Phil: If you’ve seen any UK political news this week, you’ll know that the Prime Minister has re-shuffled his cabinet. One of the main casualties is the education secretary, Michael Gove. This is a momentous moment for us as it to him we owe our career as novelists.
Back in the heady days of 2010, both Candice and I were contractors at Becta, an education quango. If I’m honest, we weren’t the biggest fans of the place but it paid well and with some careful booking of hot desks, we were able to sit opposite each other for banter.
The month before the election, the place entered a state known as “purdah”. All government bodies do this and put simply it means that we publish absolutely nothing during the election period so as not to influence the outcome. It’s all about stopping sudden newsworthy announcements boosting the incumbent parties fortunes. Work still carried on, we just didn’t do anything with it. I was still making web pages and Candice planning marketing magic, albeit with less oomph than before.
Anyway, the election happens, we sit around waiting for a government to be formed and when it is, the first thing the new education minister does, even before tucking in to the departmental tea and biscuits, is announce that Becta would be closed down.
Obviously this meant that our work was done. The permanent staff started to head in to meetings about the redundancy process. We contractors just sat around and chatted. Since we only got paid when we turned up and we liked being paid, we had to be in the office. There was just nothing for us to do.
This carried on for a month until the management board could meet and make decisions. Then we bumbled on until our contracts were terminated.
Chatting with other contractors one sunny lunchtime, we joked about setting up a “change management” firm to take on closing all the quangoes due to be shut. From this, the two of us started forming a story with this as the background. Some of the stuff we’d just been through made it on to the page in a fictional setting and we added and embellished other parts. Daytime was for chatting, mostly by e-mail as it was a bit off the wall although people wondered what we were laughing at sometimes. Every day, one of us would come in with some new words written the evening before.
Eventually, we were turfed out to find other jobs but by that point The Book was born and we weren’t going to stop there.
Would we have started without Mikey Gove’s actions?
If I’m honest, I doubt it. We’d probably have finished our contracts and gone our separate ways. Thanks to Facebook, we’d stay in touch but this common project unlocked the desire to write fiction in both of us. Now we spur each other on and will one day see our story out there.
So, farewell Michael Gove. You’ve gone off to whip the Tories. I suspect at the time, you were happy to punish a load of people for working for an organisation you didn’t see the point of. You couldn’t know that you cemented a friendship and lead to the birth of a book.