Tag Archives: working

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

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 delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition. 

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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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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Chris Ord

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

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

Vic x

Chris Ord

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

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

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

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

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