Thursday, July 16, 2015

All glamour, all the time

What would I do if I wasn't writing?

by Catriona

Well, I wouldn't be teaching in a university, which is what I did before I was writing. I might be working in a library, which is what I did in between bouts of education, but library work has got awfully technical since I did it, with a wooden carousel of cardboard tickets and an inky stamp, so perhaps not that either (Although I get a twinge of envy when I read about Mira James in Jess Lourey's murder-by-the-month series, running her one-woman library, organising story-time and hanging out with the good people of Battle Lake, MN. Mira's life strikes me as just about perfect, except for all the corpses and for being, you know, fictional.

But speaking of fictional jobs, it's true that I've given the protagonists of three out of four stand-alone novels jobs I'd happily do and enjoyed researching. The fourth I made do a PhD but I let her live above a butcher's shop so she can't complain.

Opal Jones in AS SHE LEFT IT is a picker in Tesco. She's the supermarket employee who takes the shopping lists of online customers and fills their trolleys ready for the van driver to deliver. (US: Safeway, cart, truck - sorry.) I like big supermarkets and, being a nosey-parker, I'd love to get the legitimate peek into people's lives that comes with doing their shopping week in and week out. I had assumed it was anonymous. It's not. That was a useful discovery for a suspense novel.

I was tickled to find out about the weekly competition for funniest mistake too. when I was doing research interviews someone had just won for giving a customer, instead of lemon and lime conditioner for oily hair . . . a baguette!

Jessie Constable, in THE DAY SHE DIED has another job I'd love to do. It combines the nosey-parker's-charter aspect with a good dose of bargain hunting/dumpster-diving. She's the manager of a free-clothing project for a charity: sorts the donations into eBay auction fodder, useable items and dross; washes and irons (I love washing and ironing (yes, really)); spends the eBay money on new underclothes in Primark (shopping again); keeps the stock tidy and helps the customers, some of whom are having a pretty rough old time and need a bit of pampering.

Okay, Jessie's other job - because four days a week at St Vince's doesn't keep her in diamonds - is cleaning caravans at a holiday site by a Scottish beach. I wouldn't fight her for it. But it's a lovely beach.

But Gloria Harkness, the heroine of the forthcoming THE CHILD GARDEN really does have my dream job. She's the registrar in the village in Galloway where I used to live. A registrar, US friends, is someone who registers births and deaths and conducts civil weddings. Come on! Registrars get a wee cuddle at the babies while they do the paperwork and they get to find out the wackadoodle names before anyone else (don't tell me there's not a secret registrars' competition there). They get to go to weddings and judge everyone's outfits. And, while registering deaths must be harrowing at times, it's important work and if you did it well, with sensitivity and compassion, you could be making a big difference to someone when they really needed it.

Truly, one of the things I love about writing fiction is getting to inhabit these other lives and fantasise about these jobs. Except maybe cleaning the caravans.


Sarah Glenn said...

I still remember working checkout at K-Mart (a precursor to Wal-Mart). One day, a fellow came in and bought booze and a huge box of condoms. The next day, he bought jogging shoes. I almost asked him where he found the energy.

Kristopher said...

Your characters do have the most interesting jobs. Like you, I'd love to work in an old-school library.