Like many authors, I'm finding times hard. The publishing industry has become very scared of anything that isn't a populist sure-fire hit (invariably celebrity-based or TV tie-in) and advances have shrunk so drastically that many writers simply can't make ends meet. While the likes of Pippa Middleton are landing advances in excess of £400,000 for writing a book on party planning, the pot for those of us with slightly less impressive buttocks and in-laws is getting ever-smaller. The average advance is currently something like £1000-£5000 and that simply isn't enough for an author to live on while they write the book.
But I'm better off than most; I at least have the safety net of a police pension which means that the mortgage is paid and so are most of the bills. Most, but not all. I've had to tighten my belt and lose some luxuries. I drive a beaten up old estate car instead of the nice BMWs I once had. There are no HD TVs or iPads to be seen and I'm seriously considering ditching Sky TV. I haven't had a holiday in a number of years and I have to think twice before going into London to see my friends. But there's food on the table and hot water in the pipes so I am thankful for what I have. So many are worse off than me. I mustn't grumble.
Tomorrow marks my 2nd anniversary as 'self-employed', which, in my case, actually means 'unemployed'. No book deals have been forthcoming and the art work completely dried up. So, about 18 months ago I thought I might try for a job; maybe something part-time, just to give me a little bit extra for when those unexpected car repairs come in or to cover the vet's bills when Farty Dog swallows something angular and indigestible. After all, I thought to myself ... I'm smart, I'm trustworthy, I'm a hard worker, I've written books and stuff. How hard can it be?
I can now officially reveal that the answer is 'Bloody'. I cannot get a job. I've applied to work in an art gallery, at a local theatre, at three different schools (and three different jobs at one of those schools), a museum, a farm shop and a butchers. I've talked to the local police and fire service, the library and the local university. About the only thing I haven't tried yet is stacking shelves in TESCO. But they'd say 'No' anyway as I have two prolapsed discs in my back that precludes a lot of lifting (and I could NEVER work for a company whose morals are so lacking). Am I really so unemployable? Apparently so. I don't even get to the interview stage.
The latest application came back yesterday as 'thanks but no thanks' because I didn't have the qualifications they required. That was the only reason given. It was a job archiving some books and film. The qualification they asked for was a non-specific degree. This is indicative of the whole 18 months experience. Let me tell you something about me:
I was, for some time, part of the Met Police's Training Design Team. I was joint lead of the project team that completely revamped police diversity training in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. I helped to write training programmes for an organisation bigger than the Royal Navy. I wrote and directed training videos. I won awards. I taught officers and staff from the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and many UK and overseas police forces. And I archived the entire organisation's training library and was one of the founder members of the first ever IT-based training system for police which has since grown to become the National Centre for Applied Learning Technologies. I sat on Home Office working parties and wrote speeches for people as diverse as Tony Blair and Fiona Bruce. I've lectured across the UK and USA and was a founding member of the Problem Solving Unit that retrained every single community policing team in London. I've made monsters for movies. I've made exhibits for the Natural History Museum. I've had two books published. I've written for the QI Annuals and had my artwork appear on the TV show and been abused for it by Jimmy Carr and Jack Dee. I am more than capable of archiving a few fecking books and films.
So, I went through their person spec and job description and, for each requirement, provided evidence of my competence. Oh, and my referees were the managing director of a very successful training company and the man who invented QI and Spitting Image and produced Blackadder and Not the Nine O'Clock News, my good friend John Lloyd. Oh, and he co-wrote parts of The Hitchhikers; Guide to the Galaxy too. But that didn't impress them enough to even bother giving me an interview. 'As we stated clearly in the advertisement and person specification, we are seeking someone with a degree' they reminded me. Even if it had been in something unrelated like Marine Biology or 17th Century architecture I would have stood a better chance than having 30 years experience doing the very work they wanted doing.
Sadly, one of the problems of having been part of the public services is that you might learn an extraordinarily wide range of skills but you don't get a nice piece of paper that says 'This bloke is good at X, Y and Z'. You can do external qualifications of course, but only in your own time, which is tough when you have a family and a demanding job that involves ever-changing shifts, including night duty. I managed to get a few small qualifications and my Certificate in Education but I could never find the time to do a degree. And now the chances of doing one are remote as, without a job, I simply can't afford to undertake it.
Experience also comes with age of course. I'm 50. But I'm not an old 50. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have more energy and drive than most 20 year olds. But it's still a big number and, I'm sure, it has a bearing on some applications. They say that you can't discriminate these days and they can't ask your age on the application form. But every form - especially if it's a public sector job - comes with an equality monitoring form where I have to provide my ethnicity and my age. Call me an old cynic ...
However, I'm not down about it. As I said, I have a roof over my head and food on the table and most of the bills get paid. I can tighten my belt some more and there's already talk of downsizing. Meanwhile I've decided that there's simply no more point in applying for jobs I won't get. Instead, I'm going to attempt to plough my own furrow. There's a good chance I can get my next book out there using crowd-funding and, in the last few days, there's been a glimmer of interest in a kids' book I've written. I'm looking at venues to start running art classes locally and I'm approaching schools about coming in to talk about creativity. I'm also going back on the road doing a series of talks about creativity, critical thinking and crime science - the first few are coming up soon (see top right of blog page).
The past 18 months have been very humbling and, at times, genuinely depressing. They've made me realise that spending 30 years trying to help people and make the world a slightly safer place is worth precisely nothing. In fact, when being rejected for one of the school jobs, I was told that having been a cop meant the kids would never trust me. Great. It's also made me realise that my wealth of life experience is similarly worth feck all. But it's not all doom and gloom. I am reasonably smart, moderately healthy and have all my own teeth. If the world of work won't embrace me then to Hell with it. I'll employ myself.
Or become a 'bear' on the gay prostitute circuit.