I recently wrote a chapter of my sixth Cornish Detective novel Kissing & Killing, in which my protagonist is swept away by a rip current while swimming in the sea trying to improve his stamina as he recuperates from being stabbed and losing a lot of blood.
He’s just returned to work, so is anxious to reassert his image as a commander and to take charge of his own life again after being dependent on others while hospitalised. Although Neil Kettle is a powerful wild swimmer, I’ve set him up for being dominated by the ocean, by having him acknowledge that “the sea is unopposably mighty” in the five preceding stories.
This fits with writing advice to place your main character in peril, not once but twice, just as it looks like they’ve survived. Having humility forced on him will be part of one of the themes of the story—loyalty to friends over principles and the rule of law—who do you trust with your life?
Writing this chapter was slightly disturbing to me, as I experienced such an incident when I lived in Portsmouth. Out for the day with my girlfriend and fellow college students on Eastney beach, I went for a swim alone. Fifty yards out in a flat sea, I was suddenly picked up by an invisible hand and moved at some speed westwards. I remembered advice not to panic when in a rip current, but to try swimming at 90 degrees to it to break free. I tried, but it didn’t work. I relaxed, watching the beach pass by. Thankfully, the current stayed parallel to the land, not carting me out into the Solent. As Southsea pier appeared, it released me. My muscles worked again! I swam to shore, then walked half-a-mile back to my friends…no one had missed me!
Being so powerless helped to inform my writing. I wrote humble.
I’ve written fight scenes while remembering angry thoughts I had when defending myself in muggings. I shed a few tears writing sad scenes summoning how I felt when a relationship ended. Writing funny is tough, but recalling amusing situations helps.
I gave up alcohol in 1996, but after being an alcoholic for twenty-seven years, I remember enough to write drunk.
How do you use memories to pen something that rings true?