Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Picture the scene. It’s 2011. I’m 22. I’ve finally graduated from full-time education. After gaining my Masters and PGCE – simultaneously! – I’m ready to burst onto the real world scene and have a go at this ‘adult’ thing everyone keeps going on about. I’ve got it made! Right? Right?!

Well, it turned out there were far more fresh-faced, newly-qualified English teachers than there are vacancies. Since I still needed to make a pesky little thing called ‘living’ I ventured back into the wonderful world of retail, taking a job at a local discount book store. I won’t tell you which one. (It was this one.)

I worked there for around eighteen months, until the store was closed early in 2013 (joining about 70% of all the other businesses in Rochdale town centre). In the weeks prior to closing the business was on its arse, and me and my co-worker would often find ourselves standing behind the till in an empty shop with literally *nothing* to do.

One afternoon I was so bored I wrote a short story about a typical day at work, changing mine and my colleagues’ names for anonymity and fun. Quite by accident I recently unearthed the notebook in which it was scrawled, and thought I’d post it on here for my own amusement and that of anyone else who’s worked in a similar environment.

It was Monday morning. It was 8.55. Laurel loitered in the back office along with Imry and Alibar, waiting for Wembley to arrive at the discount bookstore where they all worked. She never arrived until 9.00 at the earliest, and this made Alibar cross.

Alibar (the manager) was often cross with Wembley (the assistant manager); indeed, Alibar would regularly state that she was going to ‘say something’ to Wembley.

But she never did.

            Laurel and Imry wondered what Alibar would say when they told her that the store had only taken £47 on Sunday. They decided to let her find out for herself, and escaped out front to put the tills in and open up.

            Wembley arrived at 9.02. The hairdryer had broken; the taxi was late; her tummy was poorly; and the shop she normally used to cut through into the shopping centre hadn’t opened on time.

            And she’d been to the doctors. And a funeral.

            “See you in a minute!” Wembley waved and headed towards the back.

            “See you in an hour,” grumbled Laurel and Imry. But they weren’t bitter. Nope.

Not at all.

            While Alibar and Wembley did Important Things in the back, Laurel and Imry spent a busy hour looking through the pictures in the tattoo books. (This had been their favourite pastime ever since they’d sold the last of the children’s plastic golf sets.)

            A loud voice from outside announced that Madny had arrived for her shift. Madny headed towards the back, then a few minutes later Alibar emerged bearing a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes. She informed Laurel and Imry that Madny was having her breakfast, and that Wembley was having her second breakfast. Alibar and Imry then left Laurel all alone while they went for a cheeky smoke.

            Laurel didn’t like being left alone. It was during these times that the weirdos always chose to enter the shop.

Laurel didn’t like it when the weirdos entered the shop.

            Right on cue, weirdo #1 wandered through the door. This particular weirdo was a regular, one whom Laurel and the team referred to as ‘Tuit’ (for long and complicated reasons that are probably best left unexplained).

            Luckily, Tuit didn’t spend much time in the shop, and left without even noticing Laurel. This was most likely due to the fact that Laurel crept around the store after him, hiding behind tables to make sure she wouldn’t be spotted.

            All the best sales assistants know that every customer has a blind spot.

            All the worst sales assistants take advantage of the blind spot every time.


By the time Alibar and Imry returned, Wembley and Madny had finished their breakfasts, and all the staff congregated around the till area.

            “There’s loads to do today, girls,” said Wembley, leaning heavily on the counter.

            “Really busy day ahead,” agreed Alibar, sipping coffee.

            The real jobs were delegated once the brews were drunk. As Madny and Alibar strode around with armfuls of books, Laurel and Imry printed some stickers and did their best to try and look busy. Meanwhile, Wembley ignored the actual joblist and disappeared once more into the back, where she placed a couple of phone calls to her husband and two daughters.

            She re-emerged later dragging a cage piled high with Christmas decorations, England flags, Easter cards and other shite. Alibar tutted and shook her head disapprovingly, but only when she thought Wembley wasn’t looking.

            As Laurel and Imry painstakingly put price stickers onto the new books, Tuit entered the shop a second time and headed straight for the ‘Sale’ section. After a while he headed towards the till.

            Laurel had visions of him showing her his latest piece of ‘art’, or presenting his Star Trek coin collection again. Overwhelmed with flashbacks from the trauma of previous encounters, a panicked Laurel dropped to the floor behind the counter, preventing Imry from employing her usual fag break escape tactics.

            Laurel silently congratulated herself on her quick thinking as she listened to Imry having to endure Tuit’s tale about how he had spotted a book that morning, but didn’t have the money to pay for it.

The book was 59p.

Tuit went on to explain that he had rummaged around in phone boxes to come up with 14p, but that he’d have to pay the remainder on his card.

            The freak, thought Laurel.


After lunch, Wembley left early as she was owed some time. Wembley always had time owed, especially when the weather was nice.

Madny finished her shift early in the afternoon, which left Laurel, Imry and Alibar on their own again. Alibar had to do some paperwork in the back, and so once again Laurel and Imry had to find something to pass the time that didn’t actually involve doing any work.

This was becoming more and more difficult, since they had already completed both versions of ‘Where’s the Meerkat?’ from cover to cover, along with the childrens’ versions involving fairies and dinosaurs. They had also looked at the pictures in most of the cookery books at least twice, and had seen every page of the tattoo book that very morning.

So they decided to begin a colouring book. An inspired choice, since it passed the time, but was not intellectually demanding in any way: in other words, it was the perfect hobby for Laurel and Imry.

The afternoon passed pleasantly. Customers were generally well-behaved, since most of them were pensioners. One particularly ancient specimen began a delightful conversation with Laurel, which went like this:

Laurel: “Hi! Can I help you?”

OAP: “Yes, I’m looking for a book.”

Laurel: “Well, you’ve come to the right place! What’s it called?”

OAP: “I don’t know the title, but it’s set in London . . .”

Laurel: “. . .”

OAP: “. . . and I think it might be purple. Or red.”

Laurel: “. . .”


In the dead hour before closing time, Laurel wrote a crap story about her adventures at work.


Laura Hughes: Writer?

Shhh! I’ve snatched a moment at the keyboard while the cats aren’t looking. I’ll tell you a thing or three about myself as quickly as I can, before the mogs realise I’m attempting to do something productive and converge on me . . .

I’m a (former) book-blogger

I joined the online fantasy community in 2013 when I ventured into the world of book reviewing. My blog, The Half-Strung Harp, helped me meet some awesome new people – authors, agents, fellow bloggers, and just generally cool folks – through social media, as did participating in weekly features such as Tough Travels.

HSH Screenshot

Writing regular and detailed book reviews also honed my writing skills and developed my ideas about what makes a good book, since it encouraged me to look deeper into why I did or didn’t enjoy certain books.

(If you were wondering where the blog’s title came from, it’s lifted from a satiric poem by George Gordon Byron called ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ (1809). Byron uses the phrase ‘half-strung harps’ to refer to writers who publish sub-par novels and poems that are nonetheless praised by critics (whom he referred to as tasteless ‘tyrants’). I had no clue what I was doing when I first started blogging, and wanted the name of the blog to reflect that. To be fair, it’s still an appropriate image for what I’m doing, except that now I’m blundering through the process of writing fiction rather than reviews!)

Danse Macabre FINALI’m a (wannabe) writer

Technically I was nine when I wrote my first book. It was hand-written and illustrated, and featured a protagonist called Mitch who discovered a spectacular gem in an underwater cave (and who also happened to be an otter). Unfortunately this priceless work of fiction has been lost in the mists of time (or possibly the attic . . . OR my little sister ate it. She destroyed a lot of my books before she was old enough to actually read them).

Slightly more recently I’ve written and self-published a novelette, a horror-fantasy hybrid called ‘Danse Macabre’. In addition to my main work-in-progress (a fantasy trilogy that may or may not ever get finished) I’m currently playing about with various short stories, as well as a poem or two.

I write what I know and love, and so every word I type falls firmly within the fantasy genre. My main influences are Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett: I really admire the way all three authors suffuse their writing with humour without sacrificing the integrity of their plots or characters. I have this insane dream of one day having my own books blurbed by Erikson . . . if only I can finish writing them.

That dream is also dependent on my ability to avoid being killed and eaten by the mogs . . .

I’m a (crazy) cat lady

A shamelessly crazy cat lady. Luckily I’m married to a crazy cat man, and we share a very small terraced house with four quirky felines. They’re called—wait, where are you going? Come back! STAND STILL WHILE I SHOW YOU PICTURES OF MY FURRY CHILDREN, GOD DAMN YOU.

4 cats

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

(Fun fact: I just found out from the doctor that I’ve developed an allergic reaction to cats. This explains the constant cold-like symptoms and wheeziness I’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks . . . but does not explain why the universe is so cruel.)

So there you have it. Me in a nutshell. Let’s just hope I’m not also allergic to nuts . . .