31 January 2011


Write about what you know.

This is good advice but can be taken too far. How many of us have actually been abruptly transported to an alien world and forced to fend for ourselves?

I cannot emphasise enough the value of proper research.  It can help create a piece that has freshness and vitality instead of my regurgitation of someone else's experience.

With this in mind my two sons and I decided to embark on an exciting camping trip together. The idea was to research the realities of living in a forest remote from any form of civilisation.

We were inspired by my SF novel 'Technical Difficulties' where the main protagonist finds himself far from any human contact with only a pile of camping gear for company. As I am in the process of rewriting, it seemed an excellent opportunity for me to get the feel of the real thing and reflect that authenticity in my script.

I imported a big box of military rations from America, MRE's, Meals Ready to Eat. These come in cardboard sleeves containing nutritional information and a khaki metallised pouch with the meal inside. These can be heated in a fire, boiled in water or put on the hot areas of an engine block. We took enough to feed a platoon of marines for several months, just to be on the safe side.

Our accomodation was the subject of some debate.  Three of us in the same tent seemed the best idea, but it was also suggested that a tent each might be better.  We considered the matter at some length, reasoning that my character was alone and having a tent each would more closely mirror this.  There was also the question of availability, none of us actually had one.  In the end, I decided that I would buy a quick erect three man tent and we would all use that.

Having been on many camping trips before, the common factor being my inability to pitch the tent properly, I decided to try out the new tent well in advance.  It practically flew out of the circular bag when I unzipped it and assumed a satisfying tent shape in an instant.  Half a dozen tent pegs needed bashing into the ground and it was ready for occupation.  Brilliant!  Perfect!

Unfortunately, the tent resisted all my efforts to put it back in its bag.  Even the combined efforts of several burly assistants failed to return it to its original state.

Our attention turned to the best piece of wilderness to carry out our research.  The Black Mountains on the Welsh border appeared to have the right quantity of bleakness.  Scotland seemed a good bet as it consists almost entirely of wild moorland.  In the end, we pored over maps and decided that somewhere just South of Birmingham would be best as this was equidistant for all three of us.

It was also unanimously decided that we would book the first of our two nights in a hotel in order to avoid having to find a site and pitch the tent in the dark.  We would meet up on Friday evening and plan our research over a nice meal and a few beers.

Just in case, we also booked the second night in the hotel.  This was to allow for mishaps and bad weather (August in Stratford on Avon can be unpredictable).  As things turned out this was a good thing.  There were showers!  Lucky we didn't take the tent.

At the moment, I am researching trigeminal neuralgia but I wouldn't wish it on the worst of my characters.