Tag Archives: writers

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicola Ford

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 Nicola Ford. Nic’s here to talk to us about her double life and how that influenced her to write her debut novel ‘The Hidden Bones‘. My thanks to Nic for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. 

Vic x

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I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. So when I decided to turn my hand to writing fiction there was only ever going to be one genre for me. And I’m among the most fortunate of people because after much time spent applying my backside to my office chair and, as seems compulsory for all writers more than a smattering of self-doubt, my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones was published in June this year. 

So I have a job I love – crime writer. But that’s not the end of the story, or maybe I should say it’s not really even the beginning; because like many writers I lead a double life. By night I’m crime fiction writer Nicola Ford but by day I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. 

So I live a life steeped in the distant past. Wiltshire, the place that I’ve called home for a decade and a half is thronging with ancient burial mounds and prehistoric stone circles. And much of my time is spent digging up their secrets and delving into the mysteries that lie buried deep within museum archives.

Some writers may dream of giving up the day job, but for me I’m an archaeologist to my core. It’s one half of who I am and provides not only the backdrop, but also the inspiration for my crime writing. The Hidden Bones is set amid the chalk uplands of the Marlborough Downs an area I know intimately as I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life working there. 

Often rural is equated with ‘cosy’, but for those of us who live and work here we know that life in the countryside is anything but. If you’re born without money or means, or elderly and alone, rural life can be tough. And the shock waves left behind by violent crime can have a deep resonance that persists down through the generations in small, sometimes isolated communities.

The Hidden Bones delves into the secrets of one such community.  Clare Hills returns to Wiltshire in search of new direction in her life after the death of her husband in a car crash. She’s only too glad to take up old college friend, Dr David Barbrook’s offer of helping sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When they discover the finds and journals from Gerald’s most glittering excavation, they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth forever.

In both halves of my working life I spend my time dealing with the dead. And in trying to figure out how they came to die, I’ve found that the most important clues are often found in understanding how they lived. I’m fascinated by the imprint that choices made by people in the – sometimes far distant – past leave on our lives, in ways we may never understand. And many of the scientific techniques I draw upon in my day job form the fundamental building blocks of modern police investigations. So Nicola Ford crime writer is inextricably interlinked with Dr Nick Snashall archaeologist. Two halves, one whole – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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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: Alan Parkinson

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.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

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That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

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I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

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Getting to Know You: Kate Rhodes

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to chair a panel of three fabulous crime writers at my local library. It was such an honour to interview Kate Rhodes along with Rachel Abbott and Mel McGrath and I’m absolutely delighted to have Kate on the blog today to talk about writing. 

My thanks to Kate for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My latest books, Hell Bay and Ruin Beach are inspired by childhood holidays. I was lucky enough to visit the Isles of Scilly often as a kid. It’s only as an adult that I realised they would make the perfect setting for crime novels. There are just five inhabited islands, and Hell Bay is set on Bryher, which has just eighty permanent inhabitants. In winter the islands are surrounded by the raging Atlantic, and travel to the mainland becomes difficult. They’re beautiful but supremely isolated, 45 kilometres from the mainland.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Interesting real life places and events are my usual starting point. My first novel, Crossbones Yard began after I stumbled across the only sex workers graveyard in London, which seemed like an ideal place to start a crime novel.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I’m very fond of my current hero, DI Ben Kitto. He’s a fifth generation islander, but has served ten years with the Murder Squad in London. Since the death of his colleague he has been lumbered with looking after her very intelligent wolfdog called Shadow, who tends to complicate his life. I like characters with believable quirks, so Kitto has a few interests and obsessions that may people should be able to relate to.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of both! I try to plot diligently, but my stories tend to develop a life of their own, veering off in unexpected directions!

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
It’s a struggle. I tend not to read crime novels while I’m writing one, or plots get tangled and ideas get lost. I read a lot of biographies and factual books, and listen to the World Service or podcasts like This American Life instead.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Very early in my career Julian Barnes told me not to give up, and to write every single day, even if I could only find an hour of clear time. Both suggestions have helped me ever since.

What can readers expect from your books?
Setting matters a great deal to me, so they can expect to be immersed in Scilly Isles scenery, which is so important in my recent books that the landscape becomes like another character. I also want to tell gripping stories that keep my readers guessing until the very last page.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Treat writing like learning a musical instrument. There are no short cuts; the more you do it, the better you get.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the sense of absolute focus that comes when you’re immersed in spinning a story. I dislike deadlines! I’d love to be able to take ages over every book, but it’s important to write a book every year if you’re building a series, but that can be a real challenge if the rest of your life gets in the way.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’ve just finished the third book in my Hell Bay series. It’s called Burnt Island and it’s set on the tiny island of St Agnes, which is less than a mile long, with less than a hundred inhabitants. It’s been a pure pleasure, from start to finish, and I got fly down to the island on a tiny eight-seater plane, which was a brilliant experience.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Winning the Ruth Rendell short story prize back in 2014, because I got to meet one of my favourite writers shortly before she died. In more recent times, it has been very exciting that my Hell Bay series has been optioned for TV.

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Richard Rippon

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.

Richard Rippon appeared at Noir at the Bar Newcastle in May this year and read from his novel ‘Lord of the Dead‘. The excerpt Rich read was really intriguing and it made me want to read the whole novel. 

My thanks to Richard for sharing his experiences with us.

Vic x

 

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When I started writing in 2007, I was working as a lab technician in a factory. My eldest daughter had just been born, and that seemed to kick-start something in me, probably a realisation I was getting older and if I didn’t do something about my writing ambitions soon, I possibly never would.

I’d always enjoyed writing at school, but never imagined I could make a living from it. Such an idea felt fanciful, so I put it to one side and pursued a safer, more ‘sensible’ route. I was pretty good at Biology, so I studied science at A-level and a degree in Microbiology. I went on to work in a range of labs, usually for massive multi-national companies. It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t for me.

I starting writing short stories and articles, which I hoped to get placed in magazines and on websites. I won an article writing competition for a local newspaper and when I came across the Northern Writers Awards, I entered that too, with the first three chapters of a comedic detective story set in Newcastle. When I won a prize, it started a chain of events that has changed the course of my career entirely.

Things in the lab had reached a bit of a tipping point. Whilst the boredom was useful – I had plenty of time to think of story ideas – I’d had it with the place. Some jobs came up for Social Media Community Managers, a relatively new job title in 2011. Reading between the lines, it appeared to be an invitation to write creatively and fanny about on Facebook for a living. I applied and hassled the hiring manager, until she took me on. I was tasked with writing conversation calendars for brands and regularly headed to London for meetings with advertising agencies. It was fantastic. The sense of release I felt compared to my life in the lab was exhilarating.

Meanwhile, the Northern Writers prize I won led to me signing with an agent, but she struggled to find a publisher for The Kebab King. I started to think about a more serious crime novel, which eventually became Lord of the Dead, which was published last November.

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Things began to change at work. They stopped relying on us to write our own copy, and all the creative bits I loved were farmed out to agencies. I thought it might be a good idea to look elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to land a job at the best advertising agency in Newcastle. I have to say this, because I’m still there, but also because it is. 

The job has evolved from being a social media man, to ‘Creative Copywriter’. Basically, I think of ideas to help people sell things and come up with the words to go with those ideas.

It feels great to finally have the word ‘writer’ in my job title and also have had my first novel published. It’s just taken a bit longer than you might expect.

 

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: Glenda Young

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.

A couple of years ago, I went on a writing course in York hosted by ‘The People’s Friend’ magazine. On that course, I met Glenda Young. Since then, Glenda’s career has sky-rocketed – and there are few people who deserve it more than her.

Glenda is here to share a very personal story with us. I’d like to thank Glenda for her honesty. I hope her story inspires many of you.

Vic x

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I didn’t quit my day job, it quit me. 

Sort of. 

It made me really ill. Stress-induced panic attacks, anxiety eating away at me for months. Not sleeping, worrying myself sick about going to work in a job that was making me desperately unhappy. Something had to give. Something had to snap. Unfortunately, it was my mind. 

I called in sick. I thought I’d be all right after a duvet day. I wasn’t. I thought I’d go back the following week. I didn’t. I couldn’t. Weeks turned into months and I still wasn’t right. 

With the help of the NHS I underwent counselling and therapy which helped more than I can tell.  I began to recover. HR were on the phone, wondering when I was coming back. I decided not to return, handed in my notice and left, determined never to put myself through the stress of being in the wrong job ever again in my life. 

Even just thinking about that dark time at the end of 2014, early 2015 I feel my shoulders tense, my jaw grind and my blood pressure rise.

So what was the right job for me, I wondered? Well, I’d always loved writing and had earned money over the years from writing online and for ITV in my spare time. I’d put the word ‘writer’ down on my tax return every year so why not call myself a writer full-time?  Why not … I gulped … give it a try? A proper try? No playing about this time. And so, I changed my twitter profile to say I was a writer.  I announced it to the world. And now there was only one thing I needed to do: 

Write.

In autumn 2015 I joined a creative writing class at Sunderland Women’s Centre, it was a real back to basics writing class, all about expressing emotion and feeling in your work, using your senses. I loved it. I submitted a short story to The People’s Friend magazine and fell off my chair when they emailed to say they wanted to buy it. I wrote another, and another…. 

Over two years on from having that first short story published in a woman’s magazine I’ve had short stories published in three different women’s magazines and have been commissioned by The People’s Friend to write the first ever weekly soap opera for the magazine in its 150 year history. It’s an honour and a privilege to have been asked – and a real joy to write. 

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I’ve also won a local short story competition, been placed second in a national short story competition and been shortlisted and longlisted in various others. My work has been published in anthologies. And the unexpected happened too – I’ve done things I would never have dared while working in my past jobs. I’ve spoken, in public, in front of people. It’s terrifying, but by god, I enjoyed it. 

And the best bit of all, the bit that I am still on cloud nine about, that I still can’t believe is real… I’ve been signed to a literary agent who has sold my debut novel to Headline. I’ve been signed up by Headline on a three-novel deal with my debut novel Belle of the Back Streets published in November 2018.

Being diagnosed with anxiety and mental health problems has changed my life. For the better.  Yes, I still get anxious. Yes, I still get chewed up in knots over the most simple of thing. But – excuse the cliché please – I’ve learned that it really is OK to not be OK. 

It’s horrible, but it’s OK. 

As a full-time writer, of course I have less money coming in than when I was in a salaried role. There’s no pension, no security, just a blank screen that stares at me every morning. It’s a battle to write some days, but once I get going… oh, once I get going.  And I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

I am happy. 

I am a writer.