Write What You Know

05 May 2011

In my last post, I decided I was a lazy person because I wasn’t getting as much done on the new novel as I’d hoped for. But I’m not actually lazy, just busy.

In between working and suchlike, I’ve also been working on a short story. Now, short stories for me are incredibly difficult. I’m not a fan of condensed. But I’ve been trying to write one, and I’ll include a little preview for you below.

It’s called, for now, Nothing To Declare, and it’s about a woman, Janice Hooper, who’s a freelance journalist. She doesn’t have much in the way of work when the story starts, but an old contact, Max, rings her up out of the blue with the promise of work. Janice is in no way prepared for the job Max offers her, but finds that her skills as a journalist and another personal quirk make her ideally suited to the job.

Janice has Crohn’s disease. Seamus, the boy in my novel Carbunckle’s Flight, also has Crohn’s disease. As do I. In writing classes and workshops and website and whatever else, writers are always encouraged to ‘write what you know’. And most people take that literally, and write stories about how a fictionalized version of them was recently dumped and so on and so forth. In my experience, these thinly veiled fictional accounts of real life rarely make for good reading. Unless you’re the fictionalized dump-er, in which case, they’re awful/fodder for a great lawsuit. I digress…

I write about Crohn’s disease for a few reasons:

  1. People are embarrassed talking about bowel movements, but if you have Crohn’s (or anything similar) you quickly become immune to such things. I think it’s silly that mentioning poo or bowels or whatever is enough to make people embarrassed – we all do it.
  2. Though it’s a fairly common ailment, not many people really know what it is, and what it’s like to have it.
  3. People in fiction rarely have chronic illnesses, but people in life often do.
  4. To me, there is something pathetic and hilarious about being at the mercy of one’s bowels.
  5. You know how, if you meet a womanizer, you might say he thinks with his cock? Well, Crohn’s people think with their bowels.

Anyhow, the story isn’t just about bowel movements, but also about the value of words and stories in our society today.

Here’s the preview I promised:

If Janice Hooper had been asked, just after graduation, what she planned to be doing in ten years time, she might have said teacher, published author, or maybe even married. Drug mule would definitely not have been listed as a potential career choice.

But now that she’s on the wrong side of thirty-five, unattached and struggling financially, her days of refusing anything in the way of paid work are over. No more turning away editors who pay insultingly less than scale, no more choosiness with the topics she covers or the publications that publish her words. Janice Hooper is a freelancer in the truest sense: her allegiances rest firmly and solely with her bank balance.

She goes over the contents of her stomach, which have been carefully calibrated to suit this particular assignment. In the past twelve hours she has eaten one bagel with cream cheese, five doughnuts, and one cup of coffee: enough to upset her digestion, but not anger it to the point of rebellion. And, she figures it gives her another layer of protection during the body scan. If her belly is full, then the likelihood of the security guards noticing the hundred grams of hermetically sealed high-grade cocaine she swallowed earlier, has to be lessened. She has no data to back this up; but it makes her feel calm and that, in turn, has made it possible for her to get this far.