Fresh Talent: Not Working by Lisa Owens

Fresh Talent: Not Working by Lisa Owens

Not Working – Lisa Owens

Claire Flannery has had enough. Daring to step boldly into the unknown (well, into temporary unemployment), she quits her office job to find her true vocation and do all the things she’s always meant to do. Surely now she’ll finally finish Ulysses, run a marathon, get to grips with modern art and start the career of her dreams.

Except that she’s got no idea what that career would be. And while everyone else seems to have their lives completely under control, she’s had wine for dinner again. And she’s spent whole days entering competitions on the Internet and Facebook-stalking her boyfriend’s colleague. And her mother won’t take her calls. And her buddleia is getting out of hand and her applications are going nowhere…

‘It’s fine,’ her grandmother says. ‘I remember what being your age was like – of course, I had four children under eight then, but modern life is different, you’ve got an awful lot on.

Brilliantly observed, touching and wildly funny, Not Working is the story of a life unravelling and a novel that skewers the questions that have been keeping us all awake at night.

Read if you loved: Bridget Jones – Helen Fielding

Lisa Owens Biography

Lisa Owens was born in 1985 and grew up in Glasgow and Hertfordshire.

After reading English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, she spent six years working in publishing.

In 2013, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

She lives in London with her husband.


Lisa Owens on the Inspiration Behind Not Working

In 2008, I left one job and found myself with six-weeks off before starting the next. At the outset, I made lots of vague and grand plans to exercise, explore the city, read a newspaper cover-to-cover each day and generally catch up on culture and life admin, but the hours seemed to melt away at alarming speed. I spent many of them watching daytime TV.

Eventually though, tchotchke-valuation in charming English market towns lost its allure, and I took to wandering the streets of my neighbourhood in South-East London. The unique feeling of that time stayed with me over the years: the aimlessness, ennui and crippling sense of self-sabotage that came from not being able to complete simple tasks despite having no demands at all on my time.

When I started writing my novel and exploring the idea of purpose, those weeks were very much on my mind. If you have nothing to do, yet unlimited time, how do you account for yourself and reckon with your place in the world? How do you find shape in your days?

These questions fed into other thoughts I’d been having about ambition, money, self-worth and personal relationships, and the delicate way these things hang together. I wanted to see what happened if one factor was suddenly out of kilter, and how the others would be affected.

Falling out of the routine most people adhere to – rising early, working, relaxing in the evenings – was a weirdly disconcerting experience, and what had felt like a golden opportunity for self-improvement soon became an exercise in enforced self-examination, fuelled by a barista-brewed coffee habit I couldn’t afford.

Fortunately for me, that period had a natural end point, and it was with a sigh of relief that I re-entered the world of work. For Claire – the heroine of Not Working – though, that end point proves increasingly elusive the further she strays from structure and industry.

Not Working is a book about not working, but it’s also about the tiny, incidental moments that make up our lives – things we all encounter but may not have time to notice while we’re busy with the business of making ourselves useful.