Couch to 80k Week 3 Day 3

The Couch to 80k podcast by Tim Clare is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog/podcast and is a writers bootcamp.

More channeling, this week is all about “Mask Work” – essentially speaking in a character’s voice.

It feels a little uncomfortable to me.

I use to love acting, decades ago, as a student I did a whole bunch of student plays (and a little bit of improve scenario) and so you’d think it’d be a fairly natural thing to just let go and BE someone else. But around the same time I knew a bunch of people into Role Playing Games and I thought “oh yeah, that’s for me”. But man, oh man. It turns out somethings I’m good at and some things just instantly hit my self-conscious button in a big way – Role Playing was one of those things (if you’re keeping score, the other things that make me instantly conscious of every thing I’m saying and doing are: dancing and singing to myself and then someone else -FOR SOME REASON- joining in, though if I’m totally honest, even someone seeing me sing to myself activates that redner* button).

(*redner: Northern Ireland phrase to mean “go bright red with embarrassment” – eg “he hit a redner” see also “beamer”)

So any, Tim chatted a little bit about how much of the point of the exercises have been to get you to to silence that little voice in your head that insists you can’t do writing (by showing you that you can) and then gave us a rough character idea “this person is dead and they’re standing on your right and a little behind you” and a little writing prompt, todays prompt was : “Let me tell you what I did”

Now, in this instance, I found myself instantly thinking about a man I used to work for – when I was 14 in 1984 – I started working in a computer shop – called Botanic Computer Centre. It had been set up in the late 40s by two brothers and was originally called “Ideal Radio” – the brothers were on boats in the Merchant Navy. I never really asked them anything about that period despite being fascinated by WWII (and remember in 1984 WWII had ended only 39 years previously, for context, Star Wars came out – at the time of this writing 41 years ago, in fact for truly mind blowing, when Star Wars came out WWII had only been over 32 years anyway, I digress). SO I think Davy worked as a stoker and Bert worked on radios. But I honestly have no idea. So, that brings me to my story – it WASN’T about Bert and Davie, it did seem to be about Naval ammo loader during WWII though. One of the struggles I have with the channeling is as soon as I hit a contradiction in what I’m doing or find myself groping for a word I know a character would know instantly but I just lack the research to know it, then I’m totally conscious this is all artifice and it crumbles around me. So, if you’re going to read the extract I wrote, please keep that in mind. I suspect channelling characters is best done when you’re so familiar with the things they’re familiar with that it WILL feel totally natural to through that jargon in. Maybe it’s why writing sci-fi is so much more attractive.

Anyway, from here, it’s today’s 10 minute freewrite, contradictions, incorrect terms, typos, warts n’ all. Read if you wish, but there’s no need to feel beholden to do so (though if I can write rubbish like this, maybe it’ll not be so daunting to give it a go, eh?)

Let me tell you what I did, on that stormy night in November, 1943.

We were at sea. Leading a convoy, I was a gunner. And while the water roiled and boiled around us, the skies, at least, seemed clear – yes, there was rain, there was thunder, there were clouds. But there were no planes. Nothing could be seen for the distance you could see.

I was at my station. And the ammunition loader was beside me. We were friends. We’d known each other as boys, and joined up in 1939 at the start of the war. We’d fought together and saved each other’s lives.

We were married to our girls, and were able to spend the night in absolute silence, nothing but the sound of waves crashing against the side of the ship.

Occasionally a bell would ring out.

“‘Ere Alf, you want a bite of this?” John was always eating. I’m not sure how, but he always seemed to have squirreled away something from the mess hall. Later, I’d find a stack of rations under the bunk we shared. Later.

“No thanks, John, I ain’t hungry”. I wasn’t. I wasn’t quesy, the I had me sea legs, alright.

I wish I hadn’t done what I’d done, but it was time.

“John, look, I have something to tell you” I wish I could take those words back, those words were the door opening to so many mistakes.

But I can’t.

After that I poured out everything. Last time we were in Port, John’s wife and I were together, and, well, we’ve known each other almost as long as me and John. John was on ship.

I told him. He got angry.

And at that moment, a faint unnoticable buzzing sound grew louder and around us, the ground lit up with fire. There was a staccato ratatatatata as bullets rained down on us. The training, and years of working together kicked in and we were one, but I could tell. I could see in his eyes, this was it. If John could’ve turned our gun round to me that’d be it over.

I’m not sure why I told him. Guilt, maybe? Some need to boast? Get one over on him? Of the two of us, he was the one that always seemed to do alright for himself. Won every race, fought every fight, came out on top all the time.

Not so with me. Shirl though, John’s girl. Shirl was so different to John. Honestly I’m not sure how the ended up together. We went on a double date, with Shirl and her sister. But where John and Shirl lasted me and her sis were one date wonders.

I always fancied her, mind.

God, I wish I hadn’t told John. Maybe we’d’ve got through that night ok if I hadn’t.

The planes buzzed us several times, me loading, John firing, the ammo ran out.

Author: PJ

Belfast based Comic Artist who won’t shut up on twitter.