Tag Archives: stories

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


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: 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


Thomas Pluck boxer author photo

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.


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!


A Love Letter to The Garsdale Retreat

When my friend Stephanie encouraged me to attend her writing retreat at the Garsdale Retreat, I decided it was a good time to concentrate on my own writing and that this would give me the ideal opportunity – away from distractions and the pressures of every day life. 

As the time grew nearer, I began to get cold feet. I’ve always suffered from homesickness to varying degrees and I was concerned at being away from home for four nights. It must sound silly but it’s the truth. 

My journey there was particularly dramatic but that’s a story for another time. Once I arrived at the retreat – thanks to the help of the wonderful Rebecca and Hamish from the retreat, a resident of Garsdale called Paul and Mr Middleton, a farmer – I was greeted like an old friend, even by the women I’d never met before. 

One of my concerns about the retreat was the menu. It’s a fully catered place with all of the meals being vegetarian with some fish and I am a fussy eater (although I am way better than I used to be). However, Rebecca’s home cooking was a total delight. We were treated to home-baked biscuits and cakes every morning and afternoon. The meals themselves were amazing – the variation and flavours never ceased to amaze me. We had all sorts from soup to pasta, Indonesian stews to salads. I even brought a couple of recipes home! 

Another concern I had was whether I could actually write. One of the first exercises Stephanie asked me to do was highlight the things I was good at, where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there – that was so challenging and I had to ask for advice on what to put as achievements. OnceStephanie reminded me about the awards I’d won, the MA I have and the support I provide others, I was able to see the value in what I do.

Each day was structured perfectly, with two workshops in the morning then in the afternoon independent writing, one-to-one tutorials and the opportunity to drop in for some advice and guidance if required. We came together every evening for a pre-dinner drink and chat in front of the log fire. I tumbled into bed each evening full of delicious food and exhausted from thought-provoking discussions with like-minded people. 

I woke every morning to a beautiful view and enjoyed being able to go for a short walk in the fresh air at least once a day. 

On the day where we had a brief field trip to the train station up the road, Rebecca drove those of us who couldn’t manage the hill – yet another example of what incredible hosts she and Hamish were. When our cars were covered with snow on the morning that we were due to leave, Hamish was out there sweeping the snow away so that we could drive home safely. 

Stephanie was an incredible facilitator and, despite having participants at different stages in their writing, every exercise challenged and encouraged us in equal measure. The amount of resources and stationery were mind-boggling. From the ‘washing line of wisdom’, filled with quotes about writing, to the envelopes we were encouraged to leave messages for one another in, Stephanie had every base covered. 

On our final evening, we were encouraged to create our writing manifestoes. Here’s mine: 

I think it shows how much of an impact the time I spent at the Garsdale Retreat on my writing – and my self-esteem. 

Stephanie encouraged us to take a quote from the washing line of wisdom which resonated with us, then we shared them after dinner on our final evening. She then gave us another one that, to me, seemed hand picked for each of us. As each person read their quotes, I found my eyes filling up. But that was nothing compared with my reaction when I opened my envelope on returning home. I only spent four days with these women but the messages they had left for me filled me with joy and love. 

So, inspired by the retreat – and mainly Rebecca’s baking – I baked a cake while adopting the Agatha Christie method of plotting (allowing the mind to roam while occupying yourself with a completely unrelated task). 

I missed my husband, and wished he was there with me, but I didn’t feel homesick because Garsdale felt like home. 

Garsdale Retreat inspired me in so many ways: it reminded me of the innate kindness of people, the healing power of food and how, even when you don’t believe in yourself, there is always someone who does.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Martyn Taylor

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.

Martyn Taylor, a member of Elementary Writers, is with us today to talk about how his day job has affected his writing. 

Vic x

For Wild Wolf copy

Are we authors or writers?  No, we are liars.  Our stories did not happen.  Our characters live only in our imaginations.  Even the most meticulous historical author only presents a cartoon because it is impossible to know the entirety of the actuality.

Crime writers deal with liars.  Bad guys do not care they are lying.  Good guys have problems with truth.  Why?  We all lie every day, although accepting consequences ranging from the disapproval of a loved one to being taken to a place of execution and hanged by the neck until we are dead.  Fiction is the art of good lying, which means knowing the motivation of our liars.

Cover1 (1)

I have had two occupations that brought me into contact with chronic liars.  As a portfolio manager in the City I was daily invited to pay more for what was on offer than it was worth.  Because I was dealing for clients I had no personal stake in the transaction and so could buy their bill of goods because – as Danny De Vito put it – it was ‘other people’s money’.  These barrow boys with their red braces and Oxbridge degrees worked in an institution that still has a motto ‘My Word is My Bond’, but – as has been so often shown – these guys never signed a contract they didn’t have five ways from Friday of slithering out from under if things went wrong.  Their motto, as expressed by a stock broker who took me to lunch, was ‘If God didn’t mean them to be sheared he wouldn’t have made them sheep’.  ‘Them’ being those outside the gilded circle, you and me.

These liars do not know they are lying.  The difference between them and someone trying the Nigerian scam online is that the scammers know they are lying.  Presenting these liars in fiction is almost impossible because of the corrosive universality of their lying and the fact that the finance industry is so ‘valuable’ that the liars buy off our gate keepers with pocket change.  We accept their edifice of lies as normality.  They may have problems selling me their Ponzi schemes but, yes, I did have PPI.

As an investigator of motor thefts and accidents I was daily confronted by those stalwarts of crime fiction, unreliable witnesses, people recounting what they believe they witnessed rather than what actually happened.  Four ‘independent’ witnesses will give you at least six plausible versions of events and believe they are telling the truth.

Some, however, lied outright, mostly for simple financial gain.  Knowing them was relatively easy:  they began by saying ‘To tell the truth…’

Others had murkier motivations.  They could not allow themselves to be overtaken by a woman, or possibly have caused loss to someone of a different race, creed or colour.  With them the HL Mencken question was as important as it is in fiction.  ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’  It is insufficient to be convenient or demanded by the plot.  Our antagonists must be as fully motivated as our protagonists.  We expect fiction to illuminate life rather than reflect it.  Everyday lying is as banal, captivating and convincing as flat soda.  Nobody expects life to make sense.  Everyone demands that fiction does.

Which is why we must lie better in our fiction than we do in real life.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Fiona Veitch Smith

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.

Later this month, I am hosting Noir at the Bar Newcastle at the Town Wall. One of the authors appearing there is Fiona Veitch Smith, author of the ‘Poppy Denby Investigates‘ series. Fiona is here today to talk about how her day job has inspired her writing.

Vic x 

Since working on the school newspaper when I was nine years old, I always wanted to be a journalist.  I eventually went on to study journalism, media and history at Rhodes University in South Africa and then worked as a journalist in Cape Town in the 1990s. When I returned to the UK in 2002 I worked full time as a magazine journalist, then, while juggling pregnancies, a baby, an MA and the start of a creative writing career, I went freelance. For the last eight years I have lectured, part-time, on journalism modules at Newcastle University. And although now I would say I am a novelist before I am a journalist, journalism is still very much in my blood.

So it’s not surprising that my most successful books to date have been about a young, female journalist set in the 1920s. Despite the bad press the media has had over the last years with the Leveson Inquiry, the phone hacking scandal and the feud with Donald Trump over ‘fake news’, I still believe journalism at its best is one of the foundations of a healthy society. When journalists are doing their job properly, injustice is exposed, truth is upheld and people in power are held to account. And that’s the side of journalism that is hailed in the Poppy Denby books. However, I do not shy away from the seedier side of the profession and show instances of journalists bending the rules, breaking the law and taking bribes. My heroine, Poppy, tries to walk the narrow road, but doesn’t always succeed, and is surrounded by jaded hacks who are shamed by her idealism.

My life working on newspapers and magazines, as a reporter, feature writer and sub-editor, has helped me create an authentic world for my characters.  In the three books so far (and the fourth I’m busy writing) I have used my knowledge of life in a newsroom and my broader understanding of the media’s interplay with the police, politicians and advertisers to my advantage.

I have even drawn on some ‘real life’ stories from my days on the newspaper in Cape Town. In the first book, The Jazz Files, Poppy’s relationship with the DCI Richard Easling is based on a misogynistic police chief in Cape Town who tried to influence and bully me into changing a number of stories to put the police in a better light. I refused to do it. On a lighter note, her first job going to interview a theatre director at the Old Vic was based on my own experience covering the art scene in Cape Town – as well as my own foray onto the boards. The drunken Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream actually happened when I played Cobweb in a university production. In the latest book, set on the New York Times, I am vicariously living out my own ambition of working for a paper of that stature.

So, although I did, in the end, give up the day job to become a novelist, I’ve never given up on it in my heart.

Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the Poppy Denby Investigates series. Book 1, The Jazz Files, was shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, was a finalist in the Foreword Book Review Mystery of the Year,  and book 3, The Death Beat is out now. www.poppydenby.com

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: Gill Hoffs

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.

Regular readers of the blog will recognise today’s writer and worker as Gill Hoffs, Nutella fiend and all-round top woman. Gill’s going to be telling us how her career has influenced her writing. 

Vic x

I’m shit at small talk, and apparently it’s not alright to say to a stranger, “If you have a look at my twitter feed that tends to reflect what I’m about – rude history, strange nature, art, and junk food.  How about yourself?”  So I bear in mind that there are several standard topics to discuss, cultural checkpoints that establish you as ‘alright to be around’ and ‘not a threat’, such as weather, the niceness (or otherwise) of wherever we happen to be, and – at a push – occupation.

Depending on the situation, I lead with one of my two jobs: carer or author, though the latter usually leads to tongue-biting.  I love both and, since I tend to write about people from the past, they’re kinda linked.

I used to work in children’s homes, where I’d spend part of my week living alongside children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.  A key part of the job (as I saw it, anyway) was to find whatever small or large details it took to make a connection with each kid.  Much of this was rooted in the mundane.  Did they prefer Penguins or Rich Teas with their hot drinks?  Movies or soaps?  Cereals or toast?  And to build on our relationship from there.  We built bonds, fragile but precious, from these fragments of personal taste, the human equivalent of “telling details”.

Now I work with older people in a nursing home.  Instead of attempting to set our charges on the path to a happy, healthy, and independent adulthood we’re doing our best to make them comfortable, and bring them joy or, at the very least, a measure of peace and contentment.  Relationships are just as important but can be trickier to navigate, especially when memory issues are involved, but again, we build bonds over tiny details.  Pets or no, custard creams or bourbons, Stones or Beatles, tattoos and hair-dye – there’s always something we can connect through.

This principle, that these tiny yesses and noes, personal preferences, wrinkled noses and dimpled smiles add up to a whole bunch of humanity, lies at the heart of my other work as a writer and researcher.  When I create my shipwreck books, I find that many of the records have been boiled down to numbers and percentages, weights and measures, lists of co-ordinates, cargo and casualties.  My biggest priority is restoring the humanity to the people involved with these tragedies, and for me the easiest way to do so is to flesh out the names attached to these statistics.  What were their nicknames?  What did they love?

As someone who is often led by their belly, one of my favourite examples for this is when Hendrick Jans Kas, a survivor of the William & Mary shipwreck, wrote home to Friesland from America ‘I think I will like living here. Americans eat pork three times a day and beef and that is a bright prospect for me.’  Food as a source of joy?  I suspect we’d get along great.

To find out more about Hendrick and his fellow shipwreck survivors (and the captain and crew who attempted mass murder in the Bahamas), read ‘The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson (Pen & Sword, 2016).  Gill’s first shipwreck book, ‘The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic(Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015), is also available from reputable and disreputable outlets.