I am a team player. The last 34 years have been a constant and exciting learning curve as I followed an exciting and varied career in the UK’s Air Traffic Control Service, working for the Government and later the pioneering part-privatised NATS. Since the age of 19 I have belonged to a variety of close-knit teams, involved with every aspect of the job; from recruitment to flight planning, from training to line management, from live sector data specialist to critical incident stress management.
In spite of still getting a kick out of my job after so many years, last September I accepted a severance package and finished work. It has to be said that there were two major factors which influenced that decision; the cumulative fatigue of over 30 years of 24/7 shift working over a ten day “week” had taken its toll, and I was thoroughly disenchanted with modern corporate management. The final quarter of 2014 was spent resting and recuperating. As much as possible I allowed all the disenchantment and fatigue to drain away, and for the first time in my adult life I seemed to be developing a sleep pattern. Having had almost a year’s notice to get used to the idea of retirement at the age of 54, I knew that the one aspect of the job I would miss would be the team spirit that has surrounded and protected me for so many years.
In 2013 my first book had been published by EMP3Books, a small internet-based publisher. “Lost Olympics” is the biography of my Grandmother Hilda James, the 1920s English swimming sensation who went on to pioneer the role of cruise ship entertainer with The Cunard Line. In fact Lost Olympics had actually come together almost by accident. Following a 30 year on/off research project, a series of coincidences and chance meetings ended up with me being issued with a challenge to actually write the book.
I had always planned to take up writing when I retired, with aspirations to publish a novel in the so-called “hard sci-fi” genre (possible and/or future science-based writing rather than pure fantasy). As an avid fan of the genre, it is my opinion that it has suffered a decline recently in favour of much more fantasy-based work. I fully intend to stage a revival. This project is on-going, with plans to complete the writing in late 2015.
Around the time Lost Olympics was published, I was been recommended by friends to look at the blog “10 Minute Writer”. I quickly found myself striking up a friendship with Katharine Grubb. It was a simple step from becoming a fan of the blog to being one of the first members of her now rapidly expanding Facebook group “10 Minute Novelists”.
Managing a group as geographically and aspirationally diverse might have been extremely difficult, but in typical style, Katharine has approached the problem with a supremely pragmatic solution. A small hand-picked team of administrators (with myself as a recent recruit) oversees the page on a daily basis, making sure that the straightforward rules are followed. There is also careful vetting of the constant stream of prospective new applicants in an effort to keep within the brief. The group has striven to keep out as much unwanted spam as possible. The group ethos is to coach and support writers and, apart from during specified events, no self-promotion is allowed as such.
On the face of it, 10 Minute Novelists is a very different team from Air Traffic. Members are not limited to highly trained, safety conscious, legally licensed, closely managed and monitored professionals. It is an incredibly diverse group of people with broadly similar interests; essentially writers at every level of ability, achievement and aspiration. However, there are some similarities to Air Traffic in the way the team is beginning to see itself. Everybody working in Air Traffic knows their speciality inside-out. By definition they can work individually, surrounded by people with other specialities. Individually nobody knows it all, but each team member is aware that within the team somebody else is guaranteed to have any required knowledge. The 10 Minute Novelists are definitely beginning to see themselves in this way. With specialists writing in every genre, together with promotion and marketing experts, any question to the group will provoke a lively debate.
It was a hard step to quit doing the job I loved after 34 years. Typical of me, I had already decided to let it go as soon as I walked through the door, handed in my security pass and headed off for a beer with some friends. Over the past few months I have come to realise that I was simply moving on to become a member of a new team.