Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Research Guv, Honest.

By Jay Stringer

Weird stuff happens all the time. It happens often enough that it's not weird. I remember sitting in my Grandads living room one night, when I was about ten, and seeing a man walk down the street wearing a balaclava and carrying a baseball bat. He turned down the driveway that our house shared with the one next door, and started banging on the neighbours front door. When I told my Grandad what I'd just seen, he said, "Is it Tuesday already?"

One of the fun things that writer-folk like to talk about is research. We've all done some strange things in the name of research, and we like to tell tall tales about it.

Wasn't it funny the time I did this....
Did I tell you about the time I almost became illegal in four countries?
The police look kinda funny at you when you ask this...
That time I talked to that hooker about the....

We've all got these stories. I once asked my boss at work how he would steal from the company if he was a criminal mastermind, and the following week the safe got robbed. A few interesting glances were cast my way. Yuk, yuk.

I reckon it's a fun way of spicing up our lives. It's better than finding a million different ways to say, yeah, so I sat at my desk for six hours, talking to myself, pulling faces, and grunting as I typed.

I say all this because I think it gets easy to miss a few simple points, as I've learned this week. We don't get away with the strange shit because we're writers. We get away with it because people get away with strange shit. The real conversation isn't, "what crazy stuff have we done in the name of research." Its, "what research have we used as an excuse to do crazy stuff." As cool as we all secretly want to be, there's nothing we can do that's cooler than real life.

This week a friends cat is missing. And I've spent a couple of nights out helping the search effort. The first night, I walked around a notoriously dodgy area of Glasgow, in the dark, in my black hoodie, with a torch. I peered into peoples gardens. I walked down the sides of peoples houses. I loitered outside people's front doors inspecting the shadows, and peered up at the eaves of the rooftops.

As the occasional person passed me by, I realised that the only way to describe the way I looked was criminal. And I thought, when the cops come, maybe I should say I'm a writer doing research? Then I thought, probably best to simply say I'm out looking for a cat. Not my own cat, officer, but a friends. No, she's not here with me right now, she's in the flat, looking in closets and whatnot. No, actually, I'm not sure what the cat looks like, other than it has four legs and a tail, because I've not met him yet, he's kinda young.

But then the cops never came. Nobody called them. None of the people who looked at me from their windows, none of the young women who saw me standing in their pathways, none of the people who saw me peering beneath their cars. Not one.

Last night I was at it again (which is one of the reasons my DSD post is running late today). The ante was sufficiently upped. Last night I was peering out over the roof of a building. I was climbing all over the roof in plain sight (actually, a less fictionalised account would be that I worked out how the roof could be explored, while leaving two more agile and expendable stunt-doubles to actually do it.) We spent a lot of time simply sat there, peering across the rooftops, looking at peoples sky-light windows. One of team cat hunt spent most of the evening in the attic of a building none of us live in, one we accessed simply by walking up the stairs and pushing open the loft hatch. I'm fairly sure there were people living in the flats beneath where he was walking. I spent the latter part of the evening walking around, in the dark again, with a ladder.

No cops. No alarm. No shouts of indignation.

Now If I'd been doing all this to research a crime story, I would probably have loved it, deep down, if somebody had called the cops. It would have made a much more exciting blog today. But I realised that it's just normal. Normal stuff. People see this all the time.

We don't really get away with crazy things in the name of research. We simply get away with things, just like everybody else. The only difference is that we pretend to write about it.


John McFetridge said...


No one calling the cops made me think of this segment from Michael Moore's TV show, "TV Nation" called The Serial Killer Next Door.

Al Tucher said...

I dunno. Some things I would never have done without the research crutch, like talking to a hooker. (She gave me great material that I'm still living off.)

John McFetridge said...

Gee Al, judging from your stories I always thought you'd done years of "research" in that field ;).

Al Tucher said...

Heh heh.

Someone Said said...

The irony of the name Kitty Genovese becomes clear!