With frozen fingers I swiped a handful of coleslaw from the skip-sized container beside me. I slopped it into the plastic pot and felt another slice of my soul slipping away, smothered like those slithers of carrot.
Factory life was not for me; I knew that the second I donned that bright blue hairnet on day one, and joined a lady I’ll call Mable at the conveyor belt. Mable had pet rats. She didn’t specify how many, just that they were free to run around her home, and that her favourite rat had just died.
Mable now had to save hard to pay for his cremation ceremony, but luckily, ramming coleslaw into pots for Marks & Spencer’s would pay enough – eventually – to put her beloved pet to rest.
I was 18 when I started the summer job at the factory, in my humble home town of Spalding, Lincolnshire. Before that, at age 14, I worked in a fish and chip shop, earning £1.50 an hour. I remember someone ordered a fried egg with their haddock once, and I panicked. I didn’t know how to fry an egg. I went to the small back room and cried. Then I told the poor, hungry customer that we were out of eggs.
My boss took me downstairs to the back room: “WE HAVE ALL THOSE EGGS!!!!” he cried, charging the air with fishy, facetious masculinity whilst pointing at what looked like 30 huge crates of them, some still covered in feathers.
I cried again. He sighed and begrudgingly taught his chip-shop prodigy how to fry one. I was good at it. It was the greatest day of my life.
The people in the factory… and pretty much all those crappy jobs I had to endure in the name of making my own way in this world were passageways, transitional periods that I now realise were the makings of me as a writer; as a woman. As someone who’s now not afraid to turn new corners, try new things (and sometimes fail).
When rodent-fan Mable started up about funerals for pet rats; when I realised it made people happy to be served a good friend egg, and me happy to fry it, something shifted inside me.
Not only I was I meeting characters. I was becoming a whole new character myself.
At McDonalds (age 19), I made up my own special sauce and started putting it on burgers. I was fired. You’re not allowed to make up new sauces at McDonalds – I guess someone in a lab does that, or someone in a clown suit – probably both. I learned not to mess with fast food staples, or science.
When I moved to New York at 21 I took a job as a jello-shot waitress, as a side-job to answering phones for a production house on Broadway. I accepted a $20 tip for letting a CEO called Bradley take a tequila shot from my bellybutton. All his mates moved in for their turn, and I learned that saying yes to everything that sounds OK isn’t always OK.
Throughout my life, I’ve had loads of jobs I’ve hated and loads more that I’ve loved – like the time I spent at a Sydney radio station, meeting celebs! Each one has taught me something that’s changed me, kept me ploughing forward, kept me focused on my dreams and in the end… my writing. Lots of the character traits and scenarios in my books are now based on people I’ve met, stories I’ve heard and experiences I have personally had – good and bad.
In the factory, many people I met had grown content to let their biggest dreams pass them by, slowly but surely, like the items on that conveyor belt.
But I grew stronger, and way more grateful, and a hella-lot more driven! I worked as a freelance writer, traveled the world on my own; worked from campsites, bars, even a nudist beach in Vancouver (maybe I’ll tell you about that one sometime – ahem). As I write from here in my latest spot – Amsterdam – I feel lucky to be able to access this memory bank of mayhem, laughter and tears. I feel lucky to be able to twist these tales and adventures, and fill hundreds of pages with stories!
As any motivated ‘character’ would have you learn, you fail at something, you pick yourself back up. You keep your goals in sight and you keep a positive attitude. When something doesn’t work out, you try your damned best to move on with grace (even if your best pet rat kicks the bucket, or your McManager yells at you for your special sauce in front of everyone).
You simply have to trust that after all that crap, just like in a Mills & Boon novel, you’re surely headed for a happy ending.
My latest Medical Romance ‘Tempted By Her Hot Shot Doc’ is out now! Check it out on Amazon.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be blogging here regularly but you can also follow me on Twitter @bex_wicks, and on Instagram at beckywicks. Check out my blog and sign up to my newsletter at beckywicks.com, or find my Becky Wicks Author page on Facebook.