My Summer Job


01Joe Queenan20100720

Joe Queenan on working for a summer in a bubble gum factory.

The first of five talks by writers on the temporary jobs they took before writing full time.

Tedium or raw material? Is the summer job an enemy of promise or the best experience for a would be writer otherwise chained to their desk?

The American critic Joe Queenan begins the series with a memorable account of his time at a bubble gum factory in Philadelphia.

"This was not the way I had expected to spend what had come to be known as The Summer of Love," he writes.

Joe worked the graveyard shift at Fleer's Bubble Gum, inventors of the Dubble Bubble, and most of his time was spent compacting trash.

"I loved telling my friends, especially girlfriends, that I was working the graveyard shift.

Using terminology like that made me feel like a man.

I was not a man.

I was not even close to being a man, but after that first summer in the factory, I felt at least that I could masquerade as one.".

02Julia Blackburn20100729

Award-winning writer Julia Blackburn recalls the summer she spent writing dictionary definitions for 'H' and 'L'.

Now she sees an autobiographical thread in her apparently objective definitions.

Winner of the Penn-Ackerley biography prize 2009, Julia Blackburn lived for two years in Majorca as a young woman.

Trying to become a writer, she found herself too afraid of words to write.

They were 'all so fickle and prone to exaggeration or misinterpretation'.

A summer job compiling a dictionary came along via a friend of her father's and so she took charge of two letters, with instructions to define her words according to English 'as it is spoken today', including new words and colloquialisms.

Her definitions had to be original, and where a word was difficult to understand or ambiguous in meaning it needed to be illustrated with a short phrase.

These phrases reveal Julia's preoccupations and passions at the time: her love of animals; a love affair just ended; her bohemian lifestyle.

Writing definitions changed Julia's relationship with words.

She began to 'forgive their shiftiness, their lack of absolute clarity' and especially loved 'the more simple ones which carried a complex responsibility of meaning...

the strange poetry that jumped from 'hazardous' to 'haze', from 'long-winded' to 'loofah', from 'lop-sided' to 'loquacious'.

The second in a series of talks for the Proms.

Award-winning writer Julia Blackburn recalls a summer job as a lexicographer.

03Al Kennedy20100808

The award-winning author Al Kennedy's grandmother was an exacting, furious woman who loved the particularities of wood.

A meticulous, experienced French polisher, she knew how to apply thin alchemical layers of varnishes and lacquers to make surfaces gleam with a deep, inner shine.

Al Kennedy describes the charcteristic "cheap whip and spring of young pine, or the dry and intelligent complications of restored mahogany, the sharp density of beech, the melancholy heat in oak", all qualities that were familiar to her grandmother.

In this moving testimony to her grandmother's hard won craft and exacting skill, Al Kennedy honours the work of a generation of artisan craftsmen and women.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

Al Kennedy on the summer she spent working with her grandmother, a furniture polisher.

04Claire Messud20100813

Novelist Claire Messud remembers the summer jobs she had before she became a writer.

They included pushing elderly Americans in their wheelchairs and slaving in offices for tyrannical bosses.

Producer: Tim Dee.

Claire Messud on having worked pushing the elderly in wheelchairs and slaving in offices.

05 LASTTim Pears20100901

Novelist Tim Pears remembers his early working life before he became a writer.

Summer jobs and winter jobs: chimney sweep and caravan park attendent.