Some writers fill the little biographies in their books with unusual jobs. Something involving funerals and embalming for instance, (you’re wacky, unconventional), macho pursuits sometimes, (you’re rugged and, probably, gruff), or horny-handed, man-of-the-people jobs like docker are good for credibility, (you wish you were James Kelman but, unfortunately, you aren’t.) Tom Franklin, a writer I like a lot, is a good example. His biog says he was a clerk in a hospital morgue, he worked in a grit factory - a grit factory! - and he worked in construction. That's three out of three, right there.
I haven’t had any jobs like those. The nearest I’ve come to
funerals is filing hospital records, the nearest to a macho pursuit is
a paper-round, and the nearest to being a docker is probably also the
paper-round. I’ve done lots of workshops, varieties of teaching, some reviewing, and I’ve done jobs with titles that mean very little
to people who aren’t involved with them. Researcher for Shape London.
Literature Development Worker. Centre Director for The Arvon Foundation. Royal
Literature Fund Fellow.
In my second novel, The Alchemist, my winning and hopeful
but partly doomed young hero, Billy, writes a story in school at the age of
about 8. That’s what I did. I began it in class and continued it at home, and
it finished up, I think, 13 pages long. I felt like I’d written The Lord of the
Rings. I drew a cover for it too, which was probably no worse than some of the
covers my published work has had. (EG the one where a miserable looking bloke glares at potential book-buyers, miserably.) In The Alchemist, Billy goes on
to eat some newsprint, in the hope that this will somehow imbue him with a
writer’s qualities. This whole area is difficult and subjective, but I think I
can safely say that eating newsprint is not how to become a novelist.
Obviously, you have to eat a bit of a novel. Maybe at some
time in the past I ate a bit of the Radio Times and a bit of a screenplay too. Probably
not. But I like the jobs I’ve done. It reminds me of a line from Snow by Louis MacNeice: ‘The drunkenness of things being various.’ To me, that suggests accidentally stumbling from one thing to the next, always surprised, and usually pleased. And that's fine, because I could cope in a morgue, but I don't think I'd do well in a grit factory.