Strategies to avoid writing

Are vari­ous. But over the past few days I’ve been writ­ing a part of my book that deals with a civil­ian air flight from 1947, and it’s been fun find­ing out which man­u­fac­turer pro­duced the bar­ley-sug­ars that the stew­ard­ess handed out, or the start-up check­list for the Avro Lancastrian.

One great dif­fi­culty with the past is dia­logue. We’ve all seen those black-and-white films from the peri­od, but how exactly did people talk unscrip­ted, in real life? Well, the crew of the Lancastrian in ques­tion were all ex-RAF Pathfinders who had seen action dur­ing the Second World War. You think, per­haps, that being a tightly-knit group, the crew would refer to each oth­er by their first names dur­ing the flight. That’s how I ori­gin­ally wrote the dia­logue.

But then I heard a prim­it­ive record­ing of the intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions loop on board a Lancaster bomber, over Germany, under fire. It makes for fas­cin­at­ing listen­ing. When one con­siders that many of this crew were in their early twen­ties, and referred to those com­rades over twenty-five as ‘old man’, it makes one stop and think. The record­ing, hos­ted by that excel­lent organ­isa­tion, the BBC, is here. Be warned that the crew cel­eb­rate the ‘down­ing’ of a German fight­er, whose pilot might have been seemed equally plucky had a record­ing sur­vived of him. Listen to the record­ing, or view the tran­script.

When I listened to this with my para­sit­ic writer’s hat on (what an image), the first thing I noted was that the accents are abso­lutely spiff­ing. The second is that, if I incor­por­ated such dia­logue into my book, no read­er would believe me! ‘Good show’? Crikey.

Another great source of mater­i­al is British Pathe (they seem to have dropped the accent acute). I had to write a scene involving Air Vice-Marshall Don Bennett, and with only still pho­to­graphs to go on, I would have had a rum time of it (sorry) ima­gin­ing his man­ner­isms, etc. But, presto, a quick search of British Pathe came up with a num­ber of reels in which Bennett — fly­ing the route to South America for the first time, for example — comes alive. From this, I could hear that Bennett has no Australian accent, des­pite being born in Toowoomba, Queensland. He’s a cha­ris­mat­ic but nervous man. Excellent mater­i­al for a writer. I went on to loc­ate foot­age of school chil­dren being giv­en a tour of a Lancastrian identic­al to the ‘Star Dust’, and from this I could get a feel of what it might be like to walk around the cramped cab­in, identi­fy the kind of steps used to board the air­craft, and a thou­sand more details.

So, research: a great way to avoid writ­ing. A blog: that too.

Smoke me a kip­per, I’ll be back for break­fast.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

One thought on “Strategies to avoid writing”

  1. Glad I found your blog. Speaking of which, that is my biggest means of pro­cras­tin­a­tion. I don’t feel post­ing on mine is. It’s mar­ket­ing in a sense. Though I yet to have any­thing to mar­ket, and net­work­ing. But read­ing oth­er blogs con­sumes too much of my writ­ing time. But, I tell myself it’s research and it is but all the research in the world ain’t gonna get my book writ­ten.

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