Best of Times, Worst of Times: It was mess-up after muck-up; thank heaven for writing: Robert Goddard

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Indy Lifestyle Online
My career history prior to writing comes under the heading of tragi-comedy. I had a large collection of spectacularly disastrous interviews and abortive job experiences.

I made a half-hearted attempt to become a teacher. I was literally interviewed on the cricket pitch for one history job I was in line for, while the head of department was umpiring a game. And he conducted the interview standing at the end of the wicket, and he would have to interrupt when there was an appeal or it was the end of the over.

Another time I was being interviewed by the headmaster and the history teacher. Halfway through my answers to the headmaster's questions, his eyes closed, and his head dropped to one side. I couldn't be absolutely certain if he was awake, and indeed I began to grow concerned that he might have suffered some kind of stroke, but I finished my answer.

We all sat there for several seconds, and the history teacher said, 'Well, I think the headmaster is collecting his thoughts.' But throughout the rest of the interview he remained in this condition, and was still comatose when I left the room.

I was extremely hard-up, so I then had to take any job that was offered. And I was usually not very good at it. I think the shortest one of all was half a day, at a nursery. I was watering some plants in a large glasshouse, walking down between two rows of rare, tropical orchids. In going down one row, I managed to get the hosepipe looped over the row I first watered, so that when I came back up the second row I was beheading the row behind me.

It had been arranged that I was going to be working on the Rotavator in the afternoon, and I think this prospect disturbed the owner of the nursery, and he generously agreed not to charge me for the excess of the damage done over my wages, and we parted by mutual agreement at approximately 12.30pm.

I tried to sell double glazing from door to door. I was terrible at that because I had a tendency to put myself in the position of the person on the other side of the door before I reached it. And knowing how I would feel about a salesman turning up, I had already defeated my own sales pitch before I actually got as far as ringing the doorbell. I never got any money at all out of that one; it was a completely wasted week. And I was left with an entire cupboard full of double-glazing leaflets for many years.

One can look back upon it now as a fund of anecdotes, but at the time it was a desperate situation to be in.

Whenever I went to an interview there would be some ghastly mess-up. For instance, I was interviewed by J Walter Thompson, the advertising people. I had high hopes as I thought I might be quite good at advertising.

I arrived in London for an interview. It was a windy day, and there was a stall outside the station selling fruit, and as I passed it, a gust of wind blew the tarpaulin which covered the stall right up in the air, and it landed over me.

And it was so heavy that I was felled to the pavement. When I was dragged out from beneath the tarpaulin by a very concerned stallholder, I found that I was covered in quite a wide selection of his produce - tomatoes, mangoes and such like - and there was really no time to do an effective clean-up job. So I think my chances on that one were prejudiced by my condition on arrival.

A similar problem arose when I was interviewed for an administrative position with the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.

The police headquarters is on the outskirts of Exeter, and I took a bus to go there, and the bus broke down. The only time I've been on a bus that broke down was on this occasion, the worst time for it to break down. So of course I had to hotfoot it through the streets, on a sweltering afternoon, and arrived late, and bathed in sweat, on the perimeter of the police HQ. I could see the building just over a fence, and as I was already late, I thought the best thing to do was hop over the fence . . .

But I tripped as I was climbing over the fence, and fell down on to the grass on the other side, which had just been mowed and was quite damp. And I found to my dismay, when I got up, I was completely covered in wet grass-cuttings. This was the other occasion on which my appearance when I arrived was a virtual guarantee I wouldn't be offered the job.

I drifted into local government on a part- time clerical basis, which I managed to do without much of an interview, because they were desperate for somebody to cover for a malfunctioning computer. They had been trying to computerise their operation at the time, but the computer was the wrong type, and they had to take on more clerical staff than they had before the computer.

I was taken on as a clerk in the county supplies department, and shortly after my arrival I was chosen to produce the county supplies catalogue, a huge compendium of everything that was available from them, with photographs of all the items.

And thus was I sucked into what you might call my first published work. My photograph was in it all over the place, modelling boiler suits, inflatable swimming jackets, goal-keepers bibs and batting gloves.

The catalogue was eventually finished, and I tried to settle and make something of a local government career. But I was never really suited to it entirely.

And then some years later I thought writing might be a better prospect. I had always thought I would rather like to be a writer, but never took the idea seriously.

I think getting married was the key to it. Living on one's own, it is easy to invent excuses for not doing anything. But my wife thought I might be able to write, and she encouraged me to have a go, and I spent a few years of evenings and weekends writing a novel and, happily, it was published. I certainly wouldn't have made the effort to write another if it hadn't been, since it involved the sacrifice of all one's spare time. But it did reasonably well, and I left local government.

I should have taken writing seriously a lot sooner, because it is the only thing I am good at doing. And I enjoy it, I really enjoy it. I meet quite a few writers who imply the whole business is rather purgatorial, have to drag themselves to the desk, and so on. But I have never found that, I have always found writing an extremely pleasurable activity.

Robert Goddard is now a best-selling novelist, and reputed to be the Prime Minister's favourite contemporary author.

(Photograph omitted)