Earlier this year I met the very lovely – and utterly compelling – Violet Fenn. It’s fair to say she’s one of my top internet crushes.
Ellen very kindly invited me to write a guest post about my strange employment combination. But I have no idea where to start.
Some days it does occur to me that my various occupations are maybe, well, not entirely normal.
Take yesterday, for example. I’d been trying to think of a different word for ‘cock’ (todger? Rod? Throbbing weapon of pleasure? No, I didn’t think so either) but was getting nowhere. So I decided to leave it where it was and instead went off to find a fresh corpse.
Like I said – not entirely normal. But then things generally aren’t, when you spend half your day writing erotica and the other half working on a website that is mostly preoccupied with collating vintage photographs of the dead.
People are always surprised when they meet me and discover that, far from being some sort of Helena Bonham-Carter lookalike (I wish) who sleeps in a coffin, I am actually a relatively normal mum of two who keeps chickens and rides horses in her spare time. Admittedly, my interests have always verged on the macabre – one of my best and worst points is that I am curious about everything. This makes planning a career rather harder than it might be.
I went back to my old university earlier this year to give a talk to current students about working in the ‘real’ world. After weeks of thought, the only constructive advice I could give them was ‘don’t do what I did. There is no point trying to be conventional if it’s not in your genetic makeup to do so’.
I was 40 before I decided what I really wanted to do with my life, which was (and is) to write. What a waste of forty years. But it probably wasn’t a waste, not really.
During that time I worked out what I don’tlike doing (office work – I often fell asleep at my desk and once threatened violence towards a particularly annoying boss) and what can always be relied upon to see me through (bar work and waitressing). I also tried out events promotion (turns out I’m really not good with people), taxidermy (which I still do occasionally) and making weird custom plush (loved it but the pay’s crap).
Bored one day, I started writing down a children’s story about a girl who bumps into a strange boy in the woods. I thought my kids might like it, and it was a good creative outlet.
As is my habit, I gave up on that story about four chapters in. Or rather, I changed my mind about what it should be. The story still exists – I’m halfway through rewriting it as an adult novel. Only now the boy in the wood is a strange immortal, stronger and older than any of those silly, modern vampires.
The best thing that story did for me was get me into blogging (I used Blogger back then but soon moved to WordPress, which I adore). So when I was idly pressing the depths of the internet one night and came across a strange old photograph of a dead man posed to look alive, I knew I had to do something with it.
I started The Skull Illusion as a way of keeping track of these odd photographs I found scattered across the web. A repository, in a way. It was only ever meant to be for my own amusement, but other people took to it. It now has hundreds of readers every day from all over the world and I write about anything that piques my morbid curiosity, as well as memento mori photography.
I love my Deads. I look after them and make sure that they’re not forgotten, or left lurking in the ‘weird or what’ section of Cracked.com. Because they’re not a freak show – they were all real people who were loved enough for others to want a permanent, tangible memory of them.
The Skull has proved a critical success, but as with many of my projects it has worked less well on a commercial level – a problem inherent in many ‘niche’ interests. If anyone can suggest how to attract commercial interest in a website that talks about death a lot, then I’m all ears.
Which is how the erotica came about. A friend knew of a publisher who was looking to move into the ‘adult’ market and needed new writers. She also knew that I was looking for some writing that might actually earn an income.
And thus Indigo Moore was born. I decided to go with a pseudonym in order to delineate the erotica from my ‘usual’ stuff, but have never been worried about staying completely anonymous.
Why should I feel embarrassed about writing smut? It’s a job like any other. No one asks Stephen King whether he regularly commits horrific murders, do they? I’ve got a good imagination and sharp pencil, is all. I currently write short stories for the Kindle market, but have plans to take my erotica further (and darker) in the future.
This all sounds wonderfully independent, but there are downsides. As I’ve already made clear, pleasing yourself work-wise often means that you have to compromise when it comes to income. To further complicate my personal situation, my husband has – at the age of forty – recently take voluntary redundancy from the civil service to start a new life as a composer of music and sound effects for computer games. Not the most stable of career moves, for sure.
It’s certainly brought difficulties – I’m writing this post to the soundtrack of very loud and repetitive (artificial) gunfire, and having someone else around the house all day has certainly been a shock to the system (please God don’t let him realise how much time I spend on Pinterest). On the plus side, there’s nothing like looking at a rapidly-dwindling bank account to get your head down.
I guess that what I’m really saying is that no one has to conform if they don’t want to, and nor is there a time limit on making up your mind. The worst thing you could do is to take other people’s advice to heart. My mother told me at the age of thirty that I’d ‘had my chance and blown it, so get a shop job and be done with’. I didn’t know whether to be more offended that she considered working in Asda to be the lowest employment option (I’ve done my time in supermarkets and quite enjoyed it, actually), or the fact that she honestly considered it acceptable to tell her own child to give up hope of ever being professionally content. She was wrong, and so is anyone who tells you that you should have a Plan by now.
So that is my only constructive advice – be true to yourself, be careful who you listen to, and never, ever give up.