When the BBC came calling...
When my publicist called to tell me the BBC were interested in interviewing me - the very next day! - for the national 6 o'clock news, I was delighted. It was my first chance to really put my novel-writing career onto the national stage. In fact, they didn't just want to interview me, but my two children as well. At my home!
As it was, though, it wasn't my unputdownable thrillers that had enticed the production team of one of the premier news programmes in the UK to want to interview me, but my somewhat unusual home circumstances. I say it’s unusual, but actually to me and to my wife it’s absolutely usual, completely normal and the perfect answer to our many different and often competing needs and demands. My wife, a high-flyer at a global accounting firm, is a full time worker (actually she probably works the hours of three full time jobs - it’s certainly not your usual 9-5). I work part-time for the same firm, three days a week, as a forensic fraud investigator, and I also take on the majority of the childcare responsibilities for our two young children. That was the angle the BBC wanted to explore more; the part-time working dad, main child-carer, side of my life. And yet that doesn’t tell the full story at all. The fact is, I’m a writer. That’s how I want to be seen. I’ve been a writer for years now, firstly writing in secret before finally ‘coming-out’, but at what point does writing really move from being a hobby, perhaps a bonus income, to becoming a self-sustaining full-on career? I’m certainly not there yet, despite the relative success of my debut novel, Dance with the Enemy. Overnight fame and fortune rarely happens in the writing arena though I’m going to give it a damn good go.
Despite the BBC’s interest, you see, I’m not a part-time worker at all. Anything but. The way I see it I’ve got three jobs. The first is the kids. I know, I know, they’re not really a job as such, but believe me it’s a lot of hard work, particularly with all the other responsibilities hanging in the balance. Three days a week I work as a forensic accountant investigating fraud and corruption. It’s a career I’ve worked hard at for nearly thirteen years and even though I have a passion for writing, it’s not something I can give up on easily. The other two days of the working week I’m a thriller writer. But that’s not the end of it either. Five nights a week I’m a writer too. What people probably don’t see is the sheer amount of work that goes into writing and promoting my work which takes up hours every day. I know that’s the same for many other writers too, but that’s the career path I’m pursuing and I’m happy with my choice.
I can see why the BBC were interested in hearing more about our situation, though. To many in the outside world, to the casual observer who knows little of me as an author, I’ve made a sacrifice. I’ve put my day job, my corporate career, a stable income, on hold in order to look after my kids and allow my wife to be the dominant bread-winner (if only in the short term) and the one whose career we’re putting our focus on. To be honest, I don’t mind people seeing and thinking that. I’m perfectly happy with it. I know a lot of men - and some women too - think I’m mad and just can’t get past the outdated stereotypes about the roles of men and women in the household. It annoys me that such stereotypes still exist so strongly in today’s society. Quite frankly, every family unit should feel free to make the decision about work and childcare that makes the most sense for them, financially and emotionally, yet so many people still feel pressured to fit a mould which will often bear no resemblance to the optimum set-up for them. That’s a shame and I’m happy to be a role-model for how people can break out from that trap and do things differently. The fact is my wife is fantastic at her job and it would have been ludicrous for me to have pressurised her into not giving it her all just so she could be a ‘typical’ mum. I’ve never been bothered by the stigma that comes with the decisions that we’ve made, with the whispers that I know go on behind my back, with the ill-thought out views that I’ve somehow been emasculated. I’m doing this for me and my family and as long as it works for us that’s the main thing. Anyone who can’t see that is, quite frankly, an idiot.
But as I said, looking at me like that - as a part-time working Dad and child-carer - doesn’t tell the whole story. A very big part of the reason why this way of life has come about at all is because I took a decision - which my wife supported - to relentlessly pursue a career as a writer. It’s what I want to do and I’m not going to give up until I’ve made a success of it. Luckily for me, my choice to want to be a writer just so happened to fit in nicely with everything else. Six years ago, before I’d ever started writing my first novel, I wanted to be a corporate high-flyer too. In fact, it often felt as though me and my wife were competing with each other as to who could go the furthest and get the biggest salary. We could have both made it in all honesty. The thing was, that was fine six years ago before we had children. But with that added responsibility, there would simply have been no way for us to both continue to pursue such demanding careers full time, at the same time, and still find the right balance for the kids. Something had to give.
Somehow or other, I had by that point fallen in love with writing (the whys and wherefores of how that came about are for another day!), and so the choice for us in a way became far more simple. I feel lucky to have a wife who is prepared to give me the chance to do this, to pursue this dream of being an internationally best-selling writer for which there is no guarantee of success and which, in reality, has far more chance of failure given the sheer number of writers out there in what is widely considered to be a declining market. I recently read a news article into a study that had been performed on earnings of UK writers. I don’t know of the robustness of the study, but it found that the average salary from writing was just 11,000 a year. And that’s the average. Many writers, particularly new writers, won’t see income of anything like that and yet we still do it, don't we? There’s simply something about writing that captures the hearts of so many people and it’s certainly not for the financial reward.
Luckily for me, my wife has always stuck by me on my mad adventures. She was happy for me to take a six-month unpaid sabbatical to get my first book published last year, and she took it in her stride too when I decided to move to part-time working to keep my fledgling career bubbling away and (fingers crossed) on the up. There’s still a question mark over the longer term - you’re only as good as your last book so who knows if I can keep this going for the next 30 years! - but at least in the short term my decisions have certainly put financial strain on us, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve given up a very lucrative salary to pursue this dream, and I know that a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to get over those financial hurdles at all. The decision to pursue writing as a career would simply be a non-starter for many, so I feel privileged that we were in a position to allow me that.
Really, we’ve both made sacrifices but that’s what any relationship is about; give and take. I know I’ll make a success of my writing career one way or another. That’s just my nature and there’s simply no other outcome that I’m willing to contemplate, even though a small part of me knows I’m mad for thinking like that. Until I reach that point though, when the outside world sees only a successful writer, I’ll certainly continue to champion my position as a part-time working dad who’s broken the mould.
If you want to see the feature from BBC news, here’s the link:
And here’s the online news article that accompanied it: