We had some work done on our house recently and, when it came to turning on our heaters this weekend, we discovered there was a problem. A very, very loud problem. One that refused to leave our radiators even after extensive bleeding (for the uninitiated, this means letting the air out of radiators so that they actually work. Supposedly).
And what does this have to do with writing? Quite a lot. People always harp on about using all five senses in your writing. Unlike many of the ‘rules of writing’ (a great article on this here), this is, in my humble opinion, one that’s there for a reason: It brings the setting to life for readers in a way just a simple description fails to do so.
Which is what being woken up in the middle of the night by a sound that resembles a giant’s stomach rumbling into a megaphone, followed by a wooden spoon being drummed on a metal pot and some random bubbling singing, does. Perhaps a little too dramatically for my liking, but brings the night alive it does. Thank you, radiators – much appreciated.
This ‘rule’, of course, also applies to the absence of sound. We used to live next to London Ambulance, and while visitors always commented about the loud sirens, we often failed to hear them. We never missed the sound of Big Ben’s chimes on the hour though. Then, when we moved out to suburbia/the countryside (point of view dependent on whether you’re a city-dweller or a country village resident), I didn’t sleep for the first few nights. It was so eerily silent, it was creepy (OK, OK, so reading too many crime novels can’t have helped either). Absent were the sounds of cars running or braking, people talking or singing drunkenly, rubbish bins being upended, doors opening and closing, music blaring from nearby parties etc. There was nothing.
Now, of course, I can hear the wind through the trees, the occasional riffs from a nearby festival (in the summer) or the footsteps of the resident fox on the wall. And I embrace it. If not for the fact that it now sounds like home, there’s always some writing inspiration that can come from it. Maybe I have something to thank the radiators for after all.