Thursday, 16 May 2013

Taking Notes

A year or two ago, I declared war on procrastination and told the world that I would write a book.

The good news is that I am about to start and hopefully score a massive victory after years of abject failure.

Actually, what I am planning isn’t really a book as such; it is a travelogue of my recent trip to Hong Kong and Japan. It will be my third such piece of work.

There is also an added bonus. Because I travelled to the other side of the world, jet lag claimed me as a victim for a couple of nights, resulting in my lying wide awake in bed at 3am with Mrs PM, a woman who can sleep anywhere and anytime, snoring loudly next to me, leaving me no other option but to create a novel in my head.

As I lay there in the dark, soaring through my own imagination, I came up with a story that I think will work. Furthermore (and this is a definite first), I have an ending.

I am therefore going to say to you now, dear reader, that by the end of 2013 I will attempt to write not one but TWO books.

I will start work on the travelogue immediately and the novel will begin on 1st November and will be completed on 30th November, providing that my company doesn’t send me abroad again. That’s right – I will attempt to create a novel in National Novel Writing Month in November.

The travelogue will, of course, be easier than the novel because I will take my time over the coming five months using the copious notes, photographs and sound bites I recorded during the trip.

Real published writers have told me in the past that the notebook is perhaps the most important tool in a writer’s toolbox. I would go further and suggest that a camera is also imperative and, in case of emergency, a device for recording verbal notes.

When I travelled around China and down the east coast of Australia, I had a notebook with me all of the time. My problem is that I am quite shy and hate having attention drawn towards me and making notes in public is, to me, quite a difficult thing to do, depending on the situation.

In China, it was easier because I had Mrs PM with me and I was already the centre of attention, due to my obvious foreign appearance, exaggerated by my blonde hair and wispy ginger beard. Some of the local people openly stared at me, making me the centre of attention by default. Whipping out my notebook to write notes about the contents of the plate in front of me in a weird restaurant did nothing to make that situation worse.

Australia was trickier. We were accompanied by Mrs PM’s mum and her other half, and I was writing the travelogue as a 60th birthday present. I had to hide the notebook whenever we were all together and make notes from memory at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day, lest she ask awkward questions like:

“Why are you writing everything down?”

Thankfully, we were in possession of a fairly decent digital camera and I could elaborate on my mental notes with decent photographs. In China we didn't have a decent camera and had to use film. We didn’t take anywhere near enough photographs. In Australia, however, I took loads of them and, on occasion, was asked questions by \mrs PM's mum like:

“Why are you taking a photo of the menu?” 

to which my reply was: 

“Just to show my mates that you can actually eat kangaroo down under.”

Japan was better in many ways, but worse in others. 

Unlike in China, we weren’t the centre of attention in Japan but because Japan is arguably the most amazing country I have ever visited, my notebook was a constant companion. 

At first, Mrs PM volunteered to carry it around in her handbag. After a while, with constant requests to “hand me the notebook”, she began to tire of it. Mrs PM’s handbag is like the TARDIS, small on the outside but seemingly huge on the inside. However, with guide books a phone, a Nexus 7 tablet, my notebook, a camera and everything that she needed to survive outside the hotel room contained within, she found on occasion that it got a little too heavy and awkward to carry.

I offered to take my rucksack, which is like an inverse TARDIS, big on the outside but seemingly tiny on the inside and even more awkward for me to carry. Besides, Mrs PM, as forgetful as she is, never ever leaves her handbag behind in restaurants and bars. Sadly, because I am not used to carrying a bag normally, I have a tendency to leave things behind. I promise that I don’t do it on purpose and have lost countless umbrellas by leaving them on buses and trains or in restaurants and pubs because I simply forget I have something with me.

I walked out of one hotel in Japan to check out and actually left the rucksack behind in the room. Thankfully, I realised before we caught the taxi to the railway station, prompting Mrs PM to demand that I leave it in the hotel room when we were out and about.

Making notes in Japan drew back vague feelings of anxiety about being the centre of attention in the middle of a bunch of strangers because I would invariably take it out and start scribbling in a restaurant or bar full of people. On more than one occasion, I noticed that the staff in particular were watching me surreptitiously, as if I were a food critic or something. On a train, one guy next to me was actually trying to read what I was writing.

Whether or not he could understand English, read my dreadful scribbling or even make sense of my terse and unintelligible notes is irrelevant; I felt self-conscious. It didn’t stop me from scribbling but the feelings were unmistakeable.

I discovered yet another tool during this trip that also had potential for embarrassment. One day, as we were strolling around, I asked Mrs PM for the notebook, only to discover that I had forgotten to put it in her handbag.

As I cursed my luck, Mrs PM made a suggestion.

“Why don’t you use the voice recorder on your phone?”

This proved to be a fabulous idea and I found myself pausing every so often to record a small sound bite or two to serve as memory stimulation for when I returned to the hotel. I could pretend that I was making a phone call, but unfortunately on at least a couple of occasions, I found myself getting carried away and talking loudly in full earshot of passers-by. While it may be fine in Japan, it may yet prove to be potentially awkward if I feel the need to use it in the UK or somewhere where English is widely spoken.

Can you imagine: 

“I’ve just walked past the weirdest meathead I have ever seen. Oh dear – I think he’s heard me. Oh no – I am now running away. Shit – he’s caught me and is about to …”

I just need to learn to be discrete and not use my normal loud phone voice when recording such messages.

Work starts on the travelogue later today (I’m currently off for the rest of the week to recover from jet lag in the comfort of my own home) and hopefully the novel will be spawned in November. While I am promising myself I will complete these tasks, the thing I can’t promise is that the two manuscripts will be appealing to anybody but me and perhaps Mrs PM.

Hopefully they will be a bit of fun and I may pop the travelogue into a brand new blog. Either way, expect a few excerpts, summaries and snapshots on this blog in the next month or two.


Mind Of Mine said...

Your enthusiam is almost palpable when reading this. I look forward to checking this out and reading about the journey this takes you on.


Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Mom,

It is indeed - as long as I can defeat the urge to surf/email/watch TV etc. etc.




Pandora Behr said...

Good luck PM - I know how hard this journey can be.

drb said...

Welcome back Mr PM! Glad you had a great time in HK and Japan. Looking forward to your Travelogue. Did you try the Japanese grilled eel on rice? My favourite food of all time.

Elephant's Child said...

I am really, really looking forward to both your travelogue and to your novel.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

The travelogue should be (relatively) easy. The novel? That's the difficult bit.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

Japan was everything I expected - and more.

Yes I did try grilled eel on rice - and a lot more besides.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

I'm looking forward to diving in and writing them.




River said...

NaNoWrMo; good luck with that. A whole one month. Many people do use NaNo to start their novels, but I don't think I've known any to start and finish a complete novel.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

A mate of mine completed a novel called "Friendly Reminders Inc." and tried to get it published.

Apparently it can be bought on Amazon (he self-published in the end).




jeremy north said...

I think you will write a most interesting and engaging book, if your blog is anything to go by.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jeremy,

Let's hope so. Just writing one would be good whether it's rubbish or not.




Jackie K said...

They both sound great - good luck!
I use the voice memo thing on my phone all the time, and I always feel very efficient and pleased with myself when I do so. But I forget to transcribe them or do anything with them later!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jackie,

I always have my phone with me so it makes sense to make more use of it.

Let's see if it works in practice.