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Opinion: I had fun jobs, crap jobs, redundancies, got fired - and then I wrote my first book

Lizzy Dent describes the adventures that brought her to her first novel.

Lizzy Dent is a brand new voice and her debut novel The Summer Job has been shaping up as 2021′s summer read. Already optioned for TV by a US broadcaster, the book has been compared to The Bold Type, Fleabag and Bridget Jones, focusing on women in their late 20s. Here, Lizzy details what her life was like before she became a novelist. It wasn’t the easiest road, there were twists and turns and there was a crippling lack of confidence, but it was always eventful…

I WROTE A F***** Novel.

Being a creative takes a lot of bravery. I just didn’t realise how much until I finally took the chance on myself and said – to hell with the judgement.

High school wasn’t for me. I had 52 outstanding detentions on my last day at my High School in New Zealand and was only really in attendance in the mornings.

I spent plenty of those afternoons sneaking into the local university common room, hanging out with students (in my school uniform) soaking up the cultural and political critiquing of older people that I revered.

lizzy (Reader, I never actually read this book)

By the time High School finished it was like the whole world opened up and I couldn’t wait to get out there and be part of it. And yet, I still felt unsure what to do.

If I close my eyes and ask myself what my 18-year-old self wanted, it was to be a singer in a rock and roll band. Or a writer – no, a literary QUEEN – enigmatic, whimsical, achingly cool.

Ambitions

Ironically, I didn’t have grades good enough to go to university. And even more crushingly, I didn’t have any confidence at all in my ability to be any kind of artist. I could not face the vulnerability required to share my ideas.

I was so terrified of people disliking me, of being judged talentless, of having my body, my face, my whole self on display, so those dreams stayed dreams and I got on with the practical job of getting a job.

I worked at McDonald’s on the cheeseburger station, did a 14-week course in radio broadcasting (another dream crushed – I didn’t have a voice for radio, though they did think I was a good writer).

I worked for a small-town local radio station where I continued to lack focus and was generally still more interested in partying and going to gigs.

I kept moving forward somehow, getting into debt, drinking too much, moving from job to job. I moved to Scotland and worked in bars and pubs and, away from home, learned to be a bit more grown-up.

I went back home to try university as an adult student, dropped out, then back to Scotland again and finally ended up working in TV in NZ as a creative making trailers.

I had good jobs. Fun jobs. But it seems to me I was also skirting around the edges of what I really wanted to do. I gave it a few attempts: I wrote a whole horror movie screenplay at 27 but showed no one.

I ran a music video-making competition in London. I sat in the super fun promotions teams at my TV jobs, all the while staring across the hall at the program makers, wishing I could be working with them. I was just too scared to put myself forward – and I heard how they talked about people who were not deemed good enough.

I had fun jobs, crap jobs, better jobs, three redundancies, got fired, left my twenties with zero savings and a whole decade of life later and I reached that moment when it was time to make a damn decision about what I really wanted to do. I was made redundant one month before I was due to return to work after my first child.

Adulting

So this was it. Lizzy, what do you actually want to do now? You’re a mother. You’re not the youngest creative in the room. I felt, probably correctly, that rock star was now beyond my grasp. So, I decided to take those couple of months of redundancy pay and write a novel.

The Summer Job Lizzy Dent High Res Cover Source: Lizzy Dent

I had one goal, and that was to finish a book. At the time, this was about questioning myself more than anything – did I have the determination? Did I have the dedication? Could I actually just finish one damn thing in my life…. ever?

It didn’t need to be good. It just needed to be finished. And then the next step was to find out if it was shit or not.

Fast forward five years and three Young Adult novels, and my adult debut The Summer Job is out in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and will be translated into five languages (and counting).

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The book was optioned for TV by a major US broadcaster. It is a story about a girl called Birdy who lacks direction and self-confidence. It’s funny, uplifting and I hope a great story that brings people joy.

Perhaps it isn’t a literary masterpiece, and perhaps those people I once revered as cultural tastemakers will judge it ruthlessly, but you know what? I write fucking novels. And it’s hard and it requires vulnerability, creativity and dedication. I am capable now of all of those things. I overcame my fear and I did it.

I have never felt more vulnerable, and I love it. Mostly.

‘The Summer Job’ by Lizzy Dent is published by Viking and is available now: https://www.easons.com/the-summer-job-lizzy-dent-9780241990513

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