For the last few weeks, I have been multifariously busy on several projects, across multiple mediums.
There have been the copious amounts of art I have finished, with each character taking me about two days to complete.
There have been writing days for my gothic novel, including the odd day of seven thousand words flying onto paper out of nowhere.
There have been days of physical art coming from tinkering with toy cars for the very enjoyable Gaslands game and there has been, admittedly, some time spent gaming at Mad Max as a result.
There has also been time for friends and sharing nerdy hobbies.
All of it has left me somewhat brain dead lately, and not as engaged as usual on my more familiar topics and commitments, but I like to think the time hasn’t been spent in vain, and eventually, I will have much to show for my impression of a hamster running in a wheel.
Today, I want to talk very briefly about writing what you know. I’ve had thoughts on this before, and that only writing what you know isn’t necessarily a good idea. Today though, I want to focus on actually doing just that.
Writing about places and things and people you know is a great source of realism and can give a good springing off point. Familiarity breeds easy description, and in some cases, the places and things you write about may be more compelling for the fact an audience may recognize them.
These are the thoughts I had in my head when I sat down to draft out the opening to my non-Hevna novel, just after I got back from my excellent visit to England.
For most of my life in Bracknell, Berkshire, the town was ‘getting ready’ for a massive redevelopment. It was due to happen the year we moved there, and for the subsequent fifteen years following that.
It finally happened after I left the country. When I said my goodbyes to my homeland and ventured to pastures new, Bracknell had become a barren, empty void of a town with no people, no real shops to speak of, and no real point to its existence save for a few determined outlets clinging on like aggressive mollusks on a sun-bleached rock.
When I finally went back this spring, the place was totally changed. New, vibrant, full of life and people and little boutiques and stores, about the only three things I recognised, were the layout of the two main streets, the McDonalds, and the two pubs at the top of the town. Everything else seemed to have had a massive facelift, in a good way.
Of course, it was very jarring to me considering how I remembered it, a personification of change and the way my life has diverged from expected paths. It was good, but made me most introspective – nice little facets for spurring my creativity when I came home and sat back down to write.
Evelyn, the main character of the gothic novel I am working on, is a character destined to undergo great changes through the course of the story, just as I have, and just as the town I once lived in has. It made Bracknell the perfect setting to begin her adventure in, even if the only person who would ever truly get the symbolism is myself.
By grounding her there, I found myself easily able to clip along with my plans for the book, churning out words and art at a consistent pace I would not have been able to do before my holiday.
Definitely worth it, in this case, to write what I know/knew.
So to ends today’s rambling, here is the very start of the gothic novel as an excerpt. I hope you enjoy it.
1 – Evelyn
It was a new town. They’d promised to renovate the place for years, but it seemed to take decades before they even began to tear anything down, let alone build it back up again to what it was now. Glass store fronts and modern gray-and-wood signage glittered along both the main streets that formed the center of Bracknell, but for all it was refurbished and rejuvenated, not even the faux glimmer of upper-class shopping could do anything to take the edge of the fabled southern rain.
The two crossed streets seemed deliberately placed to catch and magnify any slight breeze in the vicinity, a feature not at all addressed by the recent refits, and while some clever planner had decided to cover some of the open streets with a plastic ‘ceiling’ just right for attracting pigeons, vast sections still sat open so that the wind could efficiently escort the rain direct to any sheltering shopper.
It was a new town, but it still made Evelyn sigh. She remembered the old tower buildings, the grey, and brown apartments with their urine stained stairwells and the ever-present green hoardings. While it was wonderful to see the town updated and filled with life again and all the old grime cleared away, she couldn’t help but feel it was merely a pretty veneer over the true nature of the town, dragged down by the uncaring greed of officials who should have completed this work while she was still a teenager. The town was ready to roll over and die, and now it’s on stage performing for the locals, hoping to make some money… Evelyn shook her head and pushed away her morose thoughts. Any time she had to come through the town center just to go to the agency she worked for, she always found her thoughts drifting to the dark and depressed, and today’s weather only made it worse. Still, hopefully, it would only take a few more minutes to confirm in person a few details with the agency head of department that technically counted as her boss, then she could go back for yet another week at the local finance firm on the outskirts of Reading. Never mind that she hated the job, thanks to being ‘joyously’ employed on a temporary basis because that was easier than advertising for someone with better qualifications than she had and better than just taking her on, and having to pay out her benefits.
She was a clerk, she knew this in her bones. She had an orderly mind. She was better with words than numbers, but if you needed data of any kind transposing, or discrepancies found and resolved, she was the person for the job, and like everyone else who had graduated from school and then college in her year group, she was overqualified for the dull work that was available, and paid pittance for doing it. She was, in short, horrifically normal and it weighed on her every single day of her life.
The querulous voice interrupted her thoughts, and she snapped to with her ‘work’ smile, all professionalism and charm. Standing up off the blue pseudo-couch, she walked towards the woman who had addressed her and the office beyond. It wasn’t a lady she was familiar with, but that wasn’t unusual, she hardly ever came into the office, especially if she had any choice about it.
“Yes, that’s me,” she confirmed, holding out a hand for a handshake. “I believe Mrs. Gibbs wanted me to sign some renewal forms?”
“Yesss, come on in.” Evelyn tensed at the tone of her guide as she stepped into the small office and ignored the proffered hand. It was a tone that said ‘I’m going to tell you something unpleasant and there’s nothing you can do about it’. Sighing inwardly, Evelyn followed the woman, and shut the door behind them, then sat down at the desk. A glance at the bright and over-optimistic name tag on the unpleasant woman identified this member of the agency staff as ‘Becky’, though no surname. In the back of her mind, Evelyn snarked to herself that this was so any complaints could be more easily deflected. Becky was rude, you say? Which Becky? Dark hair? Afraid we have three of those.
“Mrs. Gibbs has left early to attend to some family matters,” said ‘Becky’ disinterestedly as she pulled out a folder of paperwork. “She left this stack for you to sign. She says the company you’ve been with is still pleased with your work and punctuality, though your efficiency is a little… too much?”
The affronts just pile up, Evelyn thought, keeping her expression neutral. Not only was Mrs. Gibbs refusing to see her in person, but the floating Becky was suggesting some sort of issue to her, probably in the hope she would own up to whatever was wrong by herself and save the girl the discomfort of saying it out loud. Trouble was… for the life of her, Evelyn couldn’t think of anything she had done wrong.
“I’m sorry? I don’t follow,” she said, politely and blankly.
“Mr. Peterson feels you overshadow some of the employed staff and it could lead to discontent,” stated Becky, while her face looked like she’d bitten into a lemon. “I’m sure you’ll mind that and talk to Mrs. Gibbs if you feel the need. Just sign these, and then you can go. Excuse me.”
Evelyn watched Becky bustle out and then sank back in her chair.
Really? You kept me waiting half an hour for that? Was it so Mrs Gibbs could make a slow and cupcake fueled escape out the back door? Or to savor the idea that you were going to get to tell me off for being better at my temporary job with no benefits than the people who got their 21 days plus sick leave a year? Sour thoughts filled up her mind as she pulled the papers towards herself, glanced them over, and then set about signing in the highlighted boxes on automatic.
Yes, if anyone had had the decency to ask her how she felt, Evelyn was quite certain that ‘unhappy, put-upon and fed up’ would top her quite extensive list of complaints. That must mean it was Friday, and she’d now hit her stress quota for the week.
Hooray. Hello weekend. This is not the life I ordered.