Is Researching a Book Better than Sex?

Some authors say that research is the best bit about writing. I’ve never believed that. What’s so great about spending long hours in the stacks at the library, or ages trawling the internet to find out what people had for dinner in 17th century Crete?

reference library

But now that I write fiction, research has taken on a whole new hue. I wouldn’t say it’s better than sex, even if in some cases it IS sex. Here’s a rundown of some recent endeavours.

1 Intel gathering for a steamy bathroom scene.

steamy bathroom scene

Is it possible for the earth to move while scrubbing lime-scale off the taps?  Everything had to be just so: a non-slip bathmat, a filthy dirty bathtub (this takes months), and of course the right bathroom cleaner.

Cillit Bang

2 The front seat of the Mini scene. If a couple feel inclined to bonk in their Mini near a lighthouse in Norfolk, can they do so without tearing an Armani suit or a ligament? We may never know for sure. Thanks, man who rapped on the window to say, “Ere, lost me mobile. Can I borrow yours?”

Mini Cooper S

3 The Gents at the hospital. There’s a scene in my work-in-progress where a character has to rinse his tackle in the loo at Watford General Hospital. I couldn’t do this one on my own, but the great thing about being married is all those vows. My other half is an honest guy, so he takes such things seriously.

However, it proved not to be so simple. The water was either freezing cold or boiling hot, and the hand dryers were at the wrong height. Besides, who’d actually dip his bits into a Dyson Airblade?

Dyson Airblade hand dryer

4 Undercover underwear work. Hopefully this quiet day would keep me on the right side of the law. St Michael may be the patron saint of underwear. They’ve even made briefs with the word Gentleman woven into the elastic, just like the Diesel ones say Diesel. But John Lewis has the range of men’s kecks I needed for my research. So there I was, checking out the feel and, more important, the scent of the fabrics used in boxers, briefs, budgie-smugglers, front-loaders, posing pouches and thongs.

Pierre Cardin knitted briefs

As I crumpled the waistbands and studied the gussets, I managed to side-step six shop assistants, or, as John Lewis calls them, partners. Unfortunately I didn’t spot one of my patients who was shopping for Y-fronts. He caught me with my nose up a pair of Calvin Klein trunks (low-rise, if you want to know). It’s funny, but he hasn’t made an appointment to see me since.

5 Bridge over troubled water. It used to be so easy to climb in and out of King’s College, Cambridge after the back gate was locked.

King's College Cambridge bridge (1819)

But what about now, after they’ve added extra ironwork as a deterrent?  As I found out, there’s a very real risk of losing your footing and falling into a deep and murky ditch, especially if you’re 40 years older than the last time you did this.

I tried to think calming thoughts.

Keep Calm.You're in Cambridge

This is hard when a couple of tourists are standing over you, offering to ring an ambulance. A passing medical student thought an air ambulance would be more appropriate. Perhaps he hoped Prince William might pitch up.  What got me out of the ditch in the end was a snooty college porter, incensed that I was doing my research on his patch.

6 An overnight stay in a bookshop.

bookshop

Luckily I didn’t have to do this myself, or enlist any of my family, as an American tourist did exactly that in late 2014.

Right. That’s it. From now on, I’m doing all my research on Twitter. Though I will miss my husband.

***

I’ll be at the Indie Author Fair at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on April 17, and so will lots of other authors. Why not come in, see their books, and maybe ask them about their research? The event is free.

Indie Author Fair

Advertisements

What’s Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander

I’m all in favour of egalitarian relationships, as I’m sure you are. Last week I blogged about how to annoy the hell out of your husband, so this week it’s only fair to cover the ways in which your other half can drive you round the bend.

If you dished it out, you’ve got to take it – right? So woman up and let your husband (partner, boyfriend, lover, whoever) do his worst. Here are some of his methods.

leaving the loo seat up

1 Battles in the bathroom. And no, leaving the toilet seat up doesn’t count. It’s just too predictable. Blokes can do far more infuriating things in bathrooms. Like locking the door and singing along to the radio at full volume, so he doesn’t hear you bashing with all your might, pleading to be let in before your bladder bursts.

Like leaving the bath-tap in the ‘shower’ position, so you get an impromptu soaking when you next try to run a bath.

Like using up the last of your megabucks-a-bottle sodium-free shampoo on his own barnet – and later refilling the bottle with the ordinary stuff. The kind that works like paint-stripper on your expensively Brazilian-straightened hair. 

sodium chloride free shampoo

2 Reveal that he’s much younger than you. There’s no going back with this one, because it’s the kind of thing people remember. Then, even if he’s barely a year or so younger, he’s forever known as your toy boy. For added impact, he may even tell people you’re older when it isn’t true.

3 Playing dumb. Poor lamb, he does get confused between your hairbrush and the cat’s.

brushes

As you can see, they look nothing like each other. Not to begin with, anyway.

He may also fail to distinguish between coasters and your favourite books. This one’s really challenging, since both are vaguely rectangular and can be found on tables.

coasters

coasters

not coasters

not coasters

Then he makes it tough to get angry because he wears an innocent face that plainly says, “I’m only a man. What do I know?”

4 Cooking fabulous meals. Which means using every single pan in the house, and leaving it in the sink. “I’ll do it later.” Course he will. Three days later.

5 Doing the laundry. This includes washing your cashmere socks in the machine. In case this hasn’t happened to you yet, I’ll tell you that this shrinks them to the size of baby socks and makes them as soft as a kitchen scourer.  There’s no option but to buy another pair. Which your other half will also put in the washing machine. “Just being helpful, darling.”

6 Being a duvet bandit. Like marriage, it all starts off equal, but come morning you’re hypothermic and sleep-deprived. Your side of the bed ends up like this.  

your side of the bed

I tried to photograph the other side, but I tripped over in two acres of duvet and sprained my ankle before I got a decent shot.

7 The final one, the ne plus ultra, without which no programme of annoyance would be complete, and frankly you may as well stick a couple of fingers down your throat.

He does this: totally amazes all your friends. Maybe he cooks them all a fabulous dinner (AND clears up afterwards). Then he sings YOUR praises to the skies, declaring that you’re prettier than Claudia Schiffer, smarter than Stephen Hawking, and funnier than Omid Djalili.

It’s totally sick-making, of course. But it reminds you that, despite the fact that he’s driven you round the twist, he’s a keeper. 

goose

Marital Battle in the Bathroom

As writers know, the bathroom is a great place for ideas.  Inspiration is more likely to strike when you’re reclining in a warm bath than when sitting facing a blank screen.

While soaking today, I vaguely contemplate the Poppy Appeal, and how achingly suitable the poppy is as a symbol of conflicts from Flanders to Afghanistan, but the brain cells aren’t exactly working overtime.

What’s this I see?  A little green ceramic dish on the edge of the basin. ramekin dishI mentioned it to my other half two weeks ago, and it’s still there, where anyone could easily elbow it off when reaching for a toothbrush, sending it crashing down onto the floor tiles.  Or, God forbid, the hurtling ramekin dish (for that is what it is) could concuss the cat as she crouches in her litter tray.

But does he listen?  Does he heck!  Still, only to be expected when we’ve been married this long (nearly three months, since you ask).  I don’t listen to him either, allegedly.  That is why I keep putting the toilet roll the wrong way round, and always leave my undies near the laundry basket.  Not in it, obviously.  Just next to it (allegedly).  Plus I drape my bra from the taps, which looks like a skinned rabbit and is beyond annoying to someone wanting a bath.   braI fire right back.  He always has the radio on, full blast.  Does he not realise that some of us like peace and quiet?  I neither need nor want aural wallpaper.  And another thing.  Why do we have to have all six bathroom lights on?  OK, a guy might need decent lighting to avoid amputating his Adam’s apple while shaving, but it seems a bit over the top to require 360 watts just to brush teeth.

Then it dawns.  Here we are approaching the annual Poppy Appeal, and, instead of battles like Passchendaele, El Alamein and Goose Green coming to mind, we’re having a ding-dong in the bathroom.  poppiesThe postscript is that peace has broken out in the flat.  We’re not arguing about the toothpaste tube, or the toilet paper that’s the wrong way round (by which he means the right way round, obviously).  The skirmish over the laundry is over, and even the ramekin dish has been moved before the cat had a head injury.

If you’ve read this far, please visit www.britishlegion.org.uk

While you’re there, you might also be interested in the RBL Centre for Blast Injury Studies (CBIS) at Imperial College, London, where academics and military experts work together to better understand and reduce the effects of injury on the human body.   Here’s AnUBIS, one of their research tools.  anubis cropped and big credithttp://www.britishlegion.org.uk/news-events/new-initiatives/centre-for-blast-injury-studies#

Thank you.

Life is like a new bathroom

I had a dream.

No, not that one.  I dreamed of a nice new bathroom, one where the tiles weren’t lifting off the wall, the toilet didn’t run all night, and the taps coCP Hart cropuld be turned on (and, just as crucially, off again).

I found a good plumber and it was all planned out.  What could possibly go wrong?

On the first day, the supplier slightly screws up the order.  We drink tea and shake our heads over a shipment of the wrong tiles and twice as many toilet seats as ordered.  But hey, they might be handy when I’m older and incontinent (it’s always sooner than one thinks).

The water supply can’t be turned off and the plumber can’t access the pump. A lot more tea.  Another day gone.

The old tiles won’t budge.  So yer man tiles over them.  That makes four layers of tiles.  In truth, the wrong tiles look great, but the room is going to be much smaller than we thought.

‘Size isn’t everything’ points out the plumber.

I make him a tiny cup of tea.

Towards the end of the first week, it dawns on me.  Bathroom renovation is a microcosm of life.  Timing is up the spout, everything costs twice as much as planned, and it doesn’t look as intended.  Because of drainage issues, the tub has to be raised.  A frame is made for it. This takes more time.  Fingers crossed the work is done before I get too old to climb into the tub.  Now I’m not sure about white grout on the floor.  In fact I’m no longer sure about anything.  Maybe white grout doesn’t matter.  Really, what does?

By this time there are lots more people in my life.  For a start, I’ve got remarried and acquired three more offspring.  There’s also a new trio of builders.  Gary, Barry and Harry are on a break again, slurping strong tea as they pore over a copy of the Daily Star.  Barry adjusts his Chelsea hat and says ‘Cor, look at the jugs on that one’.

The shelves won’t fit by the raised tub. I forget now why we wanted them.  Oh.  For hair products.  Well, soon won’t have any hair left.

As time passes, I agonise over details like taps and mirrors.  The mirror is not a magnifying mirror.  So I will probably emerge thinking I look OK, and friends will wonder why I’ve put eyeliner on my ears.

The soil pipe isn’t quite where it should be and we can’t get a seal.  Now I’m obsessing over waste matter.  Call it a rehearsal for the twilight years.

At 3am I realise that we’re running out of Yorkshire tea, the fuel that keeps the plumber going.

The next day the plumber arrives with an apprentice.  She wears hot pants and fiddles with her iPhone like any 19-year old.  Petite and from the Far East, she turns out to be stronger and more willing than any number of male oiks from South London.  The only downside is that she believes she was a singer in a previous life.  I’ve heard her.  She really wasn’t.

Her voice comes through loud and clear since the bathroom door was taken off.  After a few weeks, I’m wondering: why bother putting it back?  If people had beaded fly curtains instead, then kids wouldn’t get locked in the bathroom. And you’d know right away when your other half passes out in the tub and needs CPR.

Progress is slow but Rome wasn’t built, etc. I survey the scene. It doesn’t look like Rome. It doesn’t even look like a bathroom.  With boxes of stuff and stacks of newspaper, all it needs is a beaded curtain and it could be a corner shop.

bathroom cropLast week the builder brought his dog, but said it would be OK in the van.

This horrified me.  So in came Buster for a bowl of water.  He saw the cat and chased it round the house, scattering tiles and papers everywhere.  Buster had to go back to the van, leaving the cat with a tail like a toilet brush.

I still don’t have a bathroom door or a tub that can actually take in water. The cat litter tray is still in the bedroom, and I’ve no idea where to put all the half-used tubes of toothpaste.  So I throw them out, along with the bottles of nail polish. It’s not like I have any nails left.

On the plus side, I have a lot of new friends, some of whom have two legs.