Angela Smith asks a group of 15 authors about their day jobs – before they became an author. Today it’s Carole Matthews, Ali Harris and Karen Bergreen…
Have you ever wondered what your favourite author did as a career before they became a writer? Well, now you can learn more about some of the best and brightest authors out there and how they came to be. Whether they were working in a kitchen or at a law firm, their jobs before just might surprise and amuse you. So, go ahead, sneak a peek into the past life of your favourite author. You just might be awestruck by their background!
CAROLE MATTHEWS (Summer Daydreams out now)
Before I became an author I worked for 15 years as a beauty therapist. I used to do all the usual treatments – facials, waxing, manicures and also specialised in aromatherapy. I absolutely loved it. I had the most marvellous list of clients who were more like friends and we used to spend most of the day giggling. It also enabled me to do some television work – I presented on a show called Look Good, Feel Great back in the day and it gave me my first paid writing work as I used to produce articles for magazines, mainly on aromatherapy.
It was quite a difficult transition to becoming a full-time author as I went from seeing about 20 people every day to being totally alone in my office. That was very hard. I’d also had a reading circle with my clients where we’d swap books and chat about them. I missed that terribly too. The legacy of being in the beauty industry for so long means that I can no longer face the day without putting on my full make-up even if I am largely by myself! It also gave me a lot of material to draw on. Clients tell their beauty therapist the most amazing stories. I used some of my experiences to write The Scent of Scandal. Maybe I’ll actually set a book in a salon one day!
ALI HARRIS (Miracle on Regent Street out now)
I’ve wanted to write books for as long as I can remember but I took some detours getting there (wannabe actress, shop assistant and waitress to name a few) but the main one – and the one that I consider a brilliantly lucky accident was becoming a magazine journalist. I say it was an accident as this career move was more by default than design. It was born from desperation, a fashionable phoenix that rose from the ashes of my book manuscript rejections.
I was 25 years old and working as a waitress in London and desperate to become a published author. I refused to consider any other job as I wanted to maintain the hunger for my dream. But after receiving my tenth book rejection from an agent and in my fourth year of serving tables, I finally cracked and broke down the phone to my big sister. They were the tears of a young girl with a big dream who was desperate for a break. Who just wanted to do something that she was proud of, who wanted a career that would utilise her university degree, stimulate her brain and make her feel worthwhile. It was at this point that my brilliantly clever and practical big sister pointed out to me that, forget the book, surely I’d like to just write for a living? She then glibly added. ‘You’ve always loved magazines, so why not try to get work experience on one?’
There was silence as I let this perfectly brilliant idea register.
Then I sniffed in concurrence and did a little happy hiccup whilst she helped me construct a letter. The next day I sent it off to five of my favourite magazines, never dreaming that by the following week, I would have the offer of a five-week placement at one.
I still remember walking into the bright, bustling office on that first day, nervous but wondrously excited by this place that was full of young, enthusiastic staff, a fashion cupboard full of that season’s clothes and shoes, beauty desks flooded with gorgeous products and the prospect of writing every single day. And then wondering why the hell I hadn’t thought of this before. I still desperately wanted to write novels, but I quickly realised that I could learn so many incredibly useful skills, meet interesting people and have opportunities that would inform my novel writing in the future. I immediately threw myself into this new career, determined to put my all into becoming the best features writer I could possibly be. I wanted to write features that spoke to women, that made them laugh, made them think, that educated and inspired then, that did everything that those same magazines had done for me for years. That is, to believe that anything is possible, that you can be the best you can be and achieve your dream life. I completely bought into the philosophy of these inspiring magazines – and I still do, in fact.
I have been lucky enough to do some incredible things in my career as a journalist. I’ve interviewed A-listers, met incredibly inspiring young women, travelled to amazing places, been paid to find eligible bachelors (yes really), I even wrote a dating column that lead to me meeting my husband. Then, last year, having written for some of the biggest-selling women’s magazines in the UK, including Glamour, Red, Cosmo, Company, ELLE and Marie Claire – I finally had my first novel, Miracle on Regent Street, published (and won ChicklitClub.com book and debut of the year, to boot!) I feel utterly privileged to have stumbled upon another dream career whilst trying to reach another. I just hope I am lucky enough to do both for a very long time.
KAREN BERGREEN (Perfect is Overrated out July)
I graduated with honours from Harvard University, and then went to law school, I worked in a fancy pants law firm, and, from there, clerked for a federal judge. But, I didn’t want to disappoint my parents so I quit my safe and promising law career to become a stand-up comic. Oprah talks about having a calling. Mine was making drunk strangers laugh. Along the way, I found I had another calling. Actually, it was more like piercing screams. They came from my two little boys who preferred their mommy didn’t spend life so far away from New York City. They had a point. I decided to continue my stand-up career almost entirely within the tri-state area. So I looked for yet another outlet for whatever creative urges can be left in a woman with two children. And what I found was my first novel, Following Polly. I then followed it up with Perfect Is Overrated. Now at work on my third novel, I happily divide my time among wifeing, mothering, performing, and writing. Schizophrenic, yet oddly happy, I live my quadri-partite life in New York City.