Speak Up, Save a Life
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Today, we have another member of Elementary Writers on the blog to review her 2017. Emma Whitehall is not just a member of my writing group but a real friend.
If you get the opportunity to read her work, or see her perform it, I recommend you do so! I’ve had the privilege of working with her while she developed her collection ‘Clockwork Magpies’ which I am convinced will be insanely popular when it’s released.
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s a tie. I went to Ireland for a literary festival in July, and I started a 3-month volunteer position at Mslexia in September. One of my stories was shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction award this year, and I was invited to read at the launch in Bantry, just outside of Cork. I went alone, and it was such an amazing adventure! Not only did I get to spend some time in a phenomenally beautiful setting, I started every day by hiking up a huge hill to take a short story course with Alissa Nutting, who wrote Tampa. I’ll never forget it!
Working with the Mslexia team has been amazing, too. All the girls on the team are brilliant, and I’ve learned so much about working for a magazine. I’ve even written one or two pieces!
And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
My gym-nut brother bought me a Fitbit a few months ago, and it has literally changed my life. I try about walk about 5-6 miles a day (including moving about at work), and I’ve lost 10lb in about 2 months! It’s become a stress antidote; there are days when I really can’t wait to put my trainers on, find a good podcast (I’m nearing the end of The Adventure Zone right now), and go for a nice long walk…
Favourite book in 2017?
Oh, this is a tricky one! I’d probably have to say T.E. Grau’s They Don’t Come Home Anymore, which is a brilliant novella about toxic friendships, obsession, and vampires. Through reviewing for Unnerving magazine, I’ve read a lot of really amazing indie horror this year.
Favourite film in 2017?
Stranger Things. I know I’m being contrary with that answer, but it’s structured more like an 8-hour film than a TV show, and the characters have stayed with me much more than any that I’ve seen in the cinema this year. Winona Ryder is incredible, and Millie Bobby Brown should get any role she wants for the rest of her career.
Favourite song of the year?
“My Tyrant”, by Felix Hagan and the Family. On the one hand, it’s a song about a turbulent, possibly unhealthy relationship…but it’s also about being totally, joyfully in love (or lust) with someone. It’s a raucous song that’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to – much to my partner’s chagrin…
Any downsides for you in 2017?
Sadly, I lost my Leopard Gecko, Ace, just before I went to Ireland. It was old age, and he went as quietly as you can hope, but I was devastated. He was my constant companion – even if we were doing our own thing, on opposite sides of the room, we were always doing it together. I never knew reptiles could be so funny, so sweet, and so full of personality before we got him. I miss him a lot. He won’t be my last pet, but, for now, I’m still getting over the loss.
Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To keep going! I feel like, with a lot of things, I’m on the precipice; I’m about 3lb off my weight goal, I’ve had a few promising interactions with writing jobs (though I am still looking at the moment), I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted for a few awards, and my collection of short stories is very nearly done. I think I just need to keep pushing forward and not lose my nerve!
What are you hoping for from 2018?
I hope that, this time next year, I can hold a published copy of my collection in my hands.
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.
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.
“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.