Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tupungato Dead Ahead


Mount TupungatoBeing the crazy, Devil-may-care type that I am, I'll be experimenting for the next few weeks with pictures on my blog. First up is a view of Mount Tupungato, Argentina. I used Google Earth to visualize the view from the cockpit of CS-59 in the moments before impact, because I've reached the point in my novel where this happens and I'm interested in how it would appear to a pilot.

You know what? I felt a little uneasy as I ran the animation and saw the volcano expand until it filled my monitor. I spend my life straining to imagine the events of my characters - and, because this is a thriller, some of those events are unpleasant - but this was different. This actually happened. Yes, the last moment of the 'Star Dust' is enigmatic and, yes, we'd all like to know what that final transmission 'STENDEC' means, but...these were real people.

After I ran the animation, I turned to one of the books I've been using for research, the excellent 'Star Dust Falling', by Jay Rayner. He supplies a list of the passengers and crew at the back of his book. When I first read that list, the names were meaningless. I might have been looking at a phonebook. Now, when I see those names, I see people, and I remember the wise cracks made to my fictional narrator, the way Harald Pagh plays the piano, how his friend Jack Gooderham might tell him to 'belt up' in a good-natured way, and so on.

I know that real people sometimes feature in imaginary works. Norman Mailer, for example, describes a number of them in Harlot's Ghost, my current bedtime book. (And Frederick Forsyth did a sterling job with Charles de Gaulle in The Day of the Jackal.) But I wonder whether using real people is appropriate for my book. Sure, they died in 1947, so they can't sue me, but that isn't the point. But they are the grandfathers and grandmothers of people alive today.

It's something to think about; and certainly a job for the editing process, which I'll embark upon shortly. One option will be to change their names and occupations. It does seem a shame, though, since the passengers are so much part of the 'Star Dust' story.

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