Friday, January 02, 2009

Copping Out

I watched Jonathan Creek last night; it was a bad night for TV, so don’t judge me.

Actually, as light entertainment goes, I like the show, and not only because Jonathan’s ‘home’ – the windmill out in the middle of nowhere – is just down the road from me in Shipley. The show, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is about a magician who gets drawn into solving crimes. It’s not meant to be taken seriously, which is a good thing as magicians do not generally interrogate witnesses or perform ad hoc forensic testing on crime scenes where the police are only conspicuous by their absence.

As light entertainment, this is to be expected, but even the ‘serious’ shows (CSI, NCIS, and their ilk) swing unapologetically wide of reality. I used to be an Identification Specialist, but no one ever issued me with a firearm, and I never got to take part in shoot-outs or rough up suspects either. (Is it any wonder I moved to a different job?)

The point is, these TV shows can get away with it because they are TV shows; you cannot do this with fiction. Ready for the paradox? Fiction has to be real.

This is one of the issues keeping me from taking The Big Step off of the Diving Platform of Preparation into the Olympic pool of Just Getting On With It. (This is a blog; don’t expect me to spend a lot of time fretting over my metaphors.) I’ve been here before, and taking The Big Step is generally prefaced by a protracted period of faffing about, but this time I’ve been here so long I’ve had the place carpeted, put in air conditioning and I’m thinking about refurbishing the kitchen.

Mainly this stems from my fear of Getting It Wrong, and that is largely fuelled by the fact there are cops involved in this book, with all their esoteric rituals and volumes of regulations and uniform do-dads just waiting to trip me up. With no track record behind me, I don’t enjoy the privileges afforded to famous writers like Ian Rankin and found myself limited to an hour-long interview with a local Community Support Officer. She was very accommodating, but it was no substitute for riding around in a squad car for a week or two.

I don’t know how other writers handle it, but my method is to get whatever information I can and sprinkle the factual details throughout the text to give the maximum amount of verisimilitude. It certainly seems like a good plan, but I can’t know if it will work unless I sell the book. (So stay tuned.)

So, yeah, details are a killer, and it is now occurring to me that my main character, while not a police officer, works in a field that is just as mysterious to me; she’s a travel agent. What, exactly, do travel agents do? How am I supposed to write about the character if I know nothing about her main job? And how did I not think of this before? (No, really, I am, at this very moment, realizing I know nothing at all about my main character.)

This is actually lifting my spirits. Now I have a valid excuse for more faffing about as I arrange for an interview with one of the many travel agents who work on the High Street. I hope they will be at least as approachable as the police and just as willing to talk about the finer points of their job.

I wonder if they ever get to rough up suspects.


  1. Hello fellow writer!

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! It's so nice to read about a fellow expat (albeit from a country south of mine) trying to make it writing in the UK.

    Your 'Postcards' book looks interesting! 2009, eh? Congrats!

    Looking forward to reading more.