Thursday, May 31, 2012

Writers with day jobs: Nigel Bird

Nigel Bird seemed to come out of nowhere not too long ago in the crime writing field. And he arrived fully formed. I'm sure I am underselling the years of hard work he put in before I ever heard of him, but that's how it seemed to me. He is a prolific writer who has earned high praise and has been relentless in getting material out there whether in his self published collections or getting Blasted Heath to pick up his novella Smoke, or editing and appearing in the Pulp Ink anthologies.

Wth the release of his new novel, In Loco Parentis, he's even invented a new genre - "Teacher Noir".

Does that have anything to do with his day job? Read on to find out.

What do you do as your day job?

I’m a teacher in a Primary school.  Have been for 24 years (yikes).  I’ve had a few different incarnations.  Firstly I spent 11 years in 2 schools as a class teacher.  From there, I spent 4 years at Scotland’s national school for the deaf (where I worked mainly with autistic, hearing children).  Now I’m a Support For Learning teacher, working with individuals and small groups and trying to make sure the children with Additional Support Needs are well looked after.

When do you find time to write?

I have the evenings for writing, writing-related business and reading, which means when my children have gone to bed.  I’m usually pretty drained from the work day, so I can’t stay up into the early hours. I also took Wednesdays off work so that I can see more of my own kids.  That’s great as a father and gives me a couple of extra hours.

Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?

  My novella, Smoke, was influenced by the area in which I work.  It’s a hard place.  There are pockets of poverty in terms of money and experience.  On the one hand, it offers material in terms of setting, on the other it makes me want to add a little hope (which reflects what I do during the day).

a  ‘In Loco Parentis’, the novel I’ve just released, is teacher noir.  It’s about as close a book as I’ll ever write about myself and my experiences.  There’s a lot of my younger self in there and it makes me wonder how I got to be an older self.

What would it take for you to quit and write full time?

  Truth is it would be money.  3 children need to be maintained in all the ways that children do.  I’d need to sell a hell of a lot of books.     That dream is probably not attainable.  Not really, even though I keep hoping.

  What occurs to me as being more feasible is changing work to earn a slice of bread and a thin spreading of butter as a librarian’s assistant, say, or doing something within the world of books.  The way I imagine it is that I wouldn’t be so emotionally exhausted that way and I’d be able to let the creative self have a bigger slice of the Nigel Bird pie.   Thing is, I’m almost burned out as a teacher.  The tank’s less than half-full.  Experience has taken over from energy, but I’ll owe it to the children I work with to make sure I get out before I’m wasting their time.

Do your coworkers know you write? Do they know you write dark crime fiction?

  Yes, they know.  A few are interested.  Some buy the odd piece and read it.  A couple even like it.  I suspect they became bored about my one topic of conversation some time ago, so I don’t bring it up much any more.

  What do they say about it?

The best things I’ve had said have related to me talking to classes about the process of writing and of building a dream.  That’s the way it makes sense to them, I think.  It’s great to be able to share that with children, whatever their talents or ambitions; fact is, where I am, even hinting that there is life outside of the streets they live on seems like a big deal.   And, I kid you not, in my back pocket right now is a story handed to me by an 8 year old boy.  He said he writes and wanted me to take a look at his work.  I’ve spoken to him and he’s going to do the next chapter in a week when he’s at his Gran’s.

  Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?

  Actually, not really.  There are always the ‘everyone has a book in them’ comments, as if it’s something everyone can do, but not everyone has the luxury or the desire to make that choice.  I suspect that respect is relative to writing success – if you’re a best seller, then you can be looked up to.

Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?

  Yes, I think I would.  I spend so much time with writing-related things that I just need another self.  Working at my own stuff after a full day’s work and fathering, I know I have the drive and the application otherwise I’d have stopped long, long ago.

What has been your best job? Your worst?

I really loved my first teaching job.  It was in Hampstead, London, and I got to meet people I never would have come across otherwise.  As an example, I stayed for a week in the home of an editor for the Washington Post because I’d taught his children.  And got into gigs because of music producers who’d worked with the likes of Springsteen.  To galleries to see the work of artists.  To conversations with intellects taller than Liberty herself.  And to get to know some of the liveliest children’ minds imaginable.   Worst?  Selling cheap jewellery in a cheap jewellery shop.  I was awful at it.  Worst experience was scratching the gold off some guy’s watch when I was haplessly trying to change a battery.

  When do you find time to read?

  Reading is part of the business of writing, I think.  It’s in the evenings, when travelling, on holidays.  Any spare moment I can find when I’m in the groove.  Just now, I’m too whacked to manage anything much.

  Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned? I’ve thought about it every day for all the day’s I can remember.

  What is your ultimate goal with writing? Full time journeyman or millionaire? Or are you satisfied doing it part time?

  It’s to write full-time, then to produce work that is undeniably good.  The real goal is quality, I suppose.  Then sales.

Given what you've earned writing, dividing it by the hours spent, what would you say is your hourly wage as a writer?

  Brilliant question.   I’m off to do some maths.  

If you stretch back to when I put out magazines and lost money, I’d imagine I’m on about 20p an hour, or 30c.  I hate to see it written out that way.   Thing is, the hourly rate isn’t that important.  It’s the amount.   If I work for an hour on something like this and get one sale of something, that’s likely another 26p.  I won’t begrudge that because it will also mean another reader.  Being read is fab.

  Do you have a spouse/partner that would support you writing full time?

  I’m sure Isobel would support me full time if she could.  Unfortunately (from a financial perspective) she’s a student again, working on a PhD on buildings conservation.  She’s worked in the world of museums and art conservation as her career and even though she’s a Cambridge graduate, her salary has always been low. I’ve just asked her.  She says that if she was earning a stack, she’d expect me to be at home for the children and the household jobs as much as for helping me as a writer.  That’s cool.

1 comment:

Heath Lowrance said...

Wonderful interview. I just started In Loco Parentis and am loving it so far.