Wednesday Wondering – Life Before Writing

Hello and welcome to our monthly Wednesday Wondering. The WRs all long to be full-time authors and, with the book deals coming in thick and fast, this could be a reality one day. Soon, please! Being an author certainly wasn’t on my career plans when I was little. I was going to be a nurse. I had a nurse’s dress-up uniform and first aid kit and loved taking care of my dolls and teddies. A lot of little girls want to be nurses then say they get put off by the sight of blood or needles. These don’t really bother me but something else does. Vomit. I have a phobia about it. It’s a real phobia. It has a name! Emetophobia is the fear of being sick or of other people being sick. I’d have quite liked to be a primary school teacher too and I got put off it for exactly the same reason. Ridiculous eh? As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to control it a bit better; I had a child so there’s no choice really!

P1050873So after rejecting nursing and teaching, I got this idea of being a private secretary. I’d taken typewriting as a GCSE at school and liked the idea of being a PA/Secretary who’d jet off all over the world with my boss. I applied to technical college with the intention of studying a secretarial course but the husband of one of my mum’s friends was a lecturer there and suggested that, as I was expecting good grades at school, I might consider a BTEC in Business & Finance instead. I loved the sound of it, enrolled, and it shaped my career. I then wanted to be a bank manager. I became one … sort of … as I became a manager in financial services but in HQ rather than a branch. Much more me.

As for writing, I only started to think of it as a career a decade ago but I’ve always enjoyed writing and the jobs I’ve loved the most are ones that have involved writing. I’ve ended up spending most of my career in Human Resources in training and/or recruitment roles. If I was writing an advert, copy for a website or compiling a training guide, I was at my happiest as it was all about the written word. I’m still in a role where I occasionally get to write but I hope one day that my fiction writing can be full-time. I’d be in heaven then. Returning to the Wednesday Wondering, I suspected a career as a writer wasn’t what most of my WR friends set out to do. My question therefore was:

What job did you want to do when you were younger? Did you do this job and, if not, what stopped you? At what point did you start wanting to be an author instead?

Helen P says … I always loved singing, on my own not in front of anyone though. I would sing away for hours to my favourite songs. So when I was younger I had great visions of being a backing singer for a pop group. Of course I would have actually had to sing in public so it wasn’t looking too good. I’ve always written stories but it wasn’t until my thirties that I realised I could try to make a go of it. It’s only taken till my forties to get it right and I can write safely from my own room 😉

Helen R says … When I was 14 I wanted to be a journalist and my English teacher told me to never give up on that dream…she had. I studied English A level but at the same time I studied business studies and I enjoyed it so much that I turned down my university place and a degree in English and American studies. I secured a place on a business management course but realised after one term that it wasn’t for me. But by that time I was settled and had made friends and was enjoying the Uni life in Bournemouth and so I stuck with the course.

I worked in I.T for 7 years until I finally took a course in journalism and began freelancing for magazines. I have to say that I’ve never looked back! After I had children I studied 4 units of a Masters in Writing and spent time wondering what career in writing I actually wanted. Finally I realised that writing novels was it and so I started to do that in 2010 and now I’ll never stop 🙂

Lynne says … P1050872I was in hospital quite a lot as a child. In those days you used to be admitted for observation, and it was thought that I might have some weird disease. No-one ever got to the bottom of the problem until thirty years later I was diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder.

For me hospital introduced me to a world of order, compassion, peace and sympathy and I loved my stays. To this day I can clearly remember lying my dolls in a row and tucking them up with a blanket just like I had seen in hospital. There was little surprise then, when I announced that I wanted to be a nurse at the age of seven. Although there were times when I saw Princess Grace and wanted to be a princess or a film star, but on the whole my ambition never waivered. I can still remember the agony when I was 16 and 17 and had left school but was too young to work on the wards so I had to work in an office.

When my 18th year arrived I got my wish and started work on the wards. I can still remember the pride with which I donned my uniform and the pleasure it gave me to care for the patients. That was forty years ago now, though it hardly seems it. Because of my nerve condition I retrained in social work, it was easier for me to talk to people rather than dash around the wards. But whatever the job title, I was doing what I wanted to do and helping people.

I loved every minute of both jobs and if my creaky old body would let me now, I’d still be doing them. But I am doing the second best thing and writing about it. I hope that every page oozes with the pleasure I got from helping others. People have funny thoughts about child protection social work, yet it’s the most challenging and rewarding job ever. I want to launch my books when I’ve written three and I’m halfway there. Keep a check on these pages for when I’ve got them online and pop over and see what you think!

Deirdre says … I always wanted to be an author, always. It was what I said when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. The word ‘author’ must have been put into my head by my parents as I would not have known it otherwise but I knew I wanted to write stories, and write them I did, at every opportunity. I even sent a story to a children’s magazine once, and got a lovely letter from the editor  – my first rejection! Unsurprisingly, announcing my literary ambitions in the playground brought a lot of bemused faces and: ‘What’s a norther?’

There was one other career I toyed with – a pharmacist. This also took some explaining to the other kids as mostly they took it to mean ‘farm assist’ but since I didn’t have a clue what it was either – I just liked the sound of the word – my explanations left them none the wiser. Discovering later that to be a pharmacist you had to be good at maths effectively put paid to that and I returned happily to Plan A.

Once I got to grammar school, it was made clear from the start that there were only two career paths open to us girls. You were either destined for university or teacher training college and one of the professions, or you weren’t. I wasn’t. Nobody in my family had been to university and we couldn’t have afforded it anyway but it didn’t matter because I didn’t want to go.

At that time we really didn’t have the knowledge or information to make properly informed career choices and the school was no help. If you weren’t going to follow a profession, and in truth that was only for the middle class girls, all that was left was nursing (viewed then as an extremely poor relation to other medical professions), banking, local government or the civil service. If you went into any of these you weren’t pursuing a career, you were GETTING A JOB. Again, this was fine by me. I still dreamed of being an author but had long since reached the conclusion that you didn’t actually set out to be an author, you just became one, and my dream bore no relation whatsoever to the business of GETTING A JOB.

Another pastime I’d enjoyed as a child was playing offices, which meant banging about on an ancient typewriter and ‘organising’ bits of paper, and so an office was obviously my destiny. I took a secretarial course, ‘chose’ local government purely because that was my parents’ preference, and accepted the first job I was offered, in the Town Planning Department of the local council. That was how it was then.  There were dozens of jobs for every applicant but I didn’t shop around.  I needed to be earning, I’d landed myself a ‘good’ job – good because it was in local government – and that was that.

I can’t say I’ve regretted any of the jobs I’ve had; I’ve enjoyed them all. You make the best of what comes, don’t you? I hadn’t bargained on taking quite so long to achieve that first ambition but at least I’ve put in the research!

Sharon says … The first time I remember even thinking about a future career was when I was thirteen. We were asked to write a mini biography when we started our upper high school so that the English teacher could get to know us a bit better. One of the questions he wanted us to think about was what we’d like to do for a living after leaving school. I still chuckle to myself when I think of the answer I gave. ‘When I leave school I would like to be an author, or a showjumper. And I wouldn’t mind being a vicar’s wife.’ Where all that came from, I have no idea. Thinking about it (and it makes me blush when I imagine how he must have laughed at that!)

I guess I always knew I wanted to write, though only ever in a sort of vague way. I never actually visualised it. I just thought that writing was fabulous, and I kind of wanted to be Enid Blyton but hopefully without the traumatised, neglected children. I loved her and thought she must have a glamorous and rather lovely life. I wanted to be a showjumper because I was reading an awful lot of pony books at the time and thought it would be a great job, despite never having had a riding lesson in my life. The optimism of youth!

As for the vicar’s wife!! It just shows you how things have changed. When I was thirteen, the idea that a woman could actually be a vicar obviously never entered my head. I was quite religious at the time, but I think my main motivation came from a series of books I was reading by Monica Edwards about a girl called Tamzin (and her pony, obviously) who lived in a vicarage on the Sussex coast. The father was a vicar and seemed quite nice and the mother had a jolly good life by the sea with a pony in the paddock and two very lovely kids so I thought, well, there’s a life I wouldn’t mind having.  Our own vicar lived in a lovely house with its own grounds and his wife was our Brown Owl. They held summer garden parties and the kids gave pony rides so, yes, that was the image I had of a vicar’s wife’s life, I suppose. Funnily enough, I’m currently plotting a novel in which the hero is a rather sexy vicar! I’m not obsessed, honestly!

As I reached the age of fourteen/fifteen and reality started to bite, I toyed with the idea of becoming an English teacher for a while, but I never really believed I was clever enough to go to university in spite of my teacher’s encouragement. In the end I was in my forties before I had the nerve to do my degree. I absolutely loved it so I kind of wish I’d done it when I left school but there you go. Better late than never!

Jo says … Aged 7I think I’ve always wanted to be writer, I can remember starting my first ‘novel’ aged seven, around the time this photograph was taken.  I think it was my attempt to rip off ‘What Katy Did’ and I never got beyond the first couple of pages, but it’s where my love of writing began.  Mostly I still love it, but sometimes I don’t (mainly when I’m editing!) – either way, I just can’t stop.

I did have a brief phase of wanting to be an air hostess, as my very glamorous eldest sister was one, but that soon wore off.  I wanted to be a journalist when I left school, but I would never have been pushy enough to get a scoop.  So I fell into teaching and, with a family arriving, writing went on the back burner for a bit.

A couple of years ago I started to focus more seriously on my writing and, since then, I’ve written three novels, a novella and signed with a publisher.  I suppose it proves childhood dreams do sometimes come true. They look a bit different to how I’d imagined in reality, but it feels like I’ve got a foot on the ladder of the career I first decided I wanted 35 years ago!

Jackie says… I don’t remember wanting to do any particular job when I was young, although my two daughters both had great ideas from an early age. Hannah wanted to work in Tesco in St Ives, Cornwall and marry a boy called Jo Rose who was in her year at school and Rosie wanted to have her own ice-cream van. Good plans!

My own careers advice consisted of going to the library in Stone, Staffs and having a Career’s Officer pore over the local paper pointing out jobs. Hmm, not the best guidance. I decided I wanted to be a journalist at some point but was literally shown the door when I sat down for the exam, as I didn’t have a pen or paper on me and they weren’t about to help me by providing one. Stafford Newsletter- you traumatised me!

I never felt that I came up the mark really, as most of my friends went to University while I did the University of life, enjoyable as it was. Thankfully, life is long and I have had some great jobs and some wonderful job related experiences. Now I am a writer and I think I wanted to be a writer for quite some time- I just didn’t know how to go about it.

Watch this space I will be published, even though my dear mother (bless her) says, ‘I should give up on it, Jackie, if I was you. Haven’t you got better things to do with your time?’ Yes mother, I probably do, but I don’t think there is any part of me that can call it a day. I have invested thousands and thousands of words and they keep on coming and when they do, they are an improvement on the last words I wrote and they arrange themselves in a better order than they did five or ten years ago. So this is my career path- late as it may be. I am a writer.

DSCF0015Rachael says … When I was at primary school I discovered the joy of writing a short story. Why not be a writer? No, too unobtainable. I changed tack and decided I really wanted to be a nurse, but due to my eczema, I was told that wasn’t a good. Hairdresser? No, same problem.

So off I headed for secondary school, as it was then called, without a clue as to what I wanted to do. The careers adviser visited and a decision had to be made. Office Practice and Typing were selected as my options, but the reality of working in an office wasn’t for me.

When my path through life took me to Wales I needed a job, any job and I started working in a pharmacy. This was it, what I should have told everyone I wanted to do and soon I qualified as a dispensing technician and loved it.

I then married a dairy farmer and job rolls changed once more. This time to a stay at home mum who also worked on the farm. I was milking cows, feeding calves, keeping accounts – oh, and raising two children. When a local writing group started I thought, why not. Suddenly my dream of being a writer seemed just a little more obtainable. It took a long time to get to my original job choice, but I did – and the typing stood me in good stead!

What about you? What career did you want as a child? Did you pursue it? Was it how you imagined? If you’re a writer, did you always want to be one? We’d love to hear from you. Jessica xx


14 thoughts on “Wednesday Wondering – Life Before Writing

  1. Fascinating post! Although i’ve always wanted to be a writer, I did go through phases of aspiring to be a nurse at the age when I was into dressing up because I liked the uniform – the old-fashioned one current in those days with a white apron and a red cross and a hat. How I longed for an upside-down watch, the kind they pinned to the top of their apron. I think my dressing-up set had one printed on it, but I longed for the real thing.

    I ended up in a varied career of which writing was the focal point – journalism, PR, marketing – but only recently when my husband retired was I able to afford the luxury of giving up the day job to write at home. I also do some paid freelance work to boost my income – after all, very few writers can live off their writing earnings alone – including offering marketing advice to authors and being commissioning editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors blog, but at least I now have the satisfaction of being able to answer when someone asks me what I do for a living “I am a writer”. 🙂

    But I also took heart from a guest post on the ALLi blog yesterday that advocated making sure that writing is NOT your only job – you might like to pop over to read it here:

    I am sure that my writing would be much less interesting if I had not done all those other jobs, which gave me broad experience of life and the world as a whole, so I really have no regrets.

    Best wishes, Debbie

    • I had that nurses uniform as a student nurse too Debbie, and I loved it! I remember messing about with some colleagues on night duty in a creepy old Victorian hospital making the cape swoop behind you and pretending to be Dracula!! I also hankered after a Post-Office set but never got one of those & it never entered my career.

      I so agree with you that our writing must be much more interesting when informed by life. I think you’re right too that writing shouldn’t be our only job, for most of us anyway. 🙂

    • Thanks for joining us, Debbie. I loved those upside-down watches too. I had one on my uniform … but only a plastic one. Thanks for the link to the post too. I saw that come up on my Facebook feed but hadn’t got round to reading it yet. I do dream of being a full-time writer but I suspect I’d keep a small part-time job going that I currently have and seek to add in another for both the variety and inspiration.

  2. Jessica, I’m so relieved to hear that I’m not the only person I know with a phobia of being sick! It really is awful and I can’t cope with other people doing it either. As you say, you have to learn to cope when you have children but other than that…ugh! Did you ever read Twinkle? It was a comic back in the seventies and maybe eighties? There was a regular comic strip in there called Nurse Nancy, all about a little girl who dressed as a nurse and ran her own little hospital for dolls and teddies, fixing them up when they were “ill”. Your story reminded me of her.
    Helen P, I am now dying to hear what your singing voice is like! Are you a karaoke queen on the sly? 🙂
    Lynne, I’m relieved that you didn’t find all those trips to the hospital traumatic, but actually enjoyed them. And how lovely that you’ve made the very best of ill health to start a whole new career. You’re already a paid author and I know people will love your books!
    Helen R, I’m very interested in the career path you’ve followed. I had no idea. I may have to pick your brains…;)
    Deirdre, I can totally relate to the whole “university isn’t for people like us” thing. That was very much the way things were back when I was at school. Careers were for the middle classes. Jobs were for the likes of us! How things change…I hope.
    Jo, I was about seven when I wrote my first book, too. It was all about a girl called Jill who went to a ballet school. I was obsessed with the name Jill for a while and insisted my family call me that name. (Bet they called me a lot more besides!) I’d never had a ballet lesson in my life so I have no idea what I found to write about but it ended up being almost a hundred pages long and fully illustrated. I almost wish I’d kept it. 🙂
    I’ve enjoyed reading about all your childhood dreams and which paths you followed to bring you to this point. Great idea for a post, Jessica! x

    • Thanks Sharon … or should I call you Jill?!
      The sick thing; another thing that clearly makes us kindred-spirits! And I loved reading Twinkle. I’d completely forgotten about that! I think I graduated to Bunty after that. I wonder if it was Nurse Nancy who inspired me to play those games.
      Jessica xx

  3. Brilliant post Jessica!! There’s so much more to us than we usually see! I was the same, my school did not encourage university attendance, that wasn’t for people like us, they believed in a strict social ladder and I was at the bottom. I made up for it in the end though. I too could have married a vicar, like the lovely Peter Owen-Jones in Sussex! xx

  4. Such a lovely post, Jessica, and it was brilliant to read everyone’s childhood dreams and realise that many of those – and some dreams that arose when they were more ‘grown up’ (at least age wise!) – are coming true too 🙂 xx

  5. Great post! I also have a fear of being sick…actually thought I was the only one!
    Funny how so many writers are destined for other careers at first, but it also gives great life experiences that we can go on to use in our work 🙂
    Helen R

    • What are the odds, Helen, that 3 out of 10 of us have the same phobia?! I don’t like being sick but it’s the other people being sick thing that causes my phobia. Grr. It’s worst on planes as I’m always aware of whether someone’s reaching for a sick-bag. That must be awful for you on so many long-haul flights to Oz!
      Jessica xx

  6. Pingback: Becoming a writer | Katy Haye

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