Monday, 23 January 2012

Unsafe Acts

One of my claims to fame (he says, as if there were several) is that I earned an acknowledgement in Ian Rankin’s dagger prize winning novel Black and Blue. Members of the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association are asked to list any areas of ‘special expertise’ so that fellow members can contact them if they need information on different topics. I’ve written countless videos and DVDs  about offshore safety as well as actual safety induction programmes, so that was one of my ‘specialisations’. In Black and Blue, Rebus had to make a trip to an offshore platform and Ian wrote to ask what sort of thing that involved for a ‘visitor’. I wrote back and thereby got myself a mention.

So, apart from name-dropping, why am I writing this? Because, on the 15th of next month, Unsafe Acts, the 5th novel in my Jack Carston series, will be published and, as the cover image and the title suggest, it involves an offshore platform and safety. It also involves some reflections on homophobia and how, even in the 21st century, that’s still a problem.

It’s been through several drafts and, as I was reading the proofs, I again got the strange feeling that, while I knew I’d written it and my name’s on the cover, it was hard to remember how it happened. When something’s out there as a self-contained thing – whether in tangible form as a paperback or in the same completeness as an ebook – it somehow seems instantaneous. The book has become a fact. When you’re writing, you’re always poised on the edge of wondering what the characters are going to do, where they’re going to go. The process is one of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’. So for me the writer, Unsafe Acts was a succession of instants which eventually stopped. But for me the reader, it’s a complete, set thing with its own internal logic and a journey which has only one path. I suppose for readers coming fresh to it, the uncertainties are still there because they don’t know where the characters will take them until they’ve arrived.

The other question you sometimes ask yourself, when you’re reading a novel you’ve written, is the one that most writers hate: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ And again, it’s often difficult to answer. With Unsafe Acts, I know that the seed was sown in a casual remark from a friend, Mike Lloyd-Wiggins, who said one day ‘You ought to write about an offshore platform. There’s plenty of stuff going on out there.’ (This was the same friend who also said, a few years ago ‘You ought to write a story about a figurehead carver’. So thanks, Mike.) But that’s just the seed. When you see the dense vegetation that’s grown from it (I know, crap metaphor, but I’m lazy) you really do wonder where all these people were hiding, what made them appear. Where did they get their attitudes?

One other interesting thing about this book (for me anyway) is that it’s a different Jack Carston from the one I first met when I wrote Material Evidence. Of course, I’m different now from the person I was then but I don’t think that means we’ve followed the same path. He now seems so fed up with the hoops he has to jump through to satisfy his superiors and tick the right administrative boxes (what a field day these crap – and now mixed, too – metaphors are getting), that I really wonder whether the next book will find him leaving the job altogether.

Anyway, forget the Jubilee (definitely) and the London Olympics, the date for your diary is the day after Valentine’s Day.

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  1. Holymarymudderofjaysus, would you slow down, Kirton? You're making the rest of us look dead lazy.

    (BTW, Don't know why I channelled my inner Mother Superior there.)

    Looking forward to it, fella.

  2. Bless you, Michael my child. Remember, in the beginning was the word, then there was another one, and another one - and so it goes on. Which reminds me, how about a guest blog from you when (or before) Blood Tears comes out?

  3. Congratulations on the release, Bill. And coo - offshore platforms and homophobia; now there's a combination you don't see every day. ;) It sounds rather intriguing...

  4. Thanks, Fiona. But sadly, the macho offshore culture sees gay as a term of abuse. It was also interesting (and appalling) to learn that the vast majority of those accused of assaulting a 'queer' opt for the 'he made advances to me' defence, and it's nearly always successful. We live in unenlightened times in many respects.

  5. Yes we do, although I hope this is one of the last bastions of the worst aspects of that particular culture... :(