Thursday, 4 February 2010
The Writing Game
The past five days for me have illustrated that sitting here at my desk isn’t the single monotonous activity it may seem to be to an outsider. I haven’t even had time to experience life block (q.v.). The ongoing background activity finds me in the early 19th century reading about people such as Samuel Martin, a hatter in Aberdeen who was way ahead of the game when it came to advertising. In 1842 a competitor advertised ‘new patent washable beaver hats’ and almost immediately Sam was advertising his own ‘superior beaver hats which never require washing’. (That’s from Edward Ranson’s The Mad Hatter of Aberdeen.) Sam would have been all over Facebook and Twitter – he insisted that you should ‘never omit an opportunity of placing your name in printed characters before the world’.
Anyway, in order to earn some money I’ve had to switch away from that now and again to write a DVD about how to get stuff out of the hollow concrete legs of offshore platforms as part of the decommissioning process, another on the responsibilities of security personnel on ships' gangways, and a third on the awareness of the procedures and systems needed for gas testing where hydrocarbons are being produced. I know, I know – it’s really fun stuff and you’re all agog with excitement and tension now, wanting to know more about such fascinating topics. But I don’t want you to get over-excited and anyway, there are two more projects which are almost as interesting.
The first is with a local charity, the Aberdeen Safer Community Trust. Its aim is to make the city's streets safer, bring crime levels down, etc. Next month, they’re holding a fund-raising event called CSI Aberdeen. It involves people in groups of five combining to solve a mystery - it might be a murder or an accidental death. They get to study documents, interview witnesses and a forensic scientist, take and compare fingerprints, do experiments in a lab on substances and whatever else the scene of crime team produces. And they have to come up with a solution to the crime (if there is one) and/or an explanation of the death. The organisers asked me if I'd be interested in helping, so I've been creating the scenario and, in between the commercial stuff, I'm now writing briefs for witnesses, the scenario itself, notes to help the forensic chemists to decide what sort of experiments to devise, and a surprising number of other things.
I've never been to one of these murder mystery dinners so it's interesting to see how the process works from the inside. The writing is different in that I have to think very carefully about what to reveal and what to conceal. In a novel, I can control exactly when and how to drop in the clues for the reader, hint at motives, and so on. In this case, though, those taking part should really get the information they need from interviewing the witnesses but if they don't ask the right questions, they won't - and they'll probably feel cheated. It's a fascinating balancing act. And it occurred to me that, once the event’s over, it might be interesting to blog a version of it to see what conclusions you come to about the incident.
So I’m piecing that together but now there’s another, quite scary event coming up next week. I’ve been asked to go to a primary school and read one of my kids’ stories then talk to them/work with them to create another story or do something related to writing that might interest them. I’ll have 45-50 minutes with each of the 7 classes and it’s part of what the school calls a ‘literacy week’. I think it’s a great initiative and I’m actually looking forward to it. I won’t even mind if a 5 year old butts in as I’m reading my masterpiece to tell me it’s boring.
Meanwhile I think you should know that, although people say Hydrogen Sulphide smells like rotten eggs (and it does), in higher concentrations it destroys your sense of smell. That happens not long before it kills you. I just thought you should know.