Tag Archives: job

A watched phone never boils…..

I really wanted to wait until I’d heard something from someone about employment, because I always think a blog without something positive is a whinge. But, there’s also the feeling I’ve  mentioned before, about an idea not being properly developed until it’s been expressed. Makes me wonder about “Think before you speak”.

So here I am, at Friday, a whole week into February and still with only the usual suspects of work. I spent yesterday in a fever of creativity, reviewing a play and writing two and half sketches. TLC have been asked to write a sketch evening on a specific theme and I decided it was time I tackled the sketches I’d volunteered for. If you asked me, I’d have said I don’t like working that way, that I prefer to wait until I get a great idea and then work that one out. I would have said I can’t write to order, or if I do it comes out as merely workmanlike. Modesty prevents me saying the two sketches I completed yesterday were good, but the better of the two made me laugh while I was writing it, and the second one made me laugh when David re-wrote the ending to make it funny. The third will have to wait to be written up, since I wrote it longhand while watching Eldest and Middle Weasel doing their Ice Skating lesson.

I don’t know what people think it’s like, writing for a living. I can tell you what it’s like for me.

I have the computer I work at set up in the Living Room. It’s not the ideal place during the evening, but with the Weasels out getting educated it makes as much sense as anywhere else. I have a coffee-making machine ten steps away, so I have to get up at least every five minutes. I have nowhere near enough food, which is a good thing. I don’t have reference books to hand, or manuals on writing. I read those at night (seriously – at the moment it’s  “How to Build a Great Screenplay”). There is clutter on the computer desk – story cds, game boxes (The kids leave them out and I never bother to put them away unless it’s time for the big clearout.) There’s a Dictaphone there today too, thanks to a rummage in the deep storage the other day. I found it and thought I might need it for something. I didn’t, but I’ve been using it as I walked the dog the last couple of days. I keep thinking it’ll be brilliant for capturing the bright thoughts I have when I’m out and about, but it’s rubbish. I should have remembered, because I once spent several months dictating a novel into that same machine, then typing up the copy. On a tiny machine like that, my voice is whiny and nasal, plus I huff and puff like an old man riding a Space Hopper down a cobble street. I finished the novel, a children’s book, and it was rubbish. (I liked some of it – the page numbers mostly. I may use them later in another book.) There’s usually a pad or blank paper for scribbling things on, but they tend to be lists of stuff I should be doing, or things that people have phoned up to tell me. I also have a hard copy of the e-book so far, because I was doing revisions on it the other day. I’m still clinging to the idea it’ll be finished by the middle of this month, but that may be just the copy written. I suspect the actual production ( there are diagrams to include, which I haven’t drawn, and the cover needs to be re-done by David) will take a bit longer. It’s still easier than trying to produce a real-world book, since the typesetting and design are completely under my control (in that I say “David, how do think the design and typesetting should go?” David’s a print and design professional you know. I can trust him on this stuff. Plus he makes my sketches funnier. AND he won the Dame Academy Panto Dame competition in Milton Keynes. Not someone to be messed with.)

I listen to music while I write. I’d rather listen to stories, but the words get in the way. Strange, because the lyrics are my favourite part of most songs, but the singing slides straight past my ears and into my brain, so I don’t have to worry about it turning up on the page. I don’t pick specific music for different types of writing – I have a big file of my favourite tracks – seven hour’s worth, give or take a minute, and they wander out of the speakers on random play. Doesn’t make much difference to me, as I only HEAR it when I stop writing. I hate writing in silence, but I’ll do it if I have to. The best days, the days I dream of, are when whatever I’m writing is so interesting, so much fun that nothing else matters. The coffee goes cold and the music fades away, there’s nothing but the pictures in my head flowing down through the keyboard and onto the screen. When everything is going well, my hands can’t keep up and I can’t stop smiling. I think that’s something else people don’t get: Writing can be miserably hard work, it can make your head ache and slice your confidence to ribbons, but at the best moments it’s like flying. I am at my happiest when I’ve written something I’m pleased with. Doesn’t matter what. If I’ve got the idea down complete, I’m irrepressibly cheerful

So this week I’ve applied for a few more jobs and had some in depth discussions with some potential employers. I swapped quite a few e-mails with a Vancouver blog who wanted freelancers to interview Vancouver-based directors. They were willing to pay, so I volunteered my services. We talked about it, and then all of a sudden they said they were “going with other applicants.” I tried not to feel crushed, and concentrated on the online audio-book company that wanted a story re-written as a script. They also wanted some kind of adaptation done, which sounded like they wanted an additional narrative frame around the story to “put it in context”. I asked a couple of reasonable questions* and then sent them in my idea. Since they were also asking for voice actors, I pointed out that I had a fine English accent and would make a brilliant villain in one of their productions. They seemed to reply to both the e-mails out of sequence, but to be honest, neither reply made a lot of sense. The second e-mail said simply :” I concerned that people would get bored with the sequential nature of it.” I concerned. I concerned? I can forgive a typo (except when I’m proofreading) but the rest of the sentence was just as baffling. He’s worried about people getting bored with the sequential nature of the story, and he’s running a business selling audio books to people CHAPTER BY CHAPTER? Heavens, let’s avoid giving people anything of a sequential nature! We’ll keep ’em interested by starting with chapter five and then skipping ahead to seven, then three…. I may be just a little bitter.

My friend and neighbour across the way, Sue, is waiting for employment news too, but she’s been waiting six months. Actually, that’s not a fair thing to say. She’s been working very, very hard to find work for six months, and has been through more interviews than I’ve had coffees. I really wouldn’t mind if today’s her day instead of mine, because I haven’t tried nearly as hard as she has.

Following up on yesterday’s creative storm, I’ve finished my latest bunch of play reviews and now I’m going to pile into the domestic tasks. If there’s time later, I may go back to some other projects that have been a little neglected, but I also have to do the rounds of the job sites. If you’re curious about the writing process, e-mail me. If you have a script you think needs assessing, you could try the Lazy Bee appraisal service (Lazy Bee are my publishers, and they employ an experienced Script Reader to assess submissions for them. Ok, it’s me, but I’ve been a published playwright for over a decade, reading scripts and reporting for over three years, and I took a course on Script Reading with the Script Factory in London.)

*Including “What the hell are you talking about?”

Getting a job is such hard work!

I’ve thought a lot about this post, especially since it’s about something that only happened in the last forty eight hours. I often remember the phrase “A thought is never fully formed until it has been expressed.” and for me the best form of expression is writing. I need to have things written down so I can see what I think about them. It makes me useless in an argument because I can’t marshal my responses. I look at both sides of what’s being said, and often cave without arguing back. With Mrs Dim, I’ll quite often take her opening speech and run through how I think the argument (oops, meant “discussion” there…Sorry!) will go. Odds are, I’ll find I’ve run out of responses before we really get into it. This isn’t because she overwhelms me or is authoritarian or anything spooky or depressing like that : The fact is, if we’re having a difference of opinion, it’s usually because I am being resistant to change or reluctant to take on responsibility for something (see my previous post).

It may seem daft that I say I’m resistant to change after spending sixteen years moving from house to house, having three kids and numerous minor jobs. Here I am, thousands of miles from the country I was born in, saying I don’t deal well with change. Well, it’s true. I like routine, I like things to sort themselves out and then I can cope with them being the same every day. Having got Tiny Weasel into full-time schooling, I could relax into running my own day between 9 and 3, fitting odd things into that schedule when necessary.

A while ago, when we were living in Bournemouth and not sure if we’d ever get to Canada, I wrote a  magazine article called “Giving up the dream” which talked about the fact that I would have to stop being a full-time writer and go back to regular employment if we were going to stay in the UK. There was no other way we’d cope with the financial reality of life outside the RAF. And besides, with the kids in school and the writing business only growing slowly, there was no reason not to. I had hoped that coming out here, where the house prices are lower and the exchange rate was so good, that we could carry on as we were, and I could survive by increasing the number of published plays. Of course, I also had my grand plays to be visiting Rock-Star-Playwright at the local school and colleges, feted by all and showered with money for deigning to appear and discuss my process.

Well, the plays are still being written. We add new titles every month and our business plan for the next year is healthy enough, but the projected earnings don’t match up to the projected shortfall if we go ahead with the house purchase we’re both considering. Me getting a regular job is the only sensible solution, and this is what Mrs Dim said to me, in a very reasonable tone of voice on Saturday afternoon. I’d like to say that I nodded sagely and instantly suggested several courses of action that we could work on.

I didn’t. I sulked like a teenager. I whined and bitched. I muttered about having wasted the previous ten years building up a business only to throw it away. I said I would only be able to get a stupid shift job at Starbucks, since I’m qualified for nothing, and what good would that do? When this didn’t get me anywhere, I brought the dog into it. How was she going to get her morning walk if I go out to work? Pathetic, isn’t it?

Mrs Dim was more than a little disappointed. From her point if view, I was being very slow and unsupportive. She had shown me the accounts spreadsheet the week before and indicated how the incoming and outgoings wouldn’t match up if we take on a mortgage, or even if we just carry on the way we’re going now. I looked blankly at the lines of figures and nodded hopefully. I did not leap up and suggest I get a job and, bless her, right then she didn’t ask me. She gave me more time to figure it out myself, and when she felt it couldn’t wait any longer, she pushed the issue and I reacted like a spoilt brat.

Why? Well, have I mentioned that I don’t cope well with change? (Please understand, I am aware that everything said in this paragraph is an EXCUSE and not a REASON. I’m explaining my point of view, not asking you to agree.) I have exactly the life I have always dreamed of: I have time to write my looniest ideas down and send them away to my publisher, I get to tidy and clean at my own pace, I get to walk the dog in the fresh air at least twice a day and I don’t have an in-tray. I’ve worked in many different types of jobs in my time, and never really found one that I enjoyed. I worked behind a bar, behind a desk, behind a shop counter, in a factory and it’s only since I’ve been working for myself from home that I’ve been happy with the working hours and conditions. If the kids are ill or there’s a crisis at school, I don’t need anyone’s permission to shut down the computer and go get ’em.

But the point here is not how comfortable I feel in a new work situation. The point is that Mrs Dim has said there is a family crisis on the horizon, and I’m the one who can do something about it right now. If I step up and find work, I can stop that crisis ever arriving, and what kind of husband or father would I be if I just curl up under the desk and hope it goes away? It’s not like she’s asking me to stop being a playwright, and there’s plenty of examples of people out there who acheived more than I do on a daily basis while holding down a nine to five job. If I can’t carry on writing, reviewing and appraising while I turn in eight hours a day somewhere, then I don’t deserve to have all this time at home playing at being a famous writer.

On the other hand, if you know anyone who wants to hire a writer for a couple of thousand dollars a month, I can send you the number to call….

If I were pregnant, I’d be due by now….

Seems funny, living in a place with so many great landmarks, that we now have so few in our lives. Not so long ago it seemed that everything we did was a first, and now it’s hard to find something that isn’t part of the everyday routine.

Buying snow chains was new though. Last year they had a big old dump of snow here in Vancouver, more than they’ve ever had, and a lot of people didn’t know what to do. Most seemed to think that driving too fast and crashing was the best plan. So a lot of our neighbours have been telling us we need snow tires, and chains. And a shovel. And some blankets. Hell, don’t even bother coming out of the house until March, stock up on tins and firewood and live in your basement.

But I’m British, and we don’t change our own tires these days. We certainly don’t have two sets of tires at the same time. For one thing, we have TYRES, which are much more imbued with a sense of history and Empire. So I won’t be joining the long queues outside the ttire shops when the first snow falls. I shall drive slowly and carefully in the All-Weathers that were already on my car, and put on the chains when the going gets really tough. I’ve tried it once, and it wasn’t too hard. Just takes twenty minutes per wheel. Maybe I better practice again?

The other first that is looming is Christmas. I’ll miss my family, because that’s what you do at Christmas, but we’ve already turned down one kind invitation to do Christmas Dinner with someone else. This emigration is something we did as a team, and there are some moments when we have to draw back down to just that team and say “Ok, this is us. Are we still ok? Is this still the right thing to be doing?” Mrs Dim has had her moments of worry recently. They say the six month point is crucial, but that was when she got her great job, and that kind of carried us over. Now that’s all normal (SOP:Standard Operating Procedure) she’s starting to get the jitters she should have had three months ago. We’re looking at houses again, worrying about the money, suggesting I should get a proper job…

Sidebar for a true story: I joined an online essay-writing group. You choose the assignments you want to write and get paid for them (providing you pass the initial test and the customer is happy, I guess.) I passed the initial test ok, then went to look at the assignments. The first one I saw was an essay on plagiarism. It had all the details of the University where this essay had been set. Some student had been assigned an essay on Plagiarism, and was paying someone else to write it! I didn’t take the job.

It’s nine months since we arrived in Canada, give or take a day, and eight months since we moved into this house. I think that’s cool: Three quarters of a year in the country, two thirds of a year in the house. It still feels like there are things I haven’t got sorted out yet : I still haven’t earned any money in this country yet, though I think about eight grand has stacked up in the UK bank account. We haven’t been able to talk to an accountant or Tax advisor – I think that’s a job for me to sort. We’ve found a mortgage advisor, but the sum she says we can afford is not as big as the ticket on the houses we’ve been looking at. Middle Weasel has just begun her assessment to find out if she’s certifiably bonkers or just a tough cookie when it comes to schoolwork. But we’re healthy and happy, and when the sun shines, like it is today, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. In fact, it’s not that bad when it’s raining.

Heh, just thought of another first. Mrs Dim and I took a day off last week and went for a skiing lesson. Just the two of us, and a guy called Ryan as our instructor – came from Manchester, of all places. For a glorious couple of hours we were out on the mountain, above the rain and mist in the sun, falling on our asses and laughing like four-year-olds. One of the things that we promised ourselves we would do when we moved here, and we’re doing it.

The Last Night in the UK (originally posted Mar 8/09)

Taking a break from packing

"I'll just grab forty winks, then get on with the packing...."

So here it is – the last night in the UK for some time….I did say I was going to try and avoid the lasts, and a whole bunch just zipped by without me noticing them. I bought my last Radio Times, filled up the car for the last time, I guess I ate my last UK fast food some time ago.

Today was just as frantic and fun-filled as the rest of the week has been. Mrs Dim’s Mum had arranged for us to spend the morning walking round Windsor Great park with Mrs Dim’s cousin and her aunt and uncle. They’re nice people, and the park is unbelievably splendid, but you know what? It wasn’t my first choice of activity. I don’t know exactly what I would have done instead – somewhere near the top of the list was a good long book and a toilet with a solid lock on the door – I may be a little nervous about emigrating after all.

I tried repacking the cases. There are nine of them now, which seems excessive to me when there are only five of us travelling, but I got frustrated with the endless roatation of the stuff – I wasn’t getting rid of any, just redistributing it, and there was still tons of our detritus ranged around the house. There’s nothing for it but to begin tomorrow with a roof-to-cellar search of the house, packing everything we’re not wearing and then praying the hire car has damn good suspension.

Mrs Dim’s brother invited us both out for a drink in the evening. Again, this was not my first choice, but he’s a nice guy and it had to be better than sitting in and trying to read a book, waiting for it to get late enough to go to bed and not sleep. As it turned out, the local pub was considerately displaying several reasons to emigrate to another country. As we walked in, one drunken patron was trying to remove his shirt, then there was raucous cheering as another man emerged from the toilets with a woman’s blouse on, lipstick roughly slapped across his face and extra hair drawn on his bald head.

Before long they all staggered off to another place and we had a lovely evening. The talk flowed as fast as the drinks, and during the course of our time in the pub several text messages of good luck came in.

I’m worried the cases are too heavy, I’m worried our visas will be wrong and we’ll be turned back. I’m worried my back will give out on the flight, I’m worried we’ll have some probem finding a house. I’m worried Mrs Dim will take a job she doesn’t want or love because it’s offered to her and she doesn’t believe in herself enough to turn it down. I’m worried about all these things and more, but I don’t consider, not for a single moment, the idea of not going.

Next entry from our apartment in Vancouver. Assuming I don’t break the laptop, get turned back at customs etc etc etc