The unexpected redhead and her deer

January 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I once wrote a story about a woman with a ventriloquist’s dummy on her lap.

She knew she belonged in the circus somewhere, but her audition as the knife thrower’s wench hadn’t gone so well. And the less we say about the elephants, the better.

I printed out photos of vintage ventriloquist dummies and stuck them to the walls surrounding my writing desk. This was not a good idea. Having eyes follow you around a room is less disconcerting when it’s a poster of Brigitte Bardot than when it’s, say, this little feller, and I think you’d agree.

For Bless, set in Reykjavik, I needed some music to accompany my steps down to the harbour to watch my first Arctic sunrise. And for two weeks, I found myself humming an eerie Icelandic cover version of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ every time I brushed my teeth.

For Splinter, I rang my Dad to ask what type of rifle one would use to shoot a kangaroo, and had anatomical diagrams of them, from their rostral to their caudal, laid out on my desk. I think he still wonders if I’m going to ask him to take me out hunting one night, despite twenty years of vegetarianism.

I’ve needed to know how to call someone a ‘dirty pig’ in Flemish, how to propose a toast in Swedish, ask someone to ‘pick a card’ in Estonian, and how to break hearts in half in Czech.

I wrote a story about being mistaken for a member of an Eastern European reality TV show in a bar in Vilnius, I like your deer’s moustache, and other Lithuanian tales. In it I thought it necessary to use the phrase ‘Is your deer vicious?’, for reasons that I’m pretty sure made sense at the time. When it was recorded for performance on American radio and the producer asked me for advice on how to pronounce it, I had to tell him ‘I have no idea, I don’t actually speak Lithuanian…never even been there, in fact.’ He was surprised, and asked ‘You mean, you made the whole story up?’ I was somewhat taken aback; I’d thought that was my job.

We’re only three weeks into 2013 but the searches I’ve typed into Google already include:

–          Does a mandrake scream when you pick it?

–          How many bones are in a rib cage?

–          What’s the nearest psychiatric hospital to Cunnamulla?

–          How do you make a voodoo gris-gris charm?

–          Which Nick Cave songs mention snow?

–          Were witches burned or beheaded in medieval Brussels?

–          What’s the phobia name for ‘fear of one’s reflection’?

–          What are the symptoms of belladonna poisoning?

–          Do redheads really have a higher pain threshold?

Ok, so that last one was for personal interest – I read it in a newspaper today and was curious. That said, it’s bound to end up in a story of mine somewhere.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve left a character stretched out in a paddock in an outback Australian town, deciding whether or not to pick some datura. I’m about to hit the two thousand word mark, and have no idea yet how it ends. Bliss!

And in case you’re wondering about the Lithuanian for ‘Is your deer vicious?’, should you ever find yourself in dire straits with a woodland creature in the Baltics, try asking ‘Ar jūsų elnias piktas?’

It could happen, you know. Best be prepared.


  1. Dave Webster Hare Cochran said,

    Hehe – mostly, my writing has me shoulder deep in physics, cosmology, philosophy of mind, and neuroscience papers. 😀

    • inkymouth said,

      So no creepy vintage circus posters watching as you write? Now that’s a shame 🙂

      • Dave Webster Hare Cochran said,

        Not yet anyway 🙂

        There are other visual references that I’ve used though – anatomy and neuroanatomy posters, oddities from the more peripheral branches of the Tree of Life as jumping-off points for designing alien species, vehicles and buildings as inspiration for spacecraft designs – even my 11-year old daughter cosplaying Morta, my 11-year old protagonist! Plus, I’ve done illustrations of some of my characters and settings myself.

        I use music quite a bit as well – I like to make playlists to listen to as I write that reflect my characters’ tastes. For Morta, that’s mostly a lot of punk, metal and industrial stuff. 😀

  2. Michael said,

    I am intrigued by how many ribs are in a standard rib cage, and I do assume the red-heads would never let us know there pain threshold.

    The question is not what you made up, but what you haven’t had to. What occurences are the real ones (target practice for a knife thrower) and what do you spend hours understanding anatomical diagrams of a …. well yes.

    • inkymouth said,

      Michael, I can tell you that the standard rib cage includes 24 rib bones, which are known as either true, false or floating. And what beauty in that phrase alone! As for redheads, I did read one comment that said ‘Of course redheads don’t feel pain…you need to have a soul for that.’ Ouch!

      Sometimes I can’t quite remember whether I did something myself, or wrote it into a story…but it means my campfire tales are pretty damn vivid 🙂

  3. inkymouth said,

    Dave – designing alien species? You win, hands down! And I love the idea of making a playlist for your characters; I haven’t done that in years. Thanks so much for the inspiration – I’m going to spend some time this afternoon focusing on the protagonist of my novel, and just what makes her feet tap 🙂

    • Dave Webster Hare Cochran said,

      Yay! Character playlists are totally the way forward 🙂 – now I need to persuade some of the musicians to allow their songs to be mixed into the audiobook edition, or embedded in the mobile app edition 😀

      The trick with designing good aliens is to think in terms of evolutionary histories. I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi art where the aliens have weird heads but from the neck down, they have the same skeletons and muscles as humans – though in humans, all those bones and muscles are the product of 550 years of highly contingent evolutionary history. It’s fun to explore areas of biological possibility-space that life on earth hasn’t touched.

      To be honest, my tastes in sci-fi tend to be more along the lines of Earth-based (or at least this-solar-system based) near-future stuff – like William Gibson, or Charles Stross’s Liz Cavanagh books – but when the novel was first conceived, my wee girl wanted a bedtime story, and we’d been reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so…

      BTW, if you want to know – here’s my protagonist:

  4. Jess said,

    Oh, how I love reading this blog Rijn! I admitted my secret love for destiny’s child today via my Facebook page……the reactions to said confession were priceless and made said revelation all the more worth it!. Made me think of you!

    • inkymouth said,

      Oh, you know my secret shames are not so secret – you’re talking to someone who paid a ridiculous amount of money to see Duran Duran two years ago! Love seeing your name pop up here babe, it really makes me smile 🙂

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