There are many good things about being a writer. You’re rarely lonely, for instance, as you can always have a chat with your characters (in your head – you don’t want to attract odd glances). If the time and place in which you find yourself is not terribly welcoming or exciting or comforting (the UK in lockdown is none of these), you can simply select or invent a new time and place and spend time there instead. And it’s an excellent mental workout, keeping track of plots and characters. But I have recently discovered one significant downside of being a writer: it has made me extremely picky and critical when it comes to reading and watching other stories.
At the moment, in our house we are hooked on the drama “The Serpent”, about serial killer Charles Sobhraj, who drugged, robbed and murdered young backpackers in Asia in the 1970s. (It has particular resonance, as I spent my teenage years in Asia in the 1970s – much of the setting and lifestyle and social comment is so familiar.) It’s a complicated tale, with multiple victims, multiple locations and multiple timelines. And last night my husband turned to me and said, “If you say one more time that the timing is out, or that a character couldn’t have known something because they weren’t in that scene, or that one fact has contradicted another, I’m turning off the telly”.
Reader, I had no idea that I had turned into a lean, mean, story-criticising machine. But he was right: I had idly observed all of those things, and just in that one episode. Now this doesn’t mean for one second that I wasn’t enjoying “The Serpent” (I cannot WAIT for tonight’s episode), or that it didn’t grip and convince me (I even spent five minutes “watching” from outside the room and calling “what’s happening now?” because the suspense was too great). In truth, I am rather proud of myself: it must mean that my story-creating muscles are flexing and practising. But for the sake of marital harmony, tonight I shall keep my comments to myself (even if it makes no sense that two Dutch characters would speak English to each other when alone, when two Thai characters speak their own language and are subtitled – unless it is to convey that one of them isn’t really Dutch, or that they want to be overheard and understood by a non-Dutch speaker, or the point is to demonstrate how fluent they are in English… oh goodness, I’m off again).