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My first boss: Greg Mosse, author and playwright


My first boss: Greg Mosse, author and playwright
Greg Mosse's debut novel The Coming Darkness was written during lockdown

Greg Mosse is a playwright turned novelist and, a ‘writer and encourager of writers’. His first novel, is a futuristic-thriller called The Coming Darkness. It has been described as ‘Bladerunner meets John Le Carré’. It is out now and will be followed by a sequence of crime novels, beginning in summer 2023.

Mosse founded and runs the Criterion New Writing script development programme in London’s West End where he works with mid-career playwrights and screenwriters, devising and editing new work.

Married to best-selling novelist Kate Mosse, his portfolio career follows spells as an actor, translator and interpreter.

My first boss was a wealthy landowner who needed someone small – I was just a kid at the time – to creep under the apple trees in his orchard and scythe away the weeds. It was hard work and it paid a penny a tree. Even then, in the 1970s, a penny didn’t get you very far.

My two brothers and I were brought up by my mother in rural poverty following an acrimonious divorce. In fact, when my mother talks about never having had any real help from any of her three husbands, she has to correct herself. It wasn’t that they didn't help. It was more that they hindered. If I tell you that the middle one, the alcoholic, was the best of the three, you will have an idea of what I mean.

My first proper job was a Sunday shift at a hotel in the nearest town. It seemed palatial at the time but, on reflection, it was damp and smelt of stale cigarettes. I was taken on as a porter, opening the front door to customers, carrying their bags, preparing tea and coffee on trays with paper doilies decorating every saucer.

Read more: My first boss: Anne Boden, CEO and founder of Starling Bank

The manager, Mr Martin, wanted to run a tight ship but, poor man, he didn't have it in him. He never seemed to know what he wanted to do first and left jobs half complete all over the building. What did he teach me? Don’t leave Brasso on the door handles when cleaning the metalwork – the customers don't like it.

From porter duties I took the opportunity to graduate to the kitchen and restaurant because it offered more shifts and money at home was still very tight. I came under the influence of an Italian maître d’hôtel with what seemed to me an extraordinary florid manner. I release now that he was probably just putting it on for show – the expansive gestures, the extreme accent. His name was Carlo and he roused his team each mealtime, shouting: ‘Shall we ’ave eet?’

Working between the kitchen and the restaurant, I learned a lot about focus and time pressure, the battle to maintain quality without enough hands to do the work. At the stove, the chef sought perfection, achieved only moderate results and was never happy. I would see him planning his menus, juggling a tight budget, needing to compromise on the more expensive ingredients, always disappointed. Meanwhile, Carlo was focused simply on getting the food hot to the table, powering through service as quickly as was humanly possible.

This tension has stayed with me – the desire to find fulfilment in work through quality, balanced by the need to make a living by multiplying customers and units sold.

I later decided to move to Edinburgh for the summer, hoping to get involved in the Festival, But, when I arrived at Victoria Coach Station with all my belongings in two tightly-packed bags, I saw the night bus to Paris was soon leaving and the cost was slightly cheaper than the Edinburgh bus.

Since 2015, Greg Mosse has also written, produced and staged 25 plays and musicals.
Since 2015, Greg Mosse has also written, produced and staged 25 plays and musicals.

I stayed for nearly five years and, as time went by and my French became fluent, I took a job in a translation agency with offices not far from the Champs Elysées. My boss there was Madame de Rogalski, a French aristocrat from a family that survived the Revolution with distant roots in Poland.

She taught me attention to detail, persistence, formality. Hers was a serious code of conduct, learnt in childhood – restraint, respect for elders and betters, ‘the customer is always right’, suppliers always charge too much, doing things properly is better than doing things quickly.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I stayed with Madame de Rogalski for so long. She was severe, seldom pleased, always keen to find a new translator who might work for a few centimes less. Yet I felt a kind of affinity, something like the old proverbial expression: ‘If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well’.

I had better bosses later on who were purposeful and considerate. Now, I’m a new kind of entrepreneur as a writer of plays and novels. But Madame de Rogalski still provides a kind of benchmark and a serious attitude that serves me every day.

Read more: My first boss: Nick Wheeler, founder of shirt maker and tailor Charles Tyrwhitt

The Coming Darkness is strongly influenced by my time spent living in Paris and also when I became an interpreter working with the UN and NGOs. Those organisations get a lot of bad press but they are working to mitigate the damage caused by unfettered capitalism.

I wanted to write something that looked at the probable problems 15 years from now, but have an optimistic outlook, with people doing their best to prevent the worst from happening.

In good national newspapers like Le Monde or El País you often see predictive articles about the evolution of society or science and technology, and that was a really brilliant resource for the book. Fifteen years is not far away and those really well researched articles were making coherent predictions about things like population movements through water scarcity, and it fed into what I was writing. Because it is an imaginative creation I could pick and choose when to treat these predictions as facts.

The Coming Darkness by Greg Mosse (Moonflower Books, £16.99) is out now

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