|Zoë Sharp in natural habitat|
I blame Jeff and Stan. They ambushed me in the bar at Bouchercon last month. One minute we were recounting our favourite Flanders and Swann songs, with much juvenile giggling, and the next I’d been talked into joining this illustrious little gang. I’m still not entirely sure how we got from there to here.
I don’t even drink.
But, here I am, nervously smoothing down my hair and straightening my Sunday-best frock, trying to remember my lines and hoping not to be met with, at best, a blank-faced stony silence.
And it occurred to me that I really ought to introduce myself properly to my new bloggers and bloggees. So here goes.
I took a weird path into the writing game. Is there a normal one? I wasn’t a noted student, opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and did correspondence courses until I was legally old enough to go out and get a job. The local authority sent me to see a careers advisor when I was fifteen or so. I told him I was interested in writing. He said, “We’ll put you down for clerical.”
I’d already written my first novel by then. It still sits, unpublished, in a folder in the attic. A children’s story, but no fledgling Harry Potter. My father threatens every now and again to dig it out and see if it will fly on eBay. I have it well hidden.
A few years later I ended up at my local newspaper, selling display advertising — the ads in the front half of the paper, rather than the classifieds. A soulless job if ever there was one. Everybody suspects that half the money they spend on advertising is wasted, but they don’t know which half so they resent spending any of it. I lasted six months of impossible targets and nail-biting deadlines and picked up a temporary heart murmur for my pains. Towards the end, my manager — knowing I wouldn’t stay past the probationary period — asked the editor if there was any chance the editorial side would take me on. I’d already written advertorial copy and he knew that’s where my interest lay. The editor turned him down flat. “No qualifications.” They fired me.
|I'm the idiot clinging to the back ...|
I looked at getting those qualifications. Seven years of study just to become a cub reporter. I gave it up. Instead I sold pensions, delivered yachts, taught people to ride horses, and did a few other things I probably shouldn’t talk about too much. During this period I acquired my first car — a broken-down Triumph Spitfire MkIV wearing more different colours of paint than Joseph’s coat, with a six-inch nail holding one of the front brake calipers in place. Not my first choice but the best I could get for the money. I rebuilt it, worked out how to make it go round corners, resprayed it Brooklands green. And started to write about it.
Before I knew it, I was writing for the classic car magazines. In 1988, with an arrogance that frankly shocks me now, on the basis of a couple of accepted articles I gave up my job — no loss there — and turned freelance full time. It was four years before one of my magazine editors asked me what qualifications I had. By that time I could tell them they’d been sending me cheques for four years. What more did they want?
The freelance market was good, the rates reasonable, so I expanded the scope of my work. An editor asked could I supply words and pictures? I borrowed a camera and gave it a try. My fiction writing ambitions went on the back burner, until something happened to revive them.
I was sent to see a bloke in south Wales to do an interview. But when I arrived it soon became clear that the car collection I was supposed to be featuring didn’t ... actually exist. And he looked kind of shifty when I didn’t turn up alone. The bloke made some sort of lame excuse and we left, annoyed at the wasted trip. It was only afterwards that I started to wonder what he had planned. I’d made an appointment, so he couldn’t claim he wasn’t expecting me. The only thing that had thrown him was that I hadn’t come alone. And what then?
|Say no more.|
A couple of years previously, Brit real estate agent Susie Lamplugh disappeared after going to show a prospective buyer round an empty house. She was never found. It struck a chord. Especially when, after that abortive interview, every time my picture appeared alongside a regular column I was writing in one of the classic car mags, I received death-threat letters. Professionally done, with the words cut out of newspaper like a ransom note. Telling me I was scum, telling me they knew where I lived and my days were numbered. The police never tracked down who’d actually sent them.
As for my reaction, I learned self-defence from a little black belt karate and kyushu jitsu instructor with a benevolent smile and steel fingers. I did not, as has been erroneously stated in the past, learn to shoot in order to protect myself. I could already shoot to competition standard.
The result was KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one. To date, there have been another nine series books, a short story e-thology, plus a novella, and this summer my first standalone, THE BLOOD WHISPERER came out. Over the winter I'll be working on book-number-the-eleventh.
And, in one of those little tweaks of fate that so rarely happen, several years after I turned freelance I got a call from the publisher of the newspaper who’d sacked me, offering me the editorship of another paper in the same group. I let them take me out for a very nice lunch to discuss the position, then turned them down. Maybe I should have told them I simply wasn’t qualified ...
It’s been my habit to have a Word of the Week every time I blog. For this one I’m going for absquatulate, meaning to leave abruptly or quickly, or to flee. As opposed to levant, which means to run off without paying a debt, or abscond, to run in order to evade capture or justice, usually taking something or someone along with you. If your dog gallops out of the house and hot-foots it down the garden, he’s absquatulating. If he has the Sunday roast clamped in his jaws while he does so, he’s absconding.