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Set and setting as part of the writer’s tool box

March 16, 2012

There is an old saying in writing, “write what you know”. Well it’s not quite that simple of course. For example, author of “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”, Ken Kesey, has said, “Write what you don’t know”, as opposed to “write what you know”. Of course he did both. While working as an orderly under an experimental drugs program he was able to get the insight to write that modern American classic.

Another literary lion, Ernest Hemingway wrote about what he knew (war, hunting etc. etc.) and he would go out into the field to such places as the African veldt or the Caribbean to improve his knowledge, skills and experience enough to write about it. While attending high school in the US a fellow student spoke of his father’s interaction with Hemingway in the dying days of War 2. Whether it was a bull fight arena or on a battlefield the author of “A farewell to arms” always wanted to be there. One day he woke up and discovered he couldn’t do that anymore and it killed him.

My journey has taken me on adventures around the world. Much of that has been grist for the mill so to speak and the best way to share that, in my view, is through fiction. I have found it necessary to write what I know as well as what I don’t know when creating my own fiction. Although my background is in teaching I have worked in many other jobs and have extended my teaching experience into three continents in addition to my home country (and continent) of Australia.

My crime/thriller genre novel “London’s Falling” is about a teacher drawn into a web of crime and political corruption in the city of London. It so happens that I worked for some years as a teacher of English in and around the city of London early in the Millennium. Sure I well knew about teaching and had written about it in a fictional sense when I taught at a language school in Tokyo(a free copy of my Tokyo based earthquake science Fiction story can be downloaded on my website  in the 90’s. So in a practical sense I knew about various types of teaching (from elementary school up to adult or tertiary education) in different settings, although my experiential knowledge of the UK and London was wanting.

In order to make up for this deficiency I read several newspapers a day and spoke to as many people as I could from stock brokers working in the square mile to street people to dangerous villains just out of prison. This was generally an enjoyable and pleasant past time although I did get into one or two sticky situations which could have proved dangerous to my health if it had gone the wrong way.

After I had meditated (for want of a better word) on all this information and on the ground experience I began my novel about a year after my arrival in the Old Dart. I data mined my own teaching experience and more (about the overall context of the city and beyond) by having my main protagonist Michael Prescott, an itinerant teacher between jobs and down on his luck, get an offer to run a collection of English language schools. This is an offer he can’t refuse as the wage is in the stratosphere and the chance to make strategic managerial decisions on his own proves irresistable. I won’t go into revealing the entire plot but suffice to say that the power and influence the character attains proves chimerical and soul destroying.

Although the novel will be published in August 20 by UK based caffeine Nights Publishing some aspects of “London’s Falling” have proved prescient in that a city wide riot explodes following ongoing social, ethnic and religious tensions. Another topical plot line involves questionable interactions between the press and the police. My views on the situation in workaday London were always best expressed through creative writing; a straight out biographical piece would never have done the job properly.

Currently I am working on a novel that revolves around the Mexican Drug wars. While I have yet to go to Mexico I have lived for long periods of time in the American southwest and I believe I have a sense and a feeling for the area. Again a great amount of research was called for and I have read everything I could get my hands on with respect to matters Mexican. While I haven’t the length or breadth of experience in Mexico that I was able to bring to my London or Tokyo based fiction, YouTube and Google have helped fill the gaps.  Everybody has a story to tell, what is yours?

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