Oh, I remember those

 

How exciting cassette recorders were back in the 70s. I recall receiving one for, I think, my ninth birthday. It was oblong and black with chrome (plastic) push-button keys at one end: stop, start, fast forward, etc, and I loved it, mainly for inventing and recording, with a group of friends, The Muck-spreaders, a  piss-takes of The Archers. The days before Youtube . . .

My current book is set in 1985, the main character being somewhat techno-phobic, like me. After being told by his ex-wife who can never get hold of him that he must purchase an answer machine, he ventures into an alien environment to do so . . .

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An hour later, I’m walking up the Tottenham Court Road in a post-beer dreamy state, mind still buzzing from Mr Narche’s extraordinary words. In passing I glance in the window of one of the many electrical shops and notice amongst the avalanche of sleek and grey, a display of answer machines. Time to join 1985, Hamish – within reason.

    I step into the burrow of technology and stand gawping uncomprehendingly at the mass of bleeping, flashing . . . stuff.

    “What you after today, sir?”

    I jump at the voice coming from behind the counter. A youth clad in a satin purple and turquoise outfit is grinning at me. He pushes a hinged lid down on a small rectangle of orange plastic in front of him. I can just make out the upside-down words: Donkey Kong.

    “What is Donkey Kong,” I hear myself ask.

    He looks at me as if I have travelled in time from 1837.

    “Game and watch – hand-held games. There’s tons ‘appening – the future innit . . .” He gives up realising his adolescent enthusiasm is wasted on me. “VCR? SLR? Pack of VHS?”

    “Actually . . . I just want an answer machine – a simple one.”

    He nods: “Right-o,” lifts various chunks of plastic off a shelf, places them reverently before me and instructs me in their various attributes. I glaze over after forty seconds and point at one with a rather fetching band of real wood veneer.

    “That’s nice.”

    He says something that sounds like: ‘sgdtfsj’, ‘tvjjjdsds,’ and ‘sdchduhd’, plus it can, ‘dcsdumaadd’.”

    I smile and say I’ll take it. A boxed version is found, slid into a slippery, yellow logoed bag after which I hand over the required sum, walk out into real air and wonder what just happened.

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Oh, hello

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I’m feeling a lot happier after posing the question ‘authors who write without a plan’to uncle Google. Seems as if it’s an accepted way of working and even if it wasn’t I don’t think I can work any other way. I’ve tried making chapter plans , thinking ahead – who’ll do what, where, when, but a mind-block always seems to appear suggesting I need to plan other things like car repairs, vet trips, earning a living . . .

It’s an odd way to work; a little scary, like walking a bit too close to a windy cliff edge just to see what’s down there. Often the path meanders into good terrain, fertile and exciting and equally often comes to a halt in front of a huge pile of literary manure from which I have to hastily back-track to find a different lane.

Characters I find equally difficult to pin down. Like the lady above, they often appear, semi-formed and reveal their true identities as I write. I have heard people say that you should work ever last thing out about a character before you introduce them into the story. A great idea except characters change and morph as I write, sometimes slightly, sometimes to almost take over the story, causing me to re-write and re-think – maybe a useful process in itself.

So, my planning: an early morning scramble to get words down, reflecting throughout the day, occasionally with a Eureka moment at some point and some hasty note-making followed by a re-cap early the following morning before the story moves on, slowly, speedily, sideways, backwards and (happily)mostly forwards.

 

Writing tools

I seem to have sadly (and hopefully temporarily) mislaid the magnificent fountain pen that Mark gave me for my birthday. Wishing to find something to use in the meantime and not spend a load I went into a junk shop in our nearby bigger town and asked if they had any ‘stylo à plume’ he proceeded to root about in a grubby box and produced three specimens: one grey and bent, another that must have been through a 90 degree wash and this one. “It’s Russian,” he said as if this was a good thing – I’ve no idea, are Russian pens extra marvellous?

 

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Actually it is marvellous and for the price of a couple of coffees on the square I have a lean, clean soviet writing implement. Now. Where would it have been made, used, and by who, in what bureau, to sign what. A short story in the making perhaps.