I began writing observational pieces in the late 1990’s. I got the courage to submit some to the Irish national papers in the early 2,000’s. Both the Sunday Times and Sunday Independent were interested and got back to me. The Sunday independent were considering offering new colour writers an opportunity, including myself, because Hugh Leonard was vacating his column in the Sunday Independent. Unfortunately for me, Gay Byrne had been left nearly bankrupt by his accountant and was keen to take the spot immediately. The Sunday Times wrote a very personal 2-page letter back saying there would be opportunities in the coming year. However, my place in the spotlight never came! Timing is everything.
This refocussed me. I began writing a novel that had been forming in my mind. The novel was driven by my experiences at work.
The inspiration behind ULSER
I got the idea for ULSER from my years of dealing with trade unions and their officials. I formed the view that well-meaning legislation to protect workers had outlived its original usefulness. I passionately believe the legislation needs a complete overhaul.
In my own experience, employee legislation has evolved to such an extent that the only type of individual protected is the one who has no desire to give a honest day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Often the procedures in place are loaded against a fair outcome – and against the manager. A rebalance is required.
Anecdotally, in my 40 years of working, I estimate that the poor performing cohort of the workforce has risen from 5% to 30%. I feel employee legislation has made it so difficult for managers to tackle poor performers that few managers are prepared to address rogue employees for fear they themselves will be counter-charged and accused of bullying etc. Such accusations, even without foundation, can stick. It is my contention that employees have observed this managerial inertia over the decades and have taken the view that if others are not pulling their weight and getting away with it, why should they put the effort in?
I have seen the health of fellow managers suffer in instances where they tried to tackle problem individuals. I believe many managers now gravitate to the easier option – do nothing. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. This can’t be good in the long term.
In the current climate of Covid, employee legislation has just been enacted to give further rights to employees to work from home. Considering how arduous it currently is to control those who won’t work – and where managers are able to observe them at first hand in the office or worksite – I am fearful how much more difficult it is going to be to address performance when managers can’t even observe at close quarters in the workplace. Imagine how much more problematic it is going to be if a manager attempts to access someone’s home to monitor their work performance, considering the right to privacy? I shudder to think.
The current legislation seems to put every possible obstacle in the way of a manager and obstructs a fair outcome. While Dicken’s and Marx wrote about the downtrodden “worker”, I believe that employee legislation, in its current form, does not extend to managers who must just “suck it up” from poor performers. This can’t be right.
An outline of ULSER
Ulser is a psychological thriller. I imagined a character – an out-of-control employee, nicknamed Ulser – who is causing major problems for the operations of Eirtran, a warehousing and distribution company. Ted Black, the new manager, finds he cannot control him within the confines of the industrial relations machinery and employee legislation.
Ted’s family and home is being attacked and destroyed, and all suspicion falls on Ulser. Ted’s health declines rapidly as the Industrial Relations machinery spectacularly fails to help him. He eventually decides that he has nothing to lose by taking matters into his own hands, kidnapping Ulser and dealing with Ulser in a way befitting his “crimes”…
The realisation of what he has done haunts Ted, who subsequently spirals rapidly into the depths of despair. Late in the story, it becomes clear to the reader that all that went before may not have been what it seemed. Ted and Ulser are re-united in one final scene, when circumstances for both have utterly changed.
While the book has a dark theme, there are large doses of Dublin humour to lighten the tone and to give a breather from the relentless action. Dublin – the metropolis – is a character of the book and many of the references around the city will resonate with Dubliners.
How ULSER came to be published
I completed the first draft of ULSER in 2007. After submitting it to many publishers and agents, Penguin took an interest, and it got a second read. In the end, they decided to pass. Life and work intervened, and only when I retired in 2019 did I consider re-submitting ULSER to publishing houses.
As with most authors, most replies were no … but a few were yes. I finally agreed a deal with the American publisher, Atmosphere Press, in July 2020. After forming a great relationship with my editor and several rewrites and proof-reads later, a final published version was agreed in November 2020.
ULSER will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble from 1st February 2021. It is possible to pre-order ULSER on those sites now. It will also be on sale in bookshops from that date.
The audience ULSER is aimed at
While I hope that the novel ULSER will provide food for thought – and a vehicle for discussion – for employee relations “movers and shakers” (i.e politicians, managers, supervisors, team leaders, union officials, employment legislators and employers), I believe Ulser will have wider appeal as a psychological thriller.
I have fully mapped out the story for my next novel and it is one third written. I have other projects laid out beyond that.
An interesting footnote to Ulser – as it relates to Quinn Industrial Holdings
Since ULSER was conceived back in 2007, I have since been intrigued by the events in Quinn Industrial Holdings. I was struck by the parallels between Ted Black’s predicament in the book and Kevin Lunney’s situation with Quinn Industrial Holdings. Strange things happen to both managers outside the workplace, the main difference being that Ted carries out the kidnapping and evil deeds in the novel while Kevin Lunney is on the receiving end in real life.
(c) R.J. Deeds
Order your copy of ULSER online here.