20 February 2011

Losing the Plot

I have, at last, written a synopsis!

Try this:

Toby runs a smallholding where he rears rare breed pigs and cattle. His wife is nervous and highly strung but entirely lovable in her own special way. They make ends meet by selling produce and animal feeds.

Half of Toby's land is waterlogged and unproductive, he can't keep cattle in those fields except in very dry weather. He hires a local contractor to improve the fields by importing clean earth dug from agricultural land where a major gas pipeline is being installed.

Early one morning, Toby and his wife are awakened to the sound of their front door being smashed in. He runs quickly downstairs to be confronted by six armed policemen, who arrest him and his wife, allowing them only a few moments to put on some clothes before being taken to a police station.

At the police station, they are confronted by an officer from the Environment Agency who has organised the police raid and obtained a restraint order under the Proceeds of Crime Act. All their cash, bank accounts and assets are seized and frozen, leaving them unable to run their business or operate their farm. To Toby's horror, this was all because an Environment Agency officer, appearing privately before a judge, alleged that Toby and his wife had made a profit of over a million pounds from the operation of an illegal tip.

Released on bail, Toby and his wife endure difficult times, living from hand to mouth, relying on the support of friends just to get by. Their relationship suffers, his wife attempts suicide, and, during the two years it takes for the case to get to court, they are divorced.

The court case is long and complex. After a week of legal hearings, Toby and the contractor, who is a co-defendant, are offered a deal by the Environment Agency. If they plead guilty, they are told they will be let off with a fine and their assets released. Toby refuses but the contractor accepts the deal, fearing total ruin.

Toby has to endure a further two weeks of arduous trial during which the original statements given by the Environment Agency are proved to be false. He produces expert evidence that the fields are vastly improved, that there is no risk to the environment and that what he did was responsible and caring.

The Environment Agency make great play of the fact that the contractor pleaded guilty to illegal tipping. This, they insist to the jury, proves their case.

In a tense climax, the jury bring a verdict of not guilty and Toby is allowed to go free, his assets are released, to pick up the pieces of his livelihood as best he can.

Well, what do you think? Does this plot sound feasible? Is your sympathy with Toby? Are you angry at the injustice? Would you be interested in reading more, even though I have given away the outcome?

Relax, this isn't the plot for my new novel, far from it.

Toby's story is true, it's non-fiction. His case is one that I was involved in last summer.

The things that go on in real life are stranger than anything I can make up.

15 February 2011

Giving the Game Away

I hate it when I know what happens next. That's why I like to watch live sport. Apart from some famous exceptions, nobody knows what's going to happen, nobody can spoil the drama.

If I have to watch a recorded match, I make ridiculous efforts to insulate myself from any information that might leak into my mind and give me an inkling of the result.

I never, never, read the blurb on the back of a book. These are crazy, irresponsible things that rob dramatic tension, reveal plot twists and generally ruin the whole experience.

Film trailers are even worse. I once had the great good fortune to see the film ET before I had any information about it at all. No trailer, no posters, nothing. The first third of the film does not show the alien, he is shadowy, slightly sinister and completely elusive. This works brilliantly, but only if you haven't seen a picture of ET riding in the basket of a flying bicycle. The man who did the poster not only ruined the first half of the film by showing the alien, he also revealed the ending. My point is that ET, and most other films, are a different experience if you have seen the trailer. I will go further and say that they are always less enjoyable if you have seen the trailer. There is no way in which a trailer, or spoiler, can improve a film.

So, I invite you to imagine the difficulty I have in submitting a synopsis with my work! It's almost a religious thing for me. I have taken the time and thought to write a thriller with plot twists and surprises and really clever bits that you could never anticipate and am now expected to give it all away in two pages of casual prose.

Yet agents and publishers insist on it.

It's hard at times, being a writer.

8 February 2011

Writing can be Painful

After three weeks of mind-numbing pain, I feel well enough to write a salutary medical note.

My symptoms have been excruciating pain around the temple, ear, jaw and throat. 

I rang the doctor, as a last resort, after a week of agony.  Unless it was a medical emergency, the unhelpful receptionist recited, the next appointment was in two day's time.  I decided I wasn't an emergency, imagining this to involve immiment death at the very least.  My wife was not so sure, rang on my behalf and secured a hard-won slot the following day with the nurse.  A sort of victory, the first step on the road to relief, I thought.

The nurse's computer said I had Trigeminal Neuralgia.  It was very sure of this.  A doctor then sent me for a blood test to the local hospital to make sure I didn't have a serious sort of arthiritis.  The pain went on.

Next day, the doctor saw me, told me the blood test were OK and that I definately had trigeminal neuralgia.  He gave me carbamazapine, and I was grateful.

After a week on the pills, the pain was just as bad and I felt very ill.  I felt completely unconnected to my body.  It was as if I was Elvis and my body was the building.

The doctor was happy to change my pills to something a bit stronger and alot more orangey.   I wasn't happy about this but I desperately needed the pain to go away.  I asked to be referred to a specialist.

I saw the consultant neuroligist yesterday, in the greatest discomfort I had felt so far.  He certainly knew trigeminal neualgia when he saw it, so he could be absolutely certain that's not what I had.  I protested that the nurse's computer had been really sure, but he was convinced the problem was in my neck, that the pain was referred pain from my top vertebrae.

I saw an osteopath this morning and have been pain free since!

He said it's my posture, that I stick my jaw out when I sit and work at the computer.  I need to change the way I work and read and sit.  I need to be conscious of my head and neck.

So, let this be a warning to all of you out there.  Watch how you sit, be aware, feel your body.  Take care of yourself, you're the only one you've got.