Monday, 20 April 2009

Better Careers Advice (From Anne Fine)

Following on from the last post I would like to tell you about the best careers advice I ever received. This was also at school. I don't think it is surprising that it was from a writer.

Chilren's author Anne Fine (pictured above, doesn't she look like a lovely lady?) came to my school once to talk at our annual prize-giving. We normally had really boring people who were generally terribly sucessful in industry to come and talk to us about success, working hard and all those other quite dull things, but this year (god knows how) the school had managed to persuade someone famous and interesting to come and speak.

I remember Anne Fine's speech being witty and interesting, and I remember her talking about education and success not always being best measured by exam results but in terms of personal achievement and the satisfaction a person gains from a task. As I was sitting on the prize-winners' bench I remember not being that impressed by those sentiments; I wanted maximum fame and glory, thank you very much, but I appreciate what she was saying now that I am very much older and my life isn't measured in percentages and grades any more.

The one thing that really stuck out for me was her advice on what one should do with one's future.

"Find something you enjoy doing and do that."

At the time I wondered what on earth that would be; I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and enjoyed giggling my way around record shops, reading Point Horror, making mix tapes and going to friends' houses to chat. Not much you could build a career on.

But the fact that her advice stayed with me showed that it must have struck a chord somewhere: I think the idea of a job as something to be enjoyed was entirely new to me, but her sunny personality and obvious love of life gave her words weight. She had followed her own advice and it had worked well for her.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Careers Advice

When I was five I went through my 'Watership Down' phase and wanted to be a rabbit when I grew up. Specifically, Hazel. Hazel was my hero: courageous, resourceful (maybe I had a tiny crush on him, I don't know). To her credit, my mother did nothing to disourage me, despite the difference in gender.

When I was sixteen I wanted to be a writer. I was good at English and liked writing poetry (some of it not so awful, even reading it back at this cringingly long distance.) I was going to do A-Level English and then go on to read English at university. This seemed to me the obvious route to being a writer: study lots of books and then write your own. Simples.

I was fuzzily aware in the back of my mind that there wasn't one of those nice management-training-course set-ups for wanting to be a writer; no-one took you on after university to write a book for them. So how did people become writers? There were journalists, screen writers, novel writers, magazine editors... There were a lot of words floating around but I wasn't sure how to get at them. I worked on the school magazine but I did the creative writing side and wasn't sure about factual writing. I was a bit scared of it.
So I made the terrible mistake of going to see the school careers advisor.


I think the clue was in the title. 'Careers'.
I spent some time in the tiny careers library looking at glossy leaflet options.
1) Let the army sponsor you through university? Great! Money to study... and then three years of killing people dead at 5am. I hate early mornings.
2) Management consultancy. Lots of money! Training following a 2:1 in any degree! Don't even understand what it is! (Although now I have lots of friends who work in management consultancy even they don't know what it is, so that needn't have put me off)
3) Accountancy! Training following a 2:1 in any degree, even English! Numbers! Lots and lots and lots of numbers! And being organised! And tidy!

It didn't occur to me that these glossy brouchures were created by companies who could afford to produce such things. Not one of those leaflets was 'how to be Roald Dahl', '10 steps to becoming Stephen Fry' or 'Margaret Atwood 1,2,3'.

So the meeting with the careers advisor began. I have to mention (you might have guessed from the fact we even had such a thing as a careers library) that my school was a bit academic and was very good at getting clever girls into Oxbridge. All well and good.

"So, what is it that you're interested in?"
"Well, I'm good at English and I'm planning on studying it at university."
"And how can I help you?"
"Well, I'm wondering about, well, jobs after it [I didn't have a word for the thing that writers did. 'Job' didn't really seem right]."
"Of course, a degree in any subject [even English, it was implied] can lead on to all sorts of things. Had you got anything in mind?"
"I like writing."
His shiny little cherry-blossom face lit up.
"Ahh! Wait one moment."
He rustled around on the shelves and came back with an assortment of glossy brochures.
"Have you considered a career in advertising?"

Now, I know some perfectly nice people who work in advertising. It is a very good career and pays well. But advertising is the devil and accounts for about 90% of misery in the western world by promoting lifestyles and aspirations that people can't afford and don't need.

After discussing the routes into advertising and the possibility of one day, if I worked hard, maybe even writing snappy captions for shampoos, I went away clutching a pile of glossy brochures with such titles as 'Marketing for Graduates' and 'Advertising 1,2,3'.
I felt oddly let down, although I couldn't say why.

I just felt further than ever from Stephen Fry.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Pygmy Giant

Happy Easter!

My topical story from the last post is up on the Pygmy Giant, a site for British flash fiction, today.

Click on the title at the top to take a peek.

Monday, 6 April 2009

A topical story

Almost shaking with frustration, Jack slammed the drawer shut. His family knew to keep back at times like these and they watched his tight-faced rage as he tore through the living room, hurling cushions off chairs and knocking Lilian’s neat pile of coffee-table books to the floor, where the colourful, glossy paper crumpled under their weight. Lilian had trained herself to put the blame for Jack’s thoughtless destruction on herself. Obviously the wrong place to keep my best books, she thought, ignoring the damage.
Jack turned to look at his family, lined up out of the way against the wall.
“Where?” he screamed.
His anger was met with practiced quietness and shaking heads. They knew that violence was imminent but still they held strong against his rage. It would all be over soon.
Blank looks.
Forgetting them, Jack turned his attention to the pile of video cassettes that were stacked up on the floor, his actions more focussed on the outpouring of his annoyance now rather than to the object of his search, which he had almost forgotten in his temper. The front stack toppled under the storm of irritation.
A wink of metallic colour made him freeze, one hand ready to topple another tower of cassettes. Hardly breathing, he moved the remaining plastic boxes out of the way, slowly, as if wishing too hard would made the brightness fade. Carefully, carefully, Jack cleared a space around the thing that he had found and his family watched his movements with relief, catching each other’s eyes and smiling.
Jack turned to face his family, the treasure clutched tightly in his hot hands, his four-year-old face beaming with utter joy. His first Easter Egg.