This is a blog I originally did as a guest post on the fantastic Portabello Book Blog.
One of the classic writing maxims you hear bandied about is ‘write what you know’. I’ll be honest, I’ve never understood that. Science fiction is a whole genre more or less defined by writing about what you don’t know and, while there are many ex-cops and even a few ex-robbers that do write crime novels, I don’t think we all have to put a stint in working for CID or rob a bank before we get to have a crack at it. It seems to me, a much more sensible approach is to try and know about what you write.
That’s easier said than done, of course. Sure, I can and have walked around Dublin with a pad and pen planning a riot out in great detail, but other things aren’t so easy. Guns for example. In a modern crime thriller, the odds are better than good that somewhere along the line, someone is going to pack some artillery and as an author, you need to describe in convincingly.
Now, there is a certain genre of books where the detailed and loving explanation of weaponry seems de rigueur. Frankly, the last time I read a Tom Clancy novel, there was such a lovingly expressed explanation of military hardware that I was tempted to Google whether he was in a long-term relationship with an aircraft carrier. Still, Tom and his fact attack is all well and good if that is what floats your second fleet, but my concerns were a little more basic. What does a gun feel like? How can I give a sense of realism to my explanation of what being stuck at either end of one is like, if I’ve never been near one.
The above is essentially the explanation my wife fell for which meant we ended up going to a gun range in Florida on our honeymoon. Don’t judge me, it was invaluable research! My instructor was called Todd, as was everyone else in the range, even the female staff. Also, for people with access to a vast amount of weaponry, they were all surprisingly muscular. My guess is they were in training in case they ran out of bullets and needed to finish off the last few communists/zombies hand-to-hand. They were very friendly, polite and had an American flag made out of shotgun cartridges.
The most surprising part of the experience was that those spent bullet shells are hot and get everywhere, including occasionally bouncing off your face – hence the goggles. I did ask Todd if that didn’t represent a terrible health and safety risk – all this hot metal could start a fire. I’m pretty sure he and the other Todds had a good laugh about that when I left. They’ll be sorry when they’re all trapped on top of their burning building with their arsenal of weapons, waiting for a man with a hose to come save them.
When I was signing up, the Todd behind the counter asked me if it would be just me shooting. I explained it was, my wife was a spectator (by which I mean she spent 30 minutes taking pictures of flags made out of shotgun cartridges and looking truly horrified at the 12 year old whose parents were ‘letting him get his gun on’ for his birthday.) Then another of the Todds asked again if it was just me. A few months later, I think I’ve figured out why. Apparently, Irish and British criminal gangs, who have plenty of weaponry but nowhere to practice using it, are known to quite regularly take trips to Florida to receive perfectly legal weapons training. They call them ‘shooting holidays’. They often combine it with a family trip to Disneyland. Now that really is unreal.
So, what did I learn? Well, I now know that guns are bloody loud, quite heavy and a lot of fun. So much fun in fact that I think I’ve found the new anti-gun slogan they should use. Guns – don’t get one, they’re such a hoot, you’ll be dying to use it.