So, one of the things that I've discovered about a 1,667 words a day production schedule is that when you work twelve hour shifts, spend about an hour each way getting ready and driving to work and then add on eating and sleeping, 1,667 words is a hell of a lot.
Especially when all you want to do is go to bed so that you have some energy for doing it all over again – the next day.
So what I'm finding myself doing is not writing for a few days and then having to 'catch-up' as it were on my days off. Meanwhile also trying to do those things that normal folk do when they have some free time, like answer emails and wash clothes.
This isn't a moan by the way, just explaining why I'm not particularly intent on posting each day.
Here is the second bit – it's a bit of a plot set up and while the wordage and intent is there I can see it being heavily edited and rewritten in the future. As a note, I don't like to stop to research when I'm writing – five minutes on wikipedia soon turns into several hours for me, so I mark things that I need to look up later with a 'QQ' tag. It means that I can search for such tags and fill in the the correct numbers, names or dates when I come to edit it.
That's the plan anyway.
Sitting outside Steve’s office always makes me feel like a naughty schoolboy.
I’m guessing that it’s the old wooden panelling that makes me feel as if I’m sitting outside a headmaster’s office awaiting the cane. Not that I ever did such a thing when I was a child – after all in the school I went to the headmaster’s office had a PVC door.
But there is something about the dark wood, the smell of the varnish and the dim lighting that sparks some childhood memory that I never had. It’s something archetypal.
This feeling isn’t helped by Melanie staring at me over her computer monitor. She’s tapping away at something obviously far more important than me. When I arrived I tried to start up a conversation but she just told me to take a seat and that ‘Mr. Hughes’ will see me shortly.
I’ve never called Steve anything other than Steve. It’s a bit hard to call your boss ‘mister’ anything when you’ve gotten horrendously drunk in a Japanese bar and had to bail him out from police custody after he tried, and succeeded, to climb the outside of a church. The climb was impressive, even more so because he could barely walk at the time. During his ascent all I could think about was wether I should try to catch him if he fell. I didn’t want to break my arms trying to save him if it would do him no good.
Finally the little light on Melanie's desk goes on, I assume that it's a light, I've never seen what it is that shows her that Steve is ready to receive visitors.
For some reason Steve has an 80's nostalgia vibe in his office – glass table, ridiculously large chair, abstract art on the walls and even one of those Newton's cradle executive toys.
Steve's fairly small so only the top of his shaved head poked over the top of the large computer monitor he was working on, he scooted his huge leather chair across to one side so that he could look me in the eye.
“Mike, good to see you. Take a seat”.
I looked at the much smaller seat on my side of his desk, I suspect that he also loved the 80's idea of power relationships and I suspect that this is why he had me waiting outside his office for so long. I threw myself into the chair and waited while he looked down on me.
All this alpha male behaviour was somewhat let down by his round face making him look like a friendly teddy bear.
“So, Mike, how are you? Keeping well? Family all right?”
I sighed inwardly, I guess that he'd pulled up my profile on his computer, the one that was by now terribly out of date. “Fine, not bad at all, no changes”.
“Good, good”, he nodded, eyes flicking over to the screen to one side of him. “Glad to hear it, you've been turning in stuff for us for a few years now haven't you?”
I was certain he was reading from my profile now, while I'd been drinking with him it was only as part of a work's 'do' and as I hadn't been in the office for some time it was no surprise that he was checking the records.
“Yep, regular as clockwork. Erm, is there a problem?”, I asked.
He looked upset, “No, no, far from it. Very far from it in fact.”
He sipped from a cup of tea and stretched back into his chair.
“What I have for you”, he said, “is a special project for you. Probably right up your street given your previous work for us.”
My mind started whirring, going back over the things that i'd written in the last few months, I couldn't think of anything unusual – just interviews and the like. A bit of science commentary, that's all.
Steve must have seen that I was thinking, I know that I tend to break eye contact when I think, looking towards the corner of the room as if the answer to my question was floating there, just out of reach.
“We are looking for someone with a bit of background in science and who can travel. I've been reading your recent stuff and it's good. Human interest work and talking to people, which is what I'm looking for”.
The only word that I was really take note of was 'travel'. I'd spent the last two years stuck in London, mostly in my flat, talking to folk over the internet or haunting the conventions and conference circuit. I think that the furthest I'd traveled of late was to Cambridge for a bioscience announcement. The thought that I might head off to somewhere sunny filled me with joy.
“So, are you interested Mike?”, Steve looked at me with expectation.
“Sure”, I said, “As long as the travel expenses are up front, I can't be waiting months for reimbursement”.
“Oh, that'll be no worry, you're going to be sponsored”.
That piqued my interest, who was willing to sponsor me to write something, was this going to be a PR fluff piece for a company that had more money than sense?
The thing is, readers today are much more acutely aware of journalists taking bribes and getting 'free' samples in return for good copy. I mean, it's something that has been going on since QQ Samuel Pepys first wrote about the delicious buns of Miss Hattersley's cake shop QQ, but in recent years, as bloggers started to get courted by PR companies the good ones needed to be whiter than white in order to stop haemorrhaging readers. Me, I know that I'm barely a journalist. I'm a jumped up blogger and my reputation means something to me (and ultimately the Finsbury Group), so I can't be seen to be getting any sort of grift.
He continued, “It's been two years since CLBD-7 was discovered, since the scientists discovered that it was contagious, your sponsor wants you to write a series on the impact CLBD-7 has had on the world. From a personal perspective, which means going around the world on a free ticket to speak to anyone affected”.
“Hold up”, I said, “Everyone has been affected”.
“Well, yes… But we normally only read about white western people with the disease. It's like AIDS in the 80's – most of the reporting was about the 'gay plague', then about celebrities getting it. It took years before the problems in Africa were written about, years before the deniers were named. Your sponsor thinks that we need to jump a few years from the headlines of 'TV celebrity goes mad with CLBD-7”.
I could see his point, after the initial panic, the media had settled down into the cycle of famous people, how it affected business and the occasional heartbreaking personal story. Despite CLBD-7 turning the world upside down in the last two years, it seemed that any serious reporting of it had slipped into the background.
I spoke to a journalist at his retirement party – he told me that when the motorcar had been invented every accident had been national news, every fatality a tragedy accompanied by front page news. Where was the news now that QQ 2,000 QQ people a year died on the roads? It was seen as the province of the local papers, and even then it seldom warranted a picture of the deceased, unless they were a child. Or pretty.
CLBD-7 was no 'War on Terror', there weren't daily updates from some warfront, no arrests could be made, no legislation could make infection less likely. Instead it was the slow accumulation of personal loss and the presumed work of white coated scientists in labs working on treatments.
And that doesn't make headlines.
Hold up. Steve said 'travel the world'.
“Steve, did you suggest that I travel the world? On a free ticket? How rich is this sponsor?”
“Very rich, but they expect a return, this isn't a chance for you to galavant around on a holiday you know. We've people back here arranging your itinerary as we speak, all I need is your agreement and we can start putting your name on the tickets. You do have a passport don't you?”
I had to think where it was, the last time I'd used it was for a holiday in Spain for me and my sister Judith.
I pushed the memory of that holiday aside.
“Yeah, I've a passport. But, and don't think I don't want to do this, but I don't have a lot of experience in travelling…”
“Don't worry about that”, Steve smiled, “We've someone a bit more experienced than you travelling with you. They'll make sure that you don't piss off the natives. And that you catch the right trains.”
“OK Steve, I'll do it.”
To be completely honest, I'd pretty much wanted to do it once he'd mentioned travel, I'd only have refused if the sponsor had been trying to push racist ideas, or pay me to spy on other companies. I'm normally the first to admit that I'm pretty shallow – but life is too short, especially these days, to worry too much about the deep questions in life. This looked like a chance to travel the globe on someone else's ticket, talk to interesting people, and maybe write something that'd improve my Google Pagerank. I couldn't see the downside.