Matt Potter talks money

Matt Potter

Writer, editor, teacher, all round good guy

I’m delighted to introduce my friend, editor and publisher Matt Potter as author of the first in a series of guest blogs.  A gifted writer and sharer of knowledge, Matt is earning a name online as THE editor to work with if you want to learn how to improve your writing, fast.  He’s also great at highlighting the cultural differences a writer should bear in mind for their target market.  Here, he tackles the timely subject of money and discusses the difficulties of gaining employment as a capable, experienced adult in Australia.

The largest pool of money in Australia is – apparently – that created by superannuation funds. All employees by law have to contribute to their own super (the word super in everyday vernacular years ago used to mean superphosphate, the fertilizer: funny how things change) so even the crappiest savers have some money set aside for when they retire. It’s currently 9% of your salary, paid directly by your employer. In 2013 it’s set to increase to 12%.

You can also pay money yourself into your super fund, which many do. And it’s the source of endless conversations, particularly at any gathering of anyone over 40. How much super do you have? How much are you putting in yourself? When can you claim it tax-free and at what age can you then retire? How much of your retirement will be self-funded and what will a part-pension (from the government) give you? And for government employees, Are you under the old super scheme or the newer scheme? (The old one is a lot more generous and pre-dates super becoming compulsory.)

What’s great about superannuation in Australia is no one thinks it’s a bad idea. I’ve never heard anyone complain about its existence. Ever. Though sometimes I wonder what we as an ageing nation talked about before compulsory super was introduced in 1992.

I don’t have any super beyond what employers have paid on my behalf. (Remember, my employers paid it but it’s actually my money.) I receive a statement in the post once or twice a year (I can’t remember how often) and I open the A5 envelope and turn to page 4 to look at the pretty graph, purple and mauve columns climbing towards a funded future.

But I try not to think about my super too much because it worries me I’m not contributing anything voluntarily and I’ll be poor (or poorer than others) when I retire, whenever that is. I worry I’ll have some money, but not enough.

This worry is exacerbated by the fact that, at the moment, I’m also unemployed.

What is ridiculous is that I’m hugely employable! No one needs to tell me this: it’s a given. When describing my CV, the word prospective employers, recruitment agency personnel and obsessive resumé-readers always use is comprehensive. (If you want to see just how comprehensive, email me and I’ll send it to you: maybe you have a job for me.)

I’ve worked a lot of jobs and packed in a lot of experience, mainly in community services, marketing and promotions, the media, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching; mainly in not-for-profit organisations; mainly earning shit money; mainly doing a lot of interesting things; and mainly on-the-ground, though sometimes in management. My last job was for a British multinational, and while I loved the job teaching English to refugees in detention, I loathed the management structure and the fake ethos of the company. (Really, I just don’t do private enterprise. And I hate it when for-profits pretend to be about service in the ways not-for-profits are about service. The company was turning a profit doing work the government should be doing, making money out of other people’s misery!)

That job finished six months ago. (Okay, three of those subsequent months were spent travelling in North America and Europe. But to do this I had to resign from the ESL teaching job, which paid okay.)

But I had a job interview last Tuesday. It was for an admin support role with a company working in gas and oil exploration. (“Sure,” I’d said to the woman from the recruitment agency when she’d emphasised the communications aspect of the position, before she said the words it’s basically reception, “put me up for it.” But I went through with it because I’d said I would, despite later thoughts. Plus, I thought it should make me look dependable to the recruitment agency.)

My interview time was 3.00pm, so from when I stumbled out of bed at 9.00am (remember people, I’m not working at the moment) to 3.20pm when the interview finally commenced, I had a lot of time for my stomach to put itself through its back-flipping, somersaulting, spasm-churning paces.

I ’phoned my partner at work. “I really don’t want to do this,” I said, my voice athrob. “I just want it to be over.” Buying some new ‘interview’ clothes took my mind off my unease briefly, but I couldn’t work out why I felt so squeamish about it.

But I think it was this: I knew I had to lie. I knew I had to sit in the interview room and pretend I wasn’t über-overqualified for the glorified-reception-with-the-possibility-of-advancement, fulltime, starting next week (hopefully), initially twelve-month contract position.

Aged 46, bullshitting is getting too hard for me. And given my experience, as egotistical as it might be, in my heart of hearts I don’t see why I still have to prove myself. Take me as I am: I’m not shitting you.

And they must have known, the man and woman (she clearly eight months pregnant), both in their very early thirties at most, smiling faces sitting on the other side of a round table asking me questions so I can reveal to them, through my targeted answers, how suitable I am for a job I am eminently not suitable for, each answer I give only emphasising that.

The interview lasted forty minutes. And I shook their hands when I left.

There are certainly worse ways to spend time in the western suburbs of Adelaide, but afterwards, walking back to my car parked on the street a few doors away, I wondered who should get the flowers for the best performance: them, or me?

I’m hoping a job that suits my varied skills and comprehensive work experience will reveal itself soon. Because until then, I won’t be contributing to Australia’s giant superannuation pool and I won’t be saving for my retirement, whenever that will be.

And one of the fewer things sadder than a 46 year-old man who’s not good at bullshitting and who can’t adequately provide for his retirement, is a 66 year-old man who’s not good at bullshitting and who’s still looking for work so he can retire in 20 years time.

Matt Potter’s collection, ‘Vestal Aversion’, is available to buy NOW from http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/matt-potter/vestal-aversion/paperback/product-20230601.html

You can leave a comment for him here or contact him via his site ‘Pure Slush’, where he publishes short pieces of nonfiction and “flash without the wank” – http://pureslush.webs.com/

‘The Next Big Thing’ (and no, I don’t mean my belly)

Victoria Watson, author of the short story collection ‘Letting Go’, has kindly tagged me as one of the next writers in a blogging experience called The Next Big Thing – you can find out more about her here http://elementaryvwatson.wordpress.com/
Each featured author is sent ten questions about what full length projects they’re working on at the moment. Here are my answers – if you’ve any questions yourself, stick ’em in the comments section below and I’ll get right back to you.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?

Well, I’m writing two at the moment as well as one with another writer which will be revealed in due course. ‘Fairer Prospects: the true story of the Victorian Titanic is a nonfiction book, and ‘An Unusual Darkness’ is a novel.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The nonfiction one presented itself to me a few years ago. I saw a small brass porthole in a museum, talked to an attendant, and was haunted by the tale of how it got there. Writing is the best way I can think of to exorcize this little known tragedy from my head. The fiction idea came from a heady mix of sleep deprivation as a new mum, a National Geographic advert on the TV, and reading lots of Roald Dahl as a kid (well, and as a big kid, too).

What genre does your book fall under?

‘Fairer Prospects’ could be classed as maritime nonfiction, history, and a tragic thriller. ‘An Unusual Darkness’ is a thriller set in the 1930s, so depending on the shop, site, or library it might be under historical fiction or thrillers or be cross-merchandised under both. But having said that, I don’t usually write with a specific genre in mind, I prefer to write the books I want to read.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m tempted to say ones I’d like to get to know because they sound or look like interesting people (or they’re terribly attractive) so that’s exactly what I’ll do.
‘Fairer Prospects’ would suit, in my mind, Alan Rickman, Sean Hughes and Ed Byrne, and maybe Stephen Rea. I think Neve Mackintosh is fab and would be perfect, with Shalto Copley (‘District 9’), Sam Rockwell (‘Moon’), and Tim Robbins, too. Paul O’Grady would be fantastic in it – especially with his strong Liverpuddlian accent.

In ‘An Unusual Darkness’ I’d say Sean Penn or somebody like that for the lead adult role, but I’m stumped for the kids. To be honest, I get more into a movie – especially those based on books I like – if the actors are unknown or so good at getting into character that you see them as the character rather than going ‘ooh, doesn’t so-and-so do the 1930s outfits well!’

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

‘Fairer Prospects’ – Heroism and villainy, treasure and tragedy; the true story of the Victorian Titanic on land and at sea.

‘An Unusual Darkness’‘Lord Of The Flies’ meets ‘Jonah And The Whale’, with a liberal dash of ‘Jaws’.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

With the nonfiction one, I’m hoping to go with an established publisher I love the sound of who has a great track record and good attitude to new work and new authors. I gather it’s more acceptable to do this with NF publishers than it is with fiction publishers; if anybody has thoughts on this I’d love to read them in the comments below.

As for the novel, I’ve had some interest from an agent I like and respect, and an invitation to send the full MS once it’s finished and I fully intend doing so.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still in the process of working on them and sending the chapters to beta testers. ‘Fairer Prospects’ should be complete by the beginning of November, and I’m hoping ‘An Unusual Darkness’ will be done for spring. We’re moving house in a fortnight or I’d be happily thinking Hallowe’en and Christmas as endtimes. I’m really enjoying writing them, but there are boxes to pack and keep my 5 year old from emptying, and that’s temporarily getting in the way.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh, this is a tricky one – how to answer without sounding big-headed?  Please bear with me on this one!  In terms of structure, I’d say ‘Fairer Prospects’ – hmm, possibly ‘In The Heart Of The Sea’ by the amazing Nathaniel Philbrick (one of my favourite books). I’d be interested to hear what my beta-reader would compare it to as she’s coming to the story as reader, not writer. As for ‘An Unusual Darkness’ I’d refer you back to my pitch above. My literary mentor suggested ‘Life Of Pi’ by Yann Martel but I’ve not read it and don’t think I want to until I’ve completed at least the first draft, though my sister gave me a copy as she knows I love to read and write about the sea.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

An otherwise uneventful trip to a museum sparked the need to write ‘Fairer Prospects’. My favourite author, Jeremy Scott, read one of my first short stories from way back in 2010 and encouraged me to develop ‘An Unusual Darkness’ into a novel. I was already thinking about doing so, but to have my literary hero echo that desire was wonderful.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I think with ‘Fairer Prospects’ there’s something for everyone – adventure, romance, treasure, skulduggery, tragedy, miraculous escapes and falls from grace. There’s also the distinct possibility that a member of their family was affected by the key events in some way.

With ‘An Unusual Darkness’ there’s something for people who like to read about the sea, shipwrecks, tough decisions, survival, and treasure. It’s full of adventure and if you like strange but realistic fiction that will lurk in your head and distract you in meetings then this is for you.

This is probably the most difficult question to answer. Who knows what key event or tiny detail might be the tipping point that allows the reader to lose themselves in your book?

The five authors I’m passing the questions to are:

Joanna Delooze – http://bumblefingers.blogspot.com

Len Kuntz – http://lenkuntz.blogspot.com/

Matt Potter – http://sweetscrippen.blogspot.com.au/

Sarah Collie – http://spud09.blogspot.co.uk/

…and one more writer who’ll be announced shortly.