What do you do?

When I meet people for the first time, one of the most common things people ask – and one of the things we often ask  as we get to know each other is,’What do you do?’

For the first time in all my life, I can answer what I have always wanted to answer “I write.” I’ve always written, ever since I could remember, but the conversational question means what do you do as your job or profession, how do you identify yourself – because like it or not, and I didn’t much like it before, you are very much what you do in the eyes of others.

“I’m a student.” Emerging into the seventies with the sixties behind us, there were different reactions to my reply; when I was a student most of us had grants, most of us worked hard and drank hard and clubbed hard, unsaddled with debt and the need for a part-time job as poor kids are these days. Being a student might be refined, Oxbridge, red-brick, others… Polytechnic? Polytechnic, definitely second class except Manchester Polytechnic wasn’t! I went to Manchester Poly in its first year, it was described by the director Dr Smith as ‘the Rolls Royce of polytechnics’; we sneered then, but looking back he was right – it was a brilliant place and I owe the poly and my teachers so much. If I could go back and swap it – I wouldn’t!

Here I am, aged 18, just arrived in Manchester - a whole exciting world before me!
Here I am, aged 18, just arrived in Manchester – a whole exciting world before me!

And while I was a student, I was writing, mostly poetry, but short stories too.

“I’m a civil servant.” There was little or no career guidance when I finished my degree, and an arts degree then seemed to lead in no specific direction; I wanted to be a journalist, or a an abstract writer, but in the days before the internet it wasn’t so easy without any contacts in the business to find an opening. So I became a civil servant and wish to draw a veil over those nine months, and not just because I signed the official secrets act. I resigned without another job to go to because I just couldn’t stand the though of any more time in the small office near Old Trafford Station.

And while I was a civil servant I wrote and had the first of my short stories published in ‘Honey Magazine’.

“I’m a bing-bong girl – well, I work at the information desk and make flight announcements at Manchester Airport.” I worked there for a wonderful year, it was a brilliant job, I loved every minute of it, the way the airport was like a village, awake night and day; I loved the people I worked with and the people I met, passengers, crew, other airport workers. I liked working shifts, I loved night shifts, I loved the variety and the little dramas and the happy endings.

And while I worked at the airport I wrote and had more short stories published, and began my first novel ‘Shadows on a Silver Screen’ which is best forgotten!

“I’m a teacher.” Much as I loved working at the airport, I wanted to travel, but needed some profession or certification so I could work abroad… teaching, that was the thing. You can work anywhere as a teacher… so back to college for a year, working at the pickle factory to help pay my way, and I became a teacher. I have been so lucky in my teaching; I have worked at three brilliant schools. Birley High School which sadly was pulled down. It was in Manchester and had a great head teacher, Mr Glyn Young, great, tough, funny staff and fantastic, amazing young people.  I think I probably learned more than my students did! After a brief two terms in London, I returned north and worked in another great school Hathershaw, in Oldham, – well, it was great under the leadership of Mr John Cole, another amazing and much-loved head teacher.

And while I was teaching I wrote… my first long novel, ‘Man in the Sun’ which may one day be revamped as something else, and then my first proper novel ‘Telling All the Truth’, which maybe has the germ of a better novel in it.

“I stay at home with my children.” later than most people I had two children; I was so lucky to have two beautiful and lovely children at a time when most of my friends children were already at secondary school that I didn’t want to put them in someone else’s care while I went back to work. What was the point of that? We had to struggle with only one income, but we managed and I was so lucky that I was able to be with my children in those early years and see them safely through infancy and into school and the beginnings of an independent life.

Mads and Rory Sept 2005

And while my children were sleeping or at play-group I wrote, ‘A Strong Hand From Above’ and ‘Flipside’. I began to send off manuscripts, tried to find an agent, entered every writing competition I could find.

“I teach children who struggle in school.” I began to work in a PRU and having worked those long hours writing when my children were small, squeezing it between, housework,, cooking child-care, I had the discipline to write at night after I’d caught up on chores, prepared my lessons and spent time with my husband! he was busy with his music and often out playing and rehearsing so he wasn’t as neglected as it sounds! Now the novels flowed, hard work, but they came. ‘Farholm’, ‘The Double Act’, ‘Loving Judah’, ‘The Story of Rosa Czekov’, ‘Night Vision’. My writing flowed even more into my teaching, and I wrote my three novels for reluctant readers – nothing like having your audience reading your work right in front of you!

“I’m a writer.” At last! All my life I have wanted to say that, but could only say “I write in my spare time.” Now, hurrah! Yes, I am a writer, that is what I do, that is what I work as.

me and horsey

11 Comments

  1. seascapesaus

    This is a really enjoyable personal tale Lois! Lovely images too. I can see a bit of you in both the children’s faces. I wonder what it’s like having a writer for a mother?! Congratulations on reaching this point. A great feeling – I understand it too!

    Like

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