Excerpt from Three Steps Behind You by Amy Bird (Carina UK – March 2014)
Have you ever been really close to someone? So close not only that the hairs on the back of their neck stand on end, but you can count each raised follicle, and when you blow, you can see the goose-bumps appear on the skin. Each little golden hair quavering, erect, as you observe.
Imagine the physical proximity that you would need to control those little hairs, the ease with which you could – just with one move – be touching the back of their neck. With your lips, with your hand, with both hands, encircling if you wish.
Ever been that close?
I have, once. And I will be again. For Luke.
Let me tell you a little about my method. If I were a good author, a published author, maybe I would show you. ‘Show, don’t tell’, they lecture you at those creative writing classes, the interminable hours spent taking dictation of how to craft your own unique ideas. But I’m not a good writer, not yet, you see. Nor am I published. That’s what this new method is all about. How I’m going to differentiate my fourth book, get it to the readers who matter. Make it the best.
It first occurred to me when my character, Luke, needed to cook a lobster. I could make Luke visualise the exoskeleton, in its abstract pre-cooked greyness. Then I could write him seeing it pink and lifeless on my kitchen slab. The in between time, I just couldn’t capture so well. I realised it then: in order for me to write convincingly, I would have to do all the things that my character does.
I remember, once, Nicole reminiscing about being taught method acting in her student drama days, pre-Adam. A director had told her that if she wanted to act eating an apple, she would first have to practise eating one, savour each tooth indentation, each salivation, finishing it to the core. Only then would the audience believe she knew what it was to truly eat an apple. A tempting proposition. And Nicole’s only useful titbit.
So today, I am embarking on a whole new writerly me. The lobster in its box writhes next to me on the bus seat. I think it appreciates its role in this journey. The other passengers on the bus have been less appreciative, but they will see the true value when my name is a foot high on the Tube billboards. They can say ‘I once sat on a bus along the North Circular with Dan Millard.’ Adam can introduce me to his friends as his mate Dan, the published author. Except by then I might have changed my name to something catchier. Perhaps Jeremy Bond. That worked for me before. And for Adam.
Back at home I put the lobster on the kitchen surface and take a closer look at it. To me, Dan, the prospect of what’s to come is revolting. I Googled it earlier. I know that if I freeze the lobster first, it will be numb, and feel less pain, but then I’d have to take the knife and slice down through the flesh beneath its grey shell, stopping just before its wide grey tail, containing the roe. I don’t think I have the strength for that. Besides, I will be writing this as Luke, who does not have my empathetic nature. Luke will want the lobster to feel pain. Luke will just seize the lobster, its claws still bound, and throw it into the boiling water. When the lobster tries to escape, jumping out of the too-shallow pan, to slither away, Luke will grasp it firmly and throw it back in again. The flames will rise under the pan until the lobster is red hot. Then taking it out of the pan, he will twist its claws till they crack, rip off the red-pink shell, stare it in the eyes then take a snarling bite of the flesh beneath and –
Something catches in my gullet. I cough, choking. Spluttering out of my Luke reverie, I see right up in front of my face a pink, cooked, lobster, so close that I can distinguish the little hairs on its antennae. On the hob is a still simmering pan of water. I stare, amazed. I have entered into the character of Luke so much that I have slaughtered and cooked a lobster all as him.
I smile. All I need to do is write this down. The method is working. The lobster is just the start, of course. But one must begin somewhere.