Copyright © 2012 Jerry Dunne
I was out for the day, walking by the river Nidd in the old market town of Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. Under a blue sky, the river was rippling and gleaming, reflecting the diversity and eccentricity of the houses on one bank and the trees and the rock face on the other. The reflection of the famous viaduct was also embedded in the slowly-moving water. On the road parallel to the river, tourists and locals moved as leisurely as the river’s current, many stopping under the shadow of the viaduct to rest on a bench, readjust the straps on a child’s buggy or to just soak up the atmosphere of the viaduct’s architectural stonework. Knaresborough is famous for this castellated viaduct and most postcard views of the river include it.
I sat on a bench on the river’s walkway, just to the side of the base of one of the viaduct’s columns, my attention immediately taken by two girls splashing about in a hired rowing boat. One was rocking the vessel deliberately from side to side as though wanting to tip her and her friend into the water. Both were laughing and screaming at these antics. In front of me, two middle-aged men stopped to talk to each other. Their dogs eyed each other but then showed no further interest. The men were talking about age, theirs and their dogs. Soon they were discussing otters and kingfishers they’d seen on the river and were hoping to spot again.
Despite the screaming girls, the scene was calm, peaceful. But my mind was restless. I’d promised myself on this walk to come up with a fresh way of linking two scenes in a children’s crime novel. I’d been struggling all week to find it and felt frustrated it was taking so long. This afternoon I was determined to dream one up.
Our heroine is following a suspect, a potential baddie; he’s unaware of it, but she accidentally loses him. She knows very little about him and has no idea how to find him once she’s lost him. But I wanted her to be left with a clue as to his whereabouts so she could continue her pursuit of him straight away. This would enable me to keep the urgency of pace and tension going right through the next scene. Finding a wallet the baddie drops on the ground would be too obvious a device and one the reader would be hard pressed to believe. The clue needed to be just a little imaginative, hopefully something with a touch of colour.
Usually, when I’m out walking, something comes to me. But as had been happening all week, it was not happening on this day. My thoughts were fixed on the surrounding scene and wanted no part in being distracted elsewhere. Eventually, I gave up on trying to find a suitable clue to link the two scenes and let my mind drift along with the flow of the water.
Soon the two men said their goodbyes and separated, their dogs rambling alongside them. The two screaming girls had quietened and were now nestled in the shadows and the slow current under one of the viaduct’s arches.
Overhead, a train rumbled by.
After it had passed, my eye caught sight of bits of white drifting slowly downward from the viaduct’s castellated top. Petals of white flowers? Some sort of confetti? It seemed to take ages before the first bit landed on the water’s surface. Were they bits of paper?
A piece landed on dry ground right in front of me. I leaned forward and picked it up. A small piece of torn paper. I frowned. Where had they come from? I glanced upward. Out of the sky? Then I remembered the train rumbling past overhead. Why litter this beautiful spot? Why had they ripped up a piece of paper in little bits and thrown them out of the carriage window? What was the person thinking? Had something been written on it the litterer wanted no one else to see? Curiosity made me glance down at the ground and water to see could I collect enough pieces and find out if there was a secret to unearth.
Then my eyes opened wide as I understood what it meant.
All week I had failed to come up with a fresh idea for my story but now one had literally fallen out of the sky at me. In fact, it had almost fallen into my lap. And when I had least expected it.
After my heroine loses the baddie, he’ll jump on a train. She’ll not know it. She’ll sit beside a bridge, recovering her breath, wondering what to do next now she’s lost him. A train rumbles by overhead, followed by bits of torn-up paper floating down from off the bridge. At first, she pays no attention, but then begins to wonder about them. She collects enough bits of paper to piece together a name, part of an address, whatever. Neither she nor the reader knows if the baddie threw these out of the carriage window, so it ends the scene on a note of suspense and allows the chase to continue straight into the next scene.
Those bits of paper were a writer’s pennies from heaven.
Have some ever fallen out of the sky for you?
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