Long Distance Running

Well, as promised, the Saturday post will be less of a navel-gazing enterprise than usual. Below I include the usual word gauge for progress on current novel Flashback, and it appears that I’ve only written four thousand words in the past week. This is a poor show quantity wise (fortunately, I don’t have a deadline). I can trace the problem to a complete lack of research.

OK; not a complete lack. I spent most of last summer reading about aviation, and now my knowledge of aircraft safety and the principles of lift are second to none (I’m using ‘none’ in the special sense that means ‘Practically everybody’). Regrettably, not much of a novel comprises technical asides on power-to-mass ratios. Everything is seen through the lens of character. This means lengthy diversions into, for example, the size of an Avro Lancastrian cockpit; how much a passenger might see and hear if he stood at the rear of the flight deck. Halfway through a sentence I realize I’m talking bollocks and, grabbing my surfboard, run into the cool water of the Information Superhighway and come across a site like this – solid gold! This guy will certainly get a big thank-you in the acknowledgments when Flashback sees the light of day. It inhibits the word count somewhat but results in some excellent material that will place the reader precisely inside my imagination.

Here’s another first-draftish snippet, written yesterday (it might be easier to understand if you remember that the viewpoint character, Kirby, has some technological enhancements that allow him to induct electromagnetic information, such as the leaky communication on the closed-circuit loop used by the Lancastrian’s flight crew):

The cockpit was not, as Kirby had anticipated, bright with sunlight. He crouched alongside Miss Evans in a gloomy pit behind the radio operator, who was squashed against a bulkhead partition that stretched halfway across the flight deck. Bulb light glowed behind the dials of the radio equipment, which was painted matte-black in contrast to the militaristic dun of the fuselage. A glass dome in the ceiling offered some indirect light. The radio operator leaned on his little table in a slump that marked him as a young man. His gloved hand supported his chin. Beyond the partition, Kirby could just see the throne-like seat of Commander Cook. His boots, bruise-grey in the sunlight, rested in the curves of the yoke. To his right was the first officer, Hilton Cook. His seat was lower but, as he reached towards the captain to strike a gauge with his knuckle, their eyes met at the same height. Both wore oxygen masks with rubber pipes that led beneath their seats. Behind the commander was the fourth crewman. He faced left and leaned over a map table, which he kept steady with an ungloved hand. The only space on the flight deck was to the right of the partition, behind the navigator. Miss Evans stepped into the space and reached for the elbow of Commander Cook. He turned and blinked with surprise. Then he noticed Kirby and raised a hand. Cook’s panache – flying this primitive aircraft with his boots on the yoke – almost defeated the gate of Kirby’s indifference, but it held.

Miss Evans unhooked a spare mask and pressed it to her face. Kirby noticed her hair for the first time. It was severely plaited and the fringe was pinned aside. With her free hand, she pinched her throat. Kirby let his fingers rest on the fuselage to aid the induction of their conversation.

“It’s Mrs Limpert, Skipper.”

“Go on.”

The second officer, Hilton Cook, turned in his seat. His eyes quickly moved from Miss Evans to Kirby. The airman frowned at Kirby’s fingers against the fuselage. Soon the navigator and the radio operator noticed the passenger on their flight deck.

“Hello,” said one of them, but Kirby could not tell which, “we’ve got some cargo on the deck.”

“Quiet, Don,” said Commander Cook. “Iris?”

“She’s convulsing,” said Miss Evans. “Has been for the past few minutes.”

Commander Cook looked at the first officer. “Since we climbed to twenty-four thousand.”

“She might,” suggested the first officer, “have burst something.”

“Reggie,” said Miss Evans, “we have to drop below twenty thousand.”

What happens next? Answers on a postcard.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meterZokutou word meter
98,113 / 120,000

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

One thought on “Long Distance Running”

  1. Very, very interesting, well paced and full of fresh information for the reader, who just loves ‘to be there’ and learn this kind of stuff. Situation, setting and characters all clear.
    Just one sentence overwritten, or in other words a little (read: jolly) awkward to get the hang of in one go, making it off-putting, I think:
    Bulb light glowed behind the dials of the radio equipment, which was painted matte-black in contrast to the militaristic dun of the fuselage.

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