Friday, 4 May 2012

Watching me watching you...

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!
*By the way, I'm not a stranger to Govan. I've lived there before and many of my family grew up in the area. It's just different seeing the place through my "writer eyeball", hence the new perspective.


Kyra Lennon said...

LOL, eavesdropping can't be helped sometimes, and as writers, I feel we are entitled to use all of our senses at all times - we are not responsible for the bizarre things we hear! :D

Catherine Noble said...

Haha thank you for the reassurance, Kyra! I'll remember this next time I'm "using my senses" :D

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I never bother with carrying around a notepad to write stuff down I might overhear. What's the point? Then I'd have to stop when I'm writing and look at the notepad and try to find a place for it or something. Seems like a hassle.

What does Glasgow smell like? I once wrote that Edinburgh smelled like something or other and someone said, "It doesn't smell like that!" They didn't bother to tell me what it DID smell like though.

Crack You Whip said...

When I was younger (13 years old) I used to go sit on a bench just to watch people and overhear things so that I could write about it.

Other than that I would have to write about my science homework...

Catherine Noble said...

@PT Dilloway: Yeah I wouldn't walk and write... the notepad is for bench/seated time only. If I don't write something down, it gets forgotten about, which is an even bigger hassle.

I can't say Glasgow has a generic smell :\ I suppose that's all down to where you're standing at the time...

@Crack You Whip: Science homework... oh the days of misspent youth :)

Come At Me Bro said...

This is great!

michelle said...

I think that "people-watching" is a good exercise and goes a long way to creating likeable and realistic characters for your story.
It could be the guy picking up a discarded cigarette, the woman in her 50's, the harassed young mother... observing them in their "natural environment" actually makes it easier, because they are authentic and display normal, everyday behaviour; therefore they come across as sincere and your readers will be able to connect with them.

Check out my A to Z Reflections post (I'm linking it to this comment). I've given you a shout out!

Anonymous said...

Making the rounds after the A to Z Challenge to say hello! I enjoy observing people and jotting things down in notebooks.


Catherine Noble said...

@Come At Me Bro: Why, thank ye! :)

@michelle: You're absolutely right, couldn't have put it better myself. Oooh thanks for the shout out, I shall be sure to check your post out immediately :)

@Susanne Drazic: I'm glad you enjoy it; one of the perks of writing :) I hope you enjoyed the A to Z Challenge!

Maria said...

I agree with Michelle, people watching is worthwhile, especially for picking up mannerisms and habits. Its good to give your character a habit, and observing real people is fun too!

Good post.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I love your observations. I really need to do that more and spend less time in my own head. Last November we did a write in at a local dessert cafe called The Chocolate. It was hard to get any work done because it was so fun listening to all the dating couples.

Cassam said...

That made me laugh Catherine. If you go on a bus through Pollok you will find some great characters to write about. I once heard a mum blame her kid for the rain coming on. If you sit on a bench in the west end the people would be so different ,or would they? I want to go to where I was brought up just to see the changes and the scale of things ,I haven't been for about eight years but it's been in my mind lately.

a.eye said...

What great people watching!! And the fact that you can do it and write notes on what they are saying since you are writing a book is even more reason to go out to all the places in the city and observe.

Good luck on your book and I know you will portray the essence of Glasglow well!

Catherine Noble said...

@Maria: It is quite fun, isn't it? It's great to familiarise myself with all the mannerisms. I have one character in particular that the Govan jaunt will be excellent for. Thank you :)

@Donna K. Weaver: That sounds like such a good laugh! I love it when you overhear people who are so obviously on their first date, trying so hard to impress one another (that's not gonna last... haha).

@Cassam: Glad it made you laugh, you'll know all about it, coming from Pollok too! :) That's hilarious about the mum blaming her child on the rain. I'm positive the West End people would be different. In fact, I'll do it soon and get back to you on that one! You should definitely go back and have a gander at where you were brought up :) let the nostalgia commence!

@a.eye: Thank you! When you put it like that, I don't feel like so much of a weirdo now (makes mental note: you're doing it for a purpose) hee hee :) Take care!

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