I trained as a CLASSICAL BALLET DANCER and a teacher once said to me ‘if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t right’! Pushing yourself over the brink into real pain, is destructive. But dancing taught me that looking effortless takes a lorry load of effort; that blood-blackened toenails are no big whoop; and that feeling uncomfortable or even in some pain, is totally bearable and indeed desirable, as you have to leave your comfort zone to progress.
After a back injury I went to university late at age twenty-three and left with a prepared-for-nothing English degree, so I became a COCKTAIL WAITRESS. I learnt how to mop up sick (always useful), how to give withering looks to people cracking jokes as you make them a ‘sex-on-the-beach’ ‘orgasm’ or ‘slippery nipple’; and that people are not always what you expect. One of my regular drinkers was a mercenary, ex-army, paid to kill people across the globe and I would put his gun behind the bar for safety, but he was the most polite, shy, helpful man I’ve ever met.
At college I’d dabbled in acting and I thought I’d have a stab at being an ACTOR professionally. My one and only TV acting role, which you can still sometimes catch on TV rerun channels, was as a con-woman in the Ian-McShane-infused-antiques-meet-crime series, Lovejoy. I was grasping a wreath and dressed for a funeral whilst pretending to have lost my purse, in order to con the unsuspecting public into handouts. From this experience, I learnt that some jobs look glamorous but are really just lots of standing around; that I’m rubbish at acting because I’m far too hyper-self-aware; and that it’s totally fine to give up something, if you feel like your skin’s crawling off you when you do it.
When I was stuck in a rut, I would do something that scared me, so I decided to work as an ARTIST’S MODEL. When I bared all in front of the staring painters at their easels, I learnt several useful things: which poses are easy to hold for an hour without screaming; that an unscratched itchy nose is agony, but that you can put your mind elsewhere and defocus from it; and best of all, I experienced a life-changing watershed realisation that has stood me in great stead ever since - that no one really cares tuppence about what you’re doing, they’re all too focussed on their concerns, so there’s really no point in worrying what other people think.
I was getting a bit drunkenly bohemian and uncontrolled so I got a job as a STATIONERY SHOP MANAGER. It was one of the happiest periods of my life. Genuinely. I realised that I looove systems and organising and one of the best ways to calm down, is to de-clutter, systematise and follow lists. I find it very calming to watch a Marie Kondo video if I’m stressed!
My ego still needed external applause, so I started doing open spots as a STAND-UP COMIC. Open spots quickly led to paid 10 mins, then 20’s and soon I was working full time as a comic in clubs and festivals up and down the UK. My kind of comedy was self-deprecating story telling and I learnt the importance of a charismatic quirky voice, that you need to hone, hone, hone, to appear natural and off the cuff and that being messed up and insecure is no bar to success – if targeted, it’s an asset.
Touring eventually became a chore and I was worn out with showing-off, so I became a RADIO DRAMA PRODUCER. Obviously, you have to really train for some jobs like surgeon or air traffic controller, but with so many artsy jobs you can ‘fake it till you make it’. I got into the BBC as an assistant script editor by lying that I loved theatre (ok its occasionally good, but come on, most of it’s bleugh) and talking up my comedy contacts. I watched, learnt, faked and eventually became a full-time producer. I finally grasped the concept of collaboration – that I needed to both follow my instincts but also be open to new and unfamiliar ideas, in order to create. I learnt a ton about plot structure and character and the need to push a writer to complete a first draft, however shitty, so they would eventually write a great script.
After I had my son, I went freelance as a radio producer, and when covid wiped out producing, I thought it was now or never for me to be a WRITER. I did a ton of online courses and bashed out my novel. I used all the skills I’d amassed along the way in my previous seven jobs. I’ve come to novel writing in my fifties, but I don’t think I could have done it earlier, without the mindset, determination and life-experience from all those other jobs. And when I do a reading from my novel at my launch, that skill of wiping up sick, will come in really handy.