An Attempted Mugging

This post isn’t really writing related, game related or even about esoterica. This is just about something that happened to me last night and I thought it was worth sharing as… catharsis? Advice? A warning? Who knows. It’s a thing. That happened.

I got back to Crystal Palace station at about 11:15 last night, having been up in north London at a friend’s flat. I do this once a week most weeks, and followed my usual route. I was first out of the barriers, winning my imaginary race. From the station I normally cut up through Ledrington Road, a darkish street with houses on one side and a bit of grass on the other. I’ve often thought it would be a good spot for a mugging and am always on the look out. Why continue to use that street? Good question!

There was a chap walking away from me towards the main road about two thirds of the way up the street. A third of the way up the street were two more people following him, and I instantly felt like they were gearing up to mug him.
I accelerated to make them aware more people were around to save the chap from harm. As soon as they saw me, the two lurkers crossed away. Job done, I thought.

I reached the main road and normally walk up the slightly darker side which has the park off to the right. Mindful of the potential would-be muggers I instead crossed to the more brightly lit residential side. There were a couple of cars about, but not many. I didn’t realise but the muggers had crossed behind me.
I saw a shadow from the streetlights approaching on my left hand side and sped up a little more, though didn’t think that anything would happen on the main road.

One of them brushed up on my left hand side, the other crossed to the far side of the road and kept pace. The one on my left told me, in a quiet, measured voice, that we were going to take a walk and not to do anything stupid or he’d stab me. I didn’t see a knife, but his hand hovered over his pocket.

I politely rebuffed him, mindful that Derren Brown had once foiled muggers (or so he has said) with mind-games – ignoring the mugging and making polite, intense conversation about something unrelated. I told him what a nice evening I’d been having and a little about the film The Insider which I’d watched round at my friend’s. He re-iterated his threat. Derren Brown 1, me nil.

I saw a couple on the other side of the road, and crossed. There was no traffic. The mugger was still brushed up against me, but allowed me to cross – possibly he didn’t want to make it look like something untoward was going on.

I approached the couple and told them that the chap was trying to mug me, and asked if I could walk with them. They seemed unsurprisingly perturbed – I imagine I had a manic glint in my eye from the furious politeness I was maintaining. I repeated myself and the bloke said yes, he was happy for me to walk with them. 

I thought that might be it, that now we were a group of three and, at this stage, half way up the hill towards the bustling Crystal Palace triangle, the muggers would be put off.

I was wrong.

He threatened to stab my new friends – a man and woman in their 20s (I’m horrible at guessing ages, fyi) – unless they backed off. They didn’t back off and took on the same polite tone I had with the mugger.

We crossed to the more brightly lit side of the street, and the mugger crossed with us, telling me that he was going to take me round the corner. There was a hefty chap with headphones in at the bus stop, but I thought better of trying to enlist him too – he seemed quite young.

We reached the top of the hill, and I let the couple lead just slightly in case they were going to turn off – they didn’t, so we were now heading towards pubs and chicken shops. Across the street was a pub I know well, which was still open and had a number of punters sitting outside.

“Do you know what,” I said, “I really fancy a pint, shall we go for a drink in The Westow?” The couple agreed and we all crossed, mugger included, then headed into the pub. As soon as we were in the ‘beer garden’ at the front, the mugger sloped off around the corner towards the bus station. His mate who’d been keeping watch had presumably disappeared in that direction too.

Pint ordered. Police called. Mugging averted.

Huge thanks due to Paul and Sophie, who’d been out on a date having known each other 2 weeks. And to The Westow, and the Met.

What have I learnt?

If he’d asked me to hand over my wallet/phone/whatever in the first instance I probably would have done. I don’t know what his plan was if he did ‘get me round a corner’. In mugging, as in writing, clarity of purpose is essential.

Also, and more importantly: don’t go down streets you think are good spots for a mugging.

@BornToPootle

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Conflict-averse protagonists

It’s been a little while since I wrote about my own writing – sadly that’s because I haven’t been doing a huge amount of it. I’ll get back in the saddle soon I’m sure.

One of the problems is that I’m a little stuck in all of my usual go-to projects, and I don’t want to start something new as I’ve got so many juicy (albeit stalled) things under way already.

I can’t remember what I last posted about my novel A Calling-on Song so I’ll do a quick catch-up: I had it all nice and finished, sent it off to agents with no luck; I paid for a professional critique from one of the market leaders in such things; feedback was very useful and identified a few things which I’d been sort-of aware of and hoped had been buried beneath awesomeness.

The main issue highlighted was my main character, Robin. He still came across as too passive or stand-off-ish. One of the things this meant was that it’s unbelievable that the people who tag along with him and lend assistance would actually bother. This stems from the very initial draft and, rather than pluck the problem out and solve it, I wrote around it. I came up with motivations and reasons to excuse it all that fitted neatly into the narrative. Four drafts on and it’s much more daunting to tackle!

In the mornings before work I watch 20 minutes of a TV show. Over the years its been everything from an episode of The Simpsons or Friends to a smidge of The Wire to a variety of costume dramas. Right now I’m part way through a rewatch of Pushing Daisies, half-episode at a time. If you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s not a big commitment as there were only 2 relatively short series. Just like Firefly it left me wanting much more, and just like Firefly it’s excellent.

The general premise is that the MC, a piemaker by trade, has the power to bring anything back to life with a touch. A second touch will permanently kill what was brought back. If something or someone is brought back for more than 60 seconds then something else close by will die in its place. He uses the power to help a private detective solve murders (obviously). The whole tone borrows very heavily from Amelie and it’s a lovely, romantic, funny and touching confection.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that the MC is very risk-averse, both physically and emotionally. He is stand-off-ish and often reactive rather than proactive. He wants, by and large, a normal life and to be left alone. And it works very well. This desire for a smooth ride causes tension among the other characters and, due to his use of his power, leads to secrets and intrigue. The characters that surround him are all very proactive, from the private detective starting new cases to the MC’s brought-back-to-life childhood sweetheart who wants to make the most of her new lease of life.

I’ve tried for a similar set up – my MC keeps the causes of some of his strange behaviour to himself, hoping his life will return to normal. Around him friends and colleagues poke and prod and investigate and suppose as they try to help or further their own agendas (or both). 

So why isn’t it working for me? 

A couple of considerations: maybe the critiquer is ‘wrong’. This is a dangerous door to open – disregarding what someone thinks of my novel is not something I intend to do, particularly if they’re a professional in the field! And it’s something I was deep down aware of to boot!

Perhaps its down to likeability? Despite his stand-off-ishness The Piemaker is very likeable thanks to a combination of both the script and performance. I may need to work on my MC, as I don’t have a top actor to rely on…

Another consideration is that the viewer doesn’t solely follow the Piemaker in Pushing Daisies. My novel is 3rd person, but we only follow the MC. Is this too much of a halfway house? Maybe committing to 1st person or pulling the ‘camera’ back to follow other characters would bring the dynamic that I’m lacking.

The Piemaker is pulled into scrapes partially because of his work with the detective. And he is only useful to the detective because of his power. My MC doesn’t really have a power or useful quality that his friends are lacking. So maybe that’s a key. They should need him for something as much as he ends up needing them…

There’s always the possibilty that it doesn’t work in Pushing Daisies. I mean, I love it of course. But it was cancelled after 2 short seasons so can’t have been wildly popular at the time. Could it be that I have a predilection for these kinds of characters, but popular appeal isn’t there?

And one final thought – maybe these kinds of characters are better suited to a visual medium. Characters who are ‘numb’ generally work better in film than on the page. Perhaps it’s the same for the risk-averse.

If you’ve got any suggestions of books featuring stand-off-ish characters trying desperately to cling to a normal life do let me know.

@BornToPootle