I Gave Up The Day Job Five Times (For Fiction)

I’ve been a dancer, an art dealer, a till worker, a physicist, a mortuary volunteer and a career consultant (and I’m still the latter), but the question is, how do those jobs help me write?

To set one record straight immediately, physics impacts my writing minimally. I discovered early on that mentioning it led people to wrongly assume I write sci-fi. The only aliens I write about are humans with odd personalities based on humans with odd personalities I’ve met in real life, like my weird boss who secretly did (very convincing) horse impressions in his office.

Dancing, more so. Dance is art, like books and paintings. But dancing is more than visiting a gallery of other people’s watercolours. To dance you must become the art. Understanding how to express yourself in a way that alters the emotions of the viewer on a dance floor is not that different to knowing how to excite readers with words. Volunteering to teach dance to children, some with disabilities, had an even greater impact on my life. It’s not surprising I later wrote the basics of a story about a wheelchair-bound child who just wanted to dance.

During a short stint as an art dealer, I learned a lot about the three ‘m’s: modern art, making money and manipulative sales people – all of which inspired many events in another of my books, the one about a self-proclaimed ‘hero’ (an out and out conman) who tricks the rich and greedy into revealing their secrets so he can himself benefit in unexpected ways.

Being a career consultant has done wonders for my writing in a technical sense. You have to be precise, concise and creative to write successful CVs and applications. Also the clients I meet can be fascinating. Many are not fodder for fiction – they’re far too polite, professional and considerate – but the one or two percent of difficult people I deal with (they sneak into any client list) is otherwise known as a goldmine. I’m sure I can find a story into which I can incorporate the fanatical Christian who (illegally) sent me the CVs of twenty women he didn’t know or the young nurse who sent me a total of eight individual career achievements based on urine sampling.

Till work, you might think, could offer nothing to a writer. Wrong. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that any experience, good or bad or weird can offer a bounteous wellspring of potential ideas to a creative mind. Hurriedly collecting together thousands of pounds of takings during the threat of armed robbery; apprehending a woman trying to steal a trolley-full of nappies and spending four hours counting, by hand and eye, over a thousand individual sweets as a punishment for chewing gum are just three of the events I will probably develop into story-lines.

Last but not least, like Jonathan Davies of Korn, I did time in a mortuary. For work experience. At seventeen. Dealing with dead bodies, removing their jewellery, helping wrap them in clean linen and then storing them in airtight lockers in the basement of my local hospital didn’t just provide me with ideas for books; it changed my entire perspective on living and the myriad ways people die. My interest in forensics was already strong, but now I travel through life with the understanding of what it really feels like to touch death. When I’m not writing comedy (and occasionally when I am) I draw on that experience perhaps more than any other, but not necessarily in ways you’d immediately guess at.