8 Novels Inspired by the Author’s Day Job

Alexia Casale, author of "The Best Way to Bury Your Husband," recommends stories sparked by the authors' work life

A female pathologist views a slide under a microscope backlit by purple light.
Photo by the National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

Like many authors, I don’t write alongside a “day job” but rather a portfolio career. For over a decade a key strand of my work has focused on human rights non-fiction editing. During the U.K.’s covid lockdown, the femicide rate spiked even as my clients (frontline workers, activists and academics) struggled to get support for those in far more danger stuck at home with a violent partner than from the pandemic.

The Best Way to Bury Your Husband was born of the sheer deluge and urgency of the work that followed. All authors draw from life, but this was the first time my “day job” shaped one of my novels so completely. It awakened an interest in how other writers explore the benefits and challenges of leaning heavily on experience, not just imagination.

Our work life is such a rich and inescapable source of material and inspiration, but sometimes that depth of knowledge can be just as daunting and complicated as having to invent everything from scratch. What should you put in to make the work authentic versus what should you leave out to avoid getting bogged down? How much can you borrow before you’re no longer writing fiction at all? Here are seven authors, with novels inspired by their day jobs, who are answering those questions.

Forensic Anthropologist: The Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs

From Patricia Cornwell (who worked at a medical examiner’s office) to Kathy Reichs (a forensic anthropologist whose crime novels inspired long-running TV-series Bones), crime writers with a background in policing or the analysis of evidence have become increasingly common as an ever more sophisticated readership looks for greater authenticity. It’s not just the ‘telling details’ that matter—and which are easily enough seized upon—but the types of story that emerge organically from specific types of work, happening in specific contexts, within a specific professional culture. 

Counterterrorism Communications: The Chase by Ava Glass

Christi Daugherty moved on from crime reporting in the U.S. to counterterrorism communications in London, and it was this that informed her new Alias Emma series, written under the pen-name Ava Glass. The Chase sees spy Emma Makepeace (not her real name) engaged in a fraught escape across London—the most heavily CCTV-surveilled city in the world—while The Traitor follows her across Europe on an oligarch’s superyacht as she hunts a possible government mole. A female-centric spin on Le Carré, The Traitor was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers Association Steel Dagger Award for its grounded depiction of intelligence work. Hailed as a “‘female James Bond,” Glass, with her keen eye for both detail and fun, brings the action—and also a depth of insight into the damage this type of work wreaks on a person’s life and psyche.

Mental Health Worker: Girl Friends by Holly Bourne

It’s perhaps not a surprise that counselling and mental health work is another common author ‘day job’ given the novel’s unrivaled canvas for exploring character interiority. Holly Bourne worked as a teen mental health advisor. Her years of experience shine through in all her novels, from her alternatively hilarious and heartbreaking Am I Normal Yet? YA series to her nuanced examination of trauma in her adult novels, most recently Girl Friends. Bourne has an extraordinary ability to switch from laugh-out-loud comedy to peeling back the layers of what’s happening to reveal the tragedy beneath, from the lies we tell ourselves to the horrors so normalised in society we barely recognise it doesn’t have to be like this.

Teacher: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

A former classics teacher, Madeline Miller brought her love of Latin and Greek into her sublime The Song of Achilles, which effortlessly and accessibly renders the stories from The Odyssey into a living, breathing tale of love and devotion. It sings to the modern reader just as the original would have to listeners from thousands of years ago. Miller captures the magic of ancient rhythms and the beauty of language that has withstood the test of millennia. The swift, smooth flow, mimicking the tale’s origins in the oral tradition, saw me unable to stop turning the pages.

Journalist: The Many Lies of Veronica Hawkins by Kristina Pérez

 Like her protagonist, Pérez moved from New York City to Hong Kong, where she worked as a journalist. A tightly-structured “book within a book”, it’s clear from the start that everyone in this twisty tale is lying—but what they’re lying about, and how this relates to the death of the eponymous Hong Kong socialite, is a tangled web indeed. The sense of a dynamic place at a profound moment of change is as much a character as any of the named players, adding depth and a disconcerting vividness that makes the levels of storytelling even more engrossing.

Playwright: The Appeal by Janice Hallett 

Janice Hallett is another author with a background in journalism, but it’s her “day job” as a playwright (and her passion for amateur dramatics) that shines most brightly in The Appeal. Told through emails, texts and other documents, this is a modern spin on the epistolary novel. Hallett’s skill with capturing different voices—much like an actor—keeps the pages turning as you puzzle over the deeper meaning of a friendly sign-off versus a terse one, and whether concern over ethical and legal technicalities will prove a red herring or the key to unraveling the central mystery.

Lawyer: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

Lawyers  are well-represented among authors, from Charles Perrault to John Buchan, and from John Grisham to Anna Mazzola. To date, Mazzola has focused on the intersection of her legal expertise with her passion for history. The Unseeing is a dual-narrative following a young lawyer sent to re-investigate a (real) 1830s case in which both a murderer and his common-law wife have been sentenced to death: the second narrator is the condemned “accomplice.” With a sharp eye to how gaps in evidence can be as revealing as the evidence itself, Mazzola turns her lens on the way power structures don’t just shape the law as written, but also how it affects the legal system in practice. Look out for her first contemporary legal mystery in 2025 under pen-name Anna Sharpe.

Babysitter: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age was inspired partly by her own experiences as a babysitter. When a Black babysitter takes the young white girl she cares for to the supermarket, she finds herself accused of kidnapping. Her horrified employer wants to make things right, but from the micro- to the macro-level that is anything but simple. The book took the publishing world by storm, ending up on the longlist for The Booker Prize among other accolades for its nuanced exploration of race, class and power.

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