One summer after I’d left school, I was out of cash and desperate for a job. I trudged up stairs to temp agencies where disdainful pink shiny girls in white polyester shirts gave me typing tests and told me to ring back later because they didn’t have anything suitable on their books at the moment.
On a hot dusty day in June I took the tube to the King’s Road in London and visited every single shop up and down the street asking if they had any vacancies. It was hell but I wouldn’t let myself stop until I’d done the whole road. The speech I gave to each shop keeper and bored assistant blurred into one long word and I so expected to be rejected that I very soon turned away before the response even came. Afterwards I sat on the bus clutching a sweaty fistful of application forms feeling drained, deadened and very disheartened.
This is all coming back to me because my protagonist is searching for a job. It’s the fourteenth century so he doesn’t have to do typing tests or fill out pointless application forms but he’s feeling much the same as I did 500 years later sitting on my dusty bus.
I’ve been struggling recently with how different his life is to mine; his religious beliefs, the violence and casual cruelty of his world and the stink and itch of his surroundings. Then suddenly I have a good morning when I connect through the ages I find something as humble as job hunting to link us back together again.
It doesn’t matter whether it is 14th Century England or 20th Century Russia, the great power and pleasure of fiction is the way it shows us an alien and foreign world and lets us access it through our common human experience. Other people’s lives are strange and wonderful and totally different to ours but we can still understand them because we are all human.