Sometimes writing is about listening.


I was strolling along Oxford’s Cowley Road. A young man walked past me, and turned, asking why I used crutches. Having a brain cyst and balance problems makes them useful, so I let him know this. That’s when the dialogue veered into the unfamiliar.

Him: “I hope you die.”


Me: “What?”


Him: “I hope you die. You’re an evil, mendacious pervert.”


Me: “What?”


(I hadn’t prepared myself for this, apologies for my dialogue being less than sparkling).


Him: [Rants on about how disgusting and wrong and evil and awful I was. He also said I was stupid].


Me: “Got you there. I have three degrees, I passed Mensa’s exam, and I won the Weakest Link”.


Him: “I’m an atheist…” [Continues the attack].


Me: “Go away.” [I repeated this until he really did go away].


There’s a few notes for me here. Imagination is vital for a writer, especially one attempting science fiction. However, listening can also pay. Abuse from people with mental health problems is one source, but don’t stop there, listen out to anyone within range. Try out differing areas to catch different voices, vary between rich and poor, country and city. You will capture conversations you could never invent yourself, listen for long enough and you will reach into this new world, reality will become a mine for you. Even the mundane can prove a rich seam. I overheard this dialogue on the train.


Man A: “Did this train start from Devon?”


Man B: “No, it came from the East.”


Man A: “But Devon’s in the East.”


Man B: “No, Devon’s near London.”


Man A: “Well, London’s in the East.”


Man B: “No it isn’t.”


Man A: “London must be in the East. East 17 come from London.”


I haven’t worked out how to tap into these particular mines yet, but I have them filed away, along with other choice samples, waiting until my writing needs a particular dose of the real.


I still walk along the Cowley Road. I just carry a couple of sticks with me now, and keep clear of both Devon and London.


Note: I wasn’t fibbing about the Weakest Link –