As my novel is set in Glasgow, I'm trying to figure out how I'd like to portray my city of origin.
Is there a better way to absorb the character of an area, than to plonk yourself right in the middle of it? I think not.
So, yesterday after work, I took my wee notebook to a bench to write about my surroundings. To do a bit of people-watching and eavesdropping, the way those real writers tell you to. My aim: to capture the essence that is Glasgow, in the month of May, in the year of 2012.
Now... if that bench was located in the leafy West End of Glasgow, it would be expected of me to have a notepad with me. The place is rife with Artistes, dahhhling.
There are other places, however, where notepad-scribbling is a bit of a rarity. Where it is even viewed with suspicion. Places such as the one I found myself in yesterday… Govan.
See those benches? I sat in the middle of them, with my wee notepad, and opened my eyes and ears. I felt like a bit of a weirdo, to be honest, but I persevered.
The place was bustling with people, out enjoying the sun. In Glasgow, the mere mention of sunshine makes all upper-clothing magically vanish from the male species. It brought out the exhibitionist in some of the Govan folk: they felt it appropriate to walk around topless as though they were swanning around a Spanish island; giving us all an eyeful of their pallid torsos.
In stark contrast, there were also masses of old people wearing several jumpers underneath their jackets, despite the blistering heat. They appeared to be making their way home, laden with grocery bags that weighed down on their weary arms. They looked tired from their wee day out at the Govan Cross Shopping Centre.
Once I stopped crying, I observed a woman in her fifties speaking to a young boy behind me. "Nine already?" she asked him, "Ah don't believe it! Happy Birthday, son." She handed him a package from the bakery she’d just come out of, "here's a sausage roll, pal. It's no' money, but it's better than nuttin'."
A man in his late twenties literally bounced past me. You’d think he had springs in his trainers. After almost colliding with a passer-by, he turns to him and says "Here, mate, will ye tap us a fag?" When guy responds that he doesn't smoke, the man continues bouncing along, then stops to pick up a discarded cigarette beef from the ground.
Meanwhile, two stray dogs were doing the rounds, looking for scraps, nosing their way through the bins.
Just before I decided to leave, I spotted a harassed young mother trying to instill discipline in her child, in the form of a reward system: “If ye don’t shut it, yer no' gettin a sweetie.”
People tell you to "write what you know", but, on days like yesterday, I wonder if that can sometimes defeat the point of escapism!
So, what did I learn on my wee jaunt? I observed that you get a heightened sense of community in places like this, compared to the more affluent areas. The people I saw yesterday all appeared to be complete extroverts; they had that "I just don't give a fuck" attitude that stuffy, uptight people could probably do with (in moderation).
They’re assertive, for the most part. They’re not blighted by insecurity over trivial matters, and they have a directness which, given the right situation, could be quite appealing. These are all traits that some of my characters exhibit in the novel, so yesterday's excersize could only have benefited my work.
But where does my humble novel fit in in all this?
Despite feeling a deep sense of despair at the world (that's nothing new for me, right enough), I've definitely given my book a better chance of having an authentic feel to it.
Yesterday's "people-watching" excersize will be the first of many for this WIP. I find there's no better research than going somewhere and literally absorbing the area*, to go back and bleed it out on to your novel.
You can feel the surrounding, the atmosphere and its unique character, in my opinion. Fingers crossed it shows in my finished draft!
I'll tell you what, though, I now understand why so many people read and write fantasy novels instead...
How about you? Do you try to filter in your own surroundings within your WIP? Have you heard any crackers in your "eavesdropping"?
And, finally, should I be feeling so guilty over snooping over unsuspecting people? Someone please tell me I'm not a bad person!