – which was shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize in 2013 –  and the sequel Shadows are both available now.